The 10 best recordings on the iconic TASCAM Portastudio
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11.02.2022

The 10 best recordings on the iconic TASCAM Portastudio

TASCAM Portastudio songs
Words by Andy Lloyd-Russell

50 years of cassette-recorded musical history

In 2022, it’s hard to imagine that a little over 50 years ago back in 1971, marked the beginning of the home recording revolution. At the time, TASCAM, the little known professional audio division of electronics company TEAC had been birthed and put simply, went on to completely revolutionise audio recording with one ingenuous product line, Portastudio.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Starting with the TASCAM/TEAC 144 Portastudio in 1979, this humble 4-track cassette recorder took the audio world by storm bringing multi track recording into the homes of the many who weren’t able to afford big budget studio time.

The Tascam 244 Portastudio soon followed in 1982, with improved features such as DBX noise-reduction, refined EQ and the ability to record 4 tracks simultaneously. Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the Portastudio line continued to evolve and expand with notable additions such as the Porta One Ministudio in 1984, which was the first battery operated portable studio, through to the 246 Portastudio, the 414, 424 and 424 MKII, with expanded I/O, more flexible EQ and track count.  

Whilst the advancements and improvements of each new iteration of the Portastudio series is fascinating, particularly for their time, where the real beauty of the Portastudio story lies is in the music that has been recorded on these decks over the years.

With the announcement of the TASCAM 424 Studio Master High Bias Type II Cassette tape (packaged as the 424 Studio Master C-60) to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, we thought it prudent to breakdown 10 key moments in musical history which were created on these humble, yet impactful cassette recorders. We’re sure many will bake in the blissful nostalgia many of these recordings have imprinted over the years.

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

Recorded on a TEAC (Tascam) 144 Portastudio along with a pair of Shure SM57’s. As Springsteen’s long-time engineer Toby Scott recalls… “he’d enlisted his guitar roadie, Mike Batlan, telling him ‘go find me a little tape machine – nothing too sophisticated, just something I can do overdubs on. It was a simple, straight-ahead machine – perfect for what Bruce wanted to do.”

Theses demo recordings went on to be mastered and released as the critically acclaimed record Nebraska, released in 1982.

Seal – Kiss from a Rose

What started as a demo recording made on a 244 Portastudio by Seal in the late 80’s, which he was supposedly embarrassed by, so much so he had “thrown the tape in the corner”. It ended up becoming one of his biggest hits.

Ween – The Pod and Pure Guava

Irreverent, eclectic, and downright bloody brilliant. Ween has developed a cult following over the years and the fact they self-released six cassettes in the late ’80s is very much canon.

The band’s second and third albums were recorded using a Portastudio, possibly a Porta 3, as recalled by Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween).

Lou Reed – New York

In the late ’80s, the working demos of the album were created using a cassette multitrack unit. As Reed explained in an interview with Musician magazine… “I had been making these great cassettes at home”. In the end, a single B-side was taken directly from one of the demo cassettes.

Alan Wilder – 1+2

Alan Wilder (formally Depeche Mode, worked under the solo artist name Recoil) recorded his first two albums 1+2 on a four-track Portastudio.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Early demos

The first demos created by William and Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain were recorded on a Tascam Portastudio. These cassette tape demos were sent to Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream, previously The Jesus and Mary Chain) and Alan McGee (Creation Records), and the rest as they say, is history. 

“Weird Al” Yankovic – “Weird Al” Yankovic

Recording original and parody songs in his bedroom using an accordion and a “cheesy little tape recorder” at age 16 saw Yankovic gain airtime on Dr Demento’s comedy radio show.

Yankovic upgraded his setup and recorded half of his songs on his self-titled debut album with a Tascam Portastudio, in the humble surrounds of his drummer’s garage. He then signed up for a proper studio.

John Frusciante – Niandra Lades & Usually Just A T-Shirt and Smil From The Streets You Hold

After departing the Red Hot Chili Peppers after the astronomical success of their breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Frusciante went on to record as a solo artist and recorded his two first solo albums on a Portastudio 424.

Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

After the recording and mixing was completed, the esteemed debut album was mixed down to a Portastudio 244. True cassette vibe.

Mac Demarco – Rock and Roll Night Club

The indie icon recorded his 2012 debut mini-LP with none other than a Tascam 244 Portastudio. Listening to the album, it makes extensive use of the 244’s pitch control, as well as employing the method of bouncing three separate tracks down to a single track. This use of analogue pitch control has become a staple of Demarco’s recording aesthetic ever since.

The revered Tascam Portastudio cassette recorder has not only influenced and inspired the artists of the early years of its existence but are still widely used today by countless musicians, songwriters, audio engineers, and mixers alike.

The simplicity of design and distinct analogue vibe and cassette tape saturation keep these units in high esteem. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with one of the earlier models still in good nick, expect to see a pretty penny for them, these retro machines command a high price.

Hear it from TASCAM themselves how they forever changed the audio industry by jumpstarting the home recording revolution.