Well, the 2488 bit the dust last weekend. It powers up just fine, but it comes up in a weird state and the buttons and controls seem to be mapped to the wrong functions! I have a theory that perhaps some ribbon cable to a controls PCB isn't properly seated, or has some connectivity problem. So this weekend I'm going to open it up to clean and reseat all the connectors I can get to in the hope that that fixes the problem. But I'm not very optimistic about it. So now my studio is basically neutered - it's not much of a studio if you can't record. I shouldn't be too disappointed - I got 10 years out of service out of the 2488. That's not too shabby for digital technology. Not at all.

In the event that my repairs are unsuccessful, I've been pondering my options. I'm not sure it's worth the money to send the 2488 back to Tascam for repair, assuming they're even willing to repair it.

First thing to settle was whether to go the standalone recorder route again like I did when I bought the 2488, or join the 21st century and commit to a software-based DAW. I've used software DAWs in the past, but I'm one of the handful of people who actually preferred a standalone recorder. We all know that software offers levels of control, flexibility, automation, and expansion that simply blow any standalone recorder out of the water. There's no comparison on those fronts. But a standalone has a few advantages that I really appreciate. First, a standalone is simply easier to use. Fewer options means less time and thought spent weighing them and fiddling with them. Second, a standalone works seamlessly, with less effort, right out of the box. Since everything is pre-integrated, you don't have to spend time optimizing performance and troubleshooting problems with latency, compatibility, configuration, etc. Finally, and most importantly to me, a standalone unit is all but immune to The Upgrade Cascade.  All of this boils down to spending more time recording and less time futzing with the technology, which is a huge advantage in my book.

But despite all that, the standalone recorder is a dying breed and at this point almost anachronistic in a recording studio. So I'm interpreting my 2488's demise as a sign from the audio gods that I should finally commit to a software DAW.

Which one then? I haven't settled that. Ten years ago, I would have chosen Pro Tools without hesitation. It was the standard. But today the choice isn't as clear-cut. Avid has fallen on hard times. Pro Tools is a sizable investment, even for the low-end systems, and I'd hate to spend my money only to have them go under (although the audio division of Avid has such a strong brand and customer base that I can't imagine it wouldn't be acquired by another entity). If I expected to be importing/exporting my work to and from commercial studios on a regular basis, Pro Tools would still the best bet. But I work almost exclusively independently, and that affords me the opportunity to work with other software systems. Some of them, like Ableton Live, are frankly more innovative than Pro Tools, especially for electronic music. But Live is expensive too and budget is always a concern. So I'm leaning towards Reaper, Reason, or Tracktion, at least short-term until a day comes that I can afford Live.

I like Reaper because it's full-featured, very well supported, and has a sensible upgrade policy. I like Reason because it has tons of great plug-ins, the audio recording is very straightforward, and there's a strong community of users out there. But you better like Reason's plug-ins because VST plug-ins are not supported. I like Tracktion because I find its user interface to be clean and very facile once you learn it. Plus, now that Tracktion is back in the hands of its original developer, it is once again well-supported. On the other hand, it's not as deep feature-wise as other software on the market and it doesn't come with very many plug-ins. All three are very reasonably priced.

As for audio interface, I'm leaning towards either the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 or the 18i8, depending on how much money I'm willing to spend. I like the Focusrite mic pres, the ability to add more inputs using a Lightpipe octal preamp, the built-in MIDI interface, the apparent stability of the drivers, and the price.

I'll post a follow-up when it's all sorted out.

Update 6/8/2014 – I've made a few decisions over the past couple of days. One, I'll be going with the Focusrite 18i8 as my audio interface. I realized that I had enough outboard gear to augment the 18i8 with as many mic preamps as the 18i20. One thing I will be giving up with the 18i8 is some line outputs, which might be handy to have for external signal processing. But I'm willing to forego that to save a little money since I think I'll be plenty happy to do all my processing in the box. The second decision was to go with Reaper as my software DAW. First, after looking into it a bit more, there does seem to be a number of bugs to be sorted out with Tracktion. Secondly, a lot of Mackie customers with "lifetime" Tracktion licenses got left stranded when Mackie sold Tracktion back to its original developer. Considering that that customer base was probably one of Tracktion's largest user constituencies, it doesn't give me much confidence about their long-term customer support. Yes, the upgrade fee was not very much money, but on principle, when you sell somebody a "lifetime license", you ought go the extra mile to see that its honored, even through the sale of a business unit.  Anyway, Reaper also has the advantage that I've multiple friends using it, so that should encourage collaboration.