First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804, Part II

Audio Recording, Gear, Software 2 Comments

I started this some days back but got distracted with the return on the ’52 Telecaster and then other stuff that’s come up since (still waiting for the B-Bender, by the way – that’s fodder for another post, once I actually have it in my hot little paws). Unfortunately, because it’s now all set up and I really don’t want to go back and start over, this follow-up is going to be somewhat abbreviated from what I had in mind, which was a step-by-step on getting from installation to a clean, direct-input guitar recording. Hopefully this will be helpful to some, though.

SONAR – even my old 2.2 version – was pretty smart about connecting to this unit. Once the drivers were installed, everything just kind of appeared where it needed to be, as I would have hoped. Of course that didn’t mean I could get the thing to record without some work. Here’s what I ended up with. It will at least get you on the air, but I make no claims that this is optimized – or even ultimately correct for all purposes.

SONAR Settings

Power up the 1804 and then start SONAR. The order is important because SONAR detects what’s available when it starts up. Confused hardware drivers can cause BSODs and I prefer not to see those any more than necessary. So if I start SONAR and realize I forgot to kick on the 1804, I’ll shut SONAR down first, then turn on the AI. Call me a namby-pamby. It’s just how I roll.

That done, select Options / Audio… from the main menu. On the Advanced tab, locate the Driver/Mode drop-down list and select WDM/KS to use the WDM drivers you installed with the FW-1804. SONAR may tell you you’ll have to restart the program when you do this. If so, do it, then get back to the Audio Options dialog. Note – you may run into an issue here if your sound card doesn’t support WDM. Most newer ones do. This is just a heads up. I’m not sure of the implications if you have an older card but want to use WDM.

Next, go to the General tab (Advanced in SONAR 2, IIRC) and locate the Wave Profiler button. Click that to profile the new hardware and verify all goes well, meaning no errors. The profiler will assess the AI and any soundcard(s) you have installed.

Going through the tabs on the Audio Options dialog, here’s the settings I’m currently using (these are working).

General Tab – I changed the Audio Driver Bit Depth from 16 to 24, on Rich the Tweak’s recommendation that this increases dynamic range and eliminates the need for compression during recording. I don’t have a standalone compressor, so this seemed like a good idea. I set the Sampling Rate to 44100 (this has to match the FW-1804 Control Panel setting – see below). I also had to spend quite a bit of time getting the Mixing Latency settings correct, and it’s something you’ll probably have to experiment with because the settings will interact with those on the 1804’s Control Panel (again, see below). With these settings, you’ll definitely experience a bit of a delay if you’re monitoring using your computer’s sound card output, so monitor using the output(s) provided on the 1804. I found the headphone output on the unit’s front panel to work just fine for this, and the ability to switch between monitoring the unit’s Inputs, the Computer or Both was definitely a boon.

General Tab

Advanced Tab – Don’t think I changed anything on this one, other than the Driver Mode setting. If your settings are still at the default, you can check me on this below.

Advanced Tab

Drivers Tab – Enable what you need, disable what you don’t. They’re in pairs, so my settings are shown below, since I’m going to be recording from the audio interface’s inputs 1, 4, 5/6 and 8, as follows:

  • 1 -Microphone: vocals, cello, acoustic guitars, amps, etc.
  • 4 – Guitar direct-in: for use with Effects Inserts
  • 5/6 – JV-1080: left/right Mix Output, respectively
  • 8 – Guitar direct-in: this is the one on the front of the unit, designed for Guitars but with no Effect Insert jack

Drivers Tab - top of the lists

Drivers Tab - bottom of the lists

Driver Profiles – these are as set by the Wave Profiler, and I haven’t changed them, so no screenshot for these. Tweak at your own risk here. Get familiar with the manual(s) first though.

FW-1804 Control Panel

When you install the Tascam software, it places a TASCAM FW-1804 applet in your list of XP control panel widgets. I copied this to the desktop as a standard shortcut for easy access. When you run (double-click) this, you see the AI’s control panel application. The screenshot below shows my current settings, not the defaults.

FW Control Panel Settings Tab

When you check Compensate for Converter Delays (WDM), you get the following pop-up message:

FW Caution Dialog

At this point I of course went back to SONAR and set the Buffers in Playback Queue (General Tab) to 3. Aside from this, as I mentioned previously, the Sample Rate naturally has to match what you’ve set in SONAR. Beyond this, the most time-consuming effort was getting the Audio Latency setting correct. The optimum setting here changes depending on a combination of the Sample Rate (in both SONAR and the FW) and the Buffer Size setting (General Tab) in SONAR, which I currently have set to 90mS. I adjusted this by monitoring SONAR‘s output and/or playing back recordings and trying different settings each time. This was the first setting that worked. I tried a few others unsuccessfully, and went back to this (128). Don’t know what units this setting is in, but since it’s labeled “latency” I’m guessing milliseconds.

The other optional step you can take is to enable “Quick Start” for the FW inputs and outputs you plan to use. I’ll be using input 4 rarely, so I enabled the others to match the list above.

FW Quick Start Tab

Recording and Monitoring

With these basic settings, I’m able to set a SONAR track’s Input to a given FW input and monitor with no latency through the Headphones jack on the FW’s front panel while recording. To monitor tracks I’ve already recorded I set the track’s output to “FW1804 Analog 1:2” or to a bus that’s going out to same (set the FW Monitor button to Computer or Both for this). During recording, the JV-1080 synth output is monitored directly through the FW via the Headphones (set the Monitor button to Inputs or Both for this).

For playback monitoring, right now I don’t have standalone monitor speakers, so I simply have the FW’s monitor output connected to the Line In on my soundcard. It’s functional, but I wouldn’t use that for a professional mix. (UPDATE: since modified – I now take the 1804’s outputs and patch them directly to the input on my self-powered computer speaker system. No studio-quality monitors yet, but at least now I have the soundcard out of the loop. It does sound noticeably better, even with this older speaker system, as I’m using the 1804’s D/A converters, not the soundcard’s.)

For direct-input guitar recording, I got a pretty decent sound with the following settings:

  • Input 4 – FW Trim @ 4:00; SONAR Trim @ +9dB / Volume @ -9dB
  • Input 8 – FW Trim @ 12:05 (just before jump in gain); SONAR Trim @ +9dB, Volume @ -9dB

Initial recordings I did were with the ’52 Telecaster, with its single-wound (noisy) coils. I was able to get the hum level down to where I could easily strip it off later with compression / gating. The hum was more noticeable on input 8 than input 4, which I’m sure is due to the differences in impedance. Later recordings with my Paul II (dual humbuckers) were almost completely hum-free, as one might expect.

Next experiments will be mic’ing the 12-string and cello. Right now I only have the one low-rent dynamic mic to work with, so it’ll probably take some ingenuity to get a clear sound on those. At some point we’ll get a condenser, so this is just learning at this point.

Hope this is helpful.