Test Drive: TASCAM FW-1082 Interface and Controller

THE SURFACE

The control surface looks like a conventional mixer, and features nine 60mm touch-sensitive moving faders. Eight are for the eight individual input channels, plus there’s one that serves as the master fader. Above each of the eight channel faders is a mute, solo and channel select button, along with an LED indicating REC ready. This function is engaged by selecting a channel and pressing the REC button located above the master fader.

Above the faders is the analog input section, with trim knobs for each of the analog inputs. The trims on channels 1 through 4 are adjustable from 0 dB to 56 dB of gain, while the trim knobs on channels 5 through 8 provide -6 dB to 40 dB of gain. Each knob is accompanied by a pair of LED indicators. The first of these lights up green to indicate the presence of a signal, while the second lights up red to warn when the input is overloaded, and this warning threshold is adjustable in software using the included Manager.

There’s no input metering other than the aforementioned signal and overload LEDs, nor does the monitor section have output metering. The FW-1082 Manager software has no software meters either. You can monitor levels visually in your software editor, but that won’t help you monitor direct-output levels.

The upper-right section is home to the monitor and headphones volume knobs, as well as the phantom power, FireWire, external word clock, digital input, and MIDI I/O indicator LEDs. Just to the left of these is an EQ, pan and Aux section which becomes active for whichever mixer channel is currently selected. When in Monitor Mix mode, the same buttons let you set the sampling rate from 44.1 kHz up to 96 kHz. You can also select the sampling rate in the FW-1082 Manager software.

To the right of those are the three “mode” buttons, which are used to switch the FW-1082 between its three different modes of operation. The functions of many of the FW-1082’s other controls depend upon which mode is selected. In Computer Control mode, the FW-1082 closely integrates with your computer and editor software. All fader and knob movements and button presses are transmitted to the computer, and interpreted by the software. Data can be sent back by the computer to adjust fader positions, or illuminate LEDs. Several different control protocols are available, including Native.

In MIDI Control mode, the FW-1082’s buttons, knobs and faders can be used to control external MIDI devices, and MIDI-capable software applications. In addition to the FW-1082’s two physical MIDI output jacks, there are two ‘virtual’ output ports which are visible to the host computer. MIDI data is sent to the virtual ports via the Firewire connection. By default, a reasonable set of MIDI controllers is already assigned to the FW-1082’s controls, but these are all editable via the software control panel.

In Monitor Mix mode, the FW-1082 can be used as a straightforward audio mixer. This allows for easy, zero-latency monitoring of the input signals, and the main audio outputs from your editor software. You can choose between monitoring only the inputs, only the software’s outputs, or both together.

Beneath the encoder knobs is a collection of self-explanatory transport controls, which have the same functions in all three modes. There are straightforward rewind, fast-forward, stop, play and record buttons which mirror your software’s transport controls, together with a dial for scrubbing backwards or forwards through tracks.

There’s also a pair of bank selection keys, which can be used to switch the channel controls between banks of eight software audio channels. For instance, if your editor has 32 tracks, you can use these keys to switch between four groups of eight channels. The motorized faders really come into play here, as they update their positions to reflect the selected group’s settings. Other useful buttons include Locate, Set, In and Out keys, which can be used to move location markers and set punch-in points in your software, and four cursor-key buttons for navigating around other on-screen parameters.

IN USE

I tested the FW-1884 in its various modes with several software applications including Steinberg’s Nuendo (in Mackie Control and HUI modes) and Sony’s Vegas (in generic mode). Setup and operation within these applications was easy and intuitive, though the depth of functionality varied depending on the control mode and chosen application. In all software applications tested, channel fader and master fader movements, pan adjustments, fader bank selects, and channel selects/solos/mutes worked like a charm. I should mention that the FW-1082 comes with a copy of Steinberg’s Cubase LE recording software, as well as a copy of Gigastudio LE sampling software, but I did not install or use these during my evaluation.

The sound quality of the FW-1082 is very good, and the mic preamps are clean and quiet. Like most TASCAM products I’ve tried, you have to take extra care in setting levels, as the mic inputs tend to break up easily in the upper ranges. They’re just a bit fussy near the top of the gain range. A bit of the old analog compression patched in through an insert loop goes a long way in obtaining good and safe levels in preparation for the analog-to-digital conversion.

One of the FW-1082’s principal strengths is its ease in creating a latency-free cue mix while recording. Since the recording signal leaves the system directly after the preamps, you are free to use the faders to create a recording cue mix of the incoming live signals, balanced against the previously recorded tracks coming back from the computer application. There is no need to use direct monitoring or sound card mixer schemes to reroute live audio to the outputs.

I do wish TASCAM had incorporated some sort of metering on the FW-1082. Although I know that it would probably increase the unit’s retail price, it’s just about the only thing missing from this otherwise complete system.

WRAP UP

Despite the features-versus-price trade offs made in this smaller sibling of the FW-1884, the FW-1082 is an excellent and feature-rich all-in-one recording solution. At a street price of around $700 for a 10-channel FireWire computer interface, motorized and touch sensitive control surface, 32-channel MIDI interface and stand-alone analog mixer, my friend Patrick is right: the TASCAM FW-1082 is quite a bargain.

The TASCAM FW-1082 carries a suggested retail price of $999 USD. For more information worldwide, visit www.tascam.com.

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