Hands-On Review:Tascam Pocketstudio 5

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by Emile Menasche


Tascam Pocketstudio 5Tascam has been building portable recording studios since the days of analog tape, and that experience shows in the development of the Pocketstudio 5, a four-track digital recorder that stores audio data to CompactFlash cards. The Pocketstudio 5 comes with everything necessary to record a complete demo, including a power supply, a combination headphones/headset mic unit and a 32MB storage card. Better still, insert six AA batteries and the Pocketstudio becomes a handy but powerful tool for practicing and recording on the road.

The Basics
Up to 10 minutes of four-track audio and two-track MP3 mixdown can be recorded on the 32MB card, and the storage drive will accept cards up to 128MB. If that were the extent of the Pocketstudio's capabilities, it would be a cute if unremarkable device. But in addition to recording live audio, the unit lets you create backing tracks using its internal tone generator. Better still, you can connect the Pocketstudio to a PC or Mac (no OS X support as of this writing) via USB and transfer audio and MIDI files between the recorder and your computer.

The Ins and Outs
The Pocketstudio has two inputs designed to handle a range of analog sources. Input 1 is a 1/4-inch jack that's switchable between instrument level (for guitar and bass) and line level (for keyboards, etc.). Input 2 comprises a 1/4-inch jack that can be switched between mic- and line-level signals, and an 1/8-inch mini jack that can accommodate the included headset microphone. There's also a built-in condenser mic that's fine for quick-and-dirty recording sessions. Outputs include an 1/8-inch stereo headphone jack and an 1/8-inch stereo line out. There's also a MIDI input and the aforementioned USB port.

Signal routing is pretty basic. Inputs are assigned to tracks in pairs- for example, the guitar input can go to either tracks 1 and 2 or to tracks 3 and 4-and up to two tracks can be recorded at a time. In addition, each input can be routed to its own effects processor. Although each of the effect presets has only one changeable parameter, the presets cover a lot of territory. Among them are effects optimized for electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass, each of which is voiced for direct recording, allowing you to forego the use of an external amp or preamp. There are also presets for a range of vocal and stereo effects. And let's not forget the amp models! In short, the Pocketstudio has an input effect or tone-shaping device to suit most users' requirements.

The Pocketstudio also has reverb, which is available only on mix down. Each of the four tracks and two inputs has a reverb send level control, and there is a master reverb level control as well. In addition, each of the four prerecorded tracks and two input signals can be routed through pan and EQ controls. Unfortunately, the aforementioned input effects and amp models cannot be applied to prerecorded material, but hopefully, this feature will be added in future upgrades.

Making Tracks
Considering the Pocketstudio's diminutive size, its recording quality is surprisingly good, thanks to 24-bit internal audio and 16-bit, 44.1kHz analog-to-digital audio conversion. With a signal-to-noise ratio of 87dB and frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, the Pocketstudio compares favorably to larger recorders.

Recording is very straightforward. Enable an input, assign an effect, arm a track, and go. You can record with or without backing tracks. If you choose to use backing tracks, they can be employed in three ways. First, you can arrange the internal patterns (which cover a range of styles) into songs, changing keys and tempos to suit your needs. The backing tracks were on the busy side, but the General MIDI synth sounds are quite good (you can also access them via an external MIDI controller). Second, you can use a computer to create backing tracks in Standard MIDI File (SMF) format, then load them into the Pocketstudio and play them with its internal synth. Third, the Pocketstudio 5 can play back third-party MP3s, which, like the synth tones, can be incorporated into your "live" mixes. This makes it an excellent practice tool, as well as an effective accompanist for solo performers.

Once you've got your tracks down, you can edit them, punch in (either manually or with auto-punch) and, finally, mix your work down to MP3. These MP3s can be loaded into a computer for internet sharing or other work. Not bad for a box that fits in your gig bag.

The Bottom Line
The Pocketstudio is well made and has enough features to handle a full demo. One complaint: you really need to study both manuals (the reference manual is only available on the CD-ROM) to take full advantage of its features. But once I got to know the workings, the Pocketstudio was a blast.