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I'm currently trying to record a pulse train used as a tempo clock for music instruments (e.g. output of Korg Volca 'sync out') onto my Fostex M-8 reel-to-reel recorder, with the aims to then reproduce the recorded pulses to act as a clock source for the instruments. A working demonstration of this using a different tape recorder can be seen here in this youtube video, so I know it's possible to get working.

My problem: When I use my recorder pulse signal as input to a Volca Bass unit, I'm getting very erratic behavior where the playback is irregular and at a different tempo than when I recorded the signal.

I'm using a Roland tr-09 as my clock source, and the output of the trig jack gives a nice clean square wave:

captured output of the tr-09 signal source

The captured signal from the output of the reel-to-reel gives a slightly attenuated pulse, with a very long discharging tail from a negative polarity back to zero.

captured output of the reel-to-reel

I'm getting this weird capacitance looking discharge. Is this just the nature of the tape that's causing this? Is there something about a DC component being filtered out? Why did the demonstration in the linked video work, which is also recording onto tape, but I'm getting this result?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Poor low frequency response. Measure the time constant of that exponential decay and you'll be able to design an equaliser for it (turning the bass up may be enough, but it's unlikely)) \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond May 18 '20 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I get a 6-7Hz rolloff, which is pretty darned good for audio. \$\endgroup\$ – TimWescott May 18 '20 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ What input does this Volca Bass unit need? You're going to have AC coupled audio, and what you've got is surprising me for its low-frequency response. Are you sure that the video didn't run the output through something to clean it up and essentially do a DC restore to it? \$\endgroup\$ – TimWescott May 18 '20 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tim ... I hadn't looked at the timebase settings. As you say, pretty good! as could be expected from a Fostex. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond May 18 '20 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious - why are you using the tape for this? Various freeware programs exist which let you use your PC's headphone jack output as a signal generator. The PC will be able to create a much cleaner square wave, with orders of magnitude better frequency stability. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham May 19 '20 at 9:58
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Your original digital signal is bent out of shape because it has been high-pass filtered by the tape recorder.

Let's have a look at Korg Volca service manual and dig in the schematics, here is the input circuit for Sync:

enter image description here

Presence of R158 hints at trouble as this is not some simple digital input circuit. On the contrary Q9 is in linear mode, biased by the resistors around it. I'll just run a simulation:

enter image description here

I removed the EMI filters (inductor and caps) on the original schematic. V1 models the original "square wave pulse" clock signal. C1, R1 and unity gain buffer E2 model the tape recorder and its high-pass filtering action. This results in signal "hipass" on the simulation plot, which looks like what you get on the scope.

enter image description here

Trace "out" is the output of the first transistor, and traces "rise" and "fall" are the corresponding signals in the service manual schematics. The names hint at a rising/falling edge detector, and all the signals look like garbage. This is not working.

Now I remove the circuit which simulates the response of your tape recorder and feed the square wave signal directly to the simulated Korg Vulca. It seems to work, outputs "rise" and "fall" produce neat pulses on corresponding edges of the input signal.

enter image description here

So we know the reason why it doesn't work: the Vulca input circuit likes to receive a nice square wave. They could have fixed this with an extra 5c transistor, but, hey, it costs money.

Also the input circuit doesn't seem to care much about input voltage level since I mistakenly used 5V clock pulses and it works. It also works with 12V pulses which is what your scope shows.

So you need a circuit to turn the highpass-filtered clock into a square signal with nice flat constant levels between edges.

Since the signal is digital, a simple way to recover the original signal would be to use a comparator, a CMOS 4000 buffer, or a two transistor circuit shown below:

enter image description here

You can use any kind of NPN like 2N3904, BC547, etc. Power supply voltage is not critical, like 5-12V. You could even stick it inside the Vulca and tap its power supply.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much for this thorough investigation! This is exactly the kind of background I need to be able to investigate this stuff further on my own, and thanks for the suggested circuits. \$\endgroup\$ – Rasmus Källqvist May 19 '20 at 8:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ What program did you use for this simulation? \$\endgroup\$ – Cheiron May 19 '20 at 10:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cheiron Microcap, it's my favorite. \$\endgroup\$ – bobflux May 19 '20 at 11:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Xofo Peufeu answered that Microcap was used. I'm going to try it out! Looks like a nice SPICE tool. \$\endgroup\$ – Rasmus Källqvist May 19 '20 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a freeware version available... and a bittorrent version available too, lol \$\endgroup\$ – bobflux May 19 '20 at 20:20
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Magnetic recording is inherently differential; using an inductive pickup, one measures changes in the magnetic field rather than levels. This implies a rolloff at some frequency which will be determined by the specifics of circuit design. The DC and low frequency components are being attenuated due to that effect.

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I had a quick look at the video, and didn't see an image of a waveform.

It is entirely possible that the waveform recorded in the video is just a distorted as your is, but that it still works.

Tape recorders can't record DC. Even if they could, most audio gear is AC coupled - DC is removed from all signals. The waveform you show looks like a square wave that's been through a high pass filter to remove the DC.

Old personal computers (1970-1980 era) used tape recorders and square wave signals to record data and programs on cassette tapes.

They used a schmitt trigger to reshape the distorted waves into nice, neat square waves to be handled by the microprocessor on playback.

The edges of your signal are still sharp. A schmitt trigger could fix your signal to be a square wave again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Tape recorders can't record DC. - The pedant in me obliges me to point out that you can record DC signals on magnetic tape, it's just difficult to do and not too useful in practice, so generally available recorders don't support it. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf May 19 '20 at 9:58
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The clock signal expects DC coupling that no audio equipment is expected to have.

The PROPER way to fix the problem is probably modulation - the clock signal to modulate some carrier well into the recorder useful frequency response. A simple telegraph-style AM should work - high level of the clock signal to produce 1-5kHz carrier, low level to produce silence. The demodulator will be rather simple (diode, capacitor and resistor).

Well, depending on the environment, it may be easier to use an equalizer or an edge-triggered logic gate in order to recover the original pulses. If the input is tolerant to different signal levels, it may as well work better at some different signal level. All these half-ass solutions will depend on the beat frequency and work for one rhythm an fail for some other.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ FSK used to be one of the sync-options available in old Roland instruments during the 80s, so modulation is probably the proper way to do it. For my home studio purposes, I think I might be able to get away with some kind of simple pulse restoration circuit. \$\endgroup\$ – Rasmus Källqvist May 19 '20 at 15:50

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