Hands-On Review:Tascam FW-1884
The ultimate pro-quality, affordable front end for your DAW.
By Bob Merton
Featuring 18-channel audio input including eight mic preamps on XLR jacks with 1/4" line ins and inserts, plus nine active faders, eight analog outs, eight channels of ADAT lightpipe in and out, and four MIDI ports, the Tascam FW-1884 is a comprehensive, assignable, and expandable FireWire DAW control surface. It's surprisingly affordable and, best of all, it's preconfigured to work with just about any software out there. Aside from the computer and software, it's everything you need for a high-end, full-featured digital recording/sequencing studio.
Things you can touch
Eight motorized, touch-sensitive 100mm faders feel totally professional (and blessedly real) from the first touch, freeing you from the creative damper of point-and-click. Dedicated pan, solo, and mute buttons on each channel plus hands-on control for a full four-band parametric EQ let you do everything with an instant touch, slide, or twist. A jog wheel, scores of function buttons, and 22 rotary encoders offer all the touch of dedicated hardware recorders.
On the back you've got more holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall. The top rear panel features eight XLR mic inputs, eight 1/4" TRS balanced line inputs (one of which works as a direct instrument in for guitar or bass), eight 1/4" TRS inserts, eight 1/4" balanced line outputs for stereo or surround zero-latency monitoring, a 1/4" stereo headphone out, and a footswitch jack. The bottom rear panel sports word sync I/O, ADAT lightpipe I/O (with capacity for eight channels), coaxial I/O, two FireWire jacks, four MIDI ins, and four MIDI outs. Given the impressive routing flexibility, that adds up to no less than 18 simultaneous ins and outs- plenty for even full-band recording/mixing sessions.
Connecting it to my laptop, I actually used the FW-1884 to record a local band during a practice session. There was plenty of I/O and, no matter what I ran through the input section, the signal was always robust and super-clean. Tascam certainly didn't cut any corners on the 24-bit/96kHz A/D/A converters.
Dedicated buttons instantly transform the FW-1884 into one of three entirely different animals: a computer interface, a MIDI controller, or a monitor mixer. Press the Computer button and it becomes an advanced and supremely malleable controller for just about any standard DAW software recorder, operating through the FireWire connection. Every control interfaces directly with the host application. Special drivers have been designed for Sonar, Cubase SX, Logic OS9 and OSX, as well as Digital Performer versions 2.7 through 4. HUI and Mackie's Logic Control protocols make it instantly compatible with almost all other DAW software packages.
Reassigning controls is incredibly simple and intuitive. Just hit the Control Panel shortcut and you're immediately in the main control window, from where you command: settings such as control protocol, clock source, sample rate, audio latency, and monitoring options; routing of digital I/O; a quick-start window for instant selection of I/O to continuously stream when using WDM drivers; and MIDI programming of the parameters for all controls. Just touch the button or knob when you're in this mode and you're instantly presented with the parameters for adjustment.
After a very short learning period, I found the FW-1884 to be a perfect control surface for both Sonar and Logic (the two software packages I'm most familiar with). The assignment of all-function buttons is very well-thought- out and space is used intelligently. Just 23" wide and 19" deep, it fits easily on my desk.
In computer mode a bank control lets you move between unlimited banks of eight 100mm, motorized, touch-sensitive faders. Each fader is accompanied by dedicated illuminated mute, solo, and select buttons; a red record LED; a rotary encoder; a green signal-present LED with red overload indication; and a rotary trim control. The critical functions are all covered and right where you expect to find them. Rotary encoders above the master fader give you tactile control of a four-band parametric EQ.
In MIDI control mode, all the controls are mapped to MIDI control messages. Bank keys let you select up to four banks (32 modules) and the controlscan be set to transmit a different MIDI message in each bank. Once you've set up and mapped the MIDI messages, the unit doesn't need to be connected to a computer to operate in MIDI mode.
Monitor mix mode lets the FW-1884 act as a mixer, mixing up to eight anlog signals together with eight ADAT lightpipe signals and two digital signals all into two outputs. You can also monitor signals output from your DAW software independently or together with the input signals. Three banks let you access analog, ADAT, or stereo digital input.
On top of all that, you can expand the FW-1884 with additional FE8 expanders (eight faders and channel strips each) should you find your greed for control growing! We've only scratched the surface of the FW-1884's potential here (I'm finding out more every day) but you get the picture-it offers an unprecedented level of manual control at an incredible value. I recommend it hands-down over anything else out there in this price range.
Features & Specs