TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42
By Phil O'Keefe |
TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42
Audio Interface for production...and personal broadcasting
by Phil O'Keefe
Although manufacturers offer a wide range of products with features designed for musicians who record music, we're not the only people interested in audio recording: Not only do audio book makers, YouTube video producers, voiceover artists, and bloggers also regularly record, today's Internet technology has made it possible for anyone to broadcast via live streaming sites and apps like Second Life, Periscope and Facebook. TASCAM had these modern Internet-based users in mind as they developed their newest audio interfaces, which were designed to meet the needs of broadcast and podcast producers as well as musicians.
- The TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 (are you kidding me with the caps in the name?) is an audio interface for Mac, PC and iOS devices. Required operating systems (or later) are Windows 7 (32- or 64-bit), OS X 10.8, or iOS 7. The US-42 is Core Audio compliant, and uses ASIO drivers on Windows computers for low latency. It's also WDM compatible.
- The US-42's case is made from white plastic with gold plastic on the sides and bottom, and measures 7.87" W x 5.11" D x 1.57" H. It's fairly light, and weighs just a bit over one pound.
- The MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 offers Creator or Broadcast modes, as selected by a front-panel switch. This means the US-42 is suitable for personal production and recording, or for live broadcasting and Internet streaming.
- In Creator mode the US-42 works like a standard 2 in/2 out, 24-bit, 96 kHz USB 2.0 audio interface - because it is one. You can route each audio input separately in your recording software. In Broadcast mode the signal feeds both the left and right channels as a single mono stream.
- There are two top-panel mounted combo 1/4" / XLR inputs, each of which connects to its own TASCAM HDDA (High-Definition, Discrete Architecture) mic preamp. A volume control sets the input gain (with up to 45 dB available), while a three-position switch selects between Mic In (with 48V phantom power engaged), Mic In (without phantom power), and the high impedance 1/4" instrument input. Balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" line inputs can also be used.
- Centered in between the two microphone inputs are left and right LED level meters. These are multi-colored, and display yellow when any input signal is present and when levels are too low (-36 dB), green when they're in the correct range, yellow again as you approach clipping (-3 dBFS), and red for actual clipping.
- The US-42 includes software for configuring it in various ways, and adjusting its parameters - not all of which are readily discerned just by looking at the hardware! You'll find software-based EQ, compression, reverb and vocal effects.
- There are two versions of the Settings Panel - a simplified Easy mode (see image above) and a more comprehensive Expert mode (see image below).
- The TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42's reverb is controlled by a single hardware knob. The Settings Panel chooses the reverb type (Hall, Room, Live, Studio, and Plate). Pre-delay, reverb time and diffusion can be adjusted in software. The reverb sound is fairly nice, and the targeted users of the US-42 will probably appreciate having it available.
- In Creator mode, the audio effects, EQ, compression and reverb can all be applied to the recording. In Broadcast mode they are applied to the streamed audio.
- A hardware knob (labeled with a speaker icon) sets the output level to your monitor speakers.
- A separate headphone knob provides independent control over your headphone monitoring levels.
- There are three backlit PON switches on the top of the US-42. These can trigger playback of one of three sounds (No! Yes! and Applause sound files are included; they can be replaced with your own MP3 or .WAV files).
- The PON switches are velocity sensitive; the playback volume depends on how hard they're pressed. You can also set them for fixed volume playback at whatever level you want, and even latch or unlatch them with the software's Settings Panel.
- An Effect switch next to the PON switches has similar backlighting but only when activated. It is a latching type switch and the effect will continue to be applied until you press the switch a second time. Out of the box, it's a pitch-shifted "Male" effect that lowers the pitch of your voice (most people will probably think of it as the "Darth Vader" effect); you can select other effects in the software's Settings Panel, including an upshifted "Female" effect, an on/off "Chopper," Echo, and a lo-fi "Radio" effect with somewhat band passed audio and added distortion.
- The final top panel switch, the On Air button, enables on air mode (the button lights red when this mode is on). The behavior of this switch varies depending on the US-42's operating mode. In Broadcast mode the signal from the various mic inputs (on the top as well as front panels) is sent to the computer only when the On Air button is illuminated. In Creator mode, the On-Air light should remain illuminated.
- There are two front-panel headphone jacks. One is a standard 1/4" TRS jack, while the second uses a 1/8" stereo mini jack. Paired with it is a second 1/8" Mic Input jack. This connects to Mic Preamp 1, and the two are designed for use with the stereo headset / microphone combination units that are popular with gamers and webcasters.
- The 1/8" headphone jack is also compatible with "4-pole" headphones and ear buds with onboard microphones, such as the ones that come with smartphones. This also works in conjunction with Mic Preamp 1.
- In addition to the previously mentioned Creator / Broadcast switch, the front panel also has an additional 1/8" TRS input for connecting an external audio source such as your MP3 player, smartphone or laptop. This gives you a ready-to-go audio playback source.
- On the back panel, you'll find left and right line outputs on RCA jacks, with their levels controlled by the top panel Speaker volume knob.
- A Kensington lock port and a power on/off switch are also located on the rear panel.
- A standard USB 2.0 jack is provided for connecting the MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 to your computer or iPad. A 1 meter USB 2.0 cable comes with the US-42.
- The US-42 is bus-powered by the USB connection to your Mac or PC. However, iOS devices don't have enough power to juice it by themselves. For them, you'll need to use an external power supply and micro B USB cable (not included) to provide sufficient power to run the US-42.
- You'll need Apple's Camera Connection kit to connect the US-42's USB output to your iOS device.
- The PON buttons will work only if the US-42 connects to a Mac or PC; they are not supported with iOS devices. And for the record, I have no idea what "PON" stands for either.
- Signals coming in from the external 1/8" stereo input jack cannot access the software EQ, compression and reverb features.
- The XLR In 1 jack, the front-panel 4-pole headphone/mic input, and the separate front-panel 1/8" mic input cannot be used simultaneously because all three mic inputs feed the same mic preamp.
This is a rather unusual audio interface. Sure, some of the features are a bit quirky and superfluous for those who are mainly interested in recording music - after all, you can put effects on vocals and fly in sound effects easily enough with a DAW, and you probably have access to other reverb generators too, but these features can come in handy for live streaming use and add to the fun. Other features of the MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 will be much more useful for music production, including the onboard EQ, compression, and reverb. You may already have other options for each of these, but they're quite usable and sound better than you might expect. The overall sound quality is clean, quiet, and quite competitive with other interfaces in this price range.
TASCAM is a well-respected company with a long history of providing useful recording tools to pros and amateurs alike, and while the US-42 is certainly a very useable 2x2 USB audio interface for musicians, it's the broadcast-oriented features that really set it apart. A podcast / streaming interface needs to be easy and simple to use, and it needs to be fast. Unlike working in a recording studio, broadcasting isn't about perfecting your artistic vision; you simply don't have time when working in real time.
Such interfaces are bound to be used by people who have limited recording experience, so it makes sense to simplify the process as much as possible to make the overall operation less confusing. After all, confusion about your audio interface is the last thing you need when you have people listening to you live from all over the world. TASCAM has taken all of this into account with the design of the MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42. It has features that will make it very attractive for those who are doing webinars, gaming, Skype calls, and other forms of personal broadcasting.
If you need an interface that can do double-duty for both live streaming and for music and audio/video production, there's currently nothing quite like the TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42. It really is well suited to both tasks, and brings recording-quality performance to them as well. -HC-
TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 Audio Interface ($279.99 MSRP, $179.99 "street")
TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 product web page
MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 User's Manual (PDF file)
You can purchase the TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Creator US-42 from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.