TASCAM’s multi-faceted Model 24 is really three products in one: a 22-channel analog mixer, a 24-track recorder (suitable for recording a live performance, or in the studio), and a Mac/Windows-compatible USB 2.0 interface—all for under $1,000. Before taking a closer look at each of these features, let’s first find out if you’re in the target audience for a product like this.
- Small-to-medium live performance venues. Clubs, restaurants, coffeehouses, auditoriums, playhouses—all those places where you see someone running a basic mixer—fit the Model 24’s job description. You can mix the band, while recording the band.
- Houses of worship. The Model 24 will mix a typical church band and sermon while recording the entire service. Here, the Model 24’s unobtrusiveness is a virtue—it’s compact, without being cramped. What’s more, in this and other performance situations, you can play back pre-recorded tracks with the Model 24 while adding live tracks on top. It’s a helpful way to augment an arrangement, or double vocals and instrumental parts.
- Corporate presentations. The days of one person running a mic and a CD player through a powered speaker are over. There will often be several participants (e.g., panel discussions), wireless mics in the audience for Q&A, and multiple sound sources (like a soundtrack from a video, audio outputs from one or more laptops, a streaming internet station for pre-conference background music, and the like). Being able to record the presentation is a bonus.
- Band rehearsals. You don’t want to play IT professional when rehearsing, but instead, have a set-and-forget way to record your rehearsals for review. The Model 24 is portable (about 22 pounds, although you’ll want some kind of case if you’re going to move it around), so you can also shuttle it between your rehearsal hall and the gig.
- Home studio. Computers bring a huge amount of power to home studios, but they also bring some degree of complexity. I can see songwriters gravitating toward the Model 24 because the built-in recorder’s workflow is so easy, and setup so fast, you can prioritize inspiration. But if you later want to move over to a full-blown, digital-audio-based album production, the Model 24 is an audio interface that can record directly into a computer. And if you recorded some tracks while writing that are “keepers” for a more involved production, pop the SD card into your computer’s card reader, and transfer the tracks to take advantage of plug-ins like pitch correction.
- Studio B. Even though I work mostly solo, I have a main studio where I do most of my work, and a Studio B that’s set up more for fast operation, product testing, and songwriting. For some, the Model 24 would be an ideal Studio B.
- It’s hard to imagine a better way to teach recording. Even if someone plans to deal exclusively with computers once they get out of school, almost all computer-based recording is still based on the traditional recording studio paradigm. It’s easier to use a virtual studio when you know what a physical one is like.
- Music cruises. Cruises based around specific genres or styles of music are becoming very popular. Space is at a premium, and so is cost—cruises can be rough on gear, so you don’t want your $15,000 console trashed. And, being able to record gigs means that (assuming legal/rights issues don’t get in the way), you can generate a cool souvenir for the people who came on the cruise.
SO WHAT’S THE CATCH?
There are a few limitations that may rule out certain more advanced applications. These are:
- 16/24-bit, 44.1/48 kHz operation only. Those who want to record at 96 kHz or higher sample rates need to look elsewhere. Then again, most people consider 24/48 kHz as more than good enough; and restricting the sample rate allows using all channels as a USB 2.0 interface, which makes operation with computers easier than using USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt ports.
- Only inputs 1 and 2 have insert jacks. If you depend on rack-mount processors, you need to patch them between your signal source and the Model 24. With mics, this also means you need a mic preamp before the processor. A mitigating factor is the onboard compression and equalization, particularly because the EQ’s midrange is sweepable (although you can’t adjust Q).
- Only basic editing. The Model 24 isn’t Pro Tools—it’s designed to capture audio quickly and efficiently. While you can auto-punch with pre-roll, have one level of undo, and can clear tracks, there aren’t cut/copy/paste-type functions (although you can bounce tracks by feeding the submix bus, and bringing that audio back into an input—another reason why 24 tracks are useful). This can even allow for comping; record on multiple tracks, and bounce selected parts to a different track. Although you need to send and return through analog electronics, the sonic results are fine. Another workaround is popping the SD card with a recorded track into a computer, moving it to a different track, and then bringing it back into the Model 24.
- No digital mixer control. Because the mixer is analog and not digitally controlled, as expected it doesn’t have moving faders, and you can’t use it to control DAW parameters, save presets, generate MIDI control signals, and the like.
A DEEPER LOOK
If you’re in the target audience, and the limitations aren’t relevant to your needs, you’ve probably already stopped reading this review and are checking out the specs. Don’t worry, I’m not offended. But if you’re still here…hi! Here’s some more info about the unit, starting with the mixer.
The 22-channel analog mixer is very capable, especially at this price point. There’s phantom power for the 16 mic pres (note that either they all have phantom power, or none of them has phantom power). The mic pres are also worthy of note. They’re the same ones used in the US-20×20 interface, which is an integral part of my studio as a mic preamp expander for another interface…so I’m very familiar with what these mics pres can do.
All the input jacks are on the top panel, not the rear; which you like is a matter of preference, but for live use I tend to like jacks on the front panel, because then it’s easy to see which cables (hopefully, they’re labeled!) go to which inputs. There are 12 mono channels and 4 stereo channels.
Most “channel strips” are the same, with high/sweepable mid/low EQ, one-knob compressor (on the 12 mono channels), activity/clip bi-color LED, 100 Hz low-cut filter, three auxes (two monitor mixes and FX mix), mute and record-enable buttons, submix bus send button, and (thank you!) long-throw faders. Inputs 1 and 2 are different in that they have insert jacks and can handle mic, line, and instrument inputs. The other 10 mono inputs are mic/line. Four more channels are mono mic or stereo line. Inputs 21 and 22 have left and right RCA jacks for gear like CD players, and a 1/8” stereo jack for an analog smartphone output or equivalent (Fig. 1).
You can also feed a (mutable) Bluetooth signal into these inputs, so you can stream in audio from a smartphone or tablet. This is handy when you want to hear what the sound system sounds like in a room. All channels have a mode switch for choosing among live, USB, and multitrack recorder.
For the master section, there’s a decent selection of effects (halls, delays, chorus, flanger, as well as four multi-effect options with delay or chorus plus a small or large hall—see Fig. 2), a stereo graphic EQ to accommodate different rooms, and a basic control room section.
THE RECORDER AND USB INTERFACE
The 24-track recorder records to a removable SD card, although you’ll want a fairly modern/fast one for best results. It almost makes me cry to think of what a 2″ reel of tape used to cost to record 24 tracks, compared to an SD card today—and that I can go to Target to buy my recording media instead of ordering from a high-end audio supplier. We’ve come so far in just a few years.
Note that when recording, the recorder picks up the input signal post-preamp and compressor, so what you record is not necessarily what you hear—you won’t record EQ or fader movements (the USB interface works the same way). This is the preferred option, because when recording a live performance, you can later tweak the raw tracks as desired instead of just accepting the live mix. If it’s crucial to record all the moves in a live performance, you can split the output and send one split to the house, and the other to two unused tracks into which you record the mix. Of course when playing back a mix, the mixer functions as if you were mixing live.
When using the Model 24 as a USB interface, you can still record to the SD card. At first, this seemed of little practical value—a recording is a recording, right? However, the redundancy aspect is valuable. After recording a gig, one person can take the computer home, while another can take the SD card. This is like having an automatic backup, and as we all know, “digital data isn’t real until it exists in more than one place.”
As a strictly USB interface, the Model 24 is functionally like any other interface. But if you haven’t followed TASCAM for a while, their latest interfaces hit a high standard.
THE USER INTERFACE
Navigation is simple. The display may be small, but it does the job and the operations are obvious (Fig. 3).
The documentation is excellent—when an operating system makes sense, then documenting that operating system makes sense almost by default. However, it’s still worth reading the documentation because there are some additional functions that aren’t obvious—like simultaneous ASIO and WDM playback from Windows, which isn’t particularly common with audio interfaces, and info on how to set up the play/record/punch footswitch to select different functions, and accommodate footswitches with different polarities.
We’ve covered the highlights, but there are additional details (rehearsing punches, importing files, info and system screens, etc.). Download the manual from the Model 24 download page to check out the various features in depth.
In some ways, the Model 24 is a throwback to the days of the all-in-one portable multitrack studio, a category TASCAM invented with the Model 144 cassette-based Portastudio. When you consider that was almost 40 years ago, the amount of change in that time is breathtaking (Fig. 4).
First of all, the 144 listed for $899—which in today’s dollars would be $3,100. For one-third that price, the Model 24 combines live performance mixing, a method to capture that live performance, 24-track recording for the home studio, and a USB interface for computer-based recording. It provides a familiar, tactile, mixer control surface with the one-function, one-control paradigm that makes mixing a real-time experience.
Computers have brought us a new world of capabilities, but it’s a world with tradeoffs—from operating system updates that break drivers, to a lack of hands-on control, to hunting through menus to find the parameters you want. For live performance, a computer’s lack of mixing immediacy—and opportunity for gig-breaking problems, like crashes—means that multi-channel mixers remain the gear of choice. Yet clearly, the Model 24 is a lot more than just a mixer.
Who knows where I’d be now if I could have bought a Model 24 back in 1979 instead of a Model 144 Portastudio…but a new generation of musicians won’t have to wonder what happens when this kind of power is at your fingertips, and even recording veterans might find the Model 24 fits their needs. Well-conceived, well-executed, and priced reasonably, the Model 24 is ideal for many applications.