Co-developed with Frontier Design Group, The TASCAM FW-1884 ($1599) is probably the first “all-in-one” device I have evaluated that truly possesses all-in-one functionality. Beneath the FW-1884’s unassuming exterior lies the power to put several disparate (and expensive) pieces of project studio gear out to pasture.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, project studio
Key Features: Touch-sensitive software control surface; 18 x 2 standalone mixer; phantom-powered mic inputs; stereo and surround monitoring controller; 18-channel FireWire computer audio interface; 64-channel MIDI interface.
Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, Web Site.
The TASCAM FW-1884 is a comprehensive touch-sensitive software control surface, an 18 x 2 standalone mixer (complete with eight phantom-powered mic inputs), a stereo and surround-monitoring controller, an 18-channel FireWire computer audio interface, a 64-channel MIDI interface (four MIDI I/Os), and a MIDI device controller.
The FW-1884 also includes a switchable low-impedance analog input for directly plugging a guitar or bass into the mixer, plus a headphone amplifier with dedicated output volume control that can easily feed an existing phones distribution system.
The boring bits first: the FW-1884 adopts the traditional mixer wedge shape, measuring about 23 inches wide by 19 inches deep by 5.5 inches high (in the rear) and weighing in at about 23 pounds.
In addition to the eight mic/line analog inputs and eight analog outputs, the FW-1884 is also equipped with one set of ADAT/TOSLink optical I/Os, S/PDIF I/Os (RCA) and word clock I/Os (BNC), as well as two 6-pin FireWire connectors and four MIDI inputs and outputs.
The FW-1884 is capable of inputting up to 18 simultaneous channels of audio into a computer via FireWire (eight mic or line inputs, eight ADAT lightpipe inputs and two through the S/PDIF digital input). All A/D and D/A converters in the FW-1884 are 24-bit/96 kHz-capable.
The eight microphone inputs are on XLR connectors, with phantom power switchable in groups of four (1-4, 5-8). Line inputs are on balanced 1/4-inch connectors, with channel eight switchable to low impedance mode for instrument input.
All eight analog inputs have unbalanced insert points (standard TRS send/return-type). Analog output is on eight balanced 1/4-inch jacks that can be for monitoring the stereo output (e.g. on outputs 1 and 2) or for up to eight channel (e.g. 7.1) surround signals.
The FW-1884 is supported under Windows (XP and 2000) and Mac (OS 9.2.2 or later and OSX 2.4 or later). See TASCAM’s web site for minimum system requirements. Three software control modes are provided for interfacing with various software applications: Native Protocol, Mackie Control and HUI emulation. A generic MIDI control mode is also provided.
The heart of the FW-1884 is its eight-channel-plus-master fader set of 100mm touch-sensitive, moving faders. Unlimited banks of eight channels can be controlled with the bank select button; a row of four LEDs provides visual indication of the selected bank. Up to 15 TASCAM FE-8 eight channel expanders ($1,249) can be added to the FW-1884 for setups requiring additional fader controllers.
Above each of the eight channel faders are backlit mute, solo and select buttons, plus a continuous rotary controller that can quickly be switched from pan mode to aux send level control.
TASCAM provides a dedicated four-band EQ control section as well as numerous pre-programmed “shortcut” keys for application functions such as Save, Save As, All Safe, Clear Solo, Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo and on. Keyboard modifier keys such as Alt/Cmd, Shift and Ctrl increase the controller’s versatility and help wean us from our keyboard + mouse habits.
Full-size tape-style transport buttons are located in the bottom right of the surface, with corresponding jog/shuttle wheel above. Locate, marker set and in/out and nudge right/left buttons are also placed in the transport area.
I had just finished getting my studio wired up and put back together following the last wave of review gear when the TASCAM FW-1884 arrived. So I gently slid apart my dedicated control surface and analog monitor mixer to make room in the middle of the desk for the FW-1884.
After a week or so of using the FW-1884, my own control surface and mixer found themselves unceremoniously unhooked, removed from the desk and subsequently propped against the wall of my storage area. And it wasn’t long after that that I figured I could confidently pull the high-end audio interface out of my computer as well. It was quite a realization and admission that this single, well-laid out piece of gear could conceivably replace all of these fairly high-dollar items in one fell swoop.
Set up of the FW-1884 was straight forward, though I quickly ran into a semi-common problem where the FW-1884 is not too keen to work with certain on-motherboard FireWire interfaces (the symptom is intermittent audio drop outs). A $35 PCI card FireWire interface solved all problems.
I tested the FW-1884 extensively in its various modes with several different software applications including Steinberg Nuendo 2.2 (in Mackie Control and HUI modes), Cakewalk Sonar 3.1 (in Native mode) and in Sony Vegas 5 (in Generic mode). The test computer was a 3.06 GHz PC running Windows 2000 and outfitted with two TC Powercore cards and one Universal Audio UAD-1 card (both are godsends to native computing!).
Operation within the different applications was intuitive, though, as expected, the depth of functionality varied depending on the control mode and chosen application. Sonar, with its native FW-1884 support, featured the tightest implementation. Logic and Digital Performer (both on Mac) are the only other applications to date that support the FW-1884 in native mode.
Setup for Vegas 5 (which only supports generic mode with the FW-1884) was the most laborious, but it’s “learning” function helped ease the work. Despite the fact that the result was decidedly limited, it was very cool to use the FW-1884’s transport, scrubbing and in/out functions while editing video – all the while using the FW-1884 for audio playback.
TASCAM has provided a bevy of documents on its website detailing use of the FW-1884 with assorted applications as well as basic setup guides and utilities.
Despite being packed with controllers and buttons, the FW-1884 surface layout is open and uncluttered, with plenty of room for operating the controls without worrying about unintentionally nudging others. Additionally, I was very pleased with the sound quality of the microphone preamps and the digital audio converters.
The provision of a single knob to control the entire bank of eight analog outs is a major plus for surround monitoring; likewise, the dedicated solo volume control and PFL/Solo-in-Place switch are very welcome.
As for limitations, the FW-1884 does have a few. The most glaring omissions are the lack of “scribble strips” (displays that indicate which software channels are being controlled by the eight faders at any given time) and a time position display.
I’m not going to mince words: the TASCAM FW-1884 control surface/interface is undoubtedly one of the best-designed professional audio products I have had the pleasure of using. The thought, planning and execution of this gem should serve as a model for other manufacturers to follow.
Despite its few limitations Ð and after eight weeks of solid full-time use Ð the sheer power and functionality of the FW-1884 leaves me grinning.