Pocketstudio 5 is smaller than a Stephen King
novel and twice as
much fun. It’s
got lots of features and best of all, it’s affordable!
December 16, 2003
It might be easy for some to dismiss the TASCAM Pocketstudio 5 as a toy — an
audio novelty item — but despite outward appearances, this little box
does so much for so little money, that I’d have to say it’s the
runaway favorite for my “most bang for the buck” award for 2003.
Listing at $449 (but your Sweetwater price will be way lower), the Pocketstudio
a General MIDI module, a four-track digital recorder, an effects processor
and an MP3 player (and encoder) that you can own for less than $300! And yes,
I bought one because, well, it’s just so cool!
It all started when both my rackmount and portable DAT recorders died. The
rackmount is no loss, as I now own an Alesis MasterLink ML-9600, but
I needed something
small for those situations where I’m miles from the nearest electrical
outlet. I called my buddy, (Sales Engineer) Kenny Bergle, and he suggested
the Pocketstudio. Rather than running on tape or a fragile hard drive, the
to Compact Flash cards, which is pretty nifty, as card prices have been dropping
like rocks lately. So naturally, I ordered one.
As soon as it arrived, I
sat down with the unit and its accompanying manuals (a third reference
manual is included on a CD ROM). My first thought was, “Wow,
this thing does a lot more than just record!” Onboard you’ll
find a full General MIDI soundset, plus tons of patterns that cover an amazing
of musical styles (Rockabilly, Shred Metal, Cajun Rock and so forth). What’s
more, the unit includes some decent guitar effects modeling, so you don’t
have to drag out your Marshall stack every time you come up with a song idea.
While many of the models are a bit heavy on the cheese, some are very good — in
particular, the clean chorus guitar presets are as thick and glossy as
anything in my collection of pedals or even high end rackmount effects.
The GM set doesn’t eat up your tracks. There’s a separate TG slider
(for Tone Generator). The documentation does’t state the polyphony,
but after digging, it turns out to be 64 voices, which is pretty amazing
a small box. Some of the sounds, while certainly not pro quality, are actually
useable, and thankfully they’re the ones you’ll be using most,
like the basses, electric pianos and a few organs.
Uh, Oh...Rant Alert:
For the life of me, after all these years, I still cannot
fathom exactly why GM sets need all those silly “extras” like Calliope,
Bird Tweet, Seashore and Gun Shot. I mean, come on, how often do those come up
in a composition? It seems like the mistake was made over a decade ago and we
still blindly follow like lemmings. To this day, I swear GM stands for “Giant
Misunderstanding.” Okay, standardizing the real instruments makes sense,
but it’s almost 2004. Do we still need a patch called “Goblins”?
Wouldn’t that real estate be put to better use making the important instruments
sound better? The good news is that you can use the GM soundset as a sort of “guide” to
follow, then switch them off before doing your final mixdown, leaving only
There are also vocal effects onboard (de-esser, duet and lots more)
plus a pretty darn sweet reverb that I guarantee will surprise you.
useful drum kits (standard, power kit, brushes, orchestral and CM-64/32).
EQ is available either pre or post recording. While it’s not
particularly sophisticated, it’s nice to have just in case
you want to add a little more bottom to your bass or some extra presence
to the lead vocal.
So okay, now you’ve read about what I consider to be the “bonus” features.
But the star of the show is the Pocketstudio’s four track recording
capabilities. No, the finished tracks are not on par with a high
end digital multitrack, but
they do sound better than my original portable DAT recorder, circa
1989. The audio is 16-bit at 44.1kHz with 24-bit internal processing,
but let’s face
it, on a unit this reasonably priced, you aren’t going to expect
a premium mic preamp or studio quality A/D/A converters. But still,
the audio is crisp
and clean. No complaints from me there. And when running my pro quality
preamp to the line inputs, the sound is surprisingly good. Only those
ears” will have any complaints.
Record 4 tracks at once...or two in stereo...or one at a time...
You can record in mono
(one track), stereo (two tracks) and up to all four tracks at once,
which is pretty useful when the rest of
hand to lay down
some quick and dirty bass, keyboard, sax and so on. The limitation
is that there is only one pair of 1/4-inch line inputs, one
of which is
guitar and line, while the second is switchable between mic
and line. A third mic input is available via a 1/8-inch mini-jack.
What that means is, you can plug in a guitar to record as a stereo
pair (using the effects to create your “pseudo-stereo” image), then one mic into
the 1/4-inch input and another (using an adapter) to the 1/8-inch input. There’s
no phantom power, so your condenser mics need to have the ability to run off
batteries (naturally, dynamics don’t need power). This particular combination
of inputs isn’t the best in the world, but with a little creativity, there
are plenty of workarounds. And if you record one track at a time, there’s
really no problem. Sorry, no virtual tracks, but for this price, I didn’t
To round out the package, you get a set of TASCAM headphones with
an integral headset microphone (perfect if you want to look like
you’re in one of the “boy
bands” or a Madonna clone). While these headphones are
surprisingly good for their size, they don’t offer much
in the way of bass response. I have lots of inexpensive AKG and
Sony headphones hanging around in my studio, and
these sounded much better. You also get a built-in mic (right
on the top of the unit’s front panel) and an AC adapter.
For remote recording, the Pocketstudio will run on six AA size
batteries. The unit ships with a 32 megabyte Compact Flash card
which allows up to ten minutes of four-track material plus the
to MP3 format.
I have a ton
of Flash cards for my digital cameras, so I popped in a 128 meg
card for up to 40+ minutes of record time. Note that before you
will need to use the integral USB connection to download them
(they are on
the CD ROM).
While it’s true that the Pocketstudio is mostly plastic and not built
to handle the rigors of the road, with reasonable care the unit should last
a while, and there is a travel case available. The LCD can
be backlit for low light situations, but the plastic cover over it is quite
soft, so it scratches
easily. My advice is to put a piece of wide, clear shipping
tape over the panel. The real weak link is the ultra-lightweight cord that
attaches the headphones
and mic to their respective jacks. Even a bit of rough handling
will likely result in a short, and I found that if I’m in a hurry to
stow the unit, when I get ready to set it up again, the cord is always tangled
up with the line
out of the AC adapter. All the more reason to find a set of
headphones that are a few steps up in quality.
All-in-all, the TASCAM Pocketstudio 5 is a winner! Despite
the few negatives I mentioned, this is the kind of gear that
Put it on your Sweetwater Card and you’ll
have 90 days to pay it off, or you can pay it off over time
if your Skittles addiction is out of
control. Pros will appreciate the ability to fire up the
unit anywhere, at any time. The rest of us will dig the Pocketstudio’s
versatility, affordability and surprisingly good sound.
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