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MOTU 828mk3
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MSRP: $499.00

You may wonder why we pick this product. Well, it's all about price. Look at the price tag and the spec and the name of manufacturer. If this gear passes on sound test, maybe this would be the most affordable, wisest choice for especially starting musicians. Or even mid level pro musicians. Here I must tell you I haven't actually tried this unit. The script below is only a guess work from its spec sheet, and my experience of other Tascam products, etc.

Tascam has been well known among music pros, especially among engineers, one of the most reliable professional product manufacturers in the industry. In my knowledge it's firstly because of its hardware quality. Many manufacturer of pro audio products often use low quality parts where they don't affect sound directly (for example, body, or human interface parts). It may be forgiven or even welcome when the sound quality get raised dramatically. But if it's not or if it's just to lower their price tag to attract, then it is often not usable for pros. Pros use pro gears daily and use it fully so fragility of parts or bodies or interfaces will instantly become a crucial drawback. Fragile or unsteady gears with great sound doesn't work for pros in the real world. Gears must be reliable and great-sounding for pros.

Okay, but let's say Tascam products may be reliable but reasonable products like this really work as a pro gear? Well, it's a natural question because we all know great sound ultimately costs money. All the great sounding pro-among-pro gears are expensive. Neve, SSL, Api, Tube Tech, Avalon Designs, etc. I love them but they ask for the price. But Tascam doesn't ask for much. Okay, don't compare Tascam US1641 to these giant manufacturers' gears. Let's begin by the supposition that we musicians play and record to our home studio computer but to make a serious mix (CD, for one), we will use the gears in the pro studio. Okay? Then the point here depends on the quality of the recording using this Tascam US1641.

First, let's look at its spec. This is quite amazing: Sample rate is up to 24bit/96khz. US1641 has 8x mic preamp ins, 2x line ins (Hi Z), 4 x TRS line ins(-10dBV/+4dBu switchable), 4 line outs, Headphone out, 1 x RCA digital stereo in/out (S/P DIF or AES/EBU switchable).

To sum up, this unit can handle 14 analog + 2 digital ins and 4 outs (for RCA digital, you can map to 1/2 or 3/4) at the same time. This means this unit was designed mainly for recording. Outputs are minimum so that you may not mix outside PC with this unit alone. However, if you don't use outside mixers (esp. digital mixers) and you want many recording ins but of outs need only minimum for monitoring and some, then this unit seems such a desirable audio interface as a recording interface. Also very smart is this unit has -10dBV/+4dBu switch. Probably TASCAM thought about a professional connectivity. If you go to a pro studio you will meet all +4dBu situation. Most products don't provide +4cBu and leave it as -10dBV line level. Here TASCAM stick to professional spec. That's one of the whys pros rely on TASCAM products.

For example, you can hook up your drum microphones to some of the 8 mic ins, and two or so vocal microphones to the rest of the 8, and guitar to one Hi Z in, and Bass to the other Hi Z in, then you can further connect the rest of 4 TRS ins to your hardware synthesizers or your mic-preamps/outboards etc. If your home studio only have 1 DAW computer and no digital mixer and do the most processing and mixing in your computer, then this US1641 may be the most desirable audio interface. Okay, so far, so good.

But the structure doesn't mean anything if the sound fails. Does the sound fail with TASCAM products? I almost never experienced any disappointments also about the sound from TASCAM products. My personal impression from TASCAM products is that "Firmly built, well implemented, and sounds very convincing.". TASCAM products sound convincing to me. It's not the the sound of analog vintage or especially hi-fi like the gears costing thousands of dollars, but usually TASCAM sounds colorless and well formed with good -enough quality in most applications in professional music production environments. In other words "professionally usable" seems to me the right word.

US1641 has 8 x mic-preamps. You would doubt the quality at this low price range. TASCAM says these are equivalent to those on their professional digital mixers (like DM24, DM3200, DM4800 etc.). Well if that's true, I think it's promising. I have used those mic-pres before but I guess they sound very good for the price. One caution was that those pres on the digital mixers could easily be noisy if you pull the trim pod far up. As long as you use the pre-amps within the safe gain range, I thought they are usable especially for guitars and some vocals. But if you look for more edge like those studio pre-amps, maybe you would need to get more pro pre-amps.

The main function required in audio interface units (except for digital audio interface units) is audio converter function. Inputs work as AD and outputs as DA. If ADs and DAs meet the quality and quantity you ask for, then the interface basically would do the job. If the pre-amps in the interface doesn't suffice, you just get the pre-amps with better quality separately. Ultimately you will need to buy stand-alone pre-amps in any way. In this perspective, US1641 seems to be worth checking seriously yourself. At this price you can even ignore mic-pres. As a simple converter unit, this product seems such a bargain. If your budget is very tight, or if you are the first timer, then this unit may be the desirable 1st audio interface of yours.

TASCAM US1641 (MSRP: $499.00)


Elliot Knapp

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