Hands-On Review:Tascam US-428 V 3.09 USB Interface and Control Surface.


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by Emile Menasché

 

Tascam US-428Hard-disk recording has taken over music production, and for good reasons: it’s powerful, flexible and affordable. Yet most music software makes you wield your mouse as much as your guitar pick, which can make recording a song feel like working on a spreadsheet. And because most computers are saddled with pitiful built-in audio, hard-disk recording typically requires the added expense of a good outboard interface. The Tascam US-428 solves this problem by combining a USB audio interface, 32-channel MIDI capabilities and versatile analog/digital connectivity in one elegant package. Best of all, its tactile control surface puts the most-used functions in your digital audio workstation at your fingertips with honest-to-God knobs, faders and buttons.

Two in One
The US-428 is a versatile unit. Its compact blue box speaks both to Macs and PC. It’s compatible with a range of software, including Steinberg’s Cubase VST and Nuendo, Emagic Logic, MOTU Digital Performer (Mac only) and Cakewalk Sonar (Windows only). It can function as an audio and control interface for Pro Tools Free and as a control-only interface for other Pro Tools versions. The US- 428 even ships with a scaled-back but functional version of Cubase called Cubasis VST, as well as a “lite” version of Bias’ Mac multitrack package, DeckLE. Most surprisingly, the unit runs on a 9-volt power supply, weighs about as much as a hardcover book and can easily be fitted on a desktop or toted in a laptop case.

Audio Features
The US-428 boasts analog and digital conversion at 16- or 24-bit, sample rates of 44.1 or 48kHz and impressive I/O flexibility. Its analog inputs comprise a pair of balanced XLR mic inputs, two 1/4-inch TRS balanced line inputs and two 1/4-input unbalanced high-impedance inputs suitable for guitar and other instruments. Up to four channels of audio can be streamed simultaneously, and each input has its own hardware trim control for setting levels rather than the fussy software control panels found on most computer interfaces. Since the unit does not include phantom power on the mic inputs, you’ll have to use external preamp when recording with condenser mics.

For monitoring and routing signal to final output, the US-428 has a pair of unbalanced RCA analog line outs and a 1/4-inch headphone jack, each with a dedicated hardware level control. The US-428 also sports S/PDIF digital I/O, allowing you to connect to digital mixers, CD burners and the like.

Latency—the millisecond delay imposed on an input signal by a software audio engine—is one of the major issues with hard-disk recording. In severe cases, latency can make monitoring of the input signal impossible. The US-428 tackles the problem two ways: with a low-latency driver, which allows the unit to communicate efficiently with most host software; and with internal “zero-latency” monitoring of its inputs, which bypasses the software’s audio engine as you record. While you won’t hear any plug-ins applied to the input, you will be able to play along with the recorded tracks without experiencing delays.

In Control
Control surfaces make your life easier by assigning tedious mouse functions to traditional faders, knobs and transport buttons. You get eight channel faders (which, through the use of a bank select command, can be routed to any number of virtual audio channels), as well as a master fader, solo and mute buttons, and a set of EQ control knobs.

The unit’s large multifunction data wheel can operate effects sends, plug-in parameters and more. A bank of three hardware keys can be assigned to many other software functions (for example, with Digital Performer, the keys can call up various windows). We don’t have room to delve into the details of operation, but, having tested the US-428 with several software packages, I can say that it integrates smoothly with the normal operating environment of each.

Setup and Use
The US-428 was easy to install, thanks to the inclusion of all the necessary equipment and an excellent CD-ROM instruction guide. Signal routing was equally simple: plug in a source and— within the software—assign the track input to the appropriate US-428 input channel. From there, you can arm tracks for recording, set levels and operate the transport—all without touching a mouse. Audio quality is good, and increasing the US-428’s buffer’s with the software control panel eliminated digital crackling on my G4 450.

The Bottom Line
Flexible, portable, powerful and affordable, the Tascam US-428 has a lot to recommend it—and I haven’t even touched on its MIDI capabilities or usefulness with software synthesizers. By bundling audio and control in a portable and user-friendly package, the Tascam US-428 makes an excellent primary interface for a desktop- or laptop-based studio.