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Tascam TMD4000

Digital Mixer By Paul White
Published December 1999

Tascam TMD4000

Does Tascam's new digital recording console have what it takes to lure buyers away from the more established names? Paul White finds out.

The Tascam TMD4000 automated mixing console looks set to be a direct competitor for existing digital mixers such as the Yamaha O2R, and though it is also suited to live‑sound work, it appears to have been designed with multitrack recording very much in mind. The TMD4000 owes much of its design philosophy to the earlier and larger TMD8000 (see SOS May '98), but is in some ways rather more sophisticated as it provides a moving‑fader control surface with long‑throw faders, dynamics on all 32 channels, and built‑in effects. There's a four‑band parametric channel EQ and routing to eight busses plus direct channel‑to‑tape routing. If you want to use dynamic fader automation, however, you will require a separate Pentium II PC computer (and quite a powerful on at that) to run the included software. Communication to the PC is via an included ISA RS422 card, so the system isn't limited by the speed of MIDI. According to the manual, dynamic automation is only possible using this software — a MIDI sequencer is not suitable.


Twenty‑four of the TMD4000's 32 main input channels are routed through three optional expansion bays, which can host ADAT, TDIF, AES‑EBU or analogue input cards.Twenty‑four of the TMD4000's 32 main input channels are routed through three optional expansion bays, which can host ADAT, TDIF, AES‑EBU or analogue input cards.

The TMD4000 follows the general paradigm for a digital console in this price group, insomuch as the control surface is greatly simplified compared to that of an equivalently specified analogue mixer. Discrete faders plus mute, solo and select buttons allow up to 16 channels to be accessed at any one time, but a bank‑switching system is used to gain access to the remaining 16 channels, eight groups and aux masters. Three additional faders are also provided to give you control of two stereo line channels (of which more later) and the stereo master output at any time. There are six aux sends per channel, each of which can be switched for pre‑ or post‑fade operation. Controls such as EQ, pan and aux sends are accessed via the large central LCD and its associated real‑time controllers, with the channel Select button and Layer selection being used to determine which channel is currently active. The display also provides access to the effects and dynamics libraries as well as effects/dynamics editing.

As with most digital consoles, there are two distinct ways of accessing and editing channel information: you can either work 'vertically' by calling up a 'Module' showing all the controls for a single channel, or you can work 'horizontally' by looking at a single control across the whole console. For example, you might want to show all the controls for channel three, or you might want to access every channel's pan control at once.

Mic preamps are provided for just eight of the 32 main input channels: the remaining 24 channels are linked to three I/O expander slots on the rear panel. Each of the card slots can accommodate an 8‑channel board providing either digital or analogue I/O. All converters can work at up to 24‑bit resolution, including the main stereo mix output, and the desk is capable of operating at either 44.1 or 48kHz sample rates. For larger projects, two consoles can be cascaded using multicore cables; in this mode the aux sends and busses are summed so that the combined mixers behave like a single larger console.

Pre‑converter insert points are provided on the eight mono analogue inputs, but the assignable insert points of the TMD8000 have fallen by the wayside. This means that patching in external signal processors when mixing is pretty much out of the question, unless you resort either to circuitous routing or feeding the multitrack machine in via analogue inputs so you can patch analogue processors in series.

Without the interface cards, you have yourself a very expensive 12:2 automated mixer, so what options are available? As well as a range of stand‑alone rackmount A‑D, D‑A and digital format converters, Tascam offer four expansion cards for the TMD4000. Tascam DA88, 38 or 98 users will probably opt for the IF‑TD4000 card, which provides eight channels of TDIF1 format I/O. This card also provides a remote out connection for synchronisation and control of the DTRS recorder. ADAT users need the IF‑LP4000 card. Those requiring more general‑purpose digital I/O can use the IF‑AE4000 card, which provides eight channels of AES‑EBU I/O configured as four stereo pairs. For space reasons, this card uses a 25‑pin D‑sub connector rather than XLRs, so you need to make up a cable before you can use it.

The IF‑AED4000 is designed to provide eight channels of analogue I/O at 24‑bit resolution at a nominal +4dBu level. All connections are balanced and again emerge through a 25‑pin D‑sub connector. I'm a little wary of having so may 25‑way D‑subs allocated to different functions, as you could mix them up with potentially damaging results. A full complement of MIDI connectors is provided, because in addition to dumping and loading snapshot and library data, the TMD4000 can also function as a MIDI controller for MIDI + Audio sequencers and other software. A pull‑down list of supported devices shows that the console may be used to control various Tascam DA‑series and Alesis ADAT models, Akai HD recorders, Umatic and Betacam machines and even the Lexicon PCM70, to name just a few of the options. The mixer also reads both MTC and SMPTE for sync purposes, and there's the facility to output MTC when the mixer is slaved to an external timecode source. Fader and POD control moves (more on PODs in a moment) may also be recorded to an external MIDI sequencer or used to control an external MIDI device.


The dynamic automation requires an additional Pentium PC, running included software.The dynamic automation requires an additional Pentium PC, running included software.

The console is configured as a 32‑channel, all‑input mixer. The two additional stereo analogue line‑level channels may be used as effects returns, as no dedicated effects returns are provided, and have the same routing options as the main channels. A single internal stereo effects processor is included and may be fed from aux busses 1/2 or 5/6, providing a good range of staple studio effects, including reverb, delay, modulation effects, pitch‑shifting, enhancement, de‑essing and compressor/limiter functions. If you don't need the input to be stereo, it can be fed from a single send. A number of factory patches are provided, but these may be edited and saved using simple on‑screen controls if required.

All the digital and control connectors are located on the rear panel along with the I/O card slots, the analogue connections arranged along the top rear of the panel where they'd normally be hidden by the meterbridge. The mic trims and master‑section level controls sit just in front of the meter bridge where they are easily accessible. Overall, the console has a rather austere but functional appearance not unlike that of the Yamaha O2R in some ways, with the LCD window raked at a sensible angle.

Channels 1 to 16 may be set to direct out so that they can feed recorders connected to the second two expander cards (outs 17 to 32) — the main eight busses are normally routed to all three multitrack I/O cards, so you can get signals to any of the connected machines without repatching. Pairs of channels may be linked for stereo operation where required. Each channel has a four‑band, fully parametric EQ plus six auxiliary sends, and a dynamic processor of the compressor/gate variety may be assigned to any channel, but not to the Group or Aux busses. Both the EQ and dynamics have graphical curve displays. In fact, the whole layout and general control approach of this desk (other than the automation) is similar, though not identical, to that of Yamaha's digital consoles.

Without any optional I/O cards fitted, the digital I/O of the console is limited to a pair of AES‑EBU XLRs (DIN 1) plus a further pair of S/PDIF phonos (DIN 2), while the analogue I/O accommodates only the main stereo outs, stereo monitoring and two‑track recorder I/O. Word clock in and out is provided on BNC connectors, but in spite of Hugh Robjohns' concerns over the word clock accuracy of the TMD8000 (see SOS May '98), this new model still only claims a stability figure of 50 parts per million, rather than the 10 parts per million specified by the AES recommendation for professional digital equipment.

Control Surface

Like most project‑studio digital mixers, the TMD4000 uses a lot of assignable controls to access an extensive feature set from a compact surface.Like most project‑studio digital mixers, the TMD4000 uses a lot of assignable controls to access an extensive feature set from a compact surface.

The control surface is divided into clearly defined sections, the centrepiece being a large monochrome LCD. A large timecode display shows the position of any connected master recorders, and there are also LEDs to show when these are locked. Next to the 19 faders are seven buttons which enable the channel or aux send (1 to 6) levels to be controlled from the faders, while pan and EQ are accessed via the four rotary controls beneath the display; personally, I prefer discrete pan controls. Channel levels are monitored by a meterbridge which can display 16 mono, two stereo and the master levels, and which has the same bank‑switching capability as the faders. Metering can be globally switched to pre‑ or post‑dynamics.

Above each channel fader is a row of four buttons, one of which is a remote track arming control for an externally connected multitrack machine. The remaining buttons control channel Select, Mute and Solo. As with most digital consoles, pressing a Select button activates that channel for editing, and in this case, holding the Select button down for more than a couple of seconds automatically brings up the channel Module screen where all the controls relevant to that channel are available. Each fader has an associated pair of LEDs to indicate write, read and update status, as well as fader nulling.

Tascam's decision to use VCA emulation for the TMD8000's automation attracted some criticism, which is clearly why full moving‑fader automation is provided here, albeit only via the PC‑based software. This supports the standard read, write and trim/update modes. Snapshot automation is, however, provided internally, with space provided for 60 snapshots.

To the right of the panel are the integrated machine control facilities, which go rather further than the usual transport controls (depending on what machine is connected) to include remote monitor mode switching, machine select, punch‑in edit modes and numbered locator buttons. There's also a jog/shuttle wheel with a spring‑loaded outer ring that can be used to control an external machine or to change console data, depending on the status of the adjacent Jog/Shuttle button.

To the extreme right of the mixer is the monitoring section based around a group of 10 buttons, which offers much the same facilities as you would find on an analogue recording console. Here you can select the control‑room monitor source to be the main stereo mix, any of the six aux sends, the 2‑track return or either of the two digital inputs. The Control Room output has a level control, a mono button and a Dim switch. A separate phones and studio talkback section is also included, where the talkback operates from an inbuilt mic capsule. The phones output always follows the control‑room output selection. Pressing Talkback routes the talkback to the studio outputs while muting any other signals that may have been routed there. The To Slate and To Aux 1‑2 keys in the monitor section enable the talkback to be routed to all the main and group buss outputs or to the first two aux busses. The solo mode may be set to either PFL or Solo‑in‑place, and there's the option to adjust the PFL monitoring level.

Changing parameters is sometimes done using the jog/shuttle wheel, its four associated cursor keys and the Enter button, but the real key to controlling the mixer is something Tascam choose to call the POD. Basically, a POD comprises one rotary encoder and two buttons — you'll find four such PODs directly beneath the display. The POD controls relate to functions directly above them, and where there's more than one row of functions, Up/Down cursor buttons next to the LCD allow you to move between the rows.

To the right‑hand side of the LCD are physical buss routing switches for group busses 1‑8 plus the stereo mix buss and Direct out (channels 1‑16 only). These routing buttons are only operational when the Assign screen is selected, and the inner dial of the Jog/Shuttle wheel (or the left/right cursors) may be used to move along the channels. I have to say that having physical routing buttons is a lot more appealing than having all these functions on‑screen. Above the buss assign switches are two further buttons that act as In/Out switches for the EQ and dynamics of the selected channel. Again, these make operation rather easier than the on‑screen equivalents used by other manufacturers.

The snapshot memory library section provides for the saving and recalling of snapshots (effectively a whole setup of the desk's control, dynamics and effects settings), while below this are three more buttons for accessing the Effects, EQ and Dynamics libraries. Moving down a little further reveals a row of five buttons entitled Configurations, and it's here that parameters relating to the digital I/O, external control options, buss delay, MIDI and console linking are set up. One of the buttons is a latching Shift button, as they're all dual‑function. Next comes the Mixing section where the appropriate fader mode is selected and where dynamics, EQ or effects settings may be edited. This section also handles routing, surround (see the box on page 133) and the channel phase switch.

In Use

If you've used a digital console before, most of the Tascam TMD4000 should be fairly intuitive, though there are enough differences from established practices to warrant a little manual‑browsing. Audio quality is obviously of paramount importance, and though the mic preamps are not in any way esoteric, they are reasonably quiet and transparent‑sounding. It's a bit of a limitation only being able to plug a maximum of eight mics directly into the console, though; the easiest way for users of modular digital multitrack recorders to get more is to plug external mic preamps into the MDM inputs, so they can use the onboard converters to feed the signals into any of the mixer channels 9 to 32.

The four‑band EQ sections each cover the entire spectrum (31Hz to 19kHz) and the top and bottom bands can be switched between shelf and bell modes. I felt the EQ sounded more 'analogue' than on some other digital consoles, and having a visible EQ graph is also useful, even though it's no longer a novelty.

The overall delay through the console is only a millisecond or two. There are no assignable analogue input points, so there's no obvious mechanism by which the various channel delays could accidentally end up being different, though Tascam provide the facility to add delay to individual busses (not channels) in either milliseconds or samples so that you can, for example, compensate for the distances between mics when mixing multi‑mic recordings.

Effects are one area where the Yamaha O2R scores both in quantity and flexibility. The Tascam TMD4000 has just one stereo effects processor with fairly limited capabilities and editability. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the overall reverb quality is no better than average. It's fine for routine jobs, but you'll probably still want to plug in an external box for treating vocals and drums. The dynamics processors fare rather better and compare very well with the compressors found in the Yamaha desks. You have to pile on quite a lot of gain reduction before you notice that the dynamic range is being reduced, but if you set a short release time, you can set up a musically satisfying pumping effect if you need one. There's also plenty of make‑up gain available, as well as an Auto gain mode that pushes the gain up to an optimum level, though the manual gain control still influences the level in Auto mode. If two channels are linked for stereo use, you get a stereo compressor, and in all cases, there's a useful gain‑reduction graph as well as on‑screen level and gain‑reduction metering. Gates may be selected as an alternative to compressors, and have variable hysteresis and attenuation as well as the usual threshold, attack and release parameters. They're easy to set up and they work well.

I found the automation very usable and it doesn't take long to get used to, though a few minor software tweaks could make it better. Most irritating was not being able to drop a channel out of write mode by hitting the Select button a second time. It is also a little bizarre that you can't combine snapshots and dynamic automation as you can with most other consoles, though whether this is a significant shortcoming depends a lot on how you work. Another missing feature is 'write to end'; you have to run the song all the way through in write mode, even if you don't want to make any fader moves. If you don't do this, you can't use Update, as this works only on sections of the song where mix data has been written. See the 'Automation' box on pages 134‑5 for more details.

The degree of integration with digital multitrack recorders is commendable, and owners of Tascam MDMs have the benefit of being able to access virtually all essential controls from the console. Having track‑arming buttons in the mixer channels is also useful, though you have to be a little careful as these are available in two banks, like the faders. If you accidentally write a fader move with the wrong bank selected, you can always go back and do it again, but if you arm the wrong tape machine and then go into record there's no going back.


If the TMD4000 was priced as a direct competitor for Yamaha's O2R, I would feel justified in criticising the need for an external computer, the modest internal effects and the lack of EQ or dynamics processing on the group busses. However, it turns out that the TMD4000 costs only £2799, including the meterbridge, RS422 ISA card, automation software and RS422 cable. Admittedly it will cost a further £450 or so to provide I/O for three multitrack machines, and you need a computer if you want to run dynamic automation, but even then the price is still competitive.

The desk sounds good, it has a fantastic machine control section and it has dedicated buttons for routing, EQ bypass and dynamic bypass, which makes operation simpler. It's impossible to explore every corner of a digital console of this type during a review, but on the whole, the operating system is quick and intuitive, though the automation has a few little quirks that could be improved. The EQ has more of an analogue feel to it than that on most digital desks in this price range, but there's no provision for third‑party expansion cards as there is with some digital consoles.

The strengths of this mixer are its sound, its clear layout and its value for money. Its weaknesses are the need for an external automation computer, the lack of integration between snapshots and dynamic automation, and the rather perfunctory effects. Those doing a lot of band recording may also be put off by having only eight mic inputs, but for most project studio applications, where the I/O cards can accommodate up to 24 tracks of recorder, the TMD4000 offers a good balance of facilities at a very attractive price.

Surround Mixing

In addition to basic stereo panning, the desk also supports the most common surround sound formats, where the surround mix information is presented as discrete outputs using the required number of the eight available busses. The console offers stereo, quad, Dolby surround and 5.1 options, and there are various routing alternatives to determine which signal ends up on which tape track (several conflicting conventions exist).

In the surround modes, the LCD shows a kind of virtual joystick where two POD rotary controls are used to steer the signal left/right and front/back for each channel. A further parameter sets the image width when stereo‑linked channels are being processed. Additional control is also provided over the sub‑bass channel level (in 5.1 mode) and to provide a single‑knob means of moving the sound diagonally (the same as moving the left/right and front/rear controls together). None of this is quite as straightforward as using a joystick, though external controllers with MIDI joysticks may be used.


MIDI is too slow to be the ideal control system for mixer automation, so Tascam have instead adopted the faster RS422 serial protocol. A Moxa CI‑132 ISA card comes with the mixer, ready to be slotted into any suitable PC. In this case, a suitable PC is specified as any model faster than a Pentium II, 233MHz with at least 32Mb of RAM and ideally 64Mb (and ISA slots of course). The software runs under either Windows 95 or Windows 98 (but won't do business with the likes of Windows 3.1 or NT) and requires around 5Mb of hard disk space. A special 9‑pin cable is included with the mixer (a standard serial cable won't work apparently), and the attached monitor must be capable of working to at least 1024 x 768 resolution. The final caveat is that the mixer firmware should be version 1.10 or later — the review console was version 1.14.

The automation software can control fader, pan, aux, EQ and channel cuts, any or all of which can be independently selected for both read and write via a checkbox window. This is fairly conventional, but what I find odd is that the automation in no way relates to the snapshots stored in the console — snapshots and dynamic automation are completely independent, with no way to use the two simultaneously.

Though the manual specifies a fairly powerful Pentium II computer to run the automation, I managed to get the system working quite satisfactorily using a much less powerful P166. However, I can't guarantee that this would cope with a very busy mix. Installation of both the card and the software is reasonably straightforward, though the suggested IRQ of 10 for the card nobbled my CD‑ROM drive so I had to change it to a different number.

Once the card and software have been installed, the package offers three main console views, depending on what you are working on at the time. Mixer view shows the positions of all the faders without the need to keep swapping layers. It also shows the channel names, edit modes, cut status and group assignments. A large timecode window can be called up (this must be open for sync to work) and sync may be generated internally or locked to an outside source of MTC or SMPTE. The incoming timecode format is automatically detected, and when a lock is achieved, the grey numbers in the timecode window turn black.

Two aux send views show 16 channels' worth of aux sends at a time, with pan positions where two channels have been linked for stereo operation. The aux and buss masters, master fader and two stereo input channels are always shown as part of the main console view. A separate EQ window may be opened by clicking in any channel using the right mouse button, and all EQ parameters may be automated. A graphical curve of the EQ response is displayed above the controls.

Data transfer between the desk and computer is bi‑directional, so any physical fader moves are reflected by their on‑screen counterparts and, conversely, screen faders dragged using the mouse cause the physical faders to follow. A control bar at the top of the screen is used to set the automation modes, the main status conditions being Write, Update, Read and Manual. Manual mode isolates the control from the automation system, while update uses the fader to modify rather than replace existing Mix data that has been recorded. For example, you might want to move the level of a whole section up by a couple of dBs, but still keep any fader dynamics that have already been written. Write stores control moves as automix data while Read uses the stored data to automate the mixer.

Once a master mode, such as Write, has been selected, individual channels can be switched into that mode using either the desk's channel select buttons or on‑screen buttons. This way you can put channels into Write as the track is playing with a single action. However, to get out of Write, you either need to stop playback (with the automation set to Auto Read active), in which case the selected tracks drop back into read mode, or you first have to select Read as the master mode, then press Select. To be fair, there are other automation systems that work this way too, but it's far more intuitive to have a system where the select buttons toggle individual tracks between Write and Read.

To the left of the control bar are other mode buttons, the first couple being Auto Punch In and Out. This feature makes it possible to use the fader movement itself to drop in and out of record, but the procedure for setting it up is a bit convoluted. Once set, a yellow arrow appears next to the fader position, and as soon as you physically move the fader away from that arrow, new data is written and the arrow vanishes. Pressing the channel Select button brings the yellow arrow back, and when your fader crosses the value shown by the arrow, punch‑out happens automatically.

Auto TakeOver is a feature that works in Update mode only to allow a fader to automatically switch into Update Write mode when the physical fader is moved through the stored fader value position. In other words, at the point where you want to modify the mix data, you wrest control from the fader and it switches status for you.

Auto Write places a channel into Write mode when a fader is moved. Stopping playback does not drop the channel back into Read mode, so you need to exit this mode when you've finished with it. This is a three‑position button that steps through Auto Write, Fader Sense and Auto Manual. When Fader Sense is showing, the functions are off. Auto Manual puts the fader into manual control when you grab it, so if you want to fly part of your mix in real time, you can. As with Auto Write mode, the status doesn't flip back to Read when you stop the transport.

Because the mix data is saved to the computer, there's no practical limit on how many versions of the mix you can store, and at the end of every pass, you have the option to discard the mix data or update the current mix.


  • Friendly user interface.
  • Good sound, including the EQ.
  • Attractively priced (and includes meterbridge).
  • Excellent MMC and MIDI control facilities.


  • Needs external PC for automation (though you can probably make do with a less powerful model than the one specified).
  • Some aspects of the automation software could be improved.
  • Internal effects fairly basic.


The TMD4000 offers a lot of facilities for the price, and though a PC is needed for automation, both the desk and the automation are pretty easy to use.