TASCAM DM-24 Digital Mixing Console

Announced at AES 2000, the DM-24's specs showed promise, and after putting the console through its paces, I found the execution to be even better than expected, making for a surprisingly powerful tool at this price point.
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The dominance of Yamaha's 02R as the go-to choice for compact digital mixing has given way to a multitude of options for small format consoles, and TASCAM's DM-24 proves to be a well designed and respectable choice in this important category. Like its competitors (including Yamaha's new and more upmarket DM2000 and the more direct 02R update 02R96) the DM-24 raises the bar with full 24/96 capabilities, better MDM and DAW integration, and improved signal processing.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, installation

Key Features: 32-channel mixer; 24-bit; 44.1 - 96 kHz sample rates; third party plug-ins; SMPTE timecode; 5.1 surround sound; full complement of I/O

Price: $2,999

Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, Web Site.

Plus

+ Hi-res 24/96 audio comes standard

+ Excellent fit and finish

+ Great I/O implementation

+ Reasonable price

Minus

- Hi-res audio cuts console capacity

- Menu functions sometimes dense

The Score: A very reasonably priced and well-constructed digital console, highly suited for integration with hard-disk recorders.
Announced at AES 2000, the DM-24's specs showed promise, and after putting the console through its paces, I found the execution to be even better than expected, making for a surprisingly powerful tool at this price point.

Features

The TASCAM DM-24 ($2,999) is a compact digital mixing console suited for project and commercial recording studios as well as some broadcast and live applications. The unit comes standard with support for 96 kHz digital audio at 24-bit resolution, and is also comfortable with 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, and 88.2 kHz sampling rates. Internal processing takes place at 32-bit floating point resolution.

Basic inputs include 16 analog channels on balanced XLR mic pres with gain control and line level jacks as well as three digital TDIF inputs, handling eight channels each, and a single eight-channel ADAT lightpipe. Phantom power is provided on all 16 analog inputs, and is switchable in groups of four, a thoughtful addition for those using ribbon mics or other equipment susceptible to damage.

Option slots can be employed for additional channels on interface modules (AES/EBU, TDIF, ADAT, and analog are available) or to cascade additional DM-24s. In spite of its name, the DM-24 is actually a 32-channel board, with eight busses and six aux sends available, though unfortunately the number of channels drops to 16 in high-frequency mode. AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital I/O is available in stereo I/O, and stereo analog output shows up both on balanced TRS and XLR outputs. Monitor outputs are balanced TRS, with RCA output for "studio" monitoring.

The control connections are surprisingly advanced and flexible. The DM-24 can both follow and generate word clock signal on BNCs, and a switch provides termination or routes word clock "thru" while in slave mode. A lone RCA jack accepts analog SMPTE/EBU time code (nice!) and a trio of D-sub connecters provide DTRS machine control, RS422, and GPI (General Purpose Interface) remote control connections, respectively. MIDI in, out, and through jacks also appear on the rear panel and MMC and MTC are supported.

The sixteen channel modules each come equipped with 100mm moving faders, and a master control section adjusts EQ and dynamic on the selected channel. Nearly all of the buttons are backlit to indicate status. The quality of components deserves a special nod controls feel very solid and smooth, and in addition to being quick and quiet, the reflective silver faders are just plain cool looking, as well as mercifully quiet.

The main screen will be familiar to digital console users with a centrally located LCD monitor offering context-driven display of channel, processing, routing, and setup data, as well as graphical display of EQ curves and limited metering. An optional meter bridge is available at a list price of $995. Navigation is through a set of four soft knobs and soft keys, via cursor keys or jog/shuttle wheel, and a variety of specialized controls.

Signal processing is extensive, with third party effects provided by TC Works and Antares Audio Technologies. Compressors are available on all 32 channels (gates and expanders are on channels 1-16 only). EQ is four-band parametric, on all channels,. The internal effects available run the gamut, from reverb and spatial effects to microphone and speaker modeling as well as the usual "pedal" effects such as distortion, phasing, flange, and pitch shift.

In Use

As mentioned, fit and finish is first rate, and the control and I/O surfaces are very well laid out, with commonly changed jacks on the top surface, and control and multitrack connections on the back. A good test of user-friendliness is how far I can get without resorting to the manual, and the interface did not disappoint, with most basic functions laid out in intuitive form.

If you are familiar with digital console conventions like channel selection and fader bank toggling you will be up and running in no time. The main display screen is hardly large, but is easy to navigate, though necessarily many functions lie buried beneath layers of menus and key combinations.

For music production, I like to have both my DAW and ancient 1-inch eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder at my fingertips, and the DM-24 proved a worth intermediary and centerpiece. It takes some learning to get the hang of quickly switching between channel inputs, put once comfortable, I rarely found myself having to reconfigure patches externally. The preamps are quiet and clear, with plenty of headroom, and the gain adjustment was smooth and linear. The consoles sound was transparent (though not remarkably so) betraying little of the digital harshness one might expect at this price.

The ability to work in 24/96 right out of the box is certainly welcome, although losing half of the channels is painful, especially given the continued proliferation of consoles with full 24/96 throughout. With a street price below $2,500 however, the DM-24s hi-res abilities should really be seen as a bonus, a great asset to have in reserve for project studios contemplating the jump to Pro Tools HD, for example. The built in EQ, dynamics and effects are above average, with the TC reverb algorithms standing out in particular. The speaker and mic modeling options are fun to play with and occasionally produce some usable results, although if your fantasy is to replace your Neumann U 87s with Shure SM-57s rest assured that such a feat has yet to be accomplished here. The six configurable aux-sends should be adequate for most applications, the assignability allowing flexible interface with both digital and analog rack gear for outboard processing. Multichannel bussing is supported for work in 5.1 environments.

The clear design philosophy of the DM-24 is as a recording and mixing console for standalone digital multitrack recorders, and at this the unit excels. The automation is powerful and flexible (and has been refined further in the new software upgrade) and the built in effects and dynamics make it realistic to outfit a project studio with only a DM-24, recorder (TASCAM's MX2424 being an obvious choice), and stereo device of some sort. The fact that the transport controls are large and ergonomically located - as well as the multitude of remote control options bears out this hypothesis.

The DM-24 might be considered unsuited for live sound reinforcement, as the need to navigate banks and menus on the fly would be a handicap, but its snapshot memory bank would mitigate much of that problem. That said, the unit would likely excel for installations, given the compact size and the ability to save scenes and routing. Those assets along with the multitude of I/O options would also make the DM-24 a natural choice for broadcast work, especially in mostly digital environment.

Summary

TASCAM should be commended for creating a console with this level of quality and flexibility at a price this low. While you give up some horsepower to work in hi-res audio, the ability is nonetheless there and probably more than adequate for most purchasers. I observed excellent execution in each of the feature areas, and was especially impressed by the advanced transport controls and I/O options. When paired with a suitable digital recorder the DM-24 is capable of producing truly professional results on a small budget - an ideal choice for project and tracking studios.

REVIEW SETUP

Ensoniq Paris Pro 3.0 DAW; Mackie 24/4 console; Yamaha and Alesis monitors; UREI LA-2A compressor; Avalon VT series preamp; MCI JH-24 and Teac reel to reel recorders; Hafler and Crown amplification; AKG, BLUE, Audio-Technica, Shure microphones.