By Barry Cleveland
Beginning with the original Tascam Porta-Studio introduced nearly a quarter-of-a-century ago,
portable recording studios have become increasingly compact, while simultaneously sporting ever-larger feature sets and ever-smaller price tags. So where will it all end? Nuclear-powered 48-bit/192kHz recorders the size of Star Trek communicators packing unlimited tracks, SSL console emulations, and miniature cloned accompanists?
While the Tascam Pocketstudio 5 ($449 retail/$299 street) doesn’t quite fit that description, it is impressive—and the V.2.04 software update adds some significant new functions, such as a metronome tool, mp3 playlists, SMF and MIDI Pattern key changes, built-in marker names, improved editing features, and support for Mac OS X (as well as OS 9.0 and Windows ME/98SE/2000/XP). Designed for entry-level recordists, songwriters, and musicians who wish to do their own arrangements— particularly guitarists—the Pocketstudio 5 packs a 4-track audio recorder, an internal stereo mixdown recorder, five independent effects processors, a 64-note polyphonic MIDI tone generator (with 100 editable song styles/backing tracks), and much more into a diminutive and inexpensive package. But the Pocketstudio 5 is no toy—it boasts 24-bit internal DSP,
a 44.1kHz sampling rate, 16-bit A/D/A converters, relatively sophisticated audio and MIDI editing capabilities, remarkably convincing reverbs and more than 100 other effects (including a handful of amp models), a MIDI In jack, and a USB interface (for transferring files to and from a computer, and updating software).
The Pocketstudio 5 utilizes the popular mp3 format for both tracking and mixdown, and backs up to removable CompactFlash cards (or to a computer). The included 32MB card provides approximately 10 minutes of four-track recording/mixdown, but you can use up to 128MB cards for additional recording time. The Pocketstudio 5 also loads and plays standard mp3 files, allowing you to use your favorite songs as backing tracks. Ditto for Standard MIDI files (SMF), as the internal tone generator is General MIDI compatible. Audio I/O is via two q" jacks (Guitar/Line, Mic/Line) and three r" mini jacks (Line Out, Phones, Mic/Line In), most with switchable impedance. A built-in condenser mic is provided for rough sketches, and you also get a lightweight, decent-sounding headphone/mic headset.
The Pocketstudio 5’s control surface is intelligently arranged, with dedicated controls for the primary functions. A small backlit screen displays menus, values, and audio levels, and there are dedicated faders for the four tracks, the MIDI tone generator, and master level. Transport controls are standard (though a Pause button is conspicuously absent), and the cursor pad and data wheel (with Enter key) make navigating the unit’s many programming capabilities a breeze.
I found the Pocketstudio 5 to be surprisingly good sounding and easy to use. My only quibbles are that there are no virtual tracks and no cue function for monitoring while in fast-forward or rewind (though you can place up to ten markers per song, allowing you to fast forward or rewind to specific points in the arrangement). However, the Pocketstudio 5 is absolutely brilliant for recording tracks on the go. You can truly fit your entire “studio” in a coat pocket and power up with the included AC adapter, or six AA batteries. Now, whenever and wherever the muse strikes, you’ll be ready!