DAW Controller with or without interface?
kandlees
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#1
25th April 2012
Old 25th April 2012
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DAW Controller with or without interface?

This summer I'm looking to upgrade my recording/mixing setup a bit and I've been looking into control surfaces. After browsing online for weeks on gearslutz and elsewhere, I've narrowed down my options quite a bit. My real issue comes over the question of whether I should buy a control surface that contains an interface or one that is simply midi control.

At this point after looking into a bunch of interface containing models (Digi 002/003, Tascam FW-1082, M-Audio Projectmix I/O) I think the best option looks like the Tascam FW-1884. I've heard a bunch of great things about it on gearslutz and the control surface features look great plus it seems the interface features are wonderful: 8 pre amps (which along with the AD converters seem to have received good reviews), plenty of outputs, inserts, and adat in for a possible 8 more channels. At the same time, the 1884 doesn't have any scribble strip readout and has no light up around the rotary encoders. I don't think those issues are the worst, but compatibility (I'll be using both Logic and Pro Tools), quality of preamps and other interface features seem to put the FW1884 above those other options in the same price range anyways.

The other option would be to purchase a Mackie MCU, which does include LCD scribble strips with level readouts and light up rotary encoders. It seems the MCU has the best integration with software as well, integrating with Logic plugins pretty seamlessly. The other good thing about having a dedicated control surface that is separate from the interface is just that I can upgrade my interface eventually while keeping the MCU.

While I am not in a huge hurry, however, I do need an interface as well as a controller. If I buy the FW1884, both my needs are met while if I buy the MCU, I need to buy an interface as well. I'm definitely planning on buying used off of craigslist or ebay and I'll be keeping my eye out for deals but it seems like the cheapest I could get the FW1884 for would be $350-450 used while I may be able to pick up an MCU for cheaper (but buying the separate interface would add up to more).

I guess when it comes down to it, the issue can be brought down a few points:
1. Are the pre-amps and converters on the Tascam FW1884 good enough to make up for the unit's few deficiencies as a control surface and good enough that I wouldn't need to upgrade my interface for a while unless I really wanted to buy an expensive upgrade?
2. Are the MCU's features as a control surface and its ability to be used regardless of the interface good enough that it's worth paying for the MCU + a decent 8 channel interface (maybe a MOTU 896 or something... haven't looked into interfaces extensively but either way it would be an extra few hundred dollars)?

Any insight is appreciated! Although I don't have a precise price limit I'm working with, the units I've looked into reflect what I'm looking to spend... ~$400 for an all in one unit or more for 2 separate units if it's worth buying individual units. I'm a college student without much money but I'm willing to invest.

Thanks! (and sorry for the long read!)
#2
25th April 2012
Old 25th April 2012
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NYCruiser's Avatar
 
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I have an FW-1884 and use it as the centerpiece of my home studio. I really like this device. I haven't owned a mackie control, so can't comment on that.

I fine the sound quality of the Tascam superb. I record a lot of tracks here, and have completely tracked entire records here. Live drums and all.

I have several outboard pre's in addition to the Tascam, but the Tascam pre's are very clean and completely useable.

I also use an Octopre connected to the Tascam via ADAT and an ART Digital MPA connected via S/PDIF. This gives me 18 tracks in.

I sometimes connect a pair of GAP Pre 73's via the Tascam insert jacks on channels 1 & 2 when I want that color.

Lots of monitoring options and also use the Tascam to run stems OTB during mixing.

Now the downside. The Tascam FW-1884 is a discontinued device and there is and will not be any further driver development for it from Tascam. There currently is no 64 bit Mac driver for it to work in Lion. You have to boot Lion in 32 bit mode for this device to function. There is a 64 bit driver available if you are running windows, but there will be no further development there either.

I am still on Snow Leopard and plan to stay here as long as I can. I really don't want to have to lose the FW-1884 due to software issues. There is really no device available currently that can possibly replace it in the same price range.

Hope this helps.
kandlees
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25th April 2012
Old 25th April 2012
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Thank you for the opinions on the sound and expandability of the Tascam, and yes I did hear a little about the Lion 64 bit incompatibility issue... I guess one of the added benefits of the MCU is that it should theoretically work as long as midi control surfaces are supported since there is no real need for a driver. Do you know if the Tascam can be used to output ADAT 8 channels and the midi control surface information through midi rather than firewire? If that were the case it seems like one might be able to work around the compatibility issue with OS X with an additional interface that has ADAT and MIDI, but obviously that's not the optimal solution.
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25th April 2012
Old 25th April 2012
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No, not really set up that way.

It is a midi interface with midi cable in/thru jacks, but the control channels for the DAW are only sent on the FW as far as I know.

I don't think the converters are set up to output on the ADAT jacks either.

It can be used as a free standing mixer, however, without a computer. Seems like there are better mixer options for less money though if it came to that.

Amazing that there are no complete replacements for a device like this in the price range.

Audio interface, control surface w/motorized faders, midi interface, adat, S/dif, instrument input, line inputs, inserts on every channel, latency-free monitoring, full line outs for each channel.

Not sure what I will buy when the time comes short of a full analog console and outboard converters.
kandlees
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25th April 2012
Old 25th April 2012
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Yeah, then it seems the Tascam has basically unparalleled features but unless I'm willing to stick with OS X 10.6 for a few years it would be pretty much useless if I want to keep my software updated since there aren't really any workarounds. I didn't realize it couldn't send ADAT or MIDI control out.
kandlees
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#6
26th April 2012
Old 26th April 2012
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with the Tascam compatibility issues does anyone think I'd be better off looking for a used M-Audio Projectmix I/O? or would I really be better off just be aiming to keep the control surface separate from the interface and buying an MCU?
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26th April 2012
Old 26th April 2012
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If you don't want to spend big bucks...on a Nucleus, get the MCU...be done. There are things I wish they'd make sleeker (or technically that the software makers would imlement better)...but, there's really nothing else until you get into a VERY different price class.

A full compliment of Euphonix devices is several grand...and not as broadly supported--if you're spending that, just get the Nucleus that does more with it's analog monitoring section and overdub pres...and if you work solely ITB, it can function as your audio interface. If you need more IO, though, you're not even going to likely connect that part.
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26th April 2012
Old 26th April 2012
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Friend in town with the Tascam FINALLY got it to mostly work with Win7x64...cheap pres...not using any of the external MIDI...I mean, he got it used from an estate sale I ran for $550--so, he's happy, given what he paid, but I had to hear him bitch for almost a year with the thing not working after his i7 build...then half working...

Do yourself a favor--don't put your eggs in one basket. Think about it this way--if you buy the MCU (and obviously like the workflow you devlop with it) you can use it with a Mac or PC...64 or 32 bit...Cubase or PT or DP--whatever else your studio moves to. So, your "hands on control" doesn't get lost in upgrade fever. You never have to make the decision- "do I want to continue working like I want to...or go to 96k (insert some other computer upgrade reason here)?"
kandlees
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26th April 2012
Old 26th April 2012
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Yeah, it really seems like the MCU is the right choice even if it will take more to get a good interface setup as well... the Tascam is an awesome concept but it seems like it would just result in an inevitable forced upgrade
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26th April 2012
Old 26th April 2012
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What DAW are you looking to control?
kandlees
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26th April 2012
Old 26th April 2012
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I'll be working in Logic and Pro Tools
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