When I built my production studio, the first major purchase was a mixing board that became the center of my studio. For complex recording projects out in the field, however, I would have to tear down the studio and rebuild on-site. Later I purchased a second, smaller mixing board; but it was still a bit bulky to carry around.
Today, many recording sessions can be performed using a simple laptop computer with a suitable external audio interface. TASCAM brings the US-366 to the table, a surprisingly feature-filled package in a small box. It measures approximately 5-1/2 x 5-1/2 x 1.8 inches (140 x 42 x 140 mm). The US-366 can record or mix up to six audio sources. Available inputs include a pair of 1/4-inch TRS or XLR connectors and unbalanced RCA connectors which can also be configured as outputs, along with a pair of 1/4-inch TRS outputs. Selectable coaxial or optical digital I/O is also available. The interface is compatible with Windows- and Mac-based systems. Power is provided to the unit through the USB port.
The TASCAM US-366 is more than just a simple audio interface. The unit essentially is a production studio in a box, a capable tool for remote broadcasts or recordings. With a set of microphones, the US-366, a laptop computer and a PA, there are a number of possibilities. I tested the US-366 in several somewhat complex scenarios. The first test included recording a podcast with multiple microphones and a guest via Skype. The next event was a city hall meeting with four microphones and audio from a digital video player, while recording the meeting and using the US-366 to feed audio to a PA system. Finally, I recorded an acoustic music concert while also feeding a small PA.
At first glance, the device looks somewhat like a small mixing board. A large knob front-and-center on top of the unit controls the volume of the line output. Above this is a row of four smaller knobs. The first two are the gain controls for inputs 1 and 2. The input gain controls each have a pair of LEDs to indicate signal and overload. The third knob across the top is a monitor mix control, which fades between the input signal and playback from the computer. This feature comes in handy when recording an additional audio track while simultaneously monitoring playback from the computer, such as a metronome click or music track for recording vocals. The final knob is the headphone volume control.
In addition to the gain and monitoring controls, there are two switches. The first switch, underneath the gain knob for input 1, allows the 1/4-inch jack to accept an input signal directly from a guitar. The second switch, under the headphone volume knob, enables phantom power for the two XLR inputs. Above that switch are two more LEDs to indicate when power is being supplied from the USB connection and when phantom power is enabled.
One key feature on top of the US-366 is the “mixer panel” button. This button provides one-click on screen access to the DSP mixer via the unit''s software. When pushed a second time, the mixer panel will be conveniently hidden. This DSP mixer has two operational modes: multitrack or stereo mix. The mode is selected via a switch on the bottom of the unit. Multitrack mode is ideal for music creation. In this mode, the mixer provides independent recording from each input into the recording software. In addition, this mode delivers an independent monitoring mix and allows monaural monitoring. The stereo mix mode makes podcast recording or broadcasting convenient and easy. An output from any application can be routed back into the PC again along with live inputs such as a microphone via the DSP mixer.
The US-366 also has onboard effects including reverb, three-band parametric EQ, “exciter” (which emphasizes high-frequency harmonics), noise suppressor, de-esser and compressor. Although there are some limitations to how these effects can be inserted in the signal path, they are useful. For example, while recording vocals you can boost the high-frequency range with the three-band EQ. The compressor is convenient when recording sources such as bass guitar, vocal and drums. The only effect is available as a “send” is reverb.
This little box packs a punch. It would make an excellent addition to any audio professional''s bag of tricks.
Features at a glance:
- •High-quality HDDA (High-Definition Discrete Architecture) microphone preamps
- •Up to 24 bit/192 kHz recording
- •Two1/4-inch TRS and XLR mic/line inputs with +48 V phantom power supply
- •Low-latency monitoring via DSP mixer
- •Multitrack or stereo mix operational modes
- •Onboard digital effects
- •Dedicated “mixer panel” button displays and hides DSP mixer with one click
- •Oversized “line out” volume knob
- •Two1/4-inch TRS analog balanced outputs
- •Two RCA analog unbalanced outputs (can also be configured as two additional inputs)
- •Selectable coaxial or optical digital audio I/O
- •18 mW internal headphone amplifier
- •Compact design
- •Aluminum construction
- •USB powered for mobile recording
- •Optional foot switch for recording control