Can the Mixcast 4 offer podcast producers something its rivals can’t?
Podcasting is big business now and many manufacturers have trained their sights on it, with various recorders, interfaces, mics and apps being presented as perfect for podcasters. Fewer have designed new hardware from the ground up for podcast production, though. Rode were arguably the first with their RodeCaster Pro, which launched back in 2018 but was treated to a significant firmware update before my review in SOS June 2020. Zoom seem to me to have been their only strong and direct competition. I reviewed their LiveTrak L‑8 in SOS January 2021 and we’ll be testing their PodTrak range soon too.
Those devices all marry elements of conventional music/broadcast mixing desks with a multitrack SD recorder and USB audio interface, but also add several features specifically intended for podcast production: sample trigger pads, for example, ‘mix‑minus’ TRRS/Bluetooth inputs and, typically, as many headphone outs as there are mic inputs. They deliberately simplify the recording workflow so as to avoid intimidating novice recordists, and to that end you’ll typically find things like touchscreens and a preset‑based approach to configuring phantom power, mic gain, EQ and dynamics processing. They’re also intended to be portable. You should pretty much be able to plug in some mics and headphones, and optionally your phone or computer and speakers, and hit Record.
Podcast workstations, then, have plenty of overlap with Tascam’s Portastudio concept and the company’s recent Model 12 and 24 mixers, which double up as audio interfaces and recorders. So it was almost inevitable that Tascam would join the podcast party...
Called the Mixcast 4, their first podcast workstation sounds and feels typically and reassuringly Tascam. There are four low‑noise mic preamps, several other analogue and digital inputs and four headphone amps, each with ample clean gain and its own level knob. The case is plastic but it’s solidly built, and the whole thing weighs enough to stay securely in place on a desktop without being so hefty as to inhibit portability. While we’re on the subject of portability, there’s an optional carry case but note that there’s no provision for battery or USB power, despite there being a USB‑C port on the rear; you must use the provided 12V DC PSU, a universal wall‑wart type with screw‑locking connector.
While you won’t find every feature that the Rode and Zoom devices offer, most are accounted for and the Mixcast 4 boasts some advantages of its own too. Like the L‑8 and the RodeCaster Pro, it can be used standalone to record multitrack to an SD card (it accepts full‑size SD cards of class 10 or higher and is compatible with the SD, SDHC or SDXC standards) or, connected by USB (2.0, via a USB‑C cable) to a computer, phone or tablet, as a 14‑in/2‑out audio interface, which is class compliant for Mac OS, iOS and Android, and there are ASIO drivers for Windows. There’s also a free‑to‑download Mac/Windows/iOS editing app called Tascam Podcast Editor, whose learning curve is practically non‑existent and for many prospective users this will be welcome. Actually, the manual suggests it is available for Mac OS Catalina and above, iOS/iPadOS 13 and higher, Windows 10 and above, and Android 10 and up. But I couldn’t find the Android version on the Play Store, and a hunt around Tascam’s website before going to press suggests this version remains in the pipeline. On the plus side, I installed it on Mojave, an earlier version of Mac OS than those that are officially supported, and it worked fine.
Returning to the hardware, eight long‑throw faders give you ample control over channel playback levels and, with the other hardware controls each being assigned to a single purpose, the device has a spacious, intuitive, hands‑on feel. Along with the faders, you’ll find backlit rubber buttons for channel solos and mutes, talkback, basic transport control and sample pads, as well as five knobs for the stereo monitor out and four headphone outs. Clever use of coloured lighting aids navigation; lights beneath the headphone level knobs, for example, are a lovely touch.
The deeper functions that you’re less likely to need while actually recording are accessed using a large colour touchscreen, which occupies broadly the same space (slightly shorter, slightly wider) as my Samsung Galaxy S9 phone. Operation is very reminiscent of interacting with such a device: most functions are accessed using icons/buttons, there’s little menu diving or scrolling to contend with, and there’s never any information overload. A clear advantage of the touchscreen approach is that Tascam should have no obstacles to developing this device further. Indeed, some firmware updates have already been released. I installed v1.21 and while the process did take a few minutes it was trivially easy.
The Mixcast 4 is billed as recording 14 channels, but the practical reality of that number requires explanation. I’ll start with the four main mic inputs, which offer ample gain for typical dynamic and capacitor mics, and a sensible gain range. Mics are connected to combi XLRs on the rear — these lack the metal lock/release tabs most female XLR sockets have but that’s probably a good thing given the intended market, and the connection is plenty secure enough without them.
Channel 1 can be switched via the touchscreen to accept a phone‑style mic/headphone set connected to a front‑panel TRRS connector (this can serve as a regular TRS minijack headphone out too, duplicating the channel 1 signal on the rear).
Each mic channel is separately configurable using the touchscreen. Phantom power is switched on when you choose the Condenser (capacitor) preset, its presence indicated on the main metering screen by a red dot next to the channel. The Condenser and Dynamic presets include gain settings, with more gain by default for dynamic mics, but this value can be adjusted and the value is remembered if you switch between them.
The mic channels each have a mute and solo button at the top, where they’re unlikely to be knocked while operating the faders. Using the touchscreen, you can set solo as pre or post fader. Channel 1 also has a Talkback button: press‑hold this and the channel’s mic signal will still be routed to the headphone outputs but doesn’t appear in the mix, or the monitor or line outputs. So a producer can stealthily coach or prompt participants during a show: simple, but incredibly useful.
Channel 1 also has a Talkback button: press‑hold this and the channel’s mic signal is still routed to the headphone outputs but doesn’t appear in the recorded mix, or monitor or line outputs.
Effects and processors can also be applied to each mic, and a first screen offers basic options: Tone can be Deep, Mid or Bright, and Compressor can be Soft or Hard. But there are manual modes too, for which secondary screens reveal more control. Tone turns out to be a two‑band shelving EQ (bass from 20Hz to 1kHz, treble from 1kHz to 12.6kHz, both with a ±12dB range), and the compressor is very configurable, with sliders for threshold, ratio, attack, release and makeup gain. Another page accesses a de‑esser with threshold and frequency sliders, a noise suppressor (a variable high‑pass filter and simple noise gate) and, for channel 1 only, a ducker (threshold, attack, release and attenuate sliders), which attenuates the other channels when mic 1’s signal reaches a specified level — another practical feature, which could help the presenter/producer to keep control of panel discussions, or allow them to chatter, radio DJ‑style, over music. Something I was surprised not to find, though, was a simple pan control! It wont be an issue for many podcasters but for some it could be. (Of course, if it’s really important you can use a DAW to do this in post.)
The mic inputs are ‘hard‑wired’ to the first four faders and the other four faders apply similarly to specific sources. Fader 5 governs inputs 5+6, the stereo signal from a USB‑connected device. Fader 6 controls stereo channel 7+8, which has two physical inputs to choose from using a slide‑switch: a TRRS socket for smartphones and dual quarter‑inch TRS jacks for regular line‑level sources. Fader 7 (channels 9+10) sets the level for a stereo Bluetooth feed. Finally, on fader 8, we have inputs 11+12 for the stereo sounds triggered by the eight sound pads. While I say ‘finally’, we need another two channels to give us the full complement of 14 recording channels: the faderless channels 13+14 capture the stereo mix, whose balance is set by the fader positions.
These other sources all have fewer processing options than the mic inputs: you get gain and access to the de‑esser, noise suppressor and some preset ‘Audio Enhancement’ options (Talk and Music), but there’s no EQ or compressor. All of them, including the sound pads and mix, can be recorded to the SD card simultaneously as a single polywav file which can be imported into your DAW (some DAWs may require you to split the file before import). So it’s very easy to record four guests at once, along with up to three phone‑in guests: one by Bluetooth, one via TRRS and one through a computer video call over USB. The TRRS and Bluetooth connections have an always‑on mix‑minus facility too (they receive the mix minus their own input), and the USB feed can be delayed to sync with a video stream if required.
In terms of outputs, there are the four separate headphone outs, each with its own level control. These had more than enough welly to drive my 250Ω Beyerdynamic cans and my Audeze LCD‑X planar magnetic headphones. There’s also an unbalanced minijack line output and dual balanced TRS jacks for a stereo monitor/line output, which could be used to feed speakers or, for example, an external recorder. (When set to line output, the monitor level control doesn’t apply.)
Recording a podcast is ludicrously easy: connect your mics and/or other devices, select a preset and optionally adjust the gain, pull up the faders, turn up your headphones and hit Record; when you’re done, hit Stop. Handily, on stopping, you’re prompted to enter a project name, and with the touchscreen keyboard that’s quick and easy — this is invaluable for keeping track of separate recordings that you intend to stitch together in post production!
Once you’ve completed a recording, it takes a couple of screen taps to select and play back your podcast. In the first playback screen you can also rename or delete the podcast, while an Advanced button accesses a secondary screen on which your podcast appears as a timeline transport slider. Here, you can add (white) navigation markers using a dedicated physical button and navigate using the slider, the markers you’ve created, or in increments of 1, 5, 10 or 30 seconds. Importantly, you can also set a (red) Overwrite Position marker. Do this then hit record and you’ll overwrite the podcast from that position. I might have preferred a full punch‑in/out facility for correcting fluffed‑line moments but if you put this marker at the end of your podcast then you can pick up where you left off. So its useful if, say, you want to ‘pause’ after recording a show segment, then maybe add some presenter dialogue when your guest has gone, then repeat so you can add the next segment in similar fashion.
Podcasts may legitimately be sombre, serious affairs, of course, but lots of podcasters prefer energetic, radio‑style shows, and there are some great features to help them with that. I’ve already mentioned the Talkback button but it’s perhaps less obvious that you could use that to crack not‑for‑broadcast jokes if you find guests’ energy levels are sagging! Then there are the sound pads, and these are more interesting than those I’ve encountered previously. There are eight pads, organised in up to nine banks. Bank 0 hosts the factory sounds (applause, klaxons, drum rolls and so on), and the others can be used to record anything playing through the Mixcast 4 (but not while a podcast recording is in progress). They can also be loaded with pre‑recorded sounds using the Tascam Podcast Editor app running on a connected computer. You can use the app to edit recorded sounds too, but you can’t perform edits using the hardware; a simple trim‑plus‑fades facility would be a very welcome addition.
A small yet significant touch is that on‑screen labels always show which bank of pads is active and what the pad names are, and they reflect the pads’ backlight colours. Another is that several different behaviours can be specified on a per‑pad basis. Latch, Pause, RePlay, One Shot, Repeat and Touch are self explanatory, but each pad can also be configured as a Bleep (when this pad is pressed other channels are muted) or an Effect, and that has the potential to be so much fun!
For each mic channel, you can set up a couple of effects: there’s a reverb, again with basic options but more control in an advanced view, and a Voice Changer, which is a pitch shifter of ±1 octave. Set a sound pad to Effect mode and when you press it the effect will be applied to the chosen sources. You could speak with a dramatic, deep voice in a cave as a spot effect, or turn your guest into a chipmunk for kicks. It’s great fun being able to do enable this on the fly. To make the most of this feature I hope Tascam consider adding more effects options (trippy delays, modulation, filter sweeps, metallic robot voices and over‑zealous pitch correction... the list could be endless).
I was frustrated to discover that moving pre‑recorded samples to the sound pads can only be done using Tascam Podcast Editor. I mean, it’s great that it’s possible and that the app is free. But you can use the Mixcast 4 as an SD card reader/writer and simply drag your samples into the requisite folder using your OS file browser — it’s just that there’s no means on the hardware of assigning them to a pad!
This brings us neatly on to the Tascam Podcast Editor app, which automatically recognises a connected Mixcast and opens in its multitrack Waveform Editing screen. This resembles a typical DAW arrange page, with channels for each hardware channel along with a few stereo tracks for music or other sources. True to the make‑things‑easy ethos, there are basic functions including split, copy, paste, combine and mute. There’s an auto‑level function too, which makes a decent fist of matching channel levels, and a time‑stretch facility — drag to stretch/shrink a recording without changing the pitch. A healthy selection of insert effects is included but you can also load third‑party VST3 or AU plug‑ins. While seasoned producers may well feel more comfortable using their preferred DAW, everything that you actually need to tidy up your podcast recordings can be found here.
A separate sound pad screen allows you to send the sound pad files to and receive them from the hardware, and to save profiles to your computer. And again, it’s all pretty intuitive. You can load samples from your computer to a virtual pad, change the pad behaviour, name and colour, and import a sound from the hardware to a virtual pad. Beneath, you can move whole pad profiles between the hardware and software. A minor ‘gotcha’ is that the Import From Mixcast button for individual pads has an icon but no label or tool tip, and if curiosity gets the better of you before you read the manual, you’ll overwrite anything currently assigned to that pad!
In summary, then, the Mixcast 4 is a very capable and easy‑to‑use podcasting workstation, and a serious competitor to the RodeCaster Pro and various Zoom devices. It’s very similar to the RodeCaster, in fact. The latter retains some advantages (eg. more onboard effects and a more flexible mic preset system), but the Mixcast improves on it in other respects. I loved the simple but thoughtful touches, such as the use of coloured lighting and on‑screen feedback about the sound pads. The Talkback and sound pads’ Effect and Bleep modes are cool too. The quality and size of the touchscreen is welcome and... did I say how super‑easy it all is to use?
There’s scope to develop this device significantly with further firmware updates, and a handful of minor issues should be addressable pretty easily. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how the firmware evolves. Tascam have planted a flag firmly into Rode/Zoom territory, then, and as we were going to press Rode got in touch to outline their plans for a new podcasting hardware product. I’ll be watching their next move and Zoom’s with interest, but the Mixcast 4 certainly delivers the goods.
- So incredibly easy to use.
- Spacious layout.
- Clean mic preamps and headphone amps with plenty of range.
- Glorious touchscreen.
- Talkback function.
- Sound pads are more than just sample recorders/triggers.
- Free podcast editing and sound pad librarian software.
- No battery or USB power option.
- Loading external samples to sound pads could be easier.
One of the best podcast stations around, boasting some unique features. Probably the easiest to operate too.
£574.99 including VAT.
TEAC UK +44 (0)1923 797205.
$599. Soft carry case $59.99. Decksaver rigid dust cover $89.99.
TEAC America Inc. +1 323 726 0303.