Tascam Model 24 vs Zoom LiveTrak L-20

I began my foray in audio on a Boss BR-900CD recorder. It had nine faders, two inputs, a bright orange screen and a scroll wheel. Many a memorable tune was produced on that little box, despite its limitations in comparison to what I’m now used to with a DAW-based rig. 

Yes, my computer-centric setup gives me numerous channels of high-quality preamplification into pristine conversion, which the Boss did not. With DSP on my interface I have the choice to compress, EQ and saturate incoming audio to my heart’s content. The whole thing is contained in a roadworthy 4U rack. As far as sonic quality goes, it does the job every time, and then some.

But there’s just something that little Boss unit did for me that my schmancy DAW rig can’t touch. There’s something about not having a gazillion options that made me focus on what’s important while saving me a lot of time. Recording was often more spontaneous and less complicated. No computer restarts or software updates, no menu diving, plug-in list scrolling or I/O configuration. Just stick in the inputs and hit record. 

TURN OF THE TIDE

Since in-the-box recording became mainstream, naturally the market underwent a drought of these all-in-one recorder-type products. Until now. 

You may not call it a ‘resurgence’ but the last few months have seen the release of not one but two such devices: the Tascam Model 24 and Zoom LiveTrak L-20. Both have real life faders, 16 preamps, built-in effects, and an SD Card slot for PC-less recording. Their arrival is not in a spirit of nostalgia — they’re here as standalone value propositions, offering convenience, immediacy and portability in a computer-and-software flooded world. It’s not a throwback as much as it is a throw-forward.

Of course we were curious to take the pair for a spin. Given the similarities in their specifications, we also decided to review the two models against each other. Here are our impressions.

convenience, immediacy and portability in a computer-and-software flooded world. It’s not a throwback as much as it is a ‘throw-forward’

NEED TO KNOW

  • PRICE

    Zoom LiveTrak L-20: $1599
    Tascam Model 24: $1999

  • CONTACT

    Zoom LiveTrak L-20
    Dynamic Music:
    (02) 9939 1299
    info@dynamicmusic.com.au

    Tascam Model 24
    CMI Music & Audio:
    (03) 9315 2244
    www.cmi.com.au

  • SUMMARY

    While the Zoom LiveTrak L-20 and Tascam Model 24 are very similar in I/O and recording capabilities, you may choose one over the other depending on how you’ll use it — be it mixing and recording live shows, or tracking bands in a studio environment. Either way, these units offer a level of convenience, portability and immediacy that a computer + interface rig can’t touch.

TRANSPORT

LiveTrak L-20 

The L-20’s push-button scroll knob acts as a jog wheel when you’re on the home screen, and you can push it down to drop a marker at a certain spot (e.g. start of Verse 1). Jump between these markers with the REW and FF buttons. A slating microphone is built-in next to the screen. When the Overdub button is enabled, existing audio is overwritten on record-enabled tracks. 

Model 24 

The detented jog wheel just under the Model 24’s screen also acts as the main transport control. By default it’ll jog through second by second, but pushing it down lets you fly through by minutes or hours instead. The four buttons under the screen are given useful functions according to the screen you’re on, like on-screen metering display, song repeat setting, undo, and effects mute.

SETUP

LiveTrak L-20

The LiveTrak is very easy to nut out without a manual. First you need to select your choice of mode and sample rate with the three-way switches on the rear. I wanted it ready for PC-less tracking, so I set it to Card Reader mode at 48kHz and popped in a 32GB SD card. Then using the built-in screen and push knob scroll wheel, I created and named a new project.

The layout makes a lot of sense. Once you’ve plugged in your inputs simply record arm the correct channels (Rec/Play button), press Record, then Play/Pause. Six Monitor mixes, labelled A–F, are switchable for headphones or balanced line level monitor outs. These can be set up mix-layer style with the A–F buttons down the side of the last track fader. As the faders aren’t motorised, the LED strips indicate their positions when jumping between mixes. It’s pretty functional and doesn’t hamper your workflow all that much. What would be nice is the ability to duplicate a Monitor mix across multiple sends. The six outputs are locked to A, B, C, D, E, F mixes, and there’s no easy way to have A, B, and C output the same mix without mimicking fader levels on each one. Unless of course you switch them to receive the default Master mix, which may not always be practical.

Model 24

It’s surprising how much bigger the Model 24 is compared to the Tascam given they have very similar I/O credentials. There’s no question it’s a more solid build than the Zoom, evidenced by the nearly 7kg weight premium. Long throw faders make a difference too, and they feel pro. Unlike the Zoom there’s no need for the fader-latching business as the Model 24 has its own rows of Aux knobs for both monitor mixes and the effect send.

That’s right — there’s only one effect send, whereas the Zoom has two. This will mostly affect those who intend to mix their tracks entirely in the unit (as opposed to putting the tracks into a DAW post-recording), but I still see the lack of a second effects engine as a significant omission. Having to pick a reverb or a delay is traumatic. I want both. Which the Zoom lets me have. Granted, the Tascam contains a few “reverb + delay” presets to partially fill the need.

The Model 24 has four stereo tracks while the Zoom has two. Make that five if you’re counting the 3.5mm jack input to record your phone’s output (Channel 21/22), and a sixth with the Bluetooth input. And where the Zoom’s operating mode — be it USB interface, SD recorder or live mixer — is set globally, the Model 24 allows this to be set on a track-by-track basis with the three-position slide switch under each gain knob. Setting up for a session is super easy — record-arm each channel, then press the main Record button under the screen.

MIXING

LiveTrak L-20 

Mixing on the L-20 feels a little delicate with the small-ish faders and plastic construction. Like a digital desk workflow, EQ and effects can only be applied to a track once you select it. Effects sound great for the most part — I have heard many worse built-in reverbs and choruses.

Though you can’t write automation moves, the L-20 lets you record a mixdown live to the Master. Do this by record-arming the Master fader and pressing record from the start of the song. Channel your inner Geoff Emerick as you ‘print’ your mix in real-time. The resulting stereo file can be played back and exported.

Another useful feature of the Zoom is the ability to store and recall fader scenes — perfect when jumping between mixing and recording levels, for example. 

Model 24 

When it comes to the ergonomics of mixing, the Model 24 has the upper hand. Unlike the L-20, it has proper channel strips with pan, EQ, aux and effect send knobs for every track. It’s a joy to mix on the Tascam unit. The refreshingly analogue workflow means the only time you really need to use the screen is to glance at the timecode or choose an effect. 

Worth noting is that the Model 24’s high-pass filter is switched on and off whereas the Zoom’s filter has a cutoff range from 40 – 600Hz. 

The effects sound good and although there’s only one engine it’s easy to use the screen readout and quickly find something that works for the song. In a live application, the seven-band graphic EQ is useful. It can act on either the Main output or the Monitor 1 and 2 outputs. 

RECORDING & MONITORING

LiveTrak L-20 

To put the L-20 through its paces, I set up a mini recording sesh in my living room with a few friends: two keyboards, two vocals and an acoustic guitar. I used insert cables to connect the keyboards to the two stereo input channels (17/18 and 19/20) from the headphone outputs into the two TS line inputs on the L-20. These channels accept dual RCA inputs as well. 

It’s very easy to set levels quickly on the L-20. Pop a channel into record-arm to make use of the fader-side LED metering, which I think has been executed exceptionally well and is a much better way to see the input signal than the single signal/clip LED above the gain pot. Scrolling the menu reveals the metronome option. Pick a tempo, set the level, and you’re off. 

The preamps on the L-20 are impressive. I never struggled for gain, neither did the pres introduce much unwanted noise. They’re uncoloured and transparent, if anything slightly boring, but in this case perfectly suited to the task of quick recording sketches. We were instantly impressed with how present and detailed the vocals sounded even with our less-than-ideal recording environment. 

Setting up an initial headphone monitor mix for each person was easy, although the more you jump between the Master mix and monitor mixes the more annoying it gets as you use the fader ‘latching’ system to change levels. Being able to chuck on a bit of comfort reverb for the vocalists was great, and you can set the effect return level separately in each mix with the blue faders. 

The one-knob compressor isn’t too flash. Like the pres, it too is quite transparent but in a slightly artificial and dull fashion. It also seems like the makeup gain is overcompensated as it markedly increases a track’s level. It sounds fine at moderate settings though, and I had both vocal mics running through it for our recordings. If you’d rather not commit, the on-screen menu has an option to record your tracks post-comp in which case it acts on recorded tracks.

Model 24 

A key difference with the Model 24 is it doesn’t have six independent headphone outputs like the LiveTrak L-20. I can see how to some this could easily be a dealbreaker especially if you intend on utilising the unit for live band recording. Instead it has two Monitor outputs (aux 1 and 2) and a Submix output — suggesting it’s tailored to a live environment where you’re feeding foldbacks rather than headphones. The process of setting up these mixes is super easy since the two aux sends are on the channel strip pots. 

The preamps on the Model 24 sound punchy and the extra +10dB gain over the L-20 is useful. Each channel has a switchable high pass filter and the first 12 have a dedicated one-knob compressor. Phantom power is toggled globally with a single switch next to the graphic EQ. 

Unfortunately the Model 24 doesn’t have a metronome onboard. The omission complicates any kind of multitracking or overdubbing application. Even something as simple as starting a new take at the right spot is needlessly difficult when you don’t have a count in. The Zoom wins out here. However both the Model 24 and L-20 allow for punching in to record over predetermined segments of a track.

Laid out in the format of a traditional analogue console, the Model 24 has more comprehensive routing options than the L-20. You can assign each track to the Main and/or Sub mixes using the push buttons on each channel strip. The PFL has its own level control in the trio of monitoring knobs under the effects section. Dual TRS Control Room outputs complement the main XLR outs to suit your setup.

AT A GLANCE

TASCAM MODEL 24 ZOOM LIVETRAK L-20
Multitrack Recording 24 channels 20 channels
Resolution 24-bit/48k 24-bit/96k
USB Interface 24-in/22-out 22-in/4-out, 48k
Mic Preamps 16 16
Preamp Gain +50dB +60dB
Effects 16 20
Weight 10kg 3.7kg

CONCLUSION

The Tascam Model 24 is best approached as a capable analogue live mixer with no-compromise multitrack recording capabilities. The Monitor outputs, extensive routing functions and graphic EQ all indicate it’s inclined toward the live stage.

On the other hand, the Zoom LiveTrak L-20 feels more at home in a studio than on stage. With six stereo headphone outputs and a built-in metronome, it seems the perfect tool for capturing band performances in a controlled environment.

Both will excel in either application. They’re both great live mixers in their own right. Both are very functional multitrack recorders. Both have a generous range of effects. And both can be used as USB interfaces with a computer if you so choose.

I can see myself using the Model 24 or L-20 instead of my rack rig when tracking bands live on location, then transferring the WAV files from the SD Card into a DAW in the comfort of my home studio for mixdown. Or it’d be perfect as a live mixer in a rehearsal studio, offering bands the option to easily record a jam without setting up extra recording gear. Or you can happily mix a show through it and hit record when the set begins. The more you think about it, the more you realise — while eclipsed by the rise of DAWs and fancy interfaces, the humble mixer/recorder certainly hasn’t lost its place in modern recording.

The post Tascam Model 24 vs Zoom LiveTrak L-20 appeared first on AudioTechnology.