Using a console is almost like playing an instrument, and it takes a healthy number of faders to bring that feeling to a DAW. Tascam equipped its flagship DAW controller, the US-2400, with 25 of them (24 channels plus a master).
In addition to these touch-sensitive, motorized 100mm faders, each of the 24 channels has an assignable LED-ringed rotary encoder (for pan, auxes, etc.), along with buttons for mute, solo and select. The LED rings around the encoders do double-duty as position indicators and level meters. There's no electronic scribble strip or extraneous functions that would be easier to access with the mouse (e.g., inserting plug-ins); in fact, there's no character display of any kind. But this unit is built for hands-on control rather than loaded with bells and whistles. Actually, I'm surprised at how little I missed the extras that are found on competing products.
PLUG AND PLAY
The 35.75×15.25-inch (W×D) US-2400 connects to any Mac OS X or Windows XP machine via USB. Being a “class-compliant” device, it does not require a driver, as the OS recognizes it automatically.
In addition to its own native mode, the US-2400 has modes for Cakewalk SONAR, MOTU Digital Performer, Apple Logic Audio, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, and Digidesign Pro Tools. I tested the US-2400 with the last three, as well as with MOTU's CueMix Console monitor mixer, but it can be used with pretty much any DAW software (or any device that responds to MIDI controllers).
Each of its three 8-fader banks looks like a separate controller to the host software, so Pro Tools, for example, sees it as three Mackie HUIs, MOTU sees it as three Mackie Controls and Logic Audio configures itself automatically for a Logic Control and two expanders — the wrong ones, actually, but it's a trivial matter to set it straight.
The US-2400's control section features a jog wheel, a joystick for surround panning (which Pro Tools sees as a JLCooper MCS panner) and transport buttons. There are also lighted I/O buttons and conveniently placed bank-up and -down buttons to access up to 192 channels (eight banks of 24 faders).
The master fader “strip” has buttons to clear soloed channels and Flip mode, which swaps the channel faders and the rotary encoders. This puts the aux send mix that's been selected (via six dedicated aux buttons) on the faders, while the volume moves up to the rotary encoders — very handy. With a modifier button, the aux buttons can be used to call up user screen sets in Logic and a selection of screens in Pro Tools. The Shift or Function key can also be used with different transport controls to do various things. Most of these combinations make intuitive sense, and I found them without looking in the manual — holding Shift and Rewind will return to zero in Pro Tools. Other functions might raise some eyebrows — such as Shift and Rewind is left arrow in Logic — but they aren't obtrusive if they aren't employed.
A nice plus for musician/engineers is using a footswitch for punch-in/outs. Also, the assignable function keys can be set by the user for often repeated tasks such as punch-in, undo, track arming and more.
UNDER MY THUMB (AND FINGER)
The US-2400's faders have a full-sized, 100mm throw and an extremely light feel, with very little resistance when slid. That's certainly different from the way analog faders feel, but it's neither good nor bad. Probably because the unit's light weight reduces the strain on the motors, these faders are extremely quiet when being ghost-driven. Unlike many motorized faders, they also don't chatter loudly when moving a group of them.
Whenever the faders make quick moves over a wide distance, they go most of the way to their destination at full speed, but then gradually apply the brakes. This has no effect on the sound and results in quieter operation. The joystick is not motorized, so it has a Null button that acts as a “clutch.” Like the faders, the joystick floats with very little resistance.
PANNING THE PANNING
Many DAW programs such as Pro Tools have separate left and right faders for adjusting the balance on stereo tracks. That makes it impossible to pan signals with one knob, so — through no fault of the US-2400 — I had to adjust one side and then hold down a modifier key to adjust the other. It would be more controller-friendly if these programs had one control for positioning both channels together and a second one — the one accessed with the modifier — for adjusting the overall width. Time to form a political action committee?
While the US-2408 doesn't have electronic scribble strips (Tascam says a soft LCD scribble strip is coming soon), there's plenty of space between the bottom of its fader tracks and the front of the surface to accommodate 1-inch write-on tape. With 24 faders to work with, there's rarely any question about which banks you're scrolled to and this is a perfectly serviceable substitute in most situations.
ON MY WAY OUT
The US-2400 is an easy-to-use unit with very good ergonomics. Its performance was absolutely solid in all four programs I threw at it, which makes it feel more like an integrated control surface than a generic controller. The US-2400 is a perfect DAW controller for anyone who's interested in lots of faders for a good value ($1,999).
Tascam, 323/727-7617, www.tascam.com.
Nick Batzdorf is a writer, composer and engineer/producer in Los Angeles.