More than likely due to the rise in computer recording, we are not seeing quite as many new self-contained hardware studios released as we once did.
But the genre is still going strong - particularly at Tascam, the pioneers of the whole personal studio revolution with the original Portastudio. It has just brought out a new digital Portastudio model: the DP-02.
The DP-02 records uncompressed 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD-audio to an internal hard drive and also has a CD-RW writer.
This is an eight-track machine in that it can play back up to eight tracks of audio but recording is limited to two tracks at a time - either as two separate mono tracks or in stereo.
The dual input channels each sport an XLR socket complete with phantom power to accommodate condenser mics as well as 6.4mm jack inputs - the jack input on channel A being switchable to Hi-Z (high impedance) so you can plug a guitar straight in.
The effects processor in the DP-02 means that you can add an effect to the dry input signal and record the whole sound.
The effects are categorised by instrument - electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, vocal, drum - and by far the largest group are those for electric guitar with almost 80 presets, all having just one adjustable parameter.
All have descriptive names and a brief description in the manual, and there are sounds with amp and speaker emulation plus effects for plenty of different musical styles.
Besides the effects, another benefit for the guitarist on the DP-02 model is that it has an onboard tuner.
Other guitarist-friendly features on both machines are the hands-free recording modes that mean you can keep your hands on the instrument and initiate recording with an optional footswitch or by programming in timing points for the automatic punch in/punch out function.
Tascam has never been strong on drum machines or sampled beats in its recorders, but you do get a metronome that will either generate an internal sound or send out a combination of two MIDI notes (one for the start of the bar, one for each beat) to an external drum machine.
For more sophisticated beats an external drum machine or sequencer can be synchronised as the machine can transmit MIDI Clock or MTC.
The audio output from a sequencer or drum machine can be brought in through the stereo mix input to be mixed with the recorded tracks at the machine's stereo output, or it can be connected to the A and B inputs and recorded.
While other companies utilise virtual tracks in their machines, Tascam doesn't implement this here at all - what you get are just the eight tracks which, while not being quite so versatile, may be less confusing to use and could be seen as a good thing in the way that it concentrates the mind on making on the spot musical decisions about whether a performance is good enough rather than recording loads and choosing one later.
The life of the eight tracks can, however, be extended to make bigger productions by track bouncing either to spare tracks or, if all tracks are full, by bouncing all eight to the stereo master track and then moving that bounced audio to a pair of playback tracks and clearing the remaining tracks to record more audio.
Onboard are all the basic editing facilities for cutting, copying and pasting audio - enabling you to easily build up a song from sections - but there's no advanced stuff like pitch-shifting or time-stretching.
As for mixing, you get high and low EQ knobs on each playback channel plus panning and one effects send. With both machines this effects send can be used to access an external effects processor with its output being brought back into the left and right return sockets.
The DP-02 also has reverb in its onboard effects processor, which can be used instead of external effects.
You have several choices when your mix is ready - the audio can be sent directly to the audio outputs, but can also be recorded internally onto the stereo master track.
Once it exists on the master track the mix can then be sent to the outputs for recording by an external recorder or it can be transferred to a computer via the USB connection.
Tascam has always intended its Portastudio range to be as simple to use as possible and the DP-02 is no exception.
The goal, of recording in the most straightforward manner that digital technology allows, is achieved through a practical user-interface with lots of physical knobs for dedicated functions wherever possible rather than data wheels and menus.
There have to be data wheels and menus for some of the functions, but their implementation here is pretty intuitive - it doesn't take long to get the measure of these machines.
However, it has to be said that the display is a little on the small side and difficult to see unless you are right on top of the machine - although the display is backlit, it's a shame it isn't angled up slightly.
Sound-wise, the preamps in the two input channels seem well up to scratch so the recorded audio quality is really good.
The effects processing in the DP-02 can add another dimension to the sound as it's being recorded and there is plenty of variety available in the type of effects available.
While the amp sims are not as close to the real thing, or as adjustable as you'd get in a separate dedicated unit, they are very usable - plugging in and playing seems natural.
In terms of sounds offered there's stuff that will appeal to a wide range of players from mellow jazz to metal.
Once all the recording and editing is done, mixing is very much hands-on with the knobs and fader on each channel.
The EQ knobs each work nicely at the well-chosen default frequency, but this is not fixed and it's a simple matter to delve into the menu and choose a different frequency for each knob - a great help when mixing and getting sounds to sit together.
In our view, reverb is an essential element in any mix and the reverb in the DP-02 adds that vital sense of space that can 'glue' the tracks together.
The emphasis is on the recording of quality audio rather than providing an all-in-one production workstation with drum and maybe bass programming - if you are looking for those facilities you will need to look elsewhere.
However, if you have your own drum machine or are happy with a metronome, this machine could be a sound choice for easily knocking your ideas into shape or creating demos.
Ease of use; CD-quality audio recording; useful range of insert FX; CD burner.
Display hard to see; live audio from stereo mix input cannot be recorded to master track.
The compact digital eight-track of choice if you don't need onboard drums.
• SAMPLING FREQUENCY: 44.1kHz • QUANTIZATION: 16-bit • TRACKS: 8 playback • SIMULTANEOUS RECORDING: 2 tracks • EQ RANGE: High 1.7kHz-18kHz, Low 32Hz-1.6kHz • CONNECTIONS: Inputs: 2 x jack, 2 x XLR, stereo mix (mini jack). Outputs: RCA phono line l/r. S/PDIF (20bit) digital, MIDI Out. Effects loop send, return l/r., stereo headphone out, USB 2.0 port, footswitch input • EFFECTS: (DP-02 only) 122 insert effects patches (79 electric, 11 acoustic, 7 bass, 13 vocal, 12 drum), send/return reverb effect (hall, room, live, studio) • PHANTOM POWER: Yes • POWER REQUIREMENTS: DC 12V AC
Eight-track digital personal studio recorder with Internal 40GB hard drive
Footswitch (Tascam RC-30P)