A few people have been mentioning the Tascam US-122 lately, so I thought I'd post a review of the unit that I've just written for a music magazine. Might help someone thinking of buying one. Any further questions are very welcome.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...
The US-122 is the latest fruit of the Tascam/Frontier development partnership and is the logical successor to the US-428 and US-224 models. Where these sought to act as both interfaces and mini control surfaces for sequencers, the US-122 is a straightforward portable USB device.
Put simply, it is a two-input, two-output 24-bit AD/DA audio/MIDI interface, offering a respectable proliferation of ins and outs. There are two balanced XLR mic inputs; two 1/4” balanced line inputs (switchable to high-impedance unbalanced inputs for direct connection of any hi-Z source, such as a guitar, bass or synth); TRS inserts on each input channel for effects processors; impedance matching and a 16-channel Midi interface.
Output is via a pair of unbalanced line outputs on RCA connectors, although regrettably there is no digital option, either in or out. A separate headphone output with dedicated volume knob is provided, along with the master volume knob and a direct monitoring knob. The unit is entirely USB powered and provides phantom power to the two XLR sockets for use with condenser mics.
Construction is solid, the reassuringly chunky design and rubberised mid-section promising to withstand a few knocks. As the US-122 lends itself to portable use, this is an important issue. Its dimensions are also a boon, measuring just 149 x 60 x 196mm (W/H/D) and weighing just over 2lb (925g).
Installation of the tiny 5Mb driver was easy, the only caveat being that OS X owners must be running at least OS X 10.2.3. The driver also works in OS 9 and the device will support ASIO, Sound Manager, CoreAudio, CoreMIDI, OMS and Free MIDI. A version of Cubasis for Mac is bundled with the package, although this only works in OS 9.
The US-122 Manager contains settings for Audio Safety Buffer (1-5ms) and the USB Bandwidth Usage dialogue, an audio-disable function for when you just want to run MIDI and timing is crucial. A guitar tuner is also included. Sample rates of either 44.1 or 48Khz are possible, with a resolution of either 16 or 24-bits. These and other parameters (such as overall gain levels) can be set in Audio and Midi Setup in OS X.
In operation, using the US-122 is a no-brainer. Plug in your instrument or mic, move the mic/line or guitar switch accordingly, select phantom power if required and adjust the Left or Right channel levels as necessary, using the signal indicators as a guide. There is only one light to show the presence of an audio signal (when the level exceeds –37dBFS) and only one overload indicator (which lights at –2.5dBFS), so it’s something of a challenge to pinpoint the optimum recording level. Using your DAW’s channel-level indicators is advisable.
The latency of the US-122’s hardware input monitor is advertised at “always less than 1.5ms”, but you can avoid the latency issue completely while overdubbing live signals by using the Direct switch. There is also a Mono switch which folds the two direct monitor stereo channels to mono.
You can record and playback two audio channels simultaneously, although slightly disappointing is the fact that the manual advises against recording mic and line signals simultaneously as the signal level is summed and the two are likely to interfere with one another.
The sound quality achieved with the US-122 is of a professional quality and the unit delivers a nice loud signal on playback – some USB audio devices need cranking right up to get anything out of them. MIDI operation was also straightforward. Bear in mind that the US-122 is only a USB device, though, and that the limits of the USB’s data-carrying capacity generally prohibits playback of anything greater than 16 audio tracks.
One improvement we would suggest is that the dials could do with a coloured strip on top to better indicate their position. At present, there is only a groove cut into the plastic, but as all the knobs are silver on a silver machine, it’s hard to identify settings at a glance or in low light conditions.
Apart from that, if you need to capture analogue sources and are in the market for a small, portable recording and MIDI solution, this machine fits the bill. As a portable recording solution for capturing ideas on the hoof, for recording demos, gigs, rehearsals or any other type of location recording, the US-122 is a good bet.