A few months ago, I picked up a Tascam MX-2424 hard disk recorder to supplement my analog multitrack decks. Three reasons convinced me to finally buy a digital recorder.
1. On a number of recent projects, I found myself wishing I had more than 16 or 24-tracks of tape at my disposal. With more than 24-tracks of recording capability, you can try out multiple takes of solos or vocal parts, you can use lots of room mics or mic everything in stereo, and you can record more sounds to add subtlety to a mix. (If you're limited to 24 outputs during the mix, you need to submix or comp, but that's a non-destructive no-brainer on most digital recorders.)
2. I prefer to mix on a fully automated digital desk. Once you've gotten used to mixing with full automation, it's hard to go back. (The digital vs. analog debate rages on, but having camped on both sides of the fence myself, I can say that my Sony DMX-R100 console sounds phenomenal.) So it only made sense to add a digital recorder to my setup. Instead of performing an A/D conversion with each pass of the analog tape during a mix, I do it once to the MX-2424, and then mix off the MX-2424. My analog machines get much less wear and tear from shuttling the tape back and forth for precise automation moves. And I no longer need to wait for the tape to rewind, fast forward, and loop when I'm tweaking a part.
3. I realized that I needed a portable solution for transferring tracks between commercial studios and my own studio. I wasn't ready to plop down the big bucks for a 24-output Pro Tools system, nor did I want to introduce a permanent computer into my living room. But I wanted something that was Pro Tools compatible not only for ease of transfer to/from other studios, but also for the inevitable purchase of Pro Tools for the "real" studio I'm now building.
These three reasons led me to the MX-2424.
There are other 24-bit digital multitracks available. iZ RADAR24, Mackie HDR24/96, various Roland combos, Fostex D-2424, and Alesis ADAT HD24 all come to mind. With so many capable competitors, why did I decide on the Tascam offering?
The MX-2424 costs less than the RADAR24 when configured similarly. (This price difference disappears if you factor in the need for an external computer if you want to do any serious editing on the MX-2424. RADAR24 does not require an external computer because it's a stand-alone recorder and editor). The Mackie was vaporware at the time, and its file system is proprietary. I needed full 24-in, 24-out I/O, which no Roland supports. Likewise, the Fostex doesn't have 24 analog inputs. And the Alesis, which was still vaporware - but possibly worth waiting for due to its extremely attractive price - lacks two crucial features: virtual tracks and onboard editing.
The MX-2424 has a number of other things going for it, some of which the competitors have and some of which are unique to the Tascam unit, like internal and external storage/backup options, ethernet transfer of audio files, visual track editing with an external computer, importing and exporting of tracks in the standard audio formats for Mac or Windows, cascade ability for more tracks, multiple undos, SMPTE and MTC support, and automated punching.
For a full list of its capabilities, check out the official MX-2424 website at: www.tascam.com/ products/mx2424. While you're there, check out one of the other reasons why I decided on the MX-2424, the MX-2424 Online Forum on Tascam's BBS: www.tascambbs.com. Here you'll find posts from other users of the MX-2424 and from employees of Tascam. As a regular reader and poster, I can tell you that Tascam's main MX-2424 representative in this forum, who goes by the username "Jim", is attentive and extremely efficient at answering all queries about the MX-2424. The unit being such a new product with a still-evolving operating system, the forum is a godsend for those of us using the MX-2424 to its limits. (The user manual is a few months behind the OS development, so it's horribly out of date.) This forum came in handy when I got to take the MX-2424 through its paces recently, using just about every one if its features on a two- month-long project that spanned four studios. The band recorded basics and some of the overdubs onto a 2-inch 24-track at a commercial recording studio. These tracks were uploaded to Pro Tools 24 MIX for editing. The tracks were then written to CDR as Pro Tools session files. At a second studio, I transferred these tracks from a Pro Tools Digi 001 system to the MX-2424 via ADAT optical. (An OS with ethernet transfer was not yet available for the MX-2424.) Over the next couple of weeks, we recorded additional tracks in my living room studio onto the MX-2424. Some of the tracks required over 50 takes. With judicious use of the Tascam's undo button and its virtual tracking features, I was able to capture all of the many takes and comp them down to single tracks per mic. With both my laptop (running Windows 98) and my MX-2424 connected to my inhouse ethernet network, I used the included ViewNet application running on the laptop to cut, move, and combine the various tracks visually. I also drew in precise fade-ins, fade-outs, and crossfades. (By the way, not once did the MX-2424 or the ViewNet software hiccup or crash - they performed flawlessly.)
On a few of the tracks, I needed to do some extremely precise edits. By this time, ethernet transfer was available as an OS upgrade. So I downloaded and installed the new software on the MX-2424 and did a high-speed network transfer of the audio files to my laptop. Using SEK'D Samplitude 2496 and a Digigram VXpocket PCMCIA card for hi-fidelity monitoring, I accomplished the edits on my laptop while visiting a friend in New York. Upon my return to Boston, I transferred the files back to the MX-2424 and dropped them into their original positions. Couldn't have been easier.
When it came time to mix, we had more than 24 tracks per song. But without any worries, we brought up 24 tracks at a time, and submixed some of the tracks once we had finalized on their sounds. If we had needed to go back and redo these submixes, bringing up the original tracks (and the automation files on the console) would have taken seconds. Two of the songs to which we'd added tracks needed to go elsewhere for further tracking and final mixing. I had already backed up all of the songs from the MX-2424 onto DVD-RAM. Therefore, it was easy to load the DVD-RAM onto the Mac in my office and burn CDRs of the exported sessions for the two unfinished songs. These CDRs were taken to one of the aforementioned studios, where the sound files were loaded into Pro Tools and additional tracking was completed. Then a fourth studio was utilized for final tracking and mixing in Pro Tools.
I learned a few things and garnered a few opinions about the MX-2424 during this project from hell. I'll summarize here. The 24-bit MX-2424 sounds awesome. The A/D and D/A converters on the MX-2424 sound so good that Tascam can't keep up with the demand for the analog I/O board for the MX-2424. (You can configure the recorder with TDIF, AES/EBU, or ADAT Optical digital I/O boards in addition to an optional analog board.) It makes a great tape recorder. Even if you never delve into the esoteric features, the Tascam is a big hit. With a clear, tape-recorder-like user-interface, it's immediately usable by anyone who's used an analog multitrack. (But the to-be-released Alesis HD recorder will offer tape-like convenience - and nothing more - at a far lower price point.) Setting up the machine (for digital I/O, clocking, SMPTE, etc) is very much like setting up a Tascam DTRS machine (e.g. DA-78) - both use a similar menu structure for accessing settings. But to realize the MX-2424's full potential, you'll want to supplement your reading of the rather thin manual by studying the various helper documents from the Tascam website and by perusing the many topics in the online forum. But once you do get up to speed, you'll find that the extra features can help you capture a better performance. With extensive undo and editing, you'll always be ready and willing to hit that record button when the artists are ready to go.
As of this writing (Feb 2001), Tascam's free ViewNet application is a Java program that runs on MacOS or Windows. It does not support waveform editing. Instead, snippets of sound are represented as blocks with linear fade-in and fade-out ramps. A future version of ViewNet, renamed MX-View, will be a native application and will offer waveform support with built-in volume automation. (It too will be a free download.) For now, I find that scrubbing/editing with Viewnet's "blocks" works fine for 99% of the editing I do. For that last 1% when I need super-precise visual editing, I don't mind transferring the files to my laptop or to my Mac and editing with SEK'D Samplitude or Pro Tools FREE.
I originally purchased my MX-2424 for $3200, added a 24 in/out ADAT Optical card for $400, and the 24 in/out analog board for $1360, and bought the optional RC-2424 remote for $1280. The unit is fully functional without the remote, but the remote allows you to place the unit far-far-away (or inside an iso- box), as the main unit is LOUD. If you always use ViewNet on a computer, you don't need the remote. I also purchased an external 9.4GB DVD-RAM drive ($555) for backing up my projects. You can also back up projects in 650MB chunks using your computer's CD burner and the MX-2424's ethernet transfer feature. But I find the DVD-RAM setup more convenient. I've since added an internal 36GB SCSI drive ($425 for a Quantum Atlas V) to replace the standard 9GB drive. 9GB is good for about 45 minutes of full 24-track, 24 bit audio. But once you start doing lots of edits, comps, and virtual tracking, that 9GB won't hold a whole album's worth of audio. And because it's so easy to switch between projects and studios, I find that I'm using the MX-2424 for multiple projects at a time. The 9GB drive that I pulled out of the MX-2424, I placed into an external case; and I'm now using it to transfer projects between the MX-2424 and two of my SCSI-equipped computers. I can actually record to this external drive on one machine (the MX-2424 or the computer) and move the drive over to the other machine for further recording or editing. How's that for cool? (Caveat: there're a few more steps involved beyond plugging/unplugging the drive, but these steps are straightforward.)
For anyone considering a hard disk recorder, I would highly recommend the MX-2424. Although I still prefer tracking basics to my 1'' 16-track or 2'' 24-track, I'd much rather overdub and mix with the MX-2424. Of all the hi-tech recording solutions I've purchased or used in the last few years, there are few items with which I've been so utterly happy. Glancing at the gear in my studio, I can think of only three digital-audio boxes that I can look at and say, "How did I ever live without that?" Those three items are the Alesis ML-9600 Masterlink, the Terrasonde ATB-1 Audio Toolbox, and the Tascam MX- 2424. (www.tascam.com)