Earlier I posted a guide to using a Real Tone cable (which comes with the game Rocksmith) to connect to Guitar Rig 5. With the success of that experiment I went ahead and bought a proper audio interface. In this post I will give a rundown of the rationale behind my decisions and highlight the differences between the two approaches.
The unit that I chose was the TASCAM US-200. This USB audio interface has 2 microphone-in (one of which can be instrument); gain knobs for each mic input; selectable 48V phantom power for professional microphones; 4 line-out channels (channel assignment software configurable); 1 independent headphone-out (with dedicated volume control); MIDI in and MIDI out. This cost about $100.
The benefits of running this unit over the Real Tone are:
- the Real Tone cable is only an audio input device so you need to use ASIO4ALL to bridge the sound output to your motherboard’s sound chip which can be annoying to configure (your settings don’t always ‘stick’)
- the software bridging performed by ASIO4ALL, combined with the fact that the Real Tone is a budget item, means that latency is high (eminently playable, but clearly noticeable)
- the TASCAM takes care of both audio input and output so configuration is super easy and reliable
- the TASCAM has knobs for input gains and output volume so adjustments don’t require driving a mouse around the screen (which gets old pretty quick while you’re trying to play an instrument)
So what have I thought of it so far? Well latency is significantly lower! I also found the Real Tone cable prone to noise – both clicks from artefacts and analog cable noise. There are no artefacts with the TASCAM and any cable noise is virtually eliminated (probably in part due to the fact that I can use my better quality instrument cables than what the Real Tone is made from). Any residual noise, where it may exist, is ruthlessly gobbled up by noise gate settings in GR5.
I also am a huge fan of the ability to set my external speakers and amplifier to a direct line-out and be able to adjust my headphones with the volume control (ie independent of the speakers). This is a far better outcome than trying to get the single motherboard output to do everything.
The MIDI interface is also a nice bonus. Although I don’t actually own any MIDI devices I can see the appeal of, say, a simple MIDI foot switch array to mimic the functionality of a traditional pedal board (and to do tap-tempos, etc). Indeed that might be an excellent project for a future post!
But it isn’t all good news… (the update after 2 months use)
While from a hardware perspective the US-200 is a great bit of kit, the drivers are truly horrendous. There are a number of pretty big issues with the driver but the greatest is its inability to cope with an operating system that implements suspend or sleep modes. This little gem is buried away on page 11 of the manual – and I would have thought that this limitation is pretty important information for a buyer to know before they make their purchase. Windows users have had sleep/suspend for EIGHTEEN YEARS, and yet the plebs at Tascam still cannot wrap their puny minds around writing a driver that can cope. The result is that any time my PC goes to sleep I lose all sound both in and out. The only remedy is a full reboot! Totally unacceptable.
Next, the line out connectors are software-configurable. Yet the driver is incapable of retaining my choices for more than a couple of hours. So on a very regular basis I get put into an audio black-hole until I work out that the output routing has changed itself (again!).
And lastly, the drivers periodically just totally crap out and require a complete uninstall and reinstall. I have had occasions where I’ve wanted to play and then had to restart my computer no less than SIX TIMES to actually return everything to correct working order. If you want reliability this product is definitely not the one for you.
I have contacted Tascam about all these issues and they don’t even reply to support requests (I’ve waited over a month). This is not a new product and clearly no new firmware or driver updates are going to come out for it.
Would I recommend this purchase to anyone else? Absolutely not. Would I buy again? Absolutely not. Would I buy another Tascam product after this experience? No, I wouldn’t – I really can’t think of a more substandard buying experience.
And I have to say this is all such a shame, because when it all works properly it’s a good unit. Clearly the hardware is sound. But, my goodness, what a terrible software implementation! Definitely get an external audio interface (they’re great), but don’t buy a Tascam and don’t buy this one!