Tascam FireOne

This desktop FireWire device combines the functionality of an audio and MIDI interface with a compact control surface.
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The Trigger|iO connects electronic drum pads to software and MIDI instruments. With an optional third-party drum mount, you can attach it to a cymbal stand.

Tascam and Frontier Design have come up with a nifty little audio/MIDI interface that also controls your DAW software. The FireOne ($399) gives you tactile interaction with your software, two mic preamps with phantom power, lots of function keys to help automate software tasks, and 24-bit resolution over FireWire, all in a sleek and compact tabletop pod.

Wheel of Functions

The device's most striking feature is a large control wheel on the right side. The top panel and sides of the FireOne are contoured to fit the wheel, which is surrounded and lit from underneath by a multifunction LED. The light can pulse to the beat of your project when your application sends MIDI Clock information to the FireOne.

Above the wheel are standard transport buttons. A Shift key to the left of the wheel adds functionality to the transport keys — for example, Shift + Rewind returns the playback position to 0 — and to eight function keys (labeled F1 through F8) arranged in an arc above the wheel.

You can usually reassign whatever job the function keys perform (after you mate the unit with your software) in your recording application. The wheel itself is enormously useful for functions such as scrubbing, particularly when you're locating an edit point in a sequence.

Interface Facts

The FireOne's top panel hosts channel A and B pots that provide 53 dB of gain to two rear-panel XLR/¼-inch combo jacks. The knobs are accompanied by LEDs that indicate an active signal and overload on each channel. Below each Gain pot are buttons for 48V phantom power and -20 dB pad. Below the Pad buttons are level pots for the two front-panel headphone jacks.

The middle section of the FireOne features a Mix control for setting the balance between incoming mic or instrument signals and tracks playing back from the computer. A Line Out level pot controls the signal at the rear-panel output jacks (for feeding powered speakers or a mixer). The section also contains LEDs that indicate signals at the unit's FireWire and MIDI ports.

The rear panel provides a footswitch jack and a slider switch that determines whether channel B gets its signal from the combo jack or a high-impedance guitar-in jack on the front panel. The rear panel also has a receptacle for the included 12 VDC power adapter, but because the unit is bus powered, you may not need the adapter unless you use the smaller 4-pin FireWire cable with a laptop.

Into the Fire

The included CD contains a control panel application and drivers for Cakewalk Sonar (Win), MOTU Digital Performer (Mac), and Steinberg Cubase or Nuendo (Mac/Win). On a Mac (OS X 10.4 or later), you change most FireOne settings from within the audio application. On a PC (Windows XP SP2 or later), you control the FireOne mostly from its control panel.

After all the drivers are installed, you need to check the included PDF file FireOne Application Notes for specific instructions on configuring your audio app to access all of the FireOne's features. The documentation covers all the basics but is short on details. For example, the manual doesn't make it clear that you must do a custom install on a Mac to get the drivers for Digital Performer (DP) or Cubase/Nuendo.

After I got the installation sequence down, got my master keyboard communicating with the FireOne and the Mac, and had the correct control surface assigned in DP, I couldn't get the FireOne's transport controls to work until I eventually cycled its power. A little extra care with the manual would have helped considerably.

Wheeling Around

Once the setup issues were sorted out, the FireOne worked flawlessly for me, and I found it a very handy tool that will remain part of my permanent setup. The unit's jog wheel was great for pinpointing a video frame or audio sample in DP. I could rest my right hand on the wheel and use my fingertips for transport functions to move quickly from edit to edit.

I also found the mic pres to be clean and quiet, and would have no fear of using them for vocal sessions in the studio or in the field. The mix control worked well for live recording, and as a guitar player, I liked the convenience of the front-panel jack for getting ideas down quickly. The FireOne works great as a desktop enhancement to a computer-based recording studio, or as a laptop accessory for field recordings and songwriting.

Value (1 through 5): 4