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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Digital Portastudio - A New Twist On An Old Friend

This post may look like a review, but it's not since I've never used the following item. It was brought about by a post on Wired regarding some products from the recent NAMM show. Nothing caught my eye except for one product that I missed at the show - Tascam's 8 track digital Portastudio.

There are few times when an obsolete product gets a successful revival and facelift to where it becomes a modern and useful version of its previous form, but Tascam has continually reinvented one of the most useful devices for a musician to ever hit the musical instrument market - the Portastudio.

Tascam invented the portable recording studio category and literally started a revolution in 1979 when it delivered it's Model 144 Portastudio, an awful sounding 4 track recorder that used cassette tape as storage. Musician's didn't care about the audio quality though, because it was the first time that they could inexpensively record multiple tracks to get an idea down or even make a demo. Despite it's limitations, artists like Bruce Springsteen, John Frusicante, Primas and Marilyn Manson managed to use the device to record material that eventually made it onto their records over the years, so maybe it wasn't as bad as everyone remembers. It was a great learning tool though.

When computers became cheap and powerful and recording software a must-have for every musician, the lowly Portastudio fell by the wayside as an entire generation became computer savvy and their desktops and laptops became their recorder. Even though Tascam continually updated the product, eventually even taking it into the digital age, it was still hardware and the musician of the day wanted to record with software.

But soon everyone discovered the limitations of the software recorder. It was sometimes unreliable, given to the quirks of the computer foundation it resided on. It certainly wasn't portable (or not as portable as we were all lead to believe), and if you ever tried to capture an idea quickly on a computer DAW, you know that the idea is usually long gone by the time the computer starts recording, thanks to any number of maddening roadblocks.

That's why I think that this new DP-08 Portastudio is so amazing. You get 8 tracks, it records on flash memory, it has a built-in stereo mic, it has a built-in reverb, and runs on AA batteries. With a price of only $300 retail, this is a device that should be a no-brainer for every musician to own just to get those musical brainstorms recorded quickly.

The DP-08 has some limitations in that it only records 2 tracks at a time and is only 16 bit, but if ever there was a must-have for an artist as a digital scratchpad, this is it. If only I had one of these 25 years ago.

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