Hands-On Review:Tascam 2488 Portastudio
Tascam 2488 Portastudio
Major recording mojo at a miniscule price
By E.A. Tennaway
In the early '80s when I was just starting to build a home-based studio, its heart was a Tascam four-track cassette Portastudio. By today's standards, the sessions I tracked on it using bargain-basement mics were on the decidedly low-fi end of the audio spectrum. But that little four-tracker paid for itself time and again.
It was an invaluable tool in songwriting, helping to nail down riffs and tunes, and getting performances together before the meter began ticking expensively in the studio. And that Portastudio was dead easy to use. With its familiar transport system and intuitive track-bouncing, building songs was a straight-ahead process. I was therefore more than curious to check out this latest permutation in the Portastudio saga.
Outrageous bang for the buck
After a month of putting the 2488 through its paces, I've become mighty impressed with the tremendous cost/benefit ratio it delivers. When I worked with that cassette Portastudio, the notion of owning a 24-track would have been laughable with my meager budget. The 2488 has changed that mindset forever. 24 uncompressed tracks can be recorded at up to eight tracks at a time with 44.1kHz, 24-bit, CD-quality sound onto a hefty 40GB internal hard drive. With a sophisticated 36-channel mixer, eight inputs, three-band EQ, General MIDI synth, stereo effects processor, USB 2.0 port, and CDRW drive, this is a full-blown audio workstation. When I heard what Musician's Friend was retailing it for, I was blown away. Back in the '90s, my first CD burner alone cost nearly that much.
The 2488's control surface looks and feels familiar from the start. The eight input trim knobs with overload LEDs and 20 channel strips with smooth 45mm sliders plus illuminated mute/solo and source select buttons work with the LCD display to give you instant visual and tactile feedback. The logically laid out monitor section offers level control, source selection, and speaker mute. Just below is a row of four dual-function display controls. The jog/shuttle wheel and cursor controls work flawlessly in stepping you through menu layers and options which are intuitive and easy to master. The EQ, Send, and Fader/Pan buttons let you use the wheel as a rotary control to easily manipulate their functions. The hands-on vibe is far superior to the typical clutter of windows, menus, and arcane commands you get with virtual studios.
A control freak's dream
Track editing is made easy with dedicated Delete, Trim/Copy To and Insert/Move buttons. The transport controls feel solid under your fingertips and work in concert with the Auto-punch, Rehearse, and Repeat buttons, making it easy for you to be your own engineer and get accurate punch-ins every time. The Stop and Play transport buttons double as jog controls for pinpoint control. Location markers, mark lists, undos and redos, settable auto punch points, and intuitive track bouncing keep your work processes very manageable.
A songwriter's savior
Creating songs is an inherently messy, non-linear process. Rarely have I been able to fashion a song neatly from start to finish without having to go back and rework it. With the 2488's ergonomic editing buttons, reorganizing verses, swapping instrumental breaks, adding effects, and tweaking EQs is a piece of cake. When you've whipped your song into a shape that suits you and you've rehearsed it with your band, you can incorporate the energy that live-in-the-studio recording imparts with the eight simultaneous recording tracks.
Having that CD burner right on board is a great way to distribute works in progress among your band members as well as master and send your work out for mass duplication. (One especially cool feature I discovered is that when you're burning your master, you can use the 2488's sub-mixer and synching capabilities to add MIDI material to your master mix.)
In the space allotted here, I've necessarily skimmed the surface of the 2488's capabilities, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least touch on some of the other capabilities that make it such an awesome bargain.
A Quick Routing function saves your routing assignments for instant recall-a nice timesaver. Every channel offers you digital pad/gain, three-band parametric EQ with high and low shelving bands, three aux sends, phase reverse, pan pot, mute key, solo facilities, and a "virtual" fader that can override the physical fader. 250 virtual tracks allow you to develop highly complex soundscapes.
Assignable guitar and editable mic effects together with up to eight dynamics processors help you tweak tone and compress your recording during mixdown. A dedicated loop effect is available to all tracks letting you send varied levels of reverb to your instruments. Waveform editing adds a huge element of creative control while the 64-voice MIDI sound module and USB 2.0 port let you integrate the 2488 with all your other digital goodies.
With its comprehensive array of recording, compositional, performance, editing, mixing, and mastering capabilities, the 2488 Portastudio is a phenomenal bargain.
Features & Specs