Want a 2×2 audio interface but can’t make a decision? TASCAM might have the interface for you.
We’re frequently asked to recommend a 2-in / 2-out interface, and for some time we’ve tended to endorse the ever-popular Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Always on the lookout new for interfaces to win us over we’ve had one of TASCAM’s US-2x2s on our desk for the past week for review. With MIDI I/O and iOS support the US-2×2 appears at first glance to offer more than the Scarlett 2i2 at around the same price point. Has TASCAM’s interface taken our recommended top spot?
TASCAM have chosen to deviate slightly from the rest of the pack in the design of the US-2×2 and have included a pair of removable side panels. In addition to making things a little more interesting in the looks department, the side panels also angle the interface towards you when on a desktop and make knobs and switches a little easier to read. The German-designed aluminum casing feels pleasingly robust and gives a high quality impression with the phrase ‘built like a tank’ being a suitably apt description. The aforementioned knobs and switches are clearly labeled, reasonably sized and easy to use with a nice resistance that makes them unlikely to be accidentally knocked out of adjustment. Weight of the unit is a reasonable 2.43 lb (1.1 kg), enough to ensure the occasional cable tug wont send the US-2×2 flying across your desk but not enough to make transporting it more awkward than necessary. It’s clear that TASCAM haven’t skimped on build quality whatsoever with this interface.
On the front panel the US-2×2 features two XLR/TRS combo input jacks, accepting of line-level signals from professional processors and synthesizers. A gain control and two LEDs accompany each input; one LED indicates when an input signal is detected and the other when the input signal is clipping. It’s a simple indication but works as intended. Additionally, each input can be switched to high-impedance via sliding switches for direct recording of bass and electric guitar.
The right of the front panel is home to the headphone jack and, thankfully, separate headphone and line output volume knobs with TASCAM resisting the urge to combine the two output controls as often found on cheaper interfaces. We also find the direct monitoring control here. Even the most efficient computers and DAW software can produce a slight delay before reaching the outputs, which can distract some vocalists and instrumentalists. The direct monitoring function allows for monitoring the input signal with zero latency before it is sent to the computer.
Finally for the front, +48V phantom power for condenser microphones is available for both inputs, controlled with a switch on the bottom left of the front panel.
On the rear panel we find our outputs, consisting of a pair of balanced TRS 1/2 inch outs for connecting to studio monitors and MIDI I/O for for connecting synths, drum machines, and controllers. There’s also a USB 2.0 port for data connection and power and lastly, a 5V DC power connector used to connect an AC adapter for when the US-2×2 is hooked up to an iOS device. TASCAM don’t include such an adapter with the interface but they do make one available for purchase separately.
Setup & Software
Setup of the US-2×2 proved trivial on all tested platforms. As a class compliant core audio device the US-2×2 can be used with Mac OS X and iOS devices without first installing a driver, though iPad or other iOS device users will need to locate a suitable Apple Lightning-to-USB or CCK connector to connect the two. Using the interface with Windows requires a simple driver install and on our Windows 10 machine we installed the latest driver version (1.02) which supports 32-bit or 64-bit versions of Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. On the OS X side, the Us-2×2 is officially compatible with OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) and later.
TASCAM have taken a slightly unusual step with their inclusion of two DAW applications in the bundle, SONAR X3 LE and Ableton Live 9 Lite. SONAR X3 LE is only available on Windows due to it’s heavy reliance on Microsoft technology so the inclusion of the Mac-friendly Ableton Live Lite makes sense in this context. SONAR X3 LE is a limited version of the award-winning SONAR X3 and as a result restricts you to 32 audio tracks, 64 MIDI tracks and 24-bit/96 kHz audio quality, among other things. The LE version still offers VST plugin support however, and includes a variety of methods to share and collaborate, even offering direct uploading to YouTube.
Ableton Live 9 Lite is a starter version of the full-featured digital audio workstation Ableton Live, and includes Live’s core library of sounds and presets. Included for both Mac and Windows OS, Live Lite 9 has a unique music production workflow. Ideal for live performance sets and dance music production, the software is also popular among songwriters to quickly assemble a song idea. Ableton Live 9 Lite supports both VST and AU plug-ins and over 600 MB of loops and audio effects are included, making it a great DAW for people just getting started with music creation.
Both SONAR X3 LE and Ableton Live 9 Lite can be upgraded to their more full-featured counterparts if more advanced features are required.
Hooking the US-2×2 up to an iPad was as simple as connecting a Lightning to USB cable between the two and ensuring the interface was connected to mains power via an adapter (a powered USB hub also works). With Apple’s portable devices now powerful enough to run dedicated DAW software, the App store has seen a surge in the availability of music apps over the past couple of years and iOS users have plenty of choice when it comes to picking a suitable DAW to pair with the US-2×2. We tested our US-2×2 with an iPad running BIAS FX and Cubasis, two of the more popular choices.
The US-2×2 records at up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution which is on par with the competition at this price point. TASCAM’s own Ultra-HDDA mic preamps feature in the US-2×2 and overall we found them to be clean and quiet in use. Recording vocals with a Shure SM57 mic produced some studio-quality results with the US-2×2’s 57dB of gain ensuring plenty of level on our tracks. We also encountered no issues recording a humbucker equipped Charvel guitar with the high-impedance switch engaged. It’s common to run into clipping problems when recording guitars through budget interfaces but we’re happy to say we experienced no such problem with the US-2×2. Latency while recording was acceptable across a range of tests and we at no stage had any concerns with driver stability or the performance of the interface.
A standout feature of the US-2×2 is that of the ability to connect it to an iPhone or iPad and we know that this feature alone will divert a good deal of attention away from the competition. Fortunately the US-2×2 performs as well on iOS as we’ve seen from any USB interface so far with us able to achieve comparable results on our iPad to that of those produced on our desktop setup. We’d still recommend a Windows or Mac PC for anything particularly complex but for simple tracks and basic composing on the go we think this setup is ideal.
TASCAM’s budget interface impresses with a number of features that you won’t typically find at this price point. There’s precious little to complain about with the US-2×2 offering solid construction, quality preamps, MIDI connectivity, and of course, iOS compatibility.
Would we recommend it over the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2? The answer is… it depends. We think the Scarlett’s preamps deserve the acclaim they receive and have a slight edge over the US-2×2’s so if it’s quality of sound above all else then we’d have to give it to the Scarlett 2i2. However, the 2i2 lacks both MIDI connectivity and iOS compatibility and performs poorly when recording high output guitars due to prevalent clipping issues. As such, if your needs can’t be met by the Scarlett 2i2 then the US-2×2 is a fantastic alternative that’s well worthy of your consideration.
- Rugged build
- iOS compatibility
- MIDI connectivity
- AC adapter not included (required for iOS)