RECORDING TIP: Cassette Multitrack/4-Track Recorder Timeline (since 1979)

[[[ originally posted June 2018. some videos were taken down, so i updated them in may 2020 ]]]

Cassettes have been back for a while now (and as any hipster would know, they never really went away), and several of my students have asked me about 4-tracks and which ones to get. Some googling led me nowhere fast. This information is damn near impossible to find… by and large. The big boys at the time (Tascam and Fostex, respectively) dominated the market. Yamaha came soon after. Vestax and others released cassette multitracks, as well.

the Archived Products/Discontinued Items sections of the Fostex and Tascam sites are incomplete, when it comes to listing the tabletop 4-tracks. I wanted to help people out, in case they wanted to see what was available, from the beginnings of it all, til the cassette multitrack became less popular (probably late 90s/early 2000s). And, for interested people to see what the used market is offering. Here goes! If you find this blog post / page, I hope you find it helpful.

TASCAM (TEAC) Cassette Multitrack Timeline
(the standard, tabletop-designed units)

1979 (or May 1980?)
TEAC/Tascam 144 Portastudio
(the first-ever cassette multitrack. Springsteen recorded Nebraska on one).

1982 (May)
Tascam 244
(the second-generation Portastudio)
first to feature dbx noise reduction, along with 2-band, 4-knob, sweepable EQ

Tascam Porta One Ministudio
first battery-operated  model (I love that shoulder strap!). Shouldn’t most 4-tracks be battery-operated, optionally? Yesssss.

Tascam 246 (replaced the 244)
This allowed the recording of all four channels/tracks at once, and had six inputs instead of just four. It also allowed the option of running the cassette and double speed, or at the normal speed (1 7/8 IPS)

Tascam Porta 05 Ministudio
self-contained 4 in/2 out production 4-track system. Truly compact, convenient “creative companion”, according to Tascam. Beautiful design, too (the pastel colors on the knobs, and the streamlined look).

Tascam Porta Two
Battery-powered if desired, self-contained 4-track recorder with 6-input mixer and effects buss

Tascam Porta Two HS
(high-speed model)

Tascam 644 MIDISTUDIO. First 4 track, 4 channel PORTASTUDIO with MIDI capabilities. (list price was $1,499 in 1989). EDIT– Big thanks to Will Massey for the photo, as I had the wrong model shown.

What a beast!!! Could this be the biggest model, period?

Tascam Porta 03 Ministudio
The very first (affordable) multitrack recorder. Here’s a magazine review of it, from July 1991 by Nik Newark. It listed for $300 in 1991 (street price was $249, from my memory). This is the very first piece of recording gear I ever owned. Parents got it for me, for Christmas 1992.

late 80s/early 90s (trying to find EXACT years)
Tascam 414 (MKI)…

late 80s/early 90s (trying to find EXACT years)
Tascam 424 (1991?)

Tascam Porta 07
4-input, 4-track cassette recorder (same pretty knob type as Porta 05, from years prior).

late 80s/early 90s (trying to find EXACT years)
Tascam 464 (1994?)

late 80s/early 90s (trying to find EXACT years)
Tascam 488 (1996? I have NO idea)
the first 8-track cassette multitrack? At least tabletop model?

(year? No clue)
488 MK2 (XLR inputs!) – the last of the Portastudios?



Tascam Porta 03 MKII (?)
Looks just like the MKI… slightly brighter-colored knobs and faders?

Tascam 414 MKII (1999? That’s the year the manual is copyrighted)

Tascam 424 MKII (1996???)

Tascam 424 MKIII (1997? 1998?)

Tascam Porta 02 (NO idea)

Tascam Porta 02 MKII (2004, possibly earlier)

Tascam MF-P01

FOSTEX Cassette Multitrack Timeline
(the standard, tabletop-designed units)

Fostex Model 250 and Model 250AV – record to all 4 tracks simultaneously. Check out this cool magazine review from 1984, by freelance recording engineer Dave Lockwood

Fostex X-15

Fostex 160

Fostex 260
(1986 was a rival year for Tascam and Fostex)

Fostex X30
Can’t say I’m a fan of this design, at all. What the hell was Fostex thinking?

late 80s / early 90s?
Fostex X12
came in two color variations

Fostex X18

Fostex X26

Fostex X28

Fostex X-28H
high-speed-capable version

Fostex 280

Fostex XR-3

Fostex XR-5

Fostex XR-7


late 90s/early 2000s

1997 (exact year? Not sure)
Fostex X-55

1997 (exact year? Not sure)
Fostex X-77


Fostex X-14


Fostex X-24

Fostex X-34 (I bought this in, I think late 2000? Maybe summer 2001). I think at the time, it was $300 or $350. I let someone borrow it, and they said their mom’s boyfriend threw it out, along with other personal stuff of theirs… ugh. It worked perfectly when I let them borrow it in 2009… gone. I’d like to pick another one up, eventually.


YAMAHA Cassette Multitrack Timeline
(the standard, tabletop-designed units)

Yamaha MT44 modular cassette system


Yamaha MT1X
in my opinion, bot the MT1X and MT2X look like they were made for spaceship components for the 1986 Ridley Scott film Aliens.

Yamaha MT2X

Yamaha MT100 (list price $495)

Late 80s/early 90s

Yamaha MT120 (exact year?)

Yamaha MT3X (1989)

Yamaha MT50 (exact year?)

Yamaha MT4X
($600 street, at the time. Average price (summer 2018) $150-250 depending on the condition.). I had one where the tape heads were completely damaged. Sold it as a busted unit about a year or so again, and recently found one in mint condition on ebay for just over $125. Awesome.

1999? 2000?
Yamaha MT8X
(8-track version of the MT4X)

Yamaha MT8X II

Yamaha MT400 (exact year?) This looks like a late 90s or early 2000s model.. judging by the MT400 font… I would guess 2001)

Clarion XD5500 (1983)
Vesta Fire MR10 (1986)
Vesta Fire MR10 Pro (1986)
Vestax MR100-FX (1988-1989) – built in digital reverb!
Vestax MR300
Vestax MR44

FOSTEX MANUALS (ALL of them should be available, at least as of summer 2018):

TASCAM MANUALS (they’re missing so many models.. like, where’s the 414 MKI? Porta 03? Even the products with a clickable link take you to a blank page, like the 424 and 488… what GIVES, Tascam?):

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  1. David Andrews

    Nice bit of archaeology, that!
    Thank you for sharing! 🙂


  2. trogdor

    Hi, I bought a tascam 488, 8 track in 1992, when it came out. It cost $2,599.00. Worth every penny. My band recorded 3 CDs on it. I saw one for $99.00 @ a music store recently! I still use a tascam 4 track, sounds great, I use it for basic tracks& for bouncing between my digital stuff& back. Great article, thanks.

  3. gyorpb

    You left out the Portastudio 488 Mk II.

    And of course the 388 Studio-8. Which wasn’t, strictly speaking, a Portastudio, of course. But then again, neither were the 644 and 688 Midistudios, or the Porta-xx Ministudios. The 388 was, however, marketed as “the ultimate Portastudio”.

  4. Glenn

    Great resource. I have a bunch of recordings from my MT-44. I want to pull them off, ideally in four-track form. Do you, or does anyone else, know if cassettes from an MT-44 are compatible with other Yamaha decks from that period of time? I bought a Tascam a few years back and they weren’t compatible with it.

  5. Andie

    MT-44 was a working horse for Russian rock bands during the 80’s.

  6. Igor

    You should check the 6 track Sansui. It’s an awesome machine, and also the 4 track recorder Marantz made in late 90’s. Both are at a higher level of most of the tascam or yamaha units. I had the MT2X from Yamaha and sounded better than the 90’s Tascam 424. It’s a pitty we were abandoned and can’t fix the cassette mechanism. I have 2 units with the same problem. The heads won’t move into the cassette to touch the tape, so it’s unusable to record nor play.

  7. Steve Kamin

    great info—
    Tascam Porta 07 Ministudio speed doubled from the normal 1⅞ ips (4.75cm/s)
    Here is the advertising listing “The Porta 07 has a broadly similar spec, with two important extras: double tape speed now comes as standard,”
    AND – after this model the ONE and TWO models had a wider tape track spacing… So backwards compatibility Ends here. Here is a really great review article that cover almost all of the Tascam models…

  8. i recently jumped on the tapeloop train. and bought myself a tascam 424 mkII. and now i was looking for more info about the whole porta series. and found it here. thanks for the timeline. very informative.

    • ccaulder

      You’re welcome, Chris. Btw, I’ve heard of you and dig your work. Thanks for stopping by my humble, tiny piece of the creative universe.

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