Purchasing an audio interface can often be a minefield, especially for the amateur. There are so many products out there that knowing which one is right for you is a near-impossible task without sufficient advice (click here to read my in-depth guide). However, if you are after an interface that offers the most amount of inputs for the least amount of money, you should definitely at least consider the Tascam US-1800…
TASCAM US-1800 – WHAT IS IT?
The Tascam US-1800 is a USB 2.0 audio interface, packed with 16 inputs (8 mic pres with phantom power, 2 guitar/line inputs, 4 dedicated line inputs and stereo digital S/PDIF), 4 line outputs (with separate monitor output connections), digital S/PDIF out and MIDI In and Out connections. Plus, it also provides you with zero latency monitoring!
Just from reading the description, I can imagine that this product is a dream come true for small bands that are on a budget and may need the flexibility to mic and record a whole drum kit along with incorporating a couple of vocal mics and perhaps a couple of guitars and a synthesiser. Lovely stuff!
TASCAM US-1800 – STRAIGHT OUT OF THE BOX
I was very pleasantly surprised when I first lifted the Tascam US-1800 out of its box. Despite being what I would call a budget interface (considering the features that it gives you), the build of it seemed very professional. It had a nice weight to it, a metal casing and the dials felt nice and firm and didn’t wobble about at all when I turned them. Top marks here, as I would have expected Tascam to skimp on the build to allow them to keep the price so impressively low. I now just hope that the most important aspect of the interface, the sound quality, hasn’t been compromised instead. I will find out soon enough though…
So, what else do you get in the box with the Tascam US-1800? When you first open the box, you are greeted with a couple of plastic wallets, one containing a printed manual, the drivers DVD, a copy of Cubase LE 5 and a USB cable, and the other containing four handy screws, in case you want to rack-mount the unit. Packaged down the back of the box, you get the power cable in two parts.
TASCAM US-1800 – SET-UP
The Tascam US-1800 is stated as being compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and with Mac OS X. On my Mac computer, the process of getting started was as simple as inserting the included driver DVD, performing a regular install, restarting the computer and then connecting the Tascam US-1800. Simple!
As it comes included, I also decided that I would install Cubase LE 5 and use it to make some recordings. Why not? :P
TASCAM US-1800 – RECORDING
Now, as I'm on my own, I’m not going to attempt to mic up and record a whole drum kit, so I will just perform a few test recordings:
1. A vocal recording using a SE Electronics SE2200A microphone,
2. An acoustic guitar recording using the same mic and my Washburn WD10S,
3. An electric guitar recording using a Yamaha Pacifica and,
4. A synth recording using a lovely analogue Dave Smith Instruments Mopho!
So, I took it in turns to record each device, using the USB 2.0 connection to my computer to transfer the audio information. It’s worth knowing that although I was only transmitting a maximum of 2 signals at any one time, the USB 2.0 connection of the Tascam US-1800 can actually transmit up to 16 simultaneous inputs and 4 simultaneous outputs at any one time.
My verdicts on the recordings? Actually, I was dead impressed! As I mentioned before, I had a sneaky suspicion that Tascam would have compromised the sound quality of the US-1800 due to the cost and the surprisingly good build, but I am happy to report that I was wrong! Now, I’m not saying that the Tascam US-1800 has the best pres in the world… they aren’t the most neutral, nor the most warm, but if you are looking to spend this type of money on an interface, then I imagine that you aren’t going to be producing platinum selling hits for stars that demand crystal clear perfection, so for the home studio user, these are ideal! All it means is that you may need to do a tiny bit more EQ work to bring out certain characteristics of a recording, but in all honesty, this is likely to be the case with most preamps, whether they are in a unit that costs £200 or £2000! The most important thing here is that the Tascam US-1800 pres offer an excellent sound quality for the price… in fact, if this unit only offered half the number of preamp inputs, I would still be recommending it as a product that offers an excellent price/quality compromise! Just to be complete, the line and guitar input recording also sounded excellent!
The Tascam US-1800 provides phantom power across all 8 microphone channels, which can be activated in groups of four, with dedicated ‘Phantom power on channels 1-4’ and ‘Phantom power on channels 5-8’ switches. You can turn on either one switch at a time, or both together, which will supply phantom power to all 8 channels.
For channels 9 and 10, you also get individual switches that allow you to turn on Hi-Z mode for recording electric guitars. It's all very straightforward.
TASCAM US-1800 – MORE CONTROLS
Another top feature of the Tascam US-1800 is that inputs 1-10 each have a dedicated gain level dial on the front panel, making balancing your levels an extremely quick and easy process. Plus, you also get a dedicated Monitor dial to control the monitor output level, a standard Mix dial (to control the output mix levels between the inputs and the sound from your computer), and a headphone level dial with a 1.4” jack headphone socket.
On the back of the Tascam US-1800 there are also switches for balanced Line inputs 11-12 and 13-14, to set the nominal level to either -10dBv or +4dBu.
TASCAM US-1800 – INCLUDED SOFTWARE
The Tascam US-1800 provides you with a Control Panel, which provides you with a summary of the current status of the unit, e.g. sample rate, digital input status, etc. From here, you can also set your digital input channels, the sample clock source and the digital output format.
Of course, the main bit of software that comes with the Tascam US-1800 is Cubase LE 5. This is essentially a stripped down version of the full Cubase software, offering 48 tracks and including features such as automation, plug-ins, mixing, editing and MIDI tracks. Now, I’m usually a Logic user so I can’t comment on the exact difference between this version of Cubase and the full version, but what I will say is that Cubase LE 5 is a perfect program for the beginner, or for simple projects. It allows you to do all the basic things, meaning that you have all the tools for creating professional projects, and it works seamlessly with the Tascam US-1800. If you don’t already own a DAW, then Cubase LE5 will serve you extremely well until you have the funds to upgrade.
TASCAM US-1800 – SUMMARY
Wham, bam, this is an excellent product! It gives you a load of inputs, a solid build, excellent quality sound, a super fast USB 2.0 connection to your computer and Cubase LE 5. I’m actually a little lost for words at just how good this product is for the price!
however, I will try to summarise my thoughts on this product as clearly and concisely as possible. If you need the most amount of good quality inputs for the least amount of money, then this is the product for you… remember, you can even buy another unit for the same low price if you need to double up! In essence, the Tascam US-1800 product gives you the best compromise.
However, if you don’t need all these inputs and are on a similar budget, then I would recommend purchasing a product with a slightly higher preamp quality, such as a Focusrite Scarlett or MOTU Audio Express. However, the preamps on the Tascam are still good quality and certainly won’t let you down for home-studio projects.
I’m not sure what else I can really say about this product. I hope that I have managed to express just how impressed I was and at this price, it is really difficult to find any faults with it, as I really do think that you get more than you pay for with it, which is a rarity in itself!
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