October 28, 2014 - ModGuitar Senior Editor
TASCAM 2X2 USB Audio Interface.
Manual in box, no discs, Ableton Live Light 9 code card (requires Ableton account to add serial number to account before activation can go through), Sonar brochure (not used, I’m on Mac). It’s a strudy medium sized desktop unit, doesn’t seem prone to sliding around and has some heft to it. The knobs feel solid with smooth rotation that facilitates fine adjustment. The range of adjustment feels right and seems tuned to musical production. The Line out and Phones knobs are a bit close together for my fingers, but I didn’t find it to bother me once I got used to making tweaks to the level settings as I worked.
I was able to plug the 2X2 in and start using it imediately, requiring no software or drivers on MAC OSX Mavericks to use the 2X2 out of the box. True plug and play. I did get around the installign the settings panel and updating the fromware, which were quick and easy installs that didn’t require a restart. The 2X2 is bus powered, which is conveneint for on the go use with a laptop and also prevents some groun loop issues I’ve encountered with other interfaces when used with amps or other effects hardware. The AC adapter (not included) is required for using the 2X2 with IOS devices, which seems to defat the purpose for a portable recording solution, the required cable (lightening?) or USB adapter is also not included for IOS use, hence that functionality isn’t reviewd here.
Once I installed the settings control panel, there was a way to change this behavior and have the line out directly control the computer sound output.I did install the drive, which went without a hitch. I then downloaded and used the firmware updater to get the unti up to the latest – which corected an issue I found where the phantom power (48+) switch when turned on would cause the unti’s USB light to flash. I thought that might indicate that it needed a power adapter to operate with phantom [power on, but it turned out to be a Firmqware issue and was solved once updated.
A little confusion at first over how to monitor. The computer/monitor knbo needing ot be turned toward computer to hear the computer sound, then the line out knob also turned up. I was a little concerned at what this arrangement suggested about gain staging, but that worry was addressed via the software control panel which lets you switch to using the line outs directly as computer line out. Direct wardware monitoring is a handy feature though I’ve not often felt the need for it.
The sound is excellent for a unit in this price range, seeming pretty flat and transparent, with a musical and pleasent overall feeling while mixing.
When compared to the older Tapco Link USB which this unti replaces on my desktop, the sound feels bit squased but more refined and accurate. At 96k I was hearing details in recent recordings I’d missed and making different mix choices as a result. The 2X2 uses NE5532 op-amps which have been used in countless recording consoles and recording gear. My listening tests, though not scientific, confrimed for me that they have a great musical character.
The 2X2 held up to my full range listening tests with a variety of material. Driving monitors through balanced inputs well – though I did want to add subwoofer to get that extra umpf in the mix on bass heavy tracks, not the 2×2’s fault, but I think it did expose this missing link in my monitoring a bit more than the Tapco ever had. Good to keep in mind for mixing. I found myself revisitng my recent mixes able to hear detials I’d been missing.
True to claims noise is noticlbe on the input channels, thohg the transparency of the gain channels made me more aware of background noise that my guitar pickups pick-up. Something that had been masked by my prevois interface and thus making it’s way into my recordings.
The ease of use when compared to the Digi 003 rack, which has been my mainstay high-res input source is dramatic, plug an play, vrs a clunky driver settings panel and AVID’s general reluctance to make thier gear cross-compatible. The Digi still rules for inputs, boasting 18 with the included ADAT optical port, so it will stay in the stable for bigger recording tasks. But for day to day use, The price of the Tascam and even it’s bigger sibling interfaces hands down beats Avid’s upgrade costs to stay in the ProTools universe on a modern OS. I can always boot into an older OS for PT trackng and mixing.
The first thing I did was Launch Logic ProX and dig into a project I’ve been working on, making some review examples for Peavey’s Revolver amp sim plug-in. I wanted to put the 2X2 to at least half of the real test – how does it handle direct guitar signals? I’m glad to say it worked really well. I was able to quikly set the input level on the 2X2 by watching the green signal light as I strummed hard on the guitar, and then back it off a bit when the light went red. A set and forget operation. The 2X2 has a good modern chipset, so latency is really low. I was using it at 32 samples, where I’d often had to use 64 or 128 with older gear. This translates into a more natural playing and recording expereince.
I found that I didn’t really feel the need to turn the input/computer dial on the 2X2 toward input at all, though it still might come in handy.
I was recording tacks on the fly through direct input with the amp sim running and enjoying the process, able to forget the settings and try and focus on the performance more. So for guitar and presimably Bass, the Tascam 2×2 get’s a thumb-up.
When comparing specs I noticed that headphone level for the 2X2 is roughly half of that of it’s bigger sibling the 4X4. But that turned out to be a non issue in my tests. The headphone output was able to easily drive even my ATK 240m headphones which have a high impedance to full range volume and more. Presumably the higher rating of the 4X4 facilitates driving two headphone outputs over the 2×2’s one.
The inclusion of MIDI in and out sealed the deal for me when shopping for a low cost 24bit/96Khz cabaple interface since in my little studio I still have keyboards and controlers from before USB was the standard. I hope to be able to use my Line6 pedal board as a footwitch controller once I figure out how to do that, and also to hook up my older Alesis keyboard.
Overall I’m realy impressed with the TASCAM 2X2, the sound quality raises the bar for my home studio, and the ease of use has gotten me focused on performance and mixing vrs trying to find the right combo of input settings and configurations. The 2×2 has great gear appeal, looks nice on my deask, and has immediately been incorporated into my audio prodcution workflow. It also serves as a excellent high res audio output box for games and regular music listening, the driver (on Mac for this review) plays well with everything and I was able to have Ableton and Logic both up and running along with iTunes and listen to all three at once, a really versitile interface. If you’re shopping for an audio interface that’s affordable and has class leading features the TASCAM 2X2 should be on list.
What’s Included: The 2X2 interface itself, printed manual, Ableton Lite (Mac & PC) and Sonar LE (PC) software download links and registration/serial numbers.
Things I’d like to see: A mute button (software seletable for line out, Phones or both).
Individual phantom power switches for each channel.
Detented input gain pots.
A real wish list item – include the AC adapter with the 2×2. Hard to justify at this price point, but hey just a wish.