TASCAM Model 24
By Phil O'Keefe |
TASCAM Model 24
24 Channel Multitrack Recorder with Integrated USB Audio Interface and Analog Mixer
by Phil O'Keefe
Right off the bat, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Harmony Central is owned by Gibson Brands, who (last I heard) also owns a partial interest in TASCAM. My history with TASCAM products goes way back; like most people who started recording in the '70s, I've been using their products for decades. I remember when the first TASCAM Portastudios were hitting the market in the late 1970s. They were groundbreaking units that delivered multitrack recording to the musical masses in an affordable way for the first time; combining a small mixer with a basic four track recorder, they brought together the basic tools needed for tracking, overdubbing and mixing in a relatively compact and portable unit. I spent countless hours recording songwriting demos using a TASCAM Model 246 Portastudio that I purchased back when they were first released.
Fast forward to today. DAWs are nearly everywhere, and even inexpensive computers (not to mention smartphones and tablets) allow musicians to do complex, multi-channel recordings. But some of the immediacy and responsiveness and tactile interaction with traditional hardware has been largely lost. Some musicians don't consider this to be progress since they'd rather be spending time making and listening to music rather than having to mess with computer settings and staring at a computer screen. While the latest product from TASCAM - the Model 24 under review here - doesn't totally eschew the modern approach to recording, it does bring back some of that hands-on, all in one approach that made those early Portastudios so popular, and that helped teach a generation the basics of recording and mixing….
What You Need To Know
- Combining a 22 channel analog hardware mixer, a 24 track (22 tracks plus stereo mixdown) multitrack recorder, and a 24x22 USB computer audio interface into one unit, the TASCAM Model 24 is a hardware unit that takes a decidedly old-school approach without totally abandoning modern recording tools and methods in the process.
- In addition to the mixer, the TASCAM Model 24 is also a standalone 24 track multitrack recorder, as well as a audio interface for your Mac or PC computer, but at first glance the TASCAM Model 24 appears to be just a fairly traditional, although stylish looking mixer, with an emphasis on a retro visual vibe.
- The side ends of the mixer have faux wood end caps (complete with TASCAM logos) that can be removed if you wish. With them it place the Model 24 measures 22.68" W x 20.20" D x 4.62" H (576mm x 513mm x 117.4mm) and it weighs in at 22 pounds (10kg).
- With the exception of the IEC power connector and power on/off switch, and the USB 2.0 jack, there's nothing on the rear panel except for the TASCAM logo. All of the I/O is mounted on the top panel where it can be easily reached by the operator.
- There are four different input channel configurations on the mixer, with each offering different features and capabilities.
- Mixer channels 1-2 are the most fully-featured of the twelve mono input channels. Each of these channels has a mic / line / instrument input with a switch to set the channel for DI instrument use. There is 50dB of gain available from the mic preamp. A 100Hz high pass filter is also included. The line inputs are in the form of balanced 1/4" TRS jacks, and up to 40dB of gain adjustment is available for the line inputs.
- 48V phantom power is available for all 16 mic preamps on the Model 24, but it's an all or nothing proposition - a single button near the upper right side of the board turns it on or off for all of the mic preamps simultaneously. You can get a loud pop when engaging or disengaging it, so TASCAM cautions you in the well-written user's manual to mute and turn things down before doing so.
- Each channel has a SIG LED that lights up green when signal levels greater than -56dB are present at the input, and will flash red when the signal input levels are too hot or the Gain control is set too high.
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- Right below the mic preamps, you'll find the very important Mode or source switches. These set the input source for the channel, and have three positions. These switches must be set correctly, depending on how you want to use the Model 24. There are settings for Live, Direct/PC USB, and MTR. Live is used for bringing in mic or line input sources (such as when using the Model 24 as a mixer), while the Direct/PC USB position is selected when using the Model 24 as a computer USB audio interface for DAW recording. The MTR setting is used when you want to record and play back material to and from the built-in multitrack recorder.
- In MTR mode, the Model 24 automatically switches between the incoming mic or line input (when recording) and sound from the recorder when playing back. When doing punch-ins, it gives you a mix of the track playback and input source, so you can play along prior to the punch point.
- A single knob compressor is included on channels 1-12. As it's turned up higher the threshold seems to lower and you get more compression overall. A LED on each channel illuminates when compression is actively being applied. The compressor is well-suited to light to moderate compression when tracking; attack and release are program-dependent, but neither is particularly fast.
- Channels 1-12 each have a three band EQ section with a sweepable peaking midrange band. The high and low shelving EQ bands are centered at 12kHz and 80Hz, while the midrange can be swept from 100Hz to 8kHz; when the knob is at the center position, it's set to 700Hz. The EQ controls all have center detents, but there is no EQ bypass button. Each EQ band has a boost / cut range of 15dB.
- There are three aux sends on the Model 24. Monitor 1 and Monitor 2 are pre-fader sends, while the FX send is post-fader. There are hardware output jacks for all three sends. Alternately, the FX send can be used with the Model 24's built in effects unit.
- A Pan pot on each of the mono input channels allows you place the sound anywhere in the stereo sound field that you wish. When centered, signals are reduced by -3dB and go equally to the left and right channels of the main stereo output. Hard panning to either side will result in the signal being sent only to that side (left or right) of the main stereo bus output, and / or the Sub output, if that is selected.
- Each channel has a 100mm fader. These feel smooth and I appreciate their longer throw - it's nice that TASCAM opted for these instead of 60mm faders. The fader caps for the input channels are white.
- Near the faders you'll find buttons for Record (used with the internal SD card multitrack recorder), channel Mute, and assignments to the Main stereo bus as well as the Model 24's secondary Sub stereo bus. There is also a PFL (pre-fader listen) button, allowing you to solo selected track(s) to hear them separately when checking for problems.
- Whenever any PFL or AFL button on the board is depressed, a red LED near the mixer's small data screen lights up to let you know.
- The Record button itself illuminates red when selected, giving you a clear indication as to which channels are record enabled. An orange LED next to the Mute button lets you know when a channel is muted.
- Mixer channels 3-12 are also mono inputs, and they are nearly identical to inputs 1 and 2, but lack the inserts for connecting outboard processors, as well as the instrument buttons; they're mic / line inputs only, and aren't intended for use as high impedance instrument inputs. Outside of that, they have all of the rest of the features you'll find on input channels 1 and 2.
- Mixer channels 13-20 are different than the previous channels in some significant ways. First of all, each of these channels can be used as stereo input; they're paired as channels 13/14, 15/16, 17/18 and 19/20, with a single fader and set of EQ and aux controls for each pair. They can be used as mono inputs instead if you'd like, and they even have mic preamps, but there's only four - one for each channel pair. This gives the Model 24 a total of 16 mic preamps. The line inputs for these channels are on 1/4" balanced TRS jacks, with two of them for each stereo channel.
- Channels 13-20 lack the single knob compressors of channels 1-12. Their EQ is a bit different too. You still get the 80Hz and 12kHz shelving EQ bands, but they lack the sweepable midrange of the equalizers on the first twelve channels; their peaking midrange control is fixed at 2.5kHz with a +/-15dB boost / cut range.
- Mixer channels 21-22 give you another stereo input, but with both 1/8" TRS and left / right inputs on -10dBV RCA jacks, it's designed to accept the audio output from smartphones and tablets, among other things. You can connect to Bluetooth-equipped devices using the Model 24's built-in Bluetooth 4.0 interface; a pairing button and corresponding LED can be found below the inputs, in the place where the EQ is located on the other channels. You'll also find a useful On/Mute button for the Bluetooth source here too.
- There is no EQ on channels 21-22. There is also no Gain control and SIG LED, no mic preamp, and no compressor either; you do get the two Monitor send controls, but not the FX send. The Record button, Main and Sub bus assignment switches, PFL and mute switches, along with the main fader are the same as on all of the other channels.
- The Model 24's mixer has a couple of other notable features, including a stereo seven-band graphic equalizer. This can be assigned to the main hardware output jacks, or to the Monitor 1-2 output jacks, which is useful when using the Model 24 as a live performance mixer. You also get a built-in effects processor. It has 16 different algorithms - twelve single effects (delays, reverbs, chorus and flange) as well as four that combine delay or chorus and different reverbs together.
- The effects unit has a dedicated mute switch, as well as separate knobs for controlling the amount of signal from the effects processor that is sent to the two monitor sends, and to the main stereo bus. One parameter for each algorithm can be adjusted - the parameter type depends on the algorithm selected; for example, for the reverbs it is decay time, for the delays it's regeneration, for chorus it's depth, etc.
- The digital effects sound clean and are certainly useful; live performers in particular will appreciate having them available, and you may find them handy for home recording too, especially if using the Model 24 as a modern-day standalone Portastudio. They're comparable in quality to what you'll find on some competing live mixers, although they really can't compare to high-quality DAW plugins.
- The main output faders include one with a gray fader knob for the stereo Sub bus, as well as one with a red fader cap for the main stereo output bus. There are also two mono master faders for the Monitor sends and these have orange fader caps. The Sub can be assigned to the main stereo bus by depressing a switch, and all of the master faders have their own Mute switch and LED; Monitor 1-2 each have an AFL switch too.
- The output jack section of the Model 24 is top-mounted near the upper right corner of the board. It has XLR jacks for the Main stereo outputs, as well as a pair of 1/4" TRS jacks for Control Room outputs. The Control Room outputs have their own level control. 1/4" balanced TRS output jacks for the three aux sends are also provided. When using the FX Aux output jack, the signal to the internal effects unit is bypassed.
- A 1/4" TRS stereo headphone jack is also included, and it has its own level control.
- The built-in recorder can record up to 22 tracks, plus a stereo mixdown track. A dedicated button allows you to assign the stereo mixdown track to the main stereo bus fader for playback purposes.
- All recording, track deletion and auto punch in/out operations can be undone, but you only get a single level of undo, so you can't undo something you did three steps back. You can also redo an undone operation if you change your mind.
- The SD card slot is located on the top of the unit, just above the main L/R LED meters. It has a rubber cover to help keep dust and debris out. The Model 24 can use 512MB-2GB SD cards, 4-32GB SDHC cards or 64-128GB SDXC cards. The file system is FAT16 for SD cards, FAT32 for SDHC cards and exFAT for SDXC cards. Cards need to be formatted on the Model 24 before use - you can't just use pre-formatted cards. Regardless of the card type you use, it must be Class 10 or faster in order to work properly.
- Files are recorded in WAV format, and WAV and BWF (Broadcast WAV) file types can be exported and imported. Cards can be taken from the SD slot and read directly using a computer with a card slot on it; tracks can be transferred this way too.
- A basic set of backlit Transport buttons is included for the built-in multitrack recorder. A small built-in screen provides meters for the recorder and input channels. It's also used for formatting the SD cards and creating songs - both of which need to be done before you can record using the internal recorder. You'll also need to access the menus for setting the system date and time, adjusting the display brightness, as well as when selecting, deleting, protecting and renaming songs. It's also used in conjunction with the built-in effects processor for algorithm selection and parameter edits.
- A Multi-Jog control allows you to scroll through menu options, and you can select the desired ones by pressing on it. A series of four buttons below the display allow you to select various options as well. You'll probably won't use the screen and menus all that often - certainly not compared to using a computer to record to - but it's very intuitive and quick to use when you do need to access it.
- Speaking of meters, the mixer also has a pair of 12-segment multicolored LED ladder meters for the main stereo output bus.
- Automated punch in and out of recording can be set up using the screen, as well as looping a section for repeat playback. A footswitch jack is provided, and a user-supplied footswitch can be used for punching in / out manually. The Model 24 can be set to work with any type of momentary (non-latching) footswitch, regardless of polarity. While all channels can be recorded simultaneously, punching in and out is limited to a maximum of 8 channels at a time. The footswitch can also be set up for play / pause operation instead of for punching.
- At first I thought there was going to be no way to mix various channels together and route them to other channels / tracks for re-recording, sub-mixing or "bouncing" tracks, but then it dawned on me that the built-in Sub bus is ideal for this. Since each of the MTR playback channels can be assigned to the two 1/4" Sub outputs (instead of, or in addition to the main outputs and the USB bus), all you need are a couple of short 1/4" TRS cables; plug the cables into the one or two of the Sub outputs, assign the tracks you want to bounce to the Sub, and record to whatever unused channels / tracks you patched the cables into.
- When you're connected to a computer with a user-supplied USB 2.0 cable, a green LED next to the Model 24's data screen lights up to let you know. As an audio interface, the Model 24 supports both Mac and PC computers. You'll need to be running Windows 7 SP1 or later (up to Windows 10) and both 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows are supported. On the Mac you'll need to be running 10.11 (El Capitan) or later; High Sierra (10.13) is also supported. Both Macs and PCs need a 2.0GHz processor or faster, a free USB 2 port, as well as at least 2GB of RAM. Core Audio on the Mac is supported, as well as ASIO 2.0 and WDM on PCs. I did my testing using a i7 quad core Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM running El Capitan, and setup and operation were both smooth and trouble-free.
- Like the recorder, the audio interface can be used at 16 or 24 bit resolution with either a 44.1kHz or 48kHz sample rate. TASCAM's marketing doesn't really make this clear; it mentions only 24 bit / 48kHz operation, but that's just the maximum - the other rates mentioned are also fully supported, although higher (88.2kHz / 96kHz) sample rates are not.
- This is an analog mixer. There are no motorized faders, there is no DAW control surface capabilities, and no digital I/O beyond the 24 x 22 USB interface and the Bluetooth connectivity on channels 21-22. Outside of automated punch in/out, there is no automation for things like panning or level changes outside of whatever you might apply using your DAW.
- There are no alternative tracks or track layers for the built-in multitrack recorder.
- You can't move a recording from one track to another without either transferring it out to a computer and bringing it back on a different track, or by bouncing it using the Sub outputs and patch cables and re-recording it to a different track (or pair of tracks). While using the Sub bus this way means another pass through digital converters and the analog input stage(s), the end results of track bouncing sound clean and are quite usable - much more so than bounces done back in the days of the first cassette-based Portastudios.
- When recording yourself to the internal recorder it's hard to use the most fully-featured mixer channels (1-2) as your main inputs since there's no way to easily route them to other recorder tracks. Be prepared to regularly do some manual patching if you record solo. When using the Model 24 as a audio interface for a DAW, this limitation doesn't apply, since you can create multiple tracks in the DAW and have them sourced from those same two inputs, and overdub to them one or two at a time as needed.
- The compressors can only be used on mic / line input sources and don't work on the returns from your DAW or playback channels for the built-in recorder.
- The graphic equalizer can not be assigned to individual mixer channel(s), playback tracks, or to the main bus stereo recording tracks, only the main stereo output jacks or the Monitor output jacks.
I really like the retro look of the Model 24; it takes me back to some of those early TASCAM mixers of my youth. The color coding of the various knobs isn't just retro though - it helps you to see things on the board much more easily, and yes, it looks cool too. But this isn't just an old-school analog mixer; it combines a very capable analog mixer with a modern digital multitrack SD card recorder, making it a true heir to the Portastudio legacy. Toss in a fully capable multichannel USB 2.0 computer audio interface and it's clear that modern recording capabilities were not neglected when TASCAM was designing the Model 24. And it's a very good sounding unit overall too. The mic preamps don't have as much gain as many outboard preamp models and aren't really suitable for use with most low-output ribbon mics, but they're relatively clean and neutral, without too much noise. The EQ is a very good tone shaper; it's less suitable for more surgical processing, such as notching out a 60 cycle hum, but it's great for general purpose use, and EQ is something that most audio interfaces omit entirely.
Using the Model 24 as a live mixer and being able to record the band simultaneously will appeal to many users, and it can function fine in that role as long as the amount of input channels and general connectivity and features of the board are sufficient for your needs. It's also great when serving as a modern-day Portastudio, although it would be nice if there was a way to easily transfer tracks to different channels internally or assign the first two mixer inputs to other recorder tracks without resorting to file export / import or analog track bouncing using the Sub bus. The Model 24 excels as a computer audio interface, and gives you not only a wealth of mic / line inputs (two with inserts), but also the single knob compressors and full three-band EQ - both of which are features that most other audio interfaces lack. The Model 24 offers impressive flexibility at a reasonable price. Whether you need a traditional analog mixer for live gigs, a USB 2.0 computer audio interface with lots of inputs, mic preamps compressors and equalizers for recording, or want a modern-day version of the classic Portastudio - a portable, self-contained multitrack recorder / mixer that you can take to gigs or rehearsals or use for home recording, it's got you covered.
The Model 24 would be an excellent choice not only for pro recording engineers and live sound mixers, but also for someone who seriously wanted to learn about recording and mixing audio. You get a very capable mixer that can be used for live performances, and you can simultaneously record the gig too, without having to bring a computer along. Everything is laid out before you in a logical manner - if you've ever used an analog hardware mixer or a Portastudio, you'll feel right at home in no time. Using the mixer along with the built-in multitrack recorder for recordings helps you to think a bit more like we did back in the 1970s and 1980s - you're forced to listen instead of making judgements based on what you see - which is great for ear training! It's also great for focusing on your playing chops instead of your computer editing skills. And when you do need to go to a DAW for an edit, or when you want an audio interface for your computer, the Model 24 can handle that too - no need to upgrade it or add something else to your rig. The TASCAM Model 24 really does have a nice combination of features and capabilities, and at this price (which is less than I paid for my six channel, four track TASCAM 246 Portastudio back in the 1980s), you get a lot for your money - it's bound to be a successful product for TASCAM. A lot of people are really going to love the TASCAM Model 24. I certainly have enjoyed using it. -HC-
Want to discuss the TASCAM Model 24 or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
TASCAM Model 24 Multitrack Live Recording Console ($1,299.99 MSRP, $999.99 "street")
TASCAM's product web page
TASCAM Model 24 specifications
TASCAM Model 24 owner's manual (PDF file)
You can purchase the TASCAM Model 24 Multitrack Live Recording Console 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.