Hands-On Review:TASCAM US-1641 USB Audio Interface
One interface that gives you all you need to record the whole band
By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
It’s common knowledge that TASCAM pretty much started the whole home recording revolution. But when they’re not leading the way, TASCAM seems to take stock of what’s missing from the present crop of recording tools. Then, with their collective finger firmly on the pulse of current trends, they create products that fill in the blanks. That’s the thinking behind the US-1641. There are plenty of interfaces out there, but the US-1641 is built to solve a prevalent problem—interfaces with too little I/O for too much money. The US-1641 provides you with excellent sonic quality, software extras, and the most I/O you can get at its price point.
About a box
Let’s start with the physical features of the US-1641. It’s a single rackspace unit with a sultry, dark blue face and 10 silver knobs that provide gain control for each of its 10 channels. On the front panel are eight XLR inputs with two phantom power switches (one for each gang of four) and two TRS inputs that can function as either balanced line inputs or unbalanced guitar inputs via two front-panel Hi-Z switches. The preamps on channels 1-8 provide a ribbon mic-friendly 60dB of gain. Also resident on the front panel is a mix control. Turned hard left, it lets you monitor the analog inputs; turned hard right, you hear what’s coming out of the computer. The beauty of this control is that you can monitor your input signal along with your recorded tracks for zero-latency monitoring (great for overdubbing). There’s also a 1/4" headphone jack and monitor level control.
On the rear panel, you’ll find four line inputs and outputs that can also be used as sends and returns for outboard gear, stereo monitor out, and stereo digital I/O that can be set for S/PDIF or professional AES/EBU operation. You’ll also find a USB port (USB cable included) and MIDI I/O hanging out there as well. Be aware that you must have at least a 1GHz processor and USB 2.0 in order for the US-1641 to function properly. In total, the US-1641 gives you 16 simultaneous inputs and eight outputs (if you count the stereo S/PDIF out).
Sixteen inputs and what do you get?
The value of the US-1641 doesn’t stop with plenty of I/O and convenient front-panel control and cable access. To get you up and recording out of the box, the 24-bit/96kHz US-1641 includes a version of Steinberg’s Cubase LE4 and the GVI GIGA Continuous Velocity Piano, which is another TASCAM first. Rather than choking your RAM with massive amounts of multisamples, which tend to allow only a few layers of velocity changes, it utilizes only a single velocity sample that’s precisely and continuously expanded via spectral morphing filters. Since I have a PC that’s dedicated to virtual instruments, I loaded it up and listened. The 1GB Giga Piano from TASCAM’s Gigastudio was my main grand piano sound, but not anymore. Not bad for a freebie.
In your interface!
I’m a firm believer in using live rhythm tracks as a song bed. (It’s the calculus of overdubs: As songs build one track at a time, feel goes to zero.) Luckily, I had a band showing up at my studio to record their debut album, which made for an excellent test of the 1641’s capabilities.
The band is made up of drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards. I started with drums. The US-1641’s eight front-panel XLR inputs enabled me to use the ubiquitous rock drum miking scheme: Shure SM57Audix D-6 on the kick, three Sennheiser MD421s on the toms, two Neumann KM 184s for overheads, and an AKG C 414 on the hi-hat (using its figure-8 pattern to isolate the hat from the snare).By this point, most interfaces at two to three times the price are pretty much maxed out I/O-wise, but with the US-1641, I was just getting started. Next, I ran bass through an A Designs REDDI on the snare, direct box and into channel 9 on the front panel. (With the REDDI, you don’t need to mic a bass amp.) For guitar, I decided to get clever. For a huge sound, we went direct into channel 10 and miked the amp in stereo to maintain the sense of reality space. I know what you’re thinking: How did I stereo-mic the guitar amp with all of the XLR inputs taken up by drum mics? Simple. I took a line out from two different preamps (for added texture) into the line inputs on the rear panel, since they are switchable between –10dBV and +4dBu. Keyboards went stereo into the rear 1/4" inputs 13 and 14.
For a cuemix, I took two of the four outputs and sent them to a four-channel headphone monitor amp, which can be purchased inexpensively. Next step was to count off the band and hit “record.” TASCAM includes Cubase LE4 recording software, which I used for this test. Installation was quite painless and the US-1641 found its feet without issue.
The band rehearsed, the computer ticked away, and I sat at the desk with my feet up. On playback, I have to admit that the preamps and converters in the US-1641 sounded quite a bit better than I thought they would. We actually wound up using some of the takes for the album. At the end of the day, there was no appreciable difference in sound quality between the US-1641 and an interface I have that sells for three times the price. So, if you want to record live performances and have the ability to do post-production with VST plug-ins, I have two words for you: TASCAM US-1641.
Features & Specs
- Up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution
- 16 simultaneous inputs
- 4 simultaneous outputs
- 14 x 4 analog I/O
- Stereo S/PDIF digital I/O
- 8 XLR mic inputs with phantom power
- USB 2.0
- Zero-latency hardware monitoring
- Independent monitor and headphone output
- 16-channel MIDI I/O
- Includes Steinberg Cubase LE4 and TASCAM Continuous Velocity Piano