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TASCAM2488 DIGITAL PORTASTUDIO

November 1, 2004
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FIG. 1: The Tascam 2488 has 24 tracks of uncompressed digital recording, lots of effects, a GM tone module, a CD-RW drive, a USB 2.0 port, a 40 GB hard drive, and more—all for a surprisingly low price.

Twenty-five years after the introduction of its original Portastudio, Tascam has unveiled the 2488 Digital Portastudio, the latest and most complete incarnation of its portable-studio concept. Priced at a level that — when adjusted for inflation — would be considerably less than the original, the 2488 has a feature set that's light years beyond the original 4-track cassette unit.

The 2488 includes 24 tracks of uncompressed, 16- or 24-bit 44.l kHz digital recording (as many as eight tracks can be recorded simultaneously); 250 virtual tracks; a 36-channel mixer; built-in multi-effects; EQ and dynamics processing; a 64-voice, General MIDI (GM) tone module; an integrated CD-RW drive; and a USB 2.0 port for connecting to a PC (Windows ME/2000/XP) or a Mac (OS 9.2 or OS X). Plug in your instruments, microphones, and a set of headphones or powered monitors and you have the necessary tools to create a professional-sounding CD.

THE LAYOUT

The 2488 has a layout (see Fig. 1) that is similar to most portable digital studios, with faders on the left-hand side, transport controls and other multifunction buttons on the right-hand side, and a monochrome display — angled for easier viewing — in the center of the unit.

FIG. 2: With the exception of a dedicated guitar-and-bass input, a headphone out, and punch-in/out and expression-pedal inputs on the front of the unit, the 2488''s connections—including line and mic inputs, main and monitor analog I/O, digital I/O, and MIDI I/O—are located on the rear panel.

Most of the patching for the 2488 is done through the rear panel, but there are several connections on the front of the unit. These include a ¼-inch input for guitars and passive basses (according to the manual, a rear-panel line input should be used for active basses), a single headphone jack (I wish there were two), and inputs for both a punch in-out pedal and an expression pedal. The latter of the two can be used to make real-time adjustments of effects parameters, including controlling wah-wah in a number of the guitar multi-effects.

DRILLING DOWN

The mixer has 20 faders, which control 12 mono channels (1-12), 6 stereo pairs (13-18), one internal GM tone generator (channel 19), and one overall stereo mix (channel 20).

Above the faders are lit, translucent buttons for mute and solo, channel select, and record enable, all of which correspond to the mixer's 20 channels. Additionally, there are eight input-select buttons labeled A-H. Routing an input to a mixer channel is simple and intuitive: press an input and a channel button simultaneously.

On the right-hand side of the panel above the transport controls are buttons for various auto-locate and punch-in functions, a Jog/Data wheel, cursor arrows, audio-editing controls, and sync buttons, including one for the Tap Tempo function.

The monitoring section is fully featured and versatile. In addition to a monitor-level knob, a dedicated monitor-select button lets you switch between four different monitoring sources: the main stereo mix, a submix of external sources, the internal effects loop, or the two effects sends. In addition, any of the monitoring modes can be folded to mono by pushing a button, and you can mute the external monitor outputs.

The rear panel (see Fig. 2) features eight analog inputs, including four ¼-inch XLR TRS combo jacks that have switchable +48V phantom power. Other connections include RCA S/PDIF digital input and output jacks, balanced ¼-inch stereo monitor outputs, unbalanced RCA stereo master outputs, two unbalanced ¼-inch effects sends, a USB 2.0 port, and MIDI In and Out jacks.

OF DRIVES AND GIGS

The 2488's internal 40 GB hard drive allows for about three hours of 24-track recording time. At the factory, the hard drive is formatted into four Tascam-native partitions and one FAT32 partition that's fixed in size at 4 GB. (FAT32 is an updated version of the file allocation table standard, which supports 32-bit processors.) You can create, delete, or resize the Tascam partitions to suit your needs. The hard drive can be accessed from a Windows or Mac computer using the 2488's USB 2.0 port, which is also compatible with USB 1.1.

Unfortunately, the file-transfer process isn't as easy as simply plugging in a cable between the computer and the 2488. Before you can export files to the computer, you need to move them from one of the Tascam-native partitions to the FAT-formatted partition, and then it takes several more steps to complete the transfer process.

You can export either individual or multiple tracks from the 2488 — which is something that's not explained in the confusing and incomplete documentation. When you import files to the 2488, you have to go through several steps because it recognizes only mono WAV files. If you have a stereo drum loop, for example, you must first break it into separate mono files before you can import it to the 2488.

Alternatively, you can use the 2488's 4x CD-RW drive for importing and exporting files. The drive functions as a CD burner, a file-backup device, and a file-transfer device. Thankfully, the import process from a CD is relatively easy. The 2488 is finicky about what types of CDs it will accept, however; it will read only data discs, and they must have mono WAV files on the top-level directory. As a result, you can't rip files from an audio CD.

Burning a disc using the built-in CD-RW drive is a much more straightforward process. You create a premastered stereo mix and then record either one track at a time or all tracks at once to disc.

Despite the importing hassles, the 2488 is an excellent companion for computer-based editing programs. The 2488 is not intended to be a complete replacement for a computer DAW, as is the case with many other portable digital studios. You can record your basic tracks in the intuitive hardware-based environment of the 2488, export the file to your computer for detailed editing, and then either mix it in your computer or bring it back into the 2488 for mixdown and CD burning.

PART OF THE PROCESS

The 2488 also includes a host of internal effects that are organized in an unusual manner. There is a guitar-oriented Multi-Effects section, which supports combinations of as many as five effects simultaneously including noise suppressor; compression or distortion; amp model; flange, chorus, pitch shift, tremolo, or other modulation effect; and delay.

Additionally, there is a Mic Effects section, which is composed of dynamics processors — switchable between compression, expansion, and an exciter effect — that are available on as many as eight individual channels or inputs simultaneously. If you are using Multi-Effects at the same time, the number of simultaneous Mic Effects drops to four.

Three-band EQ, with sweepable high- and low-shelving and completely parametric mids, is available on all channels. A single-stereo processor, called the Single Effect, can be applied to the stereo bus and offers reverb, chorus, delay, pitch-shifting, phaser, and flanger. Also available on the stereo bus is 3-band EQ and a dedicated dynamics processor.

Mic Effects and Multi-Effects are inserts and can be printed to disk as you record, whereas Single Effect and the other stereo-bus effects can be monitored at any time but only printed during mixdown. The stereo-bus dynamics processor can also be printed during a track bounce or when you're using the 2488's mastering features (which allow you to prepare a stereo mix for CD burning).

The following is an example of the effects in use: during the recording of a multipart trombone choir (in which I played all the parts), I monitored my playing with Single Effect set to reverb and the main dynamics processor set to a small amount of compression. Because Single Effect doesn't get printed during tracking, my tracks were recorded dry. During mixdown, I was able to recall the effect settings that I had been using, tweak them to my liking, and print them as part of the 2-track mix.

The quality of the dynamics processors and Single Effect are reasonable, but I was bit disappointed by Multi-Effects. The presets were generally not impressive, and many of the effects were surprisingly noisy.

TWO-STAR GENERAL

The 2488 also features a GM tone module. You can use it either as a Standard MIDI File (SMF) player, with files that you create elsewhere and then import to the 2488, or as a playback engine for the many drum patterns built into the 2488. You must choose either SMF or playback engine, however, because you can't use the GM tone module as both.

Most of the module's instruments have a decent sound. But the drum sounds are solid, and the drum patterns give you plenty of material to work with, particularly for songwriting purposes.

There aren't any MIDI-editing or patch-editing features on the 2488, so you can't edit any imported SMF sequences or create and edit any of the drum patterns. You can, however, select GM instruments, set levels, and tweak reverb and chorus.

In the Pattern mode, you can arrange the order of the preset drum patterns, select from different GM drum kits, and adjust the tempo. You can sync internal sequences or patterns to previously recorded audio tracks using the 2488's Tempo Map feature. You can also sync the 2488 to an external device using MIDI Time Code.

EASE OF USE

The 2488's basic recording features are intuitive, but some of the unit's other features aren't as easy to grasp. For example, it wasn't until the end of the review process (and thanks in part to the knowledgeable people in the independent Tascam 2488 forum — www.tascam2488.com) that I understood how the virtual-track features work. The manual leaves out the simple-yet-critical detail that you have to assign a virtual track to a mixer channel before you can record to it.

Working with individual channels and tracks is easy. With dedicated EQ, Send, and Fader/Pan buttons, making adjustments during the recording and mixing process is a simple task. During my trombone-choir project, for example, I was easily able to tweak the EQ settings for each track by selecting the appropriate input channel, hitting the EQ button, and then using the Jog/Data wheel to dial in the equalization.

The graphic display, while somewhat small by today's standards, provided excellent feedback on EQ curves and effects settings. In addition, you can save the current state of the mixer as a Scene Memory. There are 100 Scene Memory slots available, which are saved separately from the song.

The 2488 doesn't have any automated mixing capabilities, but it does respond to MIDI Volume and panning commands from an external sequencer. The mixing process is straightforward and, while the faders aren't silky smooth, they're functional.

SLICING AND DICING

The track-editing functions cover the critical necessities, including commands such as Cut, Copy, Paste, Move, Insert, Silence, Clone Track, and so forth. I was able to make basic edits to cut out extraneous noise and false starts, but I was disappointed by the lack of anything beyond the basics. There's no normalize function, and you can't add fade-ins and fade-outs.

The editing process is a bit tedious because every time you mark an in or out point or perform an edit, the screen defaults back to the home display, which results in a lot of extra button pushes. The screen redraw occasionally lags while jogging through a section, which slows the process even further. I wish the editing process was faster, easier, and more comprehensive; however, the 2488 isn't optimized for editing, and its ability to connect with a computer may make that a moot point.

25 YEARS, 24 TRACKS

Overall, I enjoyed working with the 2488. I have issues about the implementation of some of the unit's features, but I'm hopeful that future firmware revisions will resolve them. (A rewrite of the manual would also be helpful.)

At $1,499, the 2488 is a remarkable bargain, considering that you get 24 tracks of uncompressed 24-bit digital recording and mixing, the ability to transfer audio back and forth with a computer, plenty of effects, a CD-RW, and a slew of ancillary features. When you look at what this latest Portastudio offers in terms of power, performance, and price, you realize just how far things have come for the home recordist during the past 25 years.


Bob O'Donnell is a Bay Area-based radio talk-show host, computer-industry analyst, and fledgling musician. He is a former editor for EM.

2488 Specifications

Analog Inputs (4) XLR/TRS combo mic/line, (4) unbalanced ¼" mic/line, (1) ¼" high impedance
Analog Outputs (2) ¼" balanced TRS monitor, (2) unbalanced RCA stereo, (2) unbalanced ¼" effects send
Digital I/O (2) RCA S/PDIF
Data Transfer USB 2.0 (Windows ME/2000/XP, Mac OS 9.2, OS X)
MIDI Ports In, Out
Channels 36
Faders 20 (45 mm throw)
Simultaneously Recordable Tracks 8
Simultaneously Playable Tracks 24
Virtual Tracks 250
Recording Format Uncompressed 16- or 24-bit
Sampling Rate 44.1 kHz
Hard-Disk Capacity 40 GB
Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (±1.0 dB, trim at minimum)
Scene Memory Slots 100 (user rewriteable)
Dimensions 21.5" (W) × 5.7" (H ) × 14" (D)
Weight 17.6 lbs.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Tascam

2488 Digital Portastudio
portable digital studio
$1,499

FEATURES 3.5
EASE OF USE 3.0
AUDIO QUALITY 3.5
VALUE 4.5

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: 24-track recording and mixing at a bargain price. Integrated effects, MIDI tone module, and CD-RW. Elegant design and generally intuitive interface. USB 2.0 connectivity with PCs and Macs.

CONS: Effects audio quality is only so-so. Track editing and file import and export are slow and tedious. No MIDI editing. Incomplete, confusing documentation. Only one headphone jack.

Manufacturer

Tascam
tel.: (323) 726-0303
email: info@tascam.com
Web: www.tascam.com

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