You are here

Tascam M164UF

Mixer &16-channel Audio Interface By Martin Walker
Published March 2010

USB and Firewire 'mixerfaces' abound these days, but not all allow you to record multiple channels simultaneously to separate tracks in your DAW. Enter the M164UF...

Tascam M164UF

The immediacy of 'hands‑on' control is still highly desirable to most musicians, so while some may have abandoned compact analogue mixing desks in favour of recording directly into multi‑channel audio interfaces, many others still crave easily‑tweakable analogue EQ, aux sends for adding effects like reverb and delay, and tactile knobs and faders at their fingertips.

In recent years, several manufacturers have started to offer small-but-versatile analogue mixing desks that include (or have an option to include) a built‑in audio interface. With their new — and surprisingly affordable — M164 series, Tascam are the latest company to join this happy band.

First Impressions

These new desktop mixers are compact enough to carry under one arm if you want to use them for location or live‑band recordings, but are still sufficiently weighty to stay put when loads of cables are plugged into them. There are three versions in the range: the M164 16‑channel analogue mixing desk; the M164FX, which adds some digital effects; and the most fully featured, the M164UF, which keeps the effects and adds a USB 2 audio interface — allowing you to record up to 16 simultaneous audio channels at up to 24‑bit/96kHz to your computer, and offering stereo monitoring from your DAW.

The black casings are sturdy, yet for those who find themselves working in poor lighting conditions (or who simply prefer to work in a dark and mysterious studio ambience!), I was pleased to see that all knobs and faders have obvious coloured markings, and it's fairly easy to feel whether the coloured switches are engaged or not.

Recording Options

With six balanced mic/line channels, you can plug in enough mics to record a small band, and I was pleased to see that each of these channels included a switchable high‑pass filter (to combat low‑end rumble and mic handling noise) and a three‑band EQ covering low, mid, and high frequencies. It would have been nice to have a swept mid-range control, but the fixed 100Hz, 2.5kHz and 12kHz frequencies seem well chosen, and I found the EQ itself to be versatile and clean‑sounding, with plenty of tonal range to cope with close‑miked boominess or dull‑sounding instruments.

Global 48V phantom power can be switched on at the rear panel for condenser mics, and the mic preamps themselves sound clean, transparent and extended, with plenty of gain, yet fairly low background noise — although I did miss the option of at least one high‑impedance input suitable for electric guitar.

Channels 7‑8 and 9‑10 offer simpler line‑level stereo inputs, omitting the high‑pass filter and mid-range EQ band, although 9‑10 has a front-panel 'phono' switch to activate an RIAA‑equalised preamp — which is a handy addition for anyone still sampling vinyl.

The remaining controls are common to all 10 main input channels: there are two aux sends for monitoring and effects (the first with a pre/post‑fader switching option), pan/balance control, a smoothly operating 50mm channel fader, and two routing switches to send each final channel signal to either or both of the main ST (stereo) or Sub outputs (read on for more on the output possibilities).

Input channels 11 through 16 vary from model to model. On the more basic M164, you get three more stereo line‑level inputs with ST and Sub routing switches plus a 'To Aux 1' switch, so you can set up a monitoring mix along with contributions from the other input channels. On the FX and UF models, either channels 13‑14 or 15‑16 can be used as effects returns from the internal effects, and on the UF model under review here, channels 11‑12 are also used to monitor the stereo return signal from the USB audio interface.

Overall, six mic/line and five stereo line‑level inputs is generous on such a compact mixer, although the socketry won't suit everyone. While mic/line inputs 1‑6 offer both balanced XLR and TRS jacks, channels 7‑8 and 13‑14 feature only jacks, while 9‑10 and 11‑12 are on unbalanced phonos. Channels 15‑16 are used to monitor the effects return, but can accept external sources only via the stereo mini‑jack on the front panel (which is useful if you're connecting an MP3 or CD player).


One of the six mic/line channel strips on the M164UF, with usefully coloured trim, EQ, aux send and pan pots.One of the six mic/line channel strips on the M164UF, with usefully coloured trim, EQ, aux send and pan pots.

Both mono aux sends have master rotary-level controls, and are available as separate outputs on the rear panel, so you could patch in other hardware effects here if you needed them. The ST and Sub outputs each have their own independent master faders at the right-hand side of the mixer and outputs on the rear panel, and could be used for feeding two amps/PA systems, or main and sub speakers. The Sub output channel also has a 'To ST' switch, so you could alternatively use the individual channel sub buttons to create a submix and then add that to the main stereo out, which could be useful for altering the global level of a miked drum kit or several vocals, for instance.

The main stereo output also has a handy two‑band (bass and treble) EQ that you could use to tweak the overall PA sound or refine a stereo mix to be recorded, and there's also a single headphone output with extremely healthy output level that can monitor the Stereo, Sub or Aux 1 signals. The two stereo outs are more than adequate for live recording and monitoring, but you don't get the option of routing all 16 recorded tracks back from your DAW to the M164UF input channels to mix them down using analogue EQ and physical faders. Some products offer this feature if you really need it, but you'll need to pay significantly more for the privilege.

The meter bridge displays all 16 pre‑fader input levels and the main monitor post‑fader output levels and, despite only having four LEDs per meter (‑20, 0, +8, and Over), provides a useful amount of information, ranging from 'signal present' to 'close to clipping', that can be taken in very rapidly. My only reservation is that the meter bridge overhangs the rear panel slightly, making it more difficult to see what's plugged in while peering over the top of the mixer. Such things can suddenly become very important when you find yourself working at the back of a murky hall recording a band!

Audio/Driver Performance

The rear panel of the M164UF hosts all of the line and mic inputs, as well as a host of outputs for main and sub mixes, and aux sends. The rear panel of the M164UF hosts all of the line and mic inputs, as well as a host of outputs for main and sub mixes, and aux sends.

As I write this, the M164UF has 32‑bit drivers for Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Mac OSX, and I experienced no operational difficulties installing and using the Windows XP drivers. Like other Tascam audio interfaces, the PC buffer sizes are labelled with various 'Audio Performance' settings, namely 'normal' latency and low, lowest, high and highest alternatives.

Most manufacturers of USB and Firewire interfaces also incorporate extra RAM buffers on the output side, to ensure smooth playback via the sometimes uncertain route in and out of the computer. For a given buffer size chosen in your sequencer, playback latency will thus be slightly higher than recording latency. However, as with Tascam's US144 and US122L interfaces, the M164UF bumps up latency by about 14ms, significantly more than many competitors. While playing soft synths I could just about cope with the 25ms output latency of the 'Normal' setting, but it felt better with the 17ms of the 'low' setting, although this did noticeably increase CPU overheads, as the input latency was, by then, a tiny 2.5ms.

However, I suspect that most potential purchasers of the M164UF will be concentrating on live recording of physical instruments, in which case such latency issues are irrelevant: you've got an analogue mixer with built‑in reverb, so you can monitor your sources with effects without hearing any latency in your cans.

The most important aspect was that audio quality was very good, and although having an analogue mixer on the front end can slightly compromise results compared with a basic audio interface, I nevertheless measured a healthy 102dBA dynamic range in 24‑bit/44.1kHz format, as well as very low distortion levels (0.002 percent). Other interfaces may offer lower background noise, but in the real world the limiting factor is far more likely to be the background noise level in your studio, and how well you set up the trims to optimise the gain structure.

Final Thoughts

With six mic preamps and a total of 10 line‑level inputs, Tascam's M164 series is portable enough for live band or other location recordings, and versatile enough for small studio recordings with a drum kit, a miked-up guitar stack, a couple of stereo synths, and vocals. Being able to record all these sources separately to your computer for later mixdown is a dream come true for many musicians, and while the M164 and M164FX models will no doubt prove popular, I strongly suspect that the M164UF will be flying off the shelves!  


There are plenty of compact mixing desks available that offer stereo USB or Firewire audio interfaces, such as the Allen & Heath ZED14, Behringer Xenyx, Mackie 'U' series and Yamaha MW/MG models. However, models with multi‑channel recording capabilities are much thinner on the ground. The Phonic Helix Board models are well worth a look, as is the Alesis MultiMix 16 USB 2.0 (probably the closest competitor, but significantly higher in price). Moving up a price bracket, the Mackie Onyx range is also worth a look.

Internal Effects

The M164FX and UF models both feature an internal stereo effects processor offering one of 16 fixed presets, comprising mostly reverb options, including several smooth‑sounding halls, rooms and plates, plus chorus, flange, a couple of delays, chorus/delay combos, a vocal 'Cancel', and a rotary-speaker effect. There are no user‑tweakable parameters, and although I found all the reverb effects very smooth and usable, being unable to tweak the delay and sweep times of the others seriously limits their usefulness.

On the M164UF, each input channel gets sent to the USB audio interface individually and is recorded dry (with no effects), while the mono feed to the internal stereo effects is a mix from all the individual Aux 2 sends, via the Aux 2 Master level control, and is thus completely separate.

The stereo effects can be monitored through channels 13‑14 or 15‑16, and from there to the ST and/or Sub busses, so you can hear input channels with effects through the ST, Sub or Phones outputs. This is useful for adding reverb to vocals while recording, and if more than one musician needs to hear the effected mix through cans, the Sub output could feed a headphone distribution amp. There's also the option of recording the combined wet effects contribution from all channels via the ST or Sub feeds to the USB audio interface, so if you like the sound you're hearing with internal effects, you can capture it all on your computer.


  • Six mic preamps.
  • Versatile 16‑input USB interface lets you record each mixer channel to a separate track in your DAW.
  • Built‑in effects are perfect for monitor mixes, while recording dry signals.
  • Affordable.


  • Higher than usual playback latency not ideal for 'live' soft-synth performance.
  • Lacks high‑impedance instrument inputs.


This 16‑channel mixing desk includes a 16‑in/2‑out USB 2.0 interface as well as on‑board digital effects — and all for a very good price: Tascam should sell a lot of these.


£510 including VAT.

Tascam UK +44 (0)1923 438880.


Tascam +1 323 726 0303.

Test Spec

  • Tascam M164UF firmware v1.0, driver v2.0.
  • PC with Intel Conroe E6600 2.4GHz dual‑core processor, 2GB RAM, running Windows XP SP3.