Cassetteblogging: the state of the four-track

A Fostex X26 4-track cassette recorder
A Fostex X26 4-track cassette recorder in excellent cosmetic condition

I won a Fostex X-26 4-track cassette portastudio on Marktplaats. People have asked me why I want to record on a 4-track cassette portastudio in 2021 and the best answer that I can find is that a cassette portastudio isn’t going to suddenly roll out a feature to export my mix as a NFT. As answers go, I think that’s quite a showstopper.

In reality, there’s more going on than that. I’ve become a fan of the Bedroom Cassette Masters series of digital releases and want to try making something like that. Those recordings, most of them made by teenagers who knew next to nothing about recording and had only the most primitive tools, sound perfectly good to me in most cases, and even the ones that sound bad, at least sound interestingly bad. Also, I feel nostalgic for the way I used to do things in the 1990s; I just turned 50 this year and I think I’m allowed a little bit of nostalgia as long as I stay aware of the many ways in which the 1990s sucked (as well as the ways they sucked less than today). Also, I have a big problem with choice paralysis and using very limited tools will help me focus on the task at hand (I think. We’ll see). Also, I already spend most of my waking moments behind a computer screen and want a hobby that does not involve a computer.

But disgust with the way tech is going in 2021 is a strong motivation for me to go spend some time as if I’m back in a bygone age, and to refresh the skills that that involves.

Now, the X26 arrived in perfect cosmetic condition but without a manual or a power brick. This is not a problem, because I already have a manual and a power brick, because I already have a Fostex X26. It does not work – the last time I tried to use it, a few years ago, the transport mechanism got stuck in the ‘engaged’ position and I could not even get the cassette out without destroying it. The year before, Aggie and I had cleaned it out and tested it, and it worked fine. We also cleaned out an even more primitive Fostex model, an X15, which turned out, a year later, to also have a problem with the transport mechanism that it didn’t have before.

So I put those away and started looking for an alternative because at the time, that still seemed easier than to repair the issue. However, this year I found that four-track machines have gone up in price dramatically and the higher end models are now no longer worth it for what I want to do. It took me a while to find another X26, and when I tested it after arrival, guess what! The mixing desk section was fine, but the cassette transport didn’t run and disengaged just enough for me to get the cassette out. So Aggie and I did some digging and this is like the number one problem with these devices and a relatively easy fix. It will need four belts and we’ve been able to find sources for the correct belts online. Let’s hope their webshops are up-to-date because these are getting scarce. If we can get belts, we can probably fix both devices, and maybe the X15 as well. Having two identical units will allow us to experiment a bit and maybe cannibalize one for parts.

I do hope we won’t have to re-cap it. That sounds like a drag. But if we must, we will. I plan to have one system in full working order by January.

References:
Cassette Decks for Dummies – basic testing, cleaning and what to expect for general cassette decks. Some of its recommendations are difficult to do with online marketplaces but the testing and cleaning can be done at home and will resolve a lot of issues.
Fostex X-26 Belt Repair. Cooper Dalrymple
Fixing The Forgotten – Fostex X26. Repairing much more severe physical damage to a Fostex X26 using 3D printed parts.
GEC 4-track cassette transport | 1 | Porta One, Porta Two, Porta 05, MT2X, MT3X, X-15 for a more detailed teardown of the mechanism itself.
Fostex X26 belts on Vbrixla, a webstore in Germany. Product description indicates that the belts are of a square type.
Kit 1 für Fostex X-26 Multitrack Recorder. Another German webstore that has a belt kit, with a pinch roller added, at a lower price.
*4 NEW Replacement Belts* for Fostex X-26 4 Track Cassette Recorder. If you’re in the US, this may be a better place for you to order from.