In 1979, TASCAM revolutionized the recording industry when they introduced the world’s first four-track cassette recorder. As if that wasn’t impressive enough: built into the same housing was a complete 4 x 2 mixer with mic/line inputs, five faders, an auxiliary send, two-band equalization and pan control. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.
Product PointsApplications: Project studio, live sound, broadcast
Key Features: 24-track, 44.1 kHz 24-bit workstation; 36-channel mixer; three aux sends per channel; eight mic/line inputs (4 x XLR-1/4-inch combo with phantom power, 4 x 1/4-inch); 8 tracks simultaneous record; 20 x 45mm faders; three-band EQ per channel; eight assignable dynamics processors; stereo bus compressor; multi-effects and guitar effects processor; 64-voice/16-Part General MIDI module; 40GB hard drive; CD-RW burner; USB 2.0 data interface.
Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, Web Site.
Dubbed the TEAC 144 and retailing for $1,100, the “Portastudio” was born. Twenty-five years later, TASCAM pushes the envelope once again with the introduction of its 2488 Digital Portastudio ($1,499), a 24-track self-contained workstation that sells on the street for little more than the original four-track cassette Portastudio.
The TASCAM 2488 is intended to provide all the tools necessary to record and mix 24-track projects without a major financial investment. To that end, TASCAM has loaded the 2488 with a fairly comprehensive feature set with surprisingly few obvious examples of cut-corners.
The 2488 features a whopping 20 faders: twelve mono channel faders (Channels 1-12), six stereo channel faders (Channels 13-24); a stereo tone generator fader and the master stereo fader. Each of the channel faders has a set of three backlit buttons: mute/solo, select and record-enable.
The workstation can record up to eight simultaneous tracks and play back 24 tracks (12 mono plus six stereo) of uncompressed audio. The Portastudio’s sample rate is fixed at 44.1 kHz; 16-bit or 24-bit resolution can be selected with no impact on the record/play track count.
All connections on the 2488 are located on the rear panel. There are a total of eight balanced analog inputs, with four on XLR-1/4-inch combo jacks (inputs A – D) and four on TRS 1/4-inch jacks (inputs E – H).
The main monitor outputs are on two TRS 1/4-inch connectors and a direct stereo mix is available on a pair of RCA jacks. TASCAM provides two unbalanced effects sends for routing to external effects or dedicated headphone system. S/PDIF digital I/O (RCA), MIDI I/O and a USB 2.0 connector (for data backup and WAV file transfer) are also on the rear panel.
Input H is duplicated on the front edge of the Portastudio and configured for the input of unbalanced high-impedance sources such as guitar or bass. Also on the front panel are the headphones, punch in/out and expression pedal jacks.
The eight analog inputs can be put into a submix mode, meaning that they can be summed and sent to the stereo bus (or to tracks in “bounce” mode). A submix level controls the volume of the bus output. Recorded tracks can also be bounced using this method.
For mix down, the 2488 Portastudio can become a 36-channel mixer, with inputs derived from the 24 recorded tracks, eight submix channels, the stereo tone generator return (see In Use below), plus the stereo effects return. With the exception of the effects return, all of the above channels have three aux sends (one internal effect send plus the two external sends) and a 3-band equalizer. The EQ is comprised of two sweepable shelving filters and a fully parametric mid band.
Up to eight effects or processors (depending on the effect or multi-effect configuration chosen) can be assigned to either the source input channels or inserted on the fader channels. In addition, there is a “loop effect” assigned to the internal aux send and a dedicated dynamics processor for the master stereo bus.
A built-in CD-RW recorder is included for data backup, WAV file import/export and for recording the stereo mix. The CD drive can also act as a general audio CD player.
As evidenced by the writing style of the manual, the 2488 Portastudio is primarily targeted towards home recordists, but the unit is powerful enough to be suitable for many professional applications.
The first thing that struck me upon setting up the 2488 is its extremely clean and straightforward layout. Other similar devices can leave your head spinning from constant searching for function buttons that are dispersed across the control surface in a seemingly random fashion.
The biggest plus in the 2488 layout is its full set of dedicated faders and solo/mute, record enable and select buttons for all 24-tracks of playback Ð there are no fader banks or multi-function layers with which to contend. On the down side, the faders are only 45mm.
Input routing is brilliantly simple: hold down a channel select button and hit one of the eight input buttons Ð done. There are also screen displays for making and confirming all mixer and submixer routing assignments.
The backlit LCD screen, though on the small side, is very functional. The waveform display is rendered clearly and the 2488 provides good zoom facilities, making editing operations surprisingly easy compared to other all-in-ones I have used.
The TASCAM designers deserve praise for including many functions not usually found on any Portastudio-style recorder, regardless of price. For instance, besides monitoring the main stereo bus, you also choose to monitor the submix bus out, the effect 1/2 sends or the loop effect send; or, when recording, hit a button and monitor the at the mixer’s inputs (dry) instead of the post-EQ, postprocessing mixer channels Ð even better, doing so does not affect the headphone feed. Also included is a mono button and mute button.
Another bonus: Built into the 2488 is a standard MIDI file player (SMF) and 64-voice/16-part General MIDI module with a good collection of keyboard and drum sounds. The output of the module appears on a dedicated stereo fader on the mixer.
Because the faders are not motorized, the scene automation is a little cumbersome in that it requires a nulling process to match stored and actual fader positions. However, a single screen displays the virtual and actual positions of all the faders at once, making the chore not as difficult as it could have been.
As I mentioned before, there are seemingly very few cut corners on the 2488: 45mm faders; the importing of WAV files places some serious restrictions on the user (files must be mono, cannot be in folders if on CD); a dedicated headphone level control would be a welcome addition.
The TASCAM 2488 Digital Portastudio is a breakthrough in price and performance. Its straightforward operation and layout are a testament to the thought that went into its design.
For project studios and musicians, the 2488 could easily be the centerpiece of the recording setup. The MIDI module and player, Hi-Z instrument input and built-in guitar processing are perfect for this purpose.
For professional use, the 2488 would make a great adjunct recorder for a wide variety of purposes, from pre-production to audio acquisition and location recording.