First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804

7:31 am Audio Recording, Gear, Guitar

The Tascam FW-1804 Audio Interface has mixed reviews here and there. What originally drew my attention to this unit, frankly, were threads like this one and Rich the Tweak’s comment here:

One of the best deals, if not the best deal, for a Mixerless rig in terms of bang for the buck.

For my setup, he’s right. And I spent a lot of time reading, learning, thinking and looking over specs, etc., to come to this conclusion. The only other contender, for my needs and budget, was the Presonus Firebox. That probably would have been fine, but it didn’t have effects insert send/returns. Plus ideally, I’d like to have four inputs just for the Roland JV-1080 (Dry L/R and EFX L/R), although 2 will suffice (MIX L/R). So, for an additional $30, the 1804 lets me experiment and has expandability for later. I wasn’t too-too concerned about preamp hyper-quality. When we get there I’ll get an actual preamp that does nothing else. In the meantime, it’ll be a long time before I need anything more, so I decided this was the best deal for my needs.

Some folks have actually taken to replacing “Tascam” with “Trashcan” (some with domains like… erm…). I’d seen all this stuff before purchasing and although it sounded like a few had genuine beefs with reliability or Tascam support, quite frankly, many of the negative reviews were so inarticulate in terms of the real problem that I wrote them off to simply being unwilling to read the manual, etc. “WORTHLESS PIECE OF CRAP!! I COULDN’T GET IT WORKING!!!” doesn’t do much to describe the actual problem. At least not a problem with the gear.

I see this daily in my Tech Support position, though I’m thankfully no longer responsible for coming up with diplomatic responses to such screeds. Remember: the customer is always “right”, even when they’re blatantly, inexcusably wrong. It’s usually easy to identify the people who install a piece of complex software – one that’s designed to simplify the use of a complex standard (in this case, WS-BPEL 2.0), which is in turn based on a bunch of other complex standards – and who dive right in with no training, none of the peripheral or prerequisite knowledge and no time spent reading the thousands of pages of documentation, tutorials and examples we created to support it.

The questions these kinds of folks post to the support forum tend to be rants rather than real questions, and they sometimes even get indignant if you suggest training, reading the manual, going through the painstakingly constructed tutorial (at least once, fer crissakes!) or simply checking the text of the standard to resolve their confusion. They seem to want to be able to jump right in to using it with no real investment in time. I see this most frequently with college students working on “theses” and other school projects. Most of these folks, basically, want YOU to resolve their issue (i.e., do their homework for them).

Seems like many users of Audio Interfaces (in general) fall into this category, i.e., they see a CD, an interface unit and one cable going into the computer, and they think “Huh. Just like a USB external drive!” Uhm… no. Sorry, you can’t simply plug one of these into your SONAR-equipped computer, stick a guitar into the “Guitar” input, turn the Trim up to +40dB, open your mouth, throw back your head and start recording that last wailing track of Black Star. It simply won’t work. No doubt at least one or two (ok, probably more) of the neg reviews on the Tascam (and others!) resulted from exactly that sort of scenario. As it turns out, one needs to work at it to get any sort of sound at all… let alone something acceptable. In my case this took a few hours of reading, installing, tweaking, reading, thinking, rewiring, tweaking and then some more tweaking.

Here’s the basic sequence I used, including some of the wrong turns, to get what is (so far) a very nice electric guitar sound recorded on a track in SONAR using direct input – with and without a distortion box. I’m using Windows XP SP2 and SONAR 2.2 (yeah, I’ve heard a million times that it’s old – bite me – 6 is on the way). Be sure to follow directions specific to your system if you’re using Vista (god help you) or a Mac (lucky bastid). These may seem a tad too meticulous, but I’ve learned not to trust anything anymore – especially when it’s manufactured in certain parts of the world (anyone had a pet made ill or killed by supposedly “safe” pet food in the past year? ’nuff said), which most stuff is these days.

Read Everything First, THEN Start Tweaking

  • Whatever documentation you get with your unit, read it all before you install any software or take the twist-ties off any of the cables.
  • Get a soda (or a pop), go back, and re-read the parts you didn’t understand the first time.
  • Make sure all the A/C adapters, parts, cables and CDs are there. There’s typically a list (with pictures) in the Owner’s Manual.
  • Unpack the A/C adapter. Plug it into wall outlet. Verify that it doesn’t blow a circuit breaker.
  • Unpack the main unit and connect it to the A/C adapter. Turn on the power. Verify that the lights stay lit. Punch the buttons, watch the lights change.
  • Plug a microphone into one of the inputs (or a guitar into Input 8, which has a duplicate input marked “Guitar” on the front panel) and plug a set of headphones into the Phones jack. Verify that you can hear sound in the headphones when you speak/play.
  • Power the unit off.

Software Drivers for the new Hardware

Dealing with hardware drivers in Windows (any flavor) is always “fun”. I’ve already gotten at least one BSOD since installing this unit. Though it occurred just after a SONAR crash during a “Remove Silence” command, it was while the unit was connected and powered up. If it had anything to do with the Tascam drivers, I would guess that it was because the hardware wasn’t gracefully informed that the client application (SONAR) was no longer there, and cacked the system trying to interrupt a nonexistent process (i.e., the error message was the standard IRQ_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL, or however Micro$oft spells it – “IRQ” stands for Interrupt ReQuest). BSODs are a part of using software that gives your computer a workout. Hopefully SONAR 6 will be better behaved.

  • Create a Windows XP System Restore Point in case you need to back out any driver changes. Never done this? Time to go read/learn about it.
  • Determine which FireWire inputs to use. If you’re like me, you’ll probably have at least two: one on the motherboard and one on your sound card. Follow the instructions in the Setup Guide and locate your FireWire interfaces using the Device Manager. Don’t have any? Well, you probably should have checked before you bought the unit, huh? Sorry. Time to shop for a sound card with a FireWire port.
    • Here, I decided to use the one on the motherboard and disabled the one on the sound card. Why? My theory is to remove latency whenever and wherever it can occur. In this case, why have the data go through the PCI bus, through the circuitry on the sound card and out the FireWire port (and back!) when I can have it go to/from the FireWire port connected (almost) directly to the CPU? Couldn’t think of a reason, so I’m using the mobo port. Since I won’t be using the sound card’s, I disabled it to free up any resources that might have been allocated to it.
    • To determine which FW port was which, I looked at the Properties for each and disabled the one whose Location was PCI Slot 4. Your mileage may vary.

    Disabled FireWire Port

    • Note: I didn’t say plug the 1804 in yet.
  • Install the driver software.
    • In the 1804’s case, they instruct you to install the drivers BEFORE hooking up the unit. Be sure to do this.
  • The install program will probably suggest that you reboot. Do it.
    • I’ve had mixed combinations of success and BSODs (failures on reboot) when I allow the installer to reboot my system. Interestingly enough, this happens most often with Micro$oft’s Update Manager, which is not really a surprise. So I’ve gotten in the habit of responding “No, reboot later” to this sort of dialog and then immediately powering the system down (using Start / Turn off the Computer), then back up. This makes sure EVERYthing gets power-cycled, and when you’re installing hardware drivers and enabling/disabling things, this will often make a difference. For me, it’s just a habit now.
  • Once the computer system is powered back up, check to make sure everything still works okay. Run WoW, Tomb Raider, SONAR – whatever gives your system hardware a workout, just to make sure there was no conflict with the driver installation.
  • Power down the computer and the 1804.
  • Locate the physical FireWire port on the computer and connect it to FireWire #1 on the back of the 1804 using the cable provided.
  • Power up the computer and get back to the desktop.
  • Power up the 1804. In a moment, you should see the standard XP dialogs coming up, telling you how excited they are that they just found new hardware and can’t wait to install drivers for it. Follow the steps in the Setup guide, as written.
    • When I did this, the installer actually went through discovering two sets of hardware and installing two sets of drivers. The Setup Guide isn’t specific about this and, again, your mileage may vary. I believe one set was for the 1804 FireWire control interface and the other was for the WDM/ASIO/etc. sound drivers. I answered ‘Yes’ whenever the dialogs asked if they could install a driver “automatically”. This worked for me.
  • Everything OK? Okay, power your computer down, then back up, one more time. Check to make sure everything that used to work, still works.

Next time: Connecting to SONAR

2 Responses

  1. giant city music » Blog Archive » First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804, Part II Says:

    […] Time Using the Tascam FW-1804, Part II August 5, 2007 10:53 am Ron Software, Audio Recording, Gear I started this some days back but got distracted with the return on the ‘52 Telecaster and then other stuff that’s […]

  2. tommy evans Says:

    actually I use this on two OS’s 64 bit vista and Snow leopard final, works flawlessly in both environments, though I don’t ask it to do much. I use only the guitar input, adat in, a single midi in and midi out, All other ins and outs on the Mac side are handle by a motu 424 / unitor 8 system.