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Tascam Digital Portastudios
Super-intuitive digital recording for every musician
By Hank Young

Tascam Digital PortastudiosTascam's DP-01 Series and 2488 Digital Portastudios deliver phenomenally high-quality multitracking with blessedly intuitive user interfaces and loads of potent features. It’s easier than ever to create rich, beautiful music with just your instrument, your talent, and your recorder. You might think you could achieve the same results for less on a computer-based system, but you’d be wrong.

The great idea

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on my friend’s older brother’s cassette-based four-track Portastudio back in 1979. It was a marvel of modern technology—now it was possible to make true overdubbed recordings relatively free of accumulated tape hiss without shelling out the gazillions of dollars needed to get into a studio.

Twenty-seven years later, Tascam delivers the recording quality of that expensive studio—with no tape hiss whatsoever—for less than it once cost to spend a single day in a studio. The DP-01 and its upgrades—the DP-01FX with amazing onboard effects and XLR inputs, and the DP-01FX/CD with an added CD burner—offer uncompressed CD-quality recording. They’re actually easier to use than the ancestral cassette Portastudio—with twice as many tracks!

Tascam set 24 tracks as the standard in the professional recording community back about the time the original four-track Portastudio was released for home recording. Now the 2488, for only a few hundred dollars more than the DP-01, provides complete 24-track capability in your living room with eight-track simultaneous recording.

TASCAM DP-01 Digital 8-Track Portastudio, DP-01FX Digital 8-Track Portastudio, DP-01FX/CD 8-Track Hard Disk Recorder with CD Burner, And 2488 24-Track Digital Recording Workstation
TASCAM DP-01 Digital 8-Track Portastudio, DP-01FX Digital 8-Track Portastudio,
DP-01FX/CD 8-Track Hard Disk Recorder with CD Burner, And 2488 24-Track Digital Recording Workstation

Recording made easy

If you haven’t done multitrack recording, the DP-01 is definitely the friendliest, most forgiving, and best way to learn I’ve encountered. Two-track simultaneous recording is effected by front-panel inputs—TRS on the DP-01 and TRS plus XLR on the DP-01FX and DP-01FX/CD models.

Early multitrack studio machines left a legacy of clunky ways to assign inputs to recording tracks. As a result, most modern multitrackers have obtuse, sometimes impenetrable, track assigning functions. This is decidedly not the case with the DP-01.  Just hold down the assign button by the chosen input and push the record button for the track you want to record to.

The transport keys function just like a tape recorder and you’ve got a volume slider and full-bank of dedicated knobs for every channel—high and low EQ, effect send, and pan with a single master effect return knob. The menu system is easy to get into (just push the "Menu" button). And it’s easy to navigate with cursor buttons and a jog wheel. All functions are very easy to find and rarely more than three layers deep. There are dedicated top panel buttons for editing functions, which let you cut, paste, move, erase, and silence to your heart’s content.

The effects on the DP-01FX and DP-01FX/CD have dedicated type and parameter knobs of their own with independent reverb and multi-effects sections and a bunch of very usable presets. If there’s a simpler way to set up a digital multitracker, I can’t imagine what it would be.

Elbow room

If you’ve got just a little more bread and a penchant for full arrangements, the 2488 is the sweetest 24-track machine I’ve used. Truth be known, I actually had an easier time getting started with this one than I did the DP-01. A full-featured 24-track digital recorder that you can start using without cracking the manual is a work of magic.

Twelve mono and six stereo tracks let you stretch out creatively with no ping-ponging. With that kind of room you can try lots of different parts and not have to decide which to include until final mixdown. And you can repeat that mixdown differently any time you want—a 40-gig hard drive gives you hours of storage.

The 2488’s large LCD lets you blow up and stretch or compress the visual wave images any way you want to make them easy to edit with nine possible editing functions. The built-in drum machine is one of the easiest I’ve ever used and really adds to the value of this unit. With 200 patterns plus intros and fills, you can create drum tracks amazingly quickly and easily. And there are plenty of presets you can simply edit to taste, then play through any of 20 kits. I was really impressed with the quality of these drum tracks.

There are 35 types of effects onboard and they’re truly first rate—good enough not just for a demo but for commercial release. They also have the cool feature of a master control that will let you back off the reverb, for example, from a large group of tracks simultaneously even though each track has its own assigned level.

All this combined with a wealth of final mix and burn functions earn the 2488 my vote for the most usable, powerful multitracker in this price range. And it’s everything you need in one unit, from the time you plug your guitar in front to the time you burn the final CD. Kudos to Tascam—the folks who first made home multitracking a reality are making it better all the time.