Tascam M5000 Review

MIX FIELD TEST: Tascam M-5000

Analog Audio Production Console

By Mel Lambert

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Tascam M-5000 offers outstanding value for money. Where else are you gonna find a 64-input recording and production console for around $30,000? Sure, it lacks one or two features- built-in machine-control would have been nice- but, in its basic format, the system literally bristles with functionality. I would recommend that the M-5000 be considered as a serious contender for facilities that are looking for a cost-effective, great-sounding board that needs to be flexible yet simple to use.

   Three basic console formats are available, with or without factory-installed automation. The M-5000 frame can be partly or fully loaded with either 32 or 40 dual-input mono channel strips; alternatively, a bank of 32 mono inputs can be supplemented with eight stereo modules. Prices are around $30,000 and $36,000 for the 32- and 40-channel mono versions, respectively, and $37,000 for the enhanced 32+8 stereo configuration. The M-5000 FA VCA-based channel-fader and mute automation package for the Macintosh is available for an additional $6,800 (32 automated channel strips; 40 channels will run you to around $7,650); these prices are slightly lower if automation is supplied with the M-5000 console.

In-line Channel Strip Topology

Each mono channel strip on the M-5000 features an in-line topology, with a neat twist in the way such a module normally would be laid out. Conventionally, the lower, long-throw fader would be used to control input levels from the mic pre-amp/line return, routing to the multitrack sends, aux busses and/or subgroups, while the upper, short-throw fader would control levels to the monitor and/or two-mix outputs. But if most of your projects are multitrack mixdown or mix-to-picture, with the occasional overdub or voice-over/ADR sessions, the lower bank would be our monitor/two-mix controls, with the upper faders being used as subgroup masters. In this case, most channel modules would be set to "fader-flip" or a similar mode, which is the M-5000's factory-shipped configuration. Individual FRV (fader reverse) switches on each module enable selected sources to be moved to upper or lower faders. However, if you need to use the M-5000 in a conventional mode, internal jumpers can be set on a module-by-module basis to reverse the default settings.

   Group assignment is available to a total of 24 output busses, arranged as a bank of six send buttons, plus a "1 thru 12" and "13 thru 24" toggle switch. Panning is provided between odd and even groups, While this layout means that you cannot, for example, simultaneously buss and pan an input source to groups 1 and 13, for example, there are plenty of work arounds. Alternatively, the post-fader output from the channel input- controlled from the upper or lower fader, dependent upon how you've set up the module- can be sent directly to the master stereo LR buss.

   For enhanced flexibility, a pair of dedicated switches enable either the output from a channel strip's Auxiliary 1/2 buss or the post-monitor fader signal to be dumped onto the group assignment section. In this way, the possibly redundant monitor input can be used as an additional input/effects return during mixdown, or to generate additional group/clean-feeds/mix-minus outputs from a input source. (If both switches are selected, the monitor send has priority over the aux send feed.)

Other controls provided in the upper part of the channel module include a mic/line switch with separate mic- and line-level trim controls; phase-reverse, high-pass filter (80 Hz at 12 dB/octave), phantom-power on/off and 30 dB pad; plus a very handy SUB switch that routes the corresponding group output back into the channel, for subgrouping sources with EQ/aux sends into the stereo mix.

Flexible Quasi-Parametric EQ Controls

The M-5000's equalization controls are split into three sections. Both the monitor and the channel paths are provided with the same basic EQ: a shelving lowpass section with selectable turnover frequencies of either 8 kHz or 12 kHz, and a highpass section operating at either 80 Hz or 120 Hz; maximum cut/boost on both sections is 16 dB. In addition, a quasi-parametric mid-band section can be dropped into ether the monitor or channel section, to provide two sweep EQ bands whose center frequencies are adjustable 43 Hz to 5 kHz, and 350 Hz to 18 kHz, respectively, with 16 cut/boost per section. The EQ is very smooth sounding, although I would have preferred an adjustable Q on the two mid frequencies. They are a shade too broad for my taste; an internal jumper might have been provided on the M-5000 to narrow the bandwidth for more precise control in the all-important 800 Hz to 3.5 kHz range.

   The Auxiliary Section comprises a total of eight output busses, with individual on/off switching. For enhanced flexibility, the first four sends can be derived pre/post from either the channel or monitor fader- unfortunately, you cannot select channel/monitor outs from individual aux busses; it is all or nothing. Aux Send 1/2 are set up as a stereo pair with pan and level, while 3 and 4 are mono sends. The remaining sends can be selected on a per-channel basis to feed either 5+6 or 7+8; the send is fixed post-fader.

   A dedicated Direct switch routes the post-channel fader signal directly to the corresponding group buss outputs, effectively disconnecting all other sources being routed and mixed to that port. Individual group-trims are provided on the corresponding channel strip, although I would have preferred these to be screwdriver presets rather that rotary controls with knobs. It's all to easy during a busy session to adjust the wrong control. In most cases that can be easily corrected because you can hear the result; nudge a group master control a couple of dBs and you might reach the end of a session before your realize that send levels have been running too hot or too cold, dependent upon which way the control was nudged. Far better, I would suggest, to set them and forget them! A useful overload LED monitors the channel signal path at a point post-EQ, pre-fader, and light if the signal exceeds a nominal +20 dB.

   As would be expected, the fader-swap function lifts both the long/short fader from the channel/monitor path with its associated solo controls. In addition, three programmable Cut Groups are provided, plus a very flexible solo system interlinked with AFL buttons.

Optional Stereo Input Channel Strips

For many applications, tracks will have been prepared as stereo music, effects, backgrounds or Foley sources, which then need to be re-equalized and blended to create a master stereo or surround-sound mix. In this case, the M-5000's optional stereo input modules make a great deal of sense. Each module accepts two stereo sources- referred to as the "A" and "B" inputs- to a upper and lower section. As with the mono input modules, the stereo strip provides routing to the 24 group busses, plus a useful L+R sum, left-to-stereo or right-to-stereo selections, dependent upon the signal source. Three-band stereo EQ is provided for the "A" input- lowpass shelving at 8/12 kHz, mid-band sweep, 250 Hz to 5 kHz, and highpass at 80/120 Hz; the "B" input is graced with a more simple two-band EQ section without the sweep mid-frequency.

   Also provided on the "A" input section is a useful Image control that provides continuous adjustment between stereo, mono (L+R sum) and reverse. Used in conjunction with the normal balance control, this provide a mean of panning stereo sources across the LCR sound field. A neat touch.

Aux sends can only be derived from the "A" input section. Usefully, Aux Sends 1 and 2- the stereo pair- are provided with a switch that enables the relative balance to be adjusted or, in a second setting, to be panned across the stereo spread. In addition, left inputs are sent to odd aux buses, and the right to the odds; this can be defeated, however, using the mono buttons.

Comprehensive Metering, Talkback and Master Controls

A bank of 30-segment bargraph meters above the channel strips provide a highly visible means of monitoring levels at several output points on the console. As well as offering switch selectable PPM or VU ballistics, the source to each bargraph meter from the mono input channels can be set to follow either Group Outputs, Tape Returns or Insert Sends (post-EQ/pre-fader). In the case of the stereo modules, no levels are displayed if Group Out is selected; a summed L+R output from a point post-trim/pre-EQ is monitored when Tape Return is selected; and summed L+R from a point post-EQ/pre-fader is shown when Insert Send is selected. All very logical and easy to follow, although it might have been useful to have routed something- anything- to the meters when the Group Out source was selected for stereo input modules.

   Various peak-hold modes are also offered, including Continuous, which holds the peak level until manually reset, and Auto reset, which holds the peak reading for a preset amount of time (either 0.95 or 1.5 seconds). A pair of master stereo VU meters can be set to monitor either the main LR two-mix bus, or a number of control-room sources, as selected on the master section.

   Also housed within the central control master section are Auxiliary Masters for the eight send outputs. A useful Gang control enables the overall levels of the stereo Aux 1/2 bus to be controlled in tandem; otherwise the control operates as a pan-trim function. A variety of control-room monitor sources can also be selected, including external stereo tape-machines and DATs. Usefully, within the master section are a bank of switches that enable the stereo buss to be sent directly to the Aux 1/2 sends. Since this buss is most likely to be used for studio foldback to musicians or the voice-over talent, for example, it is now possible to send a mixture of the master stereo mix plus individual contributions from individual input sources directly to the cue buss simply by depressing one button. Ingenuity personified.

Controls are also provided for two sets of control room monitors- labeled the "A" and "B" sets- plus a cut/mute button. Overall levels for the A and B monitors (soffit-mounted and near-field, for example) can be adjusted individually, to compensate for different sensitivities and user preferences. A variable Dim function is also provided on a toggle on/off button. Two In-Place Solo (IPS) modes can also be selected. If Channel IPS is off, Solo on the input channels now operates like a PFL (pre-fade listen); in activated mode the soloed channel signal is derived from a point in the signal path post-fader/post-pan control. Monitor IPS is similar in operation.

   Comprehensive communications are also provide via talkback to the busses (slate), studio monitoring and Aux sends 1 thru 4.

   The optional M-5000 FA automation package, which I didn't get to try out, provides plain-vanilla recall and reset of VCA-based channel fader and cut switches. Fader levels and cut status are shown in real-time on a companion Mac screen, and can be used to create MIDI events for controlling external hardware such as samplers and MTC controller. Data can be edited off-line on the Mac. Snapshots can also be captured and manipulated using a Cue List Editor that forms part of the automation package.

The Bottom Line: A great sounding, easy to use production console ... with a couple of funnies

In just about every respect, the Tascam M-5000 packs a impressive amount of functionality into an affordable, great sounding package. The console layout is clean and functional; it is very easy to find your way around in a trice. The input sections feature high-quality mike pre-amps and EQ sections, coupled with buss amps at key summing points that will not degrade your signal sources. The use of +22V power rails is said to ensure a +29 dB headroom throughout the console; while I had no means of measuring the board's technical performance during my evaluations, I never once heard a moment's protest from the system. If you or your studio is on the lookout for a flexible mixing console that would be at home in a tracking room or a full-on mix-to-picture suite- and which costs around $30,000- then the M-5000 is definitely worthy of your consideration.

   My complaints are minor. Most of the toggle switches have every small control buttons, which sometimes makes it hard to see whether they are actually depressed. Although, for cost reasons, a separate LED is out of the question, maybe a longer throw button, or a contrasting color for the button might be useful. On the same tack, additional color coding on the board might make it a little easier to find the right control without having to search for the appropriate legends. Also, some form of built-in tape-machine controls- even a panel of momentary switches, if full 9-pin serial protocols would have been too costly- might have helped eliminate the inevitable cable runs across the console for external multitracks and other transports. But, there again, such extras simply elevate the console's overall cost.

   All in all, however, the Tascam M-5000 represents a great buy from a firm that knows how to design, market and support production hardware for the masses.

   My thanks to Derek Luff and his talented crew at Wild Woods, Los Angeles, including the facility's chief engineer Glenn Aulepp, for providing me with access to their pair of M-5000 production consoles. Audio 1, the main dub stage, features an 80-input console fitted with 32 mono and eight discrete stereo modules, while Audio 2 features an 80-input M-5000 fitted with 40 mono modules.

2017 Media&Marketing. All Rights Reserved. Last revised: 03.29.17