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Published: Mon July 05, 2004  News Feed

What if you’re beginning to have ideas for your own have ideas for your own songs, harmonies, or arrangements, but don’t know how to get them out of your head and onto a recording?

You could wait until you’ve learned how to write and play every instrument in a band before you get started. Or, you could get a Tascam Pocketstudio 5, a stand-alone music workstation for people who want to express musical ideas, but can’t do everything themselves.

The Pocketstudio 5 is a perfect “step up” for musicians who started out playing along with CDs or singing to karaoke machines and are ready to advance to the next level of musical understanding. It lets you be musical in a fun framework that’s flexible enough to start writing your own songs. To call it an “entry-level”product doesn’t do it justice, because there is a lot of potential built into this little sub £200 device.

From the outside, it looks somewhat like a small 4-track recorder, but it also contains a “band-in-a-box” or auto-accompaniment device. This means that the Pocketstudio has electronic instruments (such as keyboards, bass, and drums) built right in. These internal instruments can be played by the internal MIDI Arranger, giving you backing tracks in a variety of styles without having to know anything about “MIDI” or “sequencers” (but it will expand your knowledge and let you grow in that direction). That gives the Pocketstudio the power of an 8-track recorder, since the rhythm section is handled internally via these MIDI “virtual tracks,” leaving the four digital audio tracks open to record live vocals, guitars, or anything you want.

For example, the Pocketstudio lets you select a background style (like “hard rock,” “jazz,” or “country”) that’s not a specific song. This accompaniment isn’t a recording...it’s actually playing the drums, bass, keyboards and other instruments in real time through its internal synthesizer. It’s not quite a  “sequencer” (where you’d have to program every single drum and every note of every chord), but it’s much more than just a sequence playback device.

Growing into songwriting.

Most people get interested in multitrack recording equipment to help them with songwriting and arranging. Songwriters have a lot of things to struggle with, and just  having a drum beat to play with can be a big help. Add a bass part and a keyboard part playing open, general arrangements, and it’s easier to start improvising a melody to those words you jotted down on a napkin last night. The Pocketstudio 5 even provides a headset mic and can run on batteries so you can work on lyrics and melodies while you’re walking down a country road.

New songs don’t always fit intopre-established beats, keys and arrangements. This is where the Pocketstudio goes beyond a “beat box” or “auto-arranger.” You can change the key, harmonies and structure of any arrangement after its initial builtin style has inspired you. As long as you understand the difference between a C major chord and an E minor chord, you can program the Pocketstudio to play different chords than what came in the “standard” arrangement at any point.

Digital recording with no moving parts.

The Pocketstudio records its audio tracks onto Compact Flash cards instead of tape. A 32 MB card is supplied, which gives you about 10 minutes of 4-track recording plus 10 minutes of 2-track mixdown time, and you can double or quadruple that time with larger cards available at electronics and offi ce supply stores. The sound quality is very good, competitive with the best cassette recorders and similar to commercial MP3 units. Recording onto solidstate memory cards is trouble-free and allows nonlinear editing with simple copy and paste commands.

There are built-in effects (like reverb, distortion, chorus) and even a guitar tuner!

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