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TASCAM 424 Mk3 Review
by Srikanth Narayanan

(NOTE: I received my 424 Mk3 as a free upgrade replacement for a "defective" 424 MkII than I bought in January 1999. I have not seen the Mk3 in stores yet, so I do not know how much it will retail for.)

The first things I noticed: there are now six full function channels on the mixer, and the top access to the inputs and outputs is gone, replaced by rear access. The rest of the buttons on the MkII are still here, just in different places. The PAUSE button is gone, and the LINE OUT monitor has a new MONO setting to listen to bussed L or R tracks, instead of the old separate L, R monitor switches. Also, the input for the punch-in/punch-out foot switch is now on the rear of the machine.

New! Check out detailed photos of the top and the back of this unit.

How the 424 Mk3 compares to the 424 MkII

Objective improvements:

  • channels 5 and 6 are now separate full function channels with individual TRIM, input select, EQ, tape Cues, PAN and Channel fader controls.
  • the Punch-in/Punch out performance on my Mk3 is quieter than that of the MkII I had for a short while. No clicks or pops as it punches in or punches out.

Subjective improvements:

  • The Mk3 is generally smaller and lighter than the MkII. But this came at a cost. (See below: Tradeoffs).
  • There is no wasted or unused space on the top surface of the Mk3 (unlike the empty column under inputs 5/6 on the MkII).
  • Counter does not automatically reset when I change tapes. I’ve already found this to be convenient when I was comparing different cassette recordings and wanted to keep a fixed counter reference for easy shuttling.


  • Top access to the inputs and outputs are gone. This makes the volume of the Mk3 smaller, but I found the top access to be really convenient, functional and ideal. The way the input/output section sloped slightly backwards so that the cables gently curved behind the unit...perfect. Now, to plug cables in or out of the Mk3, a user has to bend over the unit to see its backside, or lift the whole thing up to one’s face to. (Not so difficult as the Mk3 by itself is comparatively light).
  • The adapter is external again. This makes the Mk3 itself lighter, but once again breaks the 424 into two pieces. At least this external power adapter is well designed. It has a cable with a special plug that connects to the Mk3 on one side, and a regular polarized two prong plug to connect to the wall socket from its other side. This way, there is no big mass hanging from a wall socket, ready to fall out.

Subjective regressions:

The electronics of the Mk3’s mixer section do not seem to be as good as those on the MkII. At this moment, it is impossible for me to objectively measure and compare them to each other, but my general impression is that the Mk3 allows more signal bleed through where not wanted than the MkII does. Very strong signals will be heard regardless of the attempts to quiet them using individual channel trim, tape cue or slider controls. Solution: don’t use or record signals that are strong enough to be heard as unwanted bleed through. A signal that hot will actually still sound great, so be mindful about levels, cause once recorded you won’t be able to selectively shut them off. Having said that, I’m finding that with some care, I’m having no problems with bleed throughs or mixer noise. The unit works fine.

Objective regressions:

  • The legs of the machine have no rubber on them, so the machine slides around very easily when I plug and unplug cables from its back. (Anything with horizontal connectors need legs with very good table grip!)
  • No PAUSE button. Most likely eliminated because there was no width for six shuttle buttons on the Mk3. Perhaps a PAUSE button is not necessary since STOP works just as well, but still...

Just a change?

No spring loaded "push down click switch" for the cassette compartment. Now there is just a hinged lid powered by human fingers. (Less chance for a spring breakage?)

General Comments:

  • Of the six MIC/LINE inputs, 1 to 4 have stereo 1/4" inputs, while 5 and 6 are mono (or left only) 1/4" inputs. As on the MkII, inputs 7 and 8 are two mono 1/4" inputs paired up together for stereo sound, and the "Effect 1 Send" and "Effect 2 Send /Tape Cue" are both mono 1/4" outputs.
  • Channel 5 can accept signals from inputs 1, 3 and 5, while channel 6 can accept signals from inputs 2, 4 and 6. Signals from inputs 7 and 8 go straight to the master fader. To record any instruments plugged into inputs 5-8, use the Buss L or Buss R record funtions.
  • As far as the recording section is concerned, there is no difference between the Mk3 and the MkII (except the previously mentioned better "punch in /punch out" performance, which may or may not vary from individual unit to unit). The sound quality is quite impressive, and the dbx makes tape hiss hardly noticeable while keeping very good sound definition and "liveness". While the dbx TYPE II noise reduction is the same as that on the MkII, I find that the Mk3 I now have, seems to work a bit better than the MkII I had briefly. (Again, perhaps individual variation between specific units?)
  • Like the MkII, the Mk3’s routing is such that we can use it as a mixer, bypass the recording section, and record 2 tracks straight from the line outs onto a better quality /longer recording-time medium like VCR, MD or DAT. (One can always record simultaneously on the 424's cassette and the additional line out recorder. Get ‘em both, a multitrack, and an immediate rough mixdown). This is very practical in making high quality recordings of long performances, improv sessions and the like. With eight inputs, six of which have full channel controls, this feature will come in handy for those inexpensive, high quality, direct to 2 track recordings many of us will occasionally make. (Oh, and that does take skill.)


Am I happy with my free upgrade, or do I want to re-exchange my Mk3 for an MkII?

While I really liked the MkII’s top access to the inputs and outputs, all the functional features of the MkII are on the Mk3. The Mk3 however, has these two additional channels to play with and a slightly smaller size that gently tilts my desires towards the Mk3. (It took me a few days to figure out my preference).

While the 424 MkII was a direct improvement on the original 424 in just about every way, the Mk3 is rather a "sideways evolution" of the MkII. Different, but not necessarily better. Some design changes are better, but some subjectively are not. Most changes, while good, came with a price of compromise.

If that seems like lackluster support for the Mk3, please consider my viewpoint. In my opinion, before the Mk3, the 424 MkII was clearly the best cassette 4 track currently on the market. Nothing else could withstand a direct comparison with its features, quality and "for the $" value. The 424 Mk3 also blows away all the other 4 track units, but at best, it can only "edge" the 424 MkII. Sure, the MkII’s only real flaw was its size and weight, and TASCAM addressed these with the 424 Mk3, but with trade offs: smaller size and less mass -> no top access to inputs/outputs, and an external adapter. Are those improvements or deteriorations? It depends, as each of us has our own preferences.

In one sentence:

If you are shopping around for a 4 track cassette recorder, I strongly suggest you focus on the 424's both MkII and Mk3, they are the best currently on the market.


There are important errors on page 18 in the Mk3 manual. They messed up step 2, forgot a very important step (my step 3 below) and have two steps in a less efficient order. Following the published manual exactly will result in a lot of frustrated customers who won’t understand why they can’t hear what they just recorded. To correct this, the complete instructions for p. 18, titled "Track 1 Playback through TAPE CUE", should read as follows: (Important changes are in boldface)

  1. Set the EFFECT 2/TAPE CUE selection switch located below the LEVEL control to the right/TAPE CUE position.
  2. Slide the MONITOR SELECT LINE OUT switch to the right OFF position.
  3. Slide the MONITOR SELECT EFFECT/CUE switch to the center EFFECT 2/CUE position.
  4. Press the RTZ key. The tape will rewind, automatically stopping at the zero counter point.
  5. Press PLAY.
  6. Locate the EFFECT 2/TAPE Cue level control on channel 1 and slowly turn it to the right. You’ll hear in center mono, what you recorded on track 1
  7. Turn the MONITOR LEVEL control up or down to the desired listening level.
  8. Press STOP to stop play.

Country of Origin

The 424 MkII I got in January was made in Taiwan, the 424 Mk3 I now have was made in China. China has lower wages so that will help to keep the manufacturing costs down so that it can enter the market at an acceptable price in 1999 (about 40% lower than the entry price of the MkII in 1996). My experience with buying goods in Canada has been that stuff made in China is the least expensive, but also the cheapest made.

I still like the unit I have a lot. I also buy lots of "Made in China", but quality wise, made in Japan seems to be the best.

For more info about this review, or about my experiences using the 424 Mk3, email me at kamraj@sprint.ca

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