Hands-On Review:An 8-Track Passport to Creativity

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By Holly Street

Tascam 788 Digital Portastudio

Whether you're just starting out or have been at it for years, if you're serious about it, writing great songs and cutting inspired tracks is hard work.


So why make things harder on yourself with outdated equipment? You need gear that gives you every opportunity to capture your musical vision. You need the Tascam 788 Digital 8-Track Portastudio. The 788 is a powerful, affordable, and easy-to-use machine for beginners, for experienced performers, and for professionals who need a portable, digital multitracker that can take them from great ideas to finished product.

Get your motor runnin'

Hidden beneath the 788's hood is the musical equivalent of a turbocharged V8: a 7.5GB hard drive, flexible mixer, and two independent effects processors, all in an eye-catching and user-friendly package that weighs in at under 7 lbs. (It looks like older, analog Portastudios, because Tascam deliberately designed it that way. Why mess with success-over a million units' worth since 1980?) Let's look at what the 788 can do for your music.

Songwriting is messy

You wouldn't need a 788 if songs revealed themselves pre-arranged and in perfect chronological order. If only the muses saw fit to deliver first an intro, then a verse, chorus, break, and outro. But they don't. After years of trying to put together my own musical puzzles with a tape-based system, I can tell you it's about as much fun as digging a ditch. Thankfully, Tascam has taken a lot of the sweat out of songwriting. It'll never be a breeze, but the 788 is a breath of fresh air. Let me show you why.


Say you've already laid down voice, guitar, bass, and drum tracks for a verse and a chorus, but now you're stuck. Why not steal the chorus for use as your intro, slyly replacing the vocal part with an instrumental hook (think "Smells Like Teen Spirit")?


With your typical analog machine, you'd have to go back to square one. But with the 788 it's relatively easy. Select the measures to be moved by setting locate points at the start of the chorus and at the end-copy and paste them in place at the beginning of the song using the 788's three dedicated edit buttons (copy, cut, and paste). It really is that easy. With all the time you saved, why not keep going and try to write a contrasting middle eight? Fire up the 788's effects processors and blast your listeners off into space for a bit. Use up to five effects-reverb, delay, chorus, flanger, phaser, and many more, each fully programmable-in combination to produce that spaced-out vibe you're looking for. The 788 has storage capacity for 128 of your custom-built effects patches.

I'm with the band

Songwriting by committee is even tougher than going it alone, but the 788 makes it possible for you to weld the best parts of your group's messy rehearsals into fully realized compositions. Picture this: Everyone plugs in and tunes up. You flip on the 788, assign everyone their own channel, press Record, and off you go. Two hours later, ears buzzing, you pull the plug and call it a night.


Alone at home days later, you give a listen. It's the same old same old. But then in the middle of a lengthy and directionless group improv, you hear yourself pull off-once and only once -an amazing, soulful, achingly delicious lick. A lick cool enough to build a whole song around. With the 788, your inspiration doesn't have to wait for anyone. By calling up a waveform of your riff on the 788's viewscreen-a visual representation of what you played. You're able to make a surgical cut, precise to 1/30th of a second, and pluck your diamond out of the mud. After the 788 duplicates the lick to your specified length, you can copy a compatible section of the drum track from earlier in the jam, pilfer a tasty bass line from yet a third point in the proceedings, and weld them on top of each other. Quick as a flash, a flabby free-for-all has been transformed into a buff and chiseled model of muscular music (sort of).

Somebody stop me

I just can't seem to say enough about the 788. Unlike many digital multitrackers, it doesn't compress your digital signal. I mean, why throw away a large percentage of your source material in the recording process? You might not think compressing a signal hurts it much. Wrong. The differences are subtle, but they're perceptible and, with the 788, completely unnecessary.


Check these specs: six-track simultaneous recording with eight-track playback. Three-stage shelf and parametric EQ for each track. Up to 99 takes of automated punch-in and punch-out. A factory-loaded demonstration song gives you an opportunity to experiment with the 788's EQ and effects settings. A Slow Speed Audition feature allows you to record songs off CDs and play them back slower without a change in pitch. A Quick Setup function assigns settings and routings for you until you feel ready to take over the 788's controls. It may not restring your guitar for you, but there's little else the 788 can't do. Create. Play with 250 virtual tracks per song and nearly two hours of eight-track recording until the neighbors call the cops. When you're done, fire up the SCSI port and send your masterpiece to a compatible CD-R burner (not included) to make a Red Book-compliant master CD ready for mass production. With the Tascam 788, one of any musician's toughest challenges just got quite a bit easier.


So go ahead. Give Musician's Friend a call or e-mail to get one of these groundbreaking multitrackers shipped to your front door. You won't find a better price or friendlier service anywhere.

Tascam 788 Digital 8-Track PortaStudio Features:


  • 8-track, 24-bit hard disk recorder
  • 7.5GB internal hard disk
  • 6-track simultaneous recording
  • 8-track simultaneous playback
  • Shelf and parametric EQ
  • Two onboard effects processors
  • Non-destructive editing
  • SCSI port for data backup and CD burning
  • Waveform views (with scrubbing)
  • Versatile digital routing and mixing