Tascam US-1800 Audio/MIDI Interface Review 2017
I’ve spent the last 9 years of my life in the music industry. After 3 bands, 2 albums, a plethora of shows, and a couple of northeast US tours, I’ve since turned my full attention to the production side of things. I have owned a number of different audio interfaces, many of which I still possess but no longer use. The interface I recommend to all of my peers is the Tascam US-1800. Its versatility and durability are unmatched by its competition, and it goes for a budget-friendly price.
After almost 5 years of rigorous use, it has served me extremely well and I still regard it as the perfect staple for a small home studio setup.
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Building Your Home Studio
When speaking with anxious, aspiring recording engineers who are looking to capture their first recordings, the most common question I get asked is this: “what gear do I absolutely need in order to get started?”
Audio engineering is a popular passion. Unfortunately, it’s also a costly one. People who are “on a budget” are often scared away by the price tags of different items.
Microphones, cables, and a few other accessories aside, there are really only 3 initial investments that are required: a computer, a digital audio workstation (DAW), and an audio/MIDI interface.
As far as the computer, most people have one that can be used. However, it’s recommended that the computer has at least 4-8GB of RAM and an SSD (if not, a large HDD), in order for your DAW to run smoothly.
In regards to digital audio workstations, many people have already joined a camp in the “Pro Tools vs. Logic” debate, but there are other options such as Ableton, FL Studio, and a few beginner-level DAWs that cost little to nothing.
The third piece to the puzzle is the audio/MIDI interface, and it’s the piece I get the most questions about. There are many who simply don’t know where to start. So, I am going to focus on the interface and walk you through why I purchased the US-1800 for myself.
When I first purchased my US-1800 a few years ago, I wasn’t expecting much. Interfaces can run anywhere from eighty dollars to a few thousand dollars, and I was well aware of the US-1800’s competitive price. I wasn’t looking for anything flashy. I just needed something that was practical and had the ability to track drums. As I found out, this not only met my drum needs, but has handled all of my other recording needs as well.
Tascam US-1800 Product Review
First, perhaps the most important quality to look for in an audio interface is versatility. If you’re looking to record anything more than a single vocal at a time, a number of entry-level interfaces are going to be off the table. Most of the people I talk with want something that can record live drums, and such an interface requires at least 6-8 input channels. The US-1800 is equipped with 8 solid XLR inputs and 2 line-in inputs on the front of the unit, while there are 4 additional inputs on the back panel.
All 8 of the US-1800’s XLR preamps are controlled by 2 master phantom power switches, which are extremely important to have if you are recording with condenser microphones. An interface that lacks phantom power for its inputs is going to impose aggressive limitations on what you’re able to record.
The truth is that many entry-level audio interfaces yield a respectable recording quality, and improving recording quality doesn’t have quite as much to do with the interface as it does the elements that come after the interface – cables, microphones, instruments, room acoustics, etc. With that said, noisy preamps can be an issue with very cheap interfaces – an issue that has forced a few units out of my setup in the past. The US-1800 inputs are clear, clean, and crisp; and even after gain staging and adding compressors, there is very little noise that makes it onto my tracks.
Each channel has its own gain knob on the right side of the front panel. The knobs feel a little cheap; but they are secure and respond well to adjustments, so this hasn’t been a concern for me.
Not every interface is certain to be compatible with every computer or program; if you take a look at the online forums for some of the entry-level interfaces you’ll find this to be true. The Tascam US-1800, however, boasts versatility – not only in terms of what it has the ability to record, but also in its compatibility with a range of different operating systems, DAWs, and other hardware and software. The USB 2.0 connection, although engineers sometimes prefer a more premium connection with a higher bandwidth, is consistent and records with 24-bit quality.
Many would expect latency to be an issue with an interface that uses a USB 2.0 connection. Surprisingly, that has not been the case in my scenario. The maximum latency I’ve ever really encountered is roughly 9 milliseconds – an incredibly low rate that goes practically unnoticed for recording and playback functions. Most of the time the latency runs even lower than that! On most of my projects, I’m using a lot of different plugins and software within my DAW, such Waves, Native Instruments, and Omnisphere. My interface has never had trouble with any of it – during recording or playback.
MIDI is the future, and its recent rise in popularity makes it an essential capability that your interface must have. Some of the entry-level interfaces don’t have proper MIDI capabilities so double check this feature if you opt for another interface. When I started recording my own music, I quickly found this to be a major problem and had to make the switch. Depending on the genre, your project may even require more MIDI input than audio input.
The US-1800 is an audio and MIDI interface, and has both “in” and “out” MIDI ports. This allows you to set up your favorite keyboard or MIDI controller for playing virtual instruments. I personally use Omnisphere, Kontakt, and on occasion, Logic instruments; the interface’s MIDI connections work seamlessly alongside these programs, and I’ve had no problems with sending MIDI information to my DAW.
In regards to outputs, the US-1800 has 2 monitor outs for L/R stereo playback, and 4 line-outs. The ¼” headphone jack and amp are solid – the only complaint that I have is with the input/computer knob. When recording, you may have some initial trouble getting both your recording levels and playback levels loud enough for a great mix while recording; but with proper gain staging and a compressor, you can get around this problem.
Some interfaces have bulky, rounded, plastic builds; but in contrast, the US-1800 has a sleek, steel frame. It's surprisingly thin, lightweight, and fits on most racks. It also sits nicely on a desk or table, as there are 4 rubber pads on the underside that prevent the unit from shifting or sliding.
Admittedly, my interface has taken a beating over the past few years. Thanks to its portable nature, I've moved it around from location to location as needed, only to finally have it in a more permanent spot now. Despite the external blemishes it has endured, it still shows not a single sign of deterioration in terms of how it functions. It’s extremely durable.
The unit is powered by a fairly standard AC adapter. While Tascam recommends that you don’t keep the interface powered up for an extended period of time, I’ve left it on for a full day occasionally without any issues. It doesn’t seem to function differently or overheat when I’ve had a long recording or mixing session.
The product itself is easy to install. It comes with the installation disc and instruction, but even these assistive tools may be unnecessary as the install is just that simple. Tascam makes frequent updates to the drivers and new ones are available every few months. I have never had any problems with installing new drivers as they are made available, but I have heard that some people have had issues with drivers if they are running an older version of Windows (such as XP or 7). If you are using a more “dated” operating system, make sure your system is compatible with the interface’s requirements before purchasing or buy from someone with a lenient return policy in case it doesn’t work out. Most users should have no problem.
It’s impossible to discuss the benefits of the interface without mentioning cost. At just under $300, this interface is one of the most affordable (if not the most affordable) audio interfaces in its class. There are many interfaces that are even cheaper and fall in the $100-$250 range, but I would highly recommend spending the few extra dollars on the US-1800 and get the extra features. I ultimately purchased the US-1800 after 6 frustrating months with a cheaper interface that simply couldn’t handle the different projects I was working on. Compare that to the US-1800, which is a product that you may not need to upgrade for years, even.
I’ve seen many audio engineers who have elevated their own home studios to greater levels over the years, all while keeping the US-1800 in their setups. From recording drums and virtual instruments to 40-track playback and low latency, there is very little that this interface can’t handle – in fact, if there is something it can’t do, I’d definitely be curious as to what that is!
To be clear, the Tascam US-1800 is not the best audio/MIDI interface on the market. In reality, it’s far from it . . . you probably won’t find the unit in many 6-figure studios across the world, but for the person who is on a budget and needs an interface that can be trusted to perform at a consistently high level, I am confident that this product can’t be beaten.