Tascam have done far more than shrink the Model 24.
When reviewing Tascam’s Model 24 in SOS February 2019 (http://sosm.ag/tascam-model-24), I found plenty to love and, on balance, thought it a lovely combination of mixer, USB recorder and audio interface. That said, there were a few aspects that I felt could be improved. Tascam have since added the Model 16 and Model 12 to their range, and I’m happy to report that the latter, reviewed here, is far more than a reduced channel‑count version of the Model 24. In fact, Tascam have implemented several new features, on both the hardware and software sides of the house, and they combine to make the Model 12 far more versatile than the 24. In fact, it addresses many of my previous criticisms, and will undoubtedly appeal to a much wider audience.
As with the Model 24, the Model 12 is essentially three devices rolled into one. As its delightfully retro appearance implies, it can function as a fairly uncomplicated standalone mixer, with mic/line/instrument inputs, one‑knob compressors, EQ and a couple of aux sends on each channel, a master‑section EQ, and a built‑in 16‑preset digital effects processor. It also doubles as a standalone digital multitrack recorder with individual track arming, recording to SD/SDHC cards and SDXC cards (class 10 or higher) and, erm, triples as a multitrack USB 2 audio interface for Mac/Windows computers (via a USB C‑style port). In both those roles, it’s capable of 16‑ or 24‑bit and 44.1 or 48 kHz PCM recording and playback. The Model 24 could do all that, but there are some major improvements to the facilities on offer: notably, for instance, it now acts as a USB MIDI interface, and throws basic DAW‑controller facilities into the mix.
There are some welcome changes to hardware. First, bar the two headphone outputs (which might have been more conveniently placed on the front edge, beneath the master fader), all of the physical input and output connections are on the rear panel; on the Model 24, they were on the top. Not only does this make for a tidier desktop and place less strain on your cables but it also reduces the amount of dust that will fall into the sockets, so should make maintenance less onerous over time.
All the analogue input channels can now accept mic, line or instrument inputs, via combi XLR/jacks: the XLR for the mic input, and the jack for line or instrument sources, selectable via a button beneath the channel gain pot. Channels 1 and 2 still feature a TRS unbalanced insert send/return socket too, allowing you to use outboard EQ or compressors while recording, and channels 7/8 and 9/10 double up as stereo line/instrument inputs: a normalled jack socket accompanies the combi XLR to allow stereo or dual‑mono operation. In total, then, there are eight analogue input channels, of which two can cater for mono or stereo sources, giving you a total of 10 inputs.
There’s also a stereo Bluetooth input that can be routed to the main mix or to channel 9/10, as you prefer. So, pressing this into service, you could technically accommodate 12 inputs on mixdown. Furthermore, there’s a TRRS jack, catering for two‑way connection with smartphones: the phone delivers sound on channels 9/10, and receives the main mix minus the phone input (to prevent distracting echoes). This will please the podcasting crowd, but it also allows you easily to audition demos your bandmates bring to a rehearsal, and could potentially double up as a third headphone output.
Each of the eight main input channels has a mic preamp with a 0‑50 dB gain range, which might not break any records but is fine for most home/project‑studio applications. The line inputs have a gain range spanning ‑10 to +40 dB on channels 1‑6, and ‑20 to +30 dB on channels 7/8 and 9/10.
The preamps sound decent to my ears and, importantly, aren’t noticeably noisy: for example, with the compressor working quite hard and a treble EQ boost, I was able to record my voice with a dynamic mic and there was pleasingly little hiss. Sadly, there’s still no input pad on any channel for when capturing loud sources with high‑output mics, though there is now the option on all channels (via the Menu button and Multi Jog wheel/button) to invert the signal polarity, a facility the Model 24 lacked. So you can now, for instance, use both a top and bottom mic when recording snare, without the need for separate gadgets or cables.
The eight main input channels all feature their own one‑knob compressor and an always‑on three‑band EQ section: fixed frequency bands at 80Hz and 10kHz (a little lower and, to me, more useful than the Model 24’s 12kHz) and a sweepable mid between 100Hz and 5kHz, all offering ±15dB. The frequency for the mid band on the Model 24’s stereo channels was fixed, so the Model 12 is again more versatile here.
Arguably the biggest ‘game changer’ is how you can deploy these processors. In the Model 24, the A‑D and D‑A converters were at a fixed point in the signal path, which limited how you could access the processing. For example, the compressors were always placed before the converters, which meant that you could record and mix live performances through them but couldn’t access or tweak them during playback. Similarly, the EQs always came after the converters, so you could mix through them but print the settings only in the stereo mix, not to the separate tracks in a multitrack recording. This has been ‘corrected’ in the Model 12: on each channel, you can choose via the Menu button and Multi Jog wheel to record the signal pre the compressor (ie. directly after the preamp, HPF and, on channels 1 and 2, the insert point), post the compressor but before the EQ, or post both the compressor and EQ. It’s a vast improvement, since the new routing options make possible so many different workflows.
For instance, I imagine the Model 12 will hold much greater appeal to bands and podcasters who want to stream their shows live: you can apply compression to and massage the tonal balance of each source to be used in your streaming mix, while also recording clean feeds from the mic amps, to allow you to polish the show in post‑production for a later long‑term release. You do have to commit to the 100Hz Low Cut (high‑pass) filters and the insert‑point decisions, though: the high‑pass filter being pre the converter makes sense but I’d really like to have access to anything connected to the insert points when mixing, and from my DAW via the USB audio interface.
A few other aspects of the mixer side of things are worthy of note. Both auxes can now be set as pre‑ or post‑fader, so can be equally useful for cue mixes and send effects. The auxes are both still mono, though, and there are no dedicated returns so you have to use the two stereo channels as inputs for any outboard stereo effects. The solo mode can also be set as PFL (pre‑fade listen) or SIP (solo‑in‑place).
The master‑section EQ has been revised: on the Model 24 it was a graphic type but here we have a three‑band EQ similar to those on the input channels: Low (60Hz, ±15dB); High (10kHz, ±15dB) and swept mid (100Hz to 8kHz, ±15dB). The mid band also has a button to toggle between a narrow and broad bandwidth; yet again, it’s more versatile. This master EQ section can be bypassed, or applied to either the main mix or Aux 1/2. The Model 24’s subgroup bus has been retained, which is helpful (I still wish both this and the main mix had insert points!). Two headphone amps with independent level controls can monitor the Aux 1/2 output or the main mix.
Something about the Model 24 that left me a little perplexed was its dearth of overdubbing facilities. As with that device, there’s no provision here for virtual takes on each track, which is a feature often found on digital Portastudio‑type devices. In a sense, then, it’s little more than a virtual tape machine: refreshingly simple at times, and frustratingly simple at others. But on balance I think it’s more on the refreshing side: you have to remember that for advanced functions you can always use the Model 12 as an audio interface with your DAW software.
Still, there are some considerable improvements over the Model 24 when it comes to workarounds for overdubbing. First, since you can individually record arm each track, you can obviously record separate takes to different tracks, and that’s made a more practical proposition than on the Model 24 because there’s now a metronome/click facility (of which more later), meaning that you can keep consistent time across all takes, even without a backing track. This means that you can keep playing a part over and over again on a single take, and edit the result so as to choose your preferred takes in the DAW later on.
The profusion of instrument inputs also means you can access all of the different channels with electric guitars/basses more easily than before; the Model 24 has these only on its first two channels. But an easier approach than unplugging/replugging your mic or instrument cable, and which avoids having to tweak the different channel settings for consistency, is to use the new menu option to move recordings from any one track to any other. It’s the work of mere seconds once you get into the habit: record, move the take, then record again. And while you can’t overdub on the same track, you can at least punch in and out one or more tracks, either automatically at a section you’ve defined in advance, or on the fly using a footswitch.
Another new feature called Vamp Playback is a means of looping playback during up to 10 sections of the Song (whether you’re working on music, podcasts or anything else, each project is referred to as a ‘song’). The loop start and end markers are defined using the function buttons either offline or during playback, and you can engage the Vamp feature on playback manually or automatically. In automatic mode, when you hit play, the track will play as normal until you reach the first Vamp loop. It will then loop playback of that section until you hit F4 (or use an optional footswitch). Playback will then proceed until the next Vamp section, which it will loop again — rinse and repeat. In manual mode, you must actively turn the Vamp looping on before/during a Vamp loop, or playback will remain linear.
Though the manual makes very clear how to operate Vamp Playback, it doesn’t spell out the intended applications. It’s not hard to think of some possibilities, though: you could loop a backing track while checking mic levels, or to learn a part in rehearsal. You might use it to cue up some looped bed music for a section of a podcast or radio show while streaming, to leave room for some improvisation. And, since you still have access to all the channel mutes, faders and processing, you could also use it as a live performance tool. I’d half anticipated being able to record and have the result as a linear file that I could edit in the DAW, but that’s not possible.
By default, the transport measures and displays time in minutes, seconds and milliseconds, but you can change this in the menu to more musically appropriate bars and beats. This is a general setting, but I mention it here, since when working with music projects it makes the Vamp Looping feature far easier to set up in advance.
Speaking of timing, the new metronome/click‑track facility is a most welcome addition. The click can be routed to any or all of several outputs: Phones 1, Phones 2, Aux 1, Aux 2, the Sub Bus L/R and the Main Mix L/R. It is set up using the menu or by tapping a button or an external footswitch. The user has control over the level of the click for each of the outputs and can specify different sounds and integer tempos (from an almost flat‑lining 20 to a heart‑popping 250 bpm), time signatures and accents. The click can also be switched in and out during playback or recording, and set to play only during the count‑in or throughout the song. There’s also a useful tap‑tempo facility that can be controlled using a top‑panel button or a (not provided) footswitch. My only real criticism is that I was unable to find a way to pan the click (or the aux sends for that matter) to only one ear of my headphones or those of an artist, which I’d have found helpful. Still, there’s something to be said for simplicity and, again, if you want more extensive control like this you can always use the Model 12 as a USB audio interface.
The Model 12 can also output MIDI Time Code (quarter frame messages at 30 fps non‑drop) and MIDI Clock, during both recording and playback. This is delivered over the MIDI Out DIN connector and the USB connection simultaneously, so you could have your computer and another MIDI device keep time with the Model 12. There doesn’t appear to be a way to make the Model 12 sync to an incoming clock signal, which is a shame in a way, as it would have allowed multiple Model 12s to be combined for bigger recording projects.
The Model 12 blows the Model 24 out of the water.
One of the best things about Tascam’s Model‑series devices is that they’re designed to work just as well with a computer as they are without, and this is yet another area in which the Model 12 blows the Model 24 out of the water.
As a recording interface, it presents 12 input channels to your computer and DAW software: the 8/10 main analogue input channels are available, obviously, but also the main stereo mix. As I mentioned earlier, you can now play recordings back through the Model 12’s compressors and EQ if you want to, and record the result. You also have the MIDI in and out that the Model 24 lacked, allowing you to connect a MIDI keyboard or controller to your computer, or to drive an outboard synth module without requiring a separate MIDI interface.
Perhaps the most intriguing change is the new DAW controller mode, accessed in the menu (you can only monitor a stereo audio return from the DAW in this mode.) The Model 12 effectively becomes a Mackie MCU or HUI controller: you choose which using a list of DAWs in the menu. I tested it in MCU mode with Cubase Pro 10.5 on a MacBook Pro (Mac OS 10.14.1) and it worked well. The Multi Jog wheel moves the DAW playhead, and moving one of the 60mm channel faders selects the corresponding DAW channel and moves its fader (you’ll need familiarise yourself with how to optimise your DAW to respond to non‑motorised faders). You can also control pan positions, mute, solo and record arming, and transport, among a few other things such as cycle mode and channel banking.
It’s not a fully fledged Mackie Control, but it is enough to be useful; having the transport and track‑arming side of things so close to your preamp gains is great. One quirk is that the latching Mute and Solo buttons need pressing twice to change the status in your DAW, but you get used to that!
Tascam seem to have listened to their users (and, dare I suggest, read SOS reviews?). The many refinements since the Model 24 was released really do add up to a big, positive change for the end user, and nothing seems to have been lost in the process either. There’s still potential for more refinement (eg. access to the insert points on playback would be nice, as would being able to initiate playback without exiting the menu), but these are minor niggles in the grand scheme of things. This is already a wonderful single‑box solution that should make many bands, project‑studio owners, streamers and podcasters very happy.
Plenty of mixers offer multitrack USB audio interfacing, but there’s nothing quite like the Model 12. Its closest competitor is probably Zoom’s LiveTrak L‑12, but it’s not directly comparable.
- A great all‑in‑one recording solution for the home studio.
- Much more feature‑rich and versatile than the earlier Model 24.
- The menu system doesn’t overwhelm.
- DAW control is a helpful addition.
- Useful footswitch control facilities.
- Transport controls don’t work when you’re inside a menu!
- Can’t access insert points on playback/mixdown.
While there’s still some potential for further improvement, the Model 12 is so much more than the Model 24 that came before it. It should make a lot of self‑recording bands, podcast producers, streamers and home studio owners very happy indeed.