Home studios have always been popular but it’s only really over the past 10-15 years that they have actually been in the reach of most people. I remember getting my first tape 4 track recorder but, since the cost of a digital set-up such as the Tascam TrackPack US-2×2, has become affordable and the knowledge required to record something has also been simplified, now is a great time to get tooled up.
First I must apologise for the delay in posting this review. This has not been the fault of the tools sent to me to review but rather my insistence of having something half decent recorded through the set up. Unfortunately, the more pressure I put on myself to record something better than half-baked the more unhappy with what I was producing I became. Then, after a sit down with my friends Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, something hit me. That thing was the epiphany that I was supposed to be reviewing the hardware – not my musical ability and not even the supplied DAW software.
Throwing those shackles aside – it’s time to move on.
Getting your musical ideas down these days can be as easy as using your phone to record yourself and your mates – but that’s not always good enough. The next step can be quite expensive and time-consuming if you haven’t got the facilities at home.
The Tascam TrackPack 2×2 promises to pack everything you need to get up and running with your own home studio set-up, all in one box.
Tascam TrackPack 2×2 design
Tascam US-2×2 audio interface
The 2×2 audio interface, which is the brain of this set up, gets its name simply because it possess two mic/guitar inputs on the front, meaning that as well as the mic included in the pack, you can add another set of vocals or an instrument in to the mix at the same time.
The US-2×2 consists of a metal chassis with an attractive set of end plates that tilt the unit back by a few degrees. That slight rake makes the front panel a bit more user-friendly than if it were sat flat on the desk.
Around the back is a USB socket, power inlet (the unit is usually USB powered when used with a PC or Mac but you’ll need an optional PSU and a suitable camera adapter kit to use it with an iOS device), balanced line-outs to connect your monitors (or any other line-out you need), and 5-pin MIDI in and out so you can plug-in your drum machine or synth.
As mentioned earlier, the front panel is home to the two channels’ combi input sockets. Both inputs have a mic/line or instrument switch, a gain control (up to 57dB) and signal present and peak LEDs. There’s also a phantom power switch that covers both channels.
On the right hand side is the section for line out level, a headphone socket and level, and a monitor mix control to balance how your your input/computer tracks mix through your headphones or monitors.
Tascam TM-80 condenser microphone
If the US-2×2 is the brain then the TM-80 condenser microphone is its heart.
The mic comes with its own little shock-mount and mini tripod, as well as a six-foot mic cable. This mic looks the business and has been designed to be small and sleek.
The TM-80 is perfect for capturing vocals and instrumental music, but can also be exposed to far louder sounds thanks to the maximum sound pressure rating of 136dB SPL. So grab your axe and turn it up to 11.
Tascam TH-02 studio headphones
Finally in the hardware line-up are the TH-02 Headphones. These over-ear headphones have a good flexible band and cups that can rotate all the way up (making them easier to pack up and carry).
Digital audio workstations (DAW)
Bonus inclusions are a pair of digital audio workstations. These are available as two separate downloads – Cakewalk SONAR X3 LE and Ableton Live Lite 9.
In the box you get two small cards included in the TrackPack which give you download details and a redemption code. Both downloads are ‘lite’ versions of the full programmes, but offer enough functionality to get you recording, and editing.
Tascam TrackPack 2×2 performance
Hooking everything together could not be easier. Let’s face it, if this bass player can manage it then anyone can.
If you’re used to USB mics then this is more-or-less like that, except with the benefit of being hear what’s being recorded as it’s happening.
OK, so it might get a little more involved than that – but only on the recording side of things.
If you’re rocking a Windows machine then, as per usual, you’ll need a driver download. This includes the settings panel where you get to select sample rate up to 96kHz, buffer size, decide if your inputs are a stereo pair or two mono and if your outputs are a mix of the inputs plus the signal from the computer, or just the computer output.
Once the driver’s in place then getting to the business of recording your stuff is as simple as plugging-in the USB lead to your computer and opening whichever DAW you’ve decided to choose. A little word of wisdom here – do not be unduly alarmed by the USB light shining red, for this is a good thing. Now, I don’t know which bright spark at Tascam decided to use a red light to indicate that the USB is correctly connected, but they have. So don’t worry.
The interface is easy to understand and the control layout is pretty straightforward and simple to use. I dare say that most people setting out with this for the first time will find everything intuitive and that all works as expected.
To be honest, it was the mic that surprised me in this bundle. As most expectations would be focused on the audio interface itself I just assumed that Tascam would’ve spent their time and money on that with the mic and headphones (we’ll get to those in a sec) as almost afterthoughts.
This silvery gem of a mic will handle everything from loud, overdriven guitar cabs to the spoken word. It is quite amazing for a ‘free’ mic.
When recording in front of cabs having about 12-inches of air between the mic and source seemed most effective. Also moving the TM-80 slightly off-axis helped when recording bass or chuggy (or djent, as the kids say) guitar.
Now, the headphones. These were the items I feared the most. It’s nothing personal but I generally mix through headphones as a last resort – my preference being through some near-field speakers. Add in to the mix that these are bundled in with a package… I wasn’t expecting much from these.
However, the TH-02s aren’t actually that bad. I would even go as far as say that they were pretty capable to the point that I started to enjoy using them to listen to my playlists instead of using my PM-3s! Now, I’m not saying that you’ll see me rocking the Tascam cans (Tascans?) on the commute, but they are good enough to monitor with.
I found that they revealed plenty of detail for mixing and nicely responsive – they were also plenty loud enough being able to handle even full output from the 2×2, which is not recommended.
The US-2×2’s gain control which sits next to each input enables you to alter things on the fly instead of leaving it until post-production which can get a bit fiddly.
Another good thing about all of this kit is that it is very mobile. Granted, it’s not as mobile as the Tascam US-366, but you can throw all of this rig in to a small bag and record through your laptop or even an iPad as it’s iOS compatible.
Tascam TrackPack 2×2 review conclusion
The burning question here is “Can you record using only what’s in the box?” and the answer is a firm and definite “Yes”.
Want to record some spoken word, whether it be Beat Poetry or a Podcast, then this set-up will do that.
Band tracks are also easily within reach – note that neither instruments, musicians, nor talent, are included in the package.
In my testing, as well as the desk tripod, I did use my full size mic stand, a pop shield and portable vocal booth which did improve the results – just not to the point where I am ready to share them with everyone. Yeah, I am one of those types.
I have no qualms in saying that the Tascam TrackPack 2×2 is a great way to get your home recording off to a great start. It has everything you need, and they are all of a decent quality. This means that when you need to add more you won’t feel that the first thing you need to do is replace any of it, instead spend the money on stuff like a vocal booth or mic stand.
It’s also a darned site more compact than my TC Electronic Impact Twin so your precious desk real estate won’t get overrun by your home studio.
Don’t forget – if you feel like you need more than two inputs on the go at a time Tascam also do a 4×4 version – the TrackPack comes with two mics and two sets of headphones too! 😉
Tascam TrackPack 2×2 price and availability
The TrackPack 4×4 is £250.