The latest edition to the TASCAM home-recording line makes my heart patter with excitement for its simplicity, elegance, and power. Phantom power, that is. The US-122 is a blue and silver brick which feels so solid you could drop-kick it without any ill effects. Powered solely by the USB bus, the US-122 provides two channels of 24-bit audio I/O, one set of MIDI I/O, and independent control over headphone and line-out monitor volumes. Each audio channel has an XLR input with phantom power, as well as a 1/4'' jack switchable between balanced-line and hi-Z guitar input. Also included is a post-preamp TRS insert point, useful for running vocals, drums, or anything else through compressors, stomp boxes, etc. My only caveat with the input section is that the preamps, while clean and clear, do not have a lot of muscle. If you're recording a quiet direct guitar or a low-output microphone, you might have to use an external preamp or settle with normalizing the audio in your DAW. It is also important to note that the phantom-power switch applies power to both channels, so hooking up an improperly-wired ribbon mic on channel two isn't a good idea if you've got a condenser on channel one requiring phantom power.

Setup and compatibility with Cubase SX and MacOS X is a breeze. The drivers download from TASCAM's website, and once installed, the device comes to life when the USB cable is connected. OS X then automatically routes system audio through the unit, and it is easy to configure the US-122 as the input for recording in Cubase (and I assume in other DAW's).

To avoid the latency of digital monitoring, the US-122 also comes equipped with a "direct monitoring" option, which allows the user to feed the input signal into the headphone and line outputs (in the analog domain), avoiding all latency issues. This section works intuitively and smoothly, as it should. Another caveat: there were situations in which I wished the headphone amp had more power, although this wouldn't be an issue if the mic preamps were beefier, as it only came up when monitoring quiet sources.

Superb build-quality, the convenience of needing no external power supply (tour-van karaoke anyone?), and unprecedented ease of use conspire to make the US-122 the ideal choice for anyone who won't be hindered by the limit of two tracks of audio. Amy Subach, former bandmate, budding solo artist, friend and cohort, opines "the TASCAM US-122 gives me just what I want, when I want it, with no hassle, and no morning-after regrets." And at the low sticker price, the gain and phantom-power switching caveats are forgotten in the bliss of truly mobile, high-quality audio and MIDI.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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