In this review I will be taking a closer look at the US-122MkII, a budget audio/MIDI interface from Tascam. After recently reviewing the Alesis IO2, I had something in a similar price range to make comparisons to, and if you have read my Alesis IO2 review, you will know how much I rate it! The Tascam US-122MKII has got a lot to live up to if it's going to impress me...
TASCAM US-122MKII - WHAT IS IT?
As mentioned in the introduction, the Tascam US-122MkII is a budget audio/MIDI interface. It features 2 high-quality XLR mic preamps (with a phantom power switch for condenser microphones) and a pair of balanced line inputs, the rightmost of which can be switched to record guitar level signals.
The Tascam US-122MkII is capable of recording up to an impressive quality of 24-bit/96kHz and it connects to Mac or PC via a high-speed USB 2.0 connection, from which it also draws its power. Therefore, it has the great advantage in that it does not need to be plugged into a separate power source to run. The Tascam US-122MkII even offers zero-latency features for recording without the delay of sending signals to a computer and back: it's all dealt with in the hardware.
On the back of the interface, the Tascam US-122MkII features MIDI In and Out ports for connections to synths and drum machines and phono line-outputs for connecting the interface to a pair of studio monitors. Alternatively, a pair of headphones can be used to monitor signals via a single 1/4" jack headphone connection.
As well as the phantom power and Mic/Line/Guitar switch for channel 2, the surface of the interface also features a Mono On/Off switch, a standard Input/Computer mix dial, a headphone/line out level dial and gain controls for each channel.
TASCAM US-122MKII - SOFTWARE
The Tascam US-122MkII comes bundled with Steinberg's Cubase LE4, which can be used to capture up to 48 tracks of audio with another 64 MIDI tracks. In Cubase LE4, you can edit your tracks using a variety of modes and tools, and automated mixing is also included to create the perfect master. So, if you purchase the Tascam US-122MkII, you will have everything you need to start recording straight out the box!
TASCAM US-122MKII - COMPARED TO THE ALESIS IO2
First thing to compare: price! The Tascam US-122MkII sells for £109*, and the Alesis IO2 retails slightly cheaper at £95* (*correct for November 2010 - please note that prices are subject to change in future). So, not much in it, but the sub-hundred pound price tag definitely makes the IO2 a little more attractive on this front.
Scores so far: Tascam US-122MkII: 0, Alesis IO2: 1!
Moving onto the appearance. Well, the Tascam is a little larger than the Alesis, which could be a good or bad thing! It certainly offers a little more presence on a desk, but then the compactness of the IO2 makes it more ideal for portable recording projects. And it's not necessarily that bigger means better; both interfaces offer a similar amount of controls, but where the Alesis crams all its features into a small space, the surface of the Tascam US-122MkII is a lot less economic, using larger dials and in all honesty, is mainly covered either by blank space, or large lettering! But this does give you a lot more space to work in, so it's really down to personal preference. I'm going to have to call this one a draw, and give them a point apiece!
Scores so far: Tascam US-122MkII: 1, Alesis IO2: 2.
Taking a look at the build, there is really only one winner here for me. Whilst the body of the Tascam US-122MkII feels sturdy enough, the plastic dials really let it down. Getting hands-on with the kit, both the dials and switches feel too loose for my liking. Compare this to the controls on the Alesis IO2, which really allow you to 'feel' exactly what you are doing and there is only one winner in this category.
Scores so far: Tascam US-122MkII: 1, Alesis IO2: 3.
It's features time! Which interface offers the most flexibility for the user? It's another difficult one to call. The Alesis IO2 offers an Analog/Digital switch (please note that the Alesis IO2 Express does not feature this switch), that is not featured on the Tascam US-122MkII and also allows both channels to be switched to accept a guitar signal, meaning it is possible to record 2 guitars, or a lead and a bass guitar simultaneously, whereas the Tascam US-122MkII only offers this functionality on one channel. However, the Tascam US-122MkII features faster USB 2.0 communication with a connected computer and is capable of recording at twice the sample rate of the Alesis.
Again, it kind of depends on what you want to use the interface for as to which you prefer, but I'm not going to sit on the fence this time and I'm going to make a decision. And my decision is.....the Tascam US-122MkII! But only just! Purely because I would find the improved sample rate more useful. If you wanted to record 2 guitar signals, it is still possible with the Tascam US-122MkII, but will just have to be done in two separate recordings.
Scores so far: Tascam US-122MkII: 2, Alesis IO2: 3.
Onto the included software. Easy one this! They both come with Cubase LE4, which is a thoroughly decent program! A point apiece in this category as well then!
Scores so far: Tascam US-122MkII: 3, Alesis IO2: 4.
The final category I am going to judge on is 'connections', and it's getting tense! Can the Tascam US-122MkII grab a last minute equalizer? Or will the Alesis IO2 kill things off in the dying moments? Lets find out! So, both interfaces feature 2 mic inputs, 2 1/4" TRS Line input connections, a 1/4" headphone socket and MIDI In and Out. Oh, but what's this? Do I see two Insert connections and digital S/PDIF In/Out featured on the Alesis IO2 (the Alesis IO2 Express does not feature S/PDIF connections)? I most certainly do! Not to mention that the Alesis IO2 features more common jack connections for the main outputs compared to the Tascam US-122MkII's phono line outputs. So that settles it!
Final score: Tascam US-122MkII: 3, Alesis IO2: 5.
TASCAM US-122MKII - SUMMARY
OK, so it lost! But it did lose to a very worthy competitor!
So here is my advice: if you're on a budget and you are going to be working with sample rates up to 96kHz, then your choice has got to be the Tascam US-122MkII. However, if you're never going to be working above 48kHz, then get the Alesis IO2!
I hope that was helpful! Until next time people!
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