TASCAM's audio interfaces, at least to this reviewer who's constantly being bombarded by "more better cooler newer" hype from a wide range of manufacturers, are among the nicer open secrets in the world of audio. They don't get talked about as much as some other brands, but if you look around, you discover that there are a lot of them in a lot of studios, quietly producing great results day in and day out for very satisfied recording musicians and engineers.
To people who are laser-focused on getting the job done with very high audio quality and reliability, and less interested in add-on features and frills that might benefit some users but merely get in the way for others, TASCAM's interfaces have represented exceptional value for money. They offer high-quality preamplification and conversion, reliable drivers, and good usable feature sets, all for very affordable prices. In simple terms: very little flash... and lots of substance.
With the US-2000, TASCAM offers a step up for studios that are outgrowing their old track counts, while hopefully retaining the quality and affordability that make these interfaces such a bargain. Let's take a closer look and listen.
Getting in, getting out
The US-2000 is a 1U rackmountable audio interface using the USB 2.0 protocol to provide up to 24-bit/96 kHz performance on 16 inputs and four outputs. It's designed for the studio that does most if not all of its signal processing and mixing "in the box", bringing in a large number of analog sources and providing basic monitoring and digital transfer capabilities.
Note that unlike many of the "16-channel" interfaces on the market, which offer an 8-channel ADAT I/O pair on top of only six or eight analog inputs (so you have to add a separate 8-channel preamp/converter to get a full 16 input sources in place), the US-2000 offers 16 real physical inputs, 14 of them for analog signals. There are eight mic input channels, six on the rear panel and two on the front, plus six rear-panel line-level inputs. All inputs are balanced. The rear-panel mic inputs are on XLR, the line-level inputs are on 1/4" TRS, and the two front-panel inputs offer combination XLR-TRS jacks for mic or Hi-Z instrument inputs. The last two inputs are S/PDIF coaxial digital, via a rear-panel RCA jack.
The rear panel also offers a pair of TRS inserts for the two front-panel inputs, and three pairs of TRS balanced outputs: two pairs of line-level outputs and a pair labeled Monitor Output. A USB connector and a socket for a conventional IEC power cable (no wall wart!) complete the rear panel.
Every pair of inputs has a switch to determine if the inputs are monitored in mono or as a stereo pair; the rear-panel line inputs have microswitches on the rear panel, which can be inconvenient to get to if you've racked the US-2000 but aren't something you'd normally mess with in the course of a session. The rear-panel inputs also have level switches, +4 vs. -10 dB.
On the front panel, aside from the Power switch and the two front-panel combination inputs, there are eight level pots for the mic inputs, grouped in pairs. Each pair of adjacent inputs has its own switch for Mono/Stereo monitoring, and a 48V phantom power switch, offering a fair bit of flexibility when mixing mic types in a session.
Watch and listen
The front-panel monitoring controls deserve some explanation. There are separate pots for Phones (with front-panel 1/4" TRS jack), Monitor, Computer, and Input, and they break into two general categories of listening control: actual hardware levels, and blending of input audio and computer-returned audio for zero-latency monitoring. The Phones and Monitor pots control the level of audio going to the headphone jack and the rear-panel Monitor Outs, whereas the Computer and Input pots stand in place of a single wet/dry direct monitoring control. I actually prefer having two pots, as it makes zero-latency monitor blending easy to set up while also maintaining optimum listening levels.
The two pairs of Line Outputs are selected in your DAW software, so you can feed two separate stereo signals where they're needed. You can select which pair feeds the Monitor/Phones analog output, and which pair feeds the RCA coaxial digital output jack, which can send S/PDIF or AES/EBU digital audio. (AES is supposed to be cabled up with 110-ohm XLR, but it's not unheard of to offer it over a 75-ohm RCA cable in a pinch.)
Last but not least, the US-2000 offers something that is missing on too darn many audio interfaces: real metering! There are 5-step LED meters for all 16 inputs and all four outputs. That simple addition makes it much easier to take the US-2000 seriously as a drop-in upgrade for a studio that needs real multichannel session input, with the engineer being able to quickly see what's going on.
Getting to work
The US-2000 comes with a software installation CD that includes Windows and Mac drivers and a control-panel application (see the screenshot), but you'll want to check the TASCAM website for the newest versions of everything... the Mac (10.4.11+) driver is up to version 2.00 and there have been incremental versions beyond that for Windows XP/Vista/7. The CD also includes a copy of Steinberg's Cubase LE 5 as a nice starter DAW for from-scratch users.
Driver installation was painless on my test computers, and I was passing audio to and from the US-2000 in no time. I spliced it into place in my test studio, replacing my usual 16-channel board and relegating all of my mixing and monitoring functions to my DAWs of choice (Ableton Live 8, PreSonus Studio One Pro, and Apple Logic Pro 9 and GarageBand '09), and lived with the US-2000 for a couple of weeks as my primary interface.
My results were uniformly excellent. As usual, I must provide the caveat that when you get an interface like this, the preamps are almost never going to be designed to give you awesome vintage vibe; they're meant to deliver signals cleanly and with plenty of gain, and the US-2000's mic inputs were more than up to the task. The two Hi-Z instrument inputs have a solid 1 Megohm of input impedance, and you can tell; my rather finicky homebuilt electric mandolin sounded great through them. Interfacing my keyboards and stereo sources to the line-level inputs was aided greatly by the -10/+4 switching, which let me get good gain structure on some of my older, fussier digital keyboards without a lot of grief. And within all of my DAWs, configuration and audio routing were a cinch.
Any gotchas or warnings? Just a couple of tiny ones. If you want to use a lot of external audio effects, the US-2000 might not be quite flexible enough for you, with only two mono inserts and only one spare pair of analog outputs to use as aux sends. If you are interested in getting a multichannel preamp/converter box for the sound of its preamps, the US-2000 isn't a good match for it since it lacks optical ADAT input. And the meters are small and easiest to read when seen straight on, so where you place the rack in your room can be important.
Those small niggles aside, the US-2000 delivers precisely what it promises: 14 analog and two digital inputs to your DAW with minimum hassle and maximum clarity. If you're outgrowing your portable interface and want more raw inputs with no fancy DSP or extra features, it would be hard to go wrong with this box. Well done, TASCAM.
Price: $499.99 street
More from: TASCAM, www.tascam.com