Recommendations for a multi-track recorder?
March 14, 2007 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for a digital multitrack recorder?

Basically looking for a studio in a box. I have never used a stand-alone multitrack digital recorder. I've done a lot of analog multitrack recording in the past. I was just looking over some Roland units (for example) and was surprised at how inexpensive that whole "genre" of garage/demo recorders has become. Definitely less than $1000. If it's something older, that's cool too.

What's the best at re-creating the analog recording experience? I'd like something easy and intuitive. I just don't want to get bogged down. Thanks.
posted by anticlock to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is the one I have and use. It's got eight tracks and each track has 10 virtual layers so if you record a take you think you could try again but you don't want to lose, you can have another go in the same track, on other layer. It's got a 20 GB memory and you record straight into CDs.

This song, This song, This song and this song were recorded in it, and each one has a different sound, I think, hope it serves as reference.

The one problem about it is that I don't think it's the best for recreating the sound of analog recording (it can be a bit too clean sometimes) though I think that also depends on the skills of the person recording.

Just so you know, the drum tracks it comes with are horrible and very 80s oriented. Good to serve as a time reference, terrible to actually use them in a song.
posted by micayetoca at 5:38 PM on March 14, 2007

Hey, forgot to say. If you have more specific questions about the one I suggested, my email's in my profile, don't hesitate to drop me an email.
posted by micayetoca at 5:48 PM on March 14, 2007

Sorry if this is not your thing, but I think a lot of people nowadays will suggest a computer-based setup. You can get very easy-to-work with software and some decent hardware for under $300. This leaves you a few hundred to buy a laptop, and you're set.

If you shop around and play it smart (hint: you can haggle a fair bit at Guitar Center), you can fit it all under $1000.
posted by spiderskull at 5:54 PM on March 14, 2007

Also, I should note that from my personal experience, truly analog recording setups are hard to come by new. Digital is cheaper and easier to develop (in terms of cost vs. features), hence why the big names tend towards it.
posted by spiderskull at 5:55 PM on March 14, 2007

By the way, double-check all the included software -- you may not even have to buy any. The above linked Alesis controller ships with Cubase LE, and the MobilePre comes with Ableton Live, I think. Both will probably do more than you need.
posted by spiderskull at 10:27 PM on March 14, 2007

One thing I thought I'd point out, is that the USB audio interfaces are usually only two-track devices; you can lay down more tracks than that in software, one or two at a time, but they're not what I think of when I hear "multitrack recorder" because they don't record that many tracks simultaneously.

Depending on what kind of recording you want to do, that may be perfectly OK -- if you're "the band," laying down drums in one pass, and then guitar and vocals in another, may be your desired path anyway.

But when I read the question, I was assuming that you wanted something with at least 4 simultaneous channels, because that's the low end of what I think of as true 'multitrack recorders.' (I guess this distinction isn't as important as it was with tape.)

There are two very different paths you can go down. One path is to get a computer interface and build yourself a DAW, the other path is to get a dedicated piece of hardware that does everything. micayetoca's suggestion is an example of the latter. Of the former (computer interfaces), you have two big schools of thought: ProTools, or not ProTools. I'm not going to even go there; that's a separate question in itself.

Which path you want to go down is affected not only by how much you want to spend, but also on your long-term goals; if you just want something to record with, and you're not learning to pick up a new skill with a steep learning curve, a standalone box might be the best bet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:05 PM on March 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

a lot of people nowadays will suggest a computer-based setup

Yeah, I would too - I used multitrack recorders for years (including one like what micayetoca uses, except even uglier), but they just can't compare to doing it on computer.

On a DAW you can actually see the song in front of you, in the form of seperate Wav files, etc. You wouldn't believe what a boon this is. It changes the way you work - no more setting markers, trying to remember what track's on which channel, no more wrestling with archaic LED UIs where everything seems to be five sub menus away. Being able to see what the song looks like makes it that much more malleable and editable. It encourages experimentation - it's like going from a typewriter to a word processer. You wouldn't want to go back.

Multi track recorders are verging on being dead technology.

And really, if you PC is in anyway decent, all you're going to need is a soundcard and software (I recommend fruity loops, incedentally), which should cost much less than $1,000.
posted by Robot Rowboat at 7:03 AM on March 15, 2007

i use my computer now, but for years i used one of these. They're digital in that they record on data mini-discs (but you can't save to mp3 or anything like that). otherwise, they're just like a bigger cassette 4-track with cleaner sound. I'm sure they don't make them anymore, but you could probably find one used. the main thing i liked was that there were actual knobs for everything.
posted by snofoam at 10:35 AM on March 15, 2007

I owned an even older Zoom (1044 or something like that; it's been a few years) and the Yamaha AW16 (pretty nice) but now I'm almost entirely on the computer.

The advantages of the recorder are interface and simplicity: if you want to replicate the 4-track 'experience' (sliders, knobs, buttons, etc) and don't want to do the learning curve of software, a recorder will do the trick for you. Make sure you get one that connects directly to the computer (the Zoom did; the Yamaha didn't) so you can d/l files easily.

You can do multitrack recording on the computer (ie, more than 2 channels at once) but you'll need a more expensive interface. I used to use an M-Audio Quattro (4 input) that was USB. It was pretty sweet. The one time I actually recorded my band (drummer, guitar/vox, bass) I used the AW16 b/c it had 8(?) inputs.

Some folks find it easier to work with a device that has buttons (recorders) and others software. You can get buttons for your software (Tranzport, Behringer, and UC-33e come to mind) if that's really important. In some situations, it's invaluable.

Shop around, play with the recorders. Go to Guitar Center and beat on theirs. Download some software. There's a wide range of interface styles. Some folks like Cubase, others n-Track, others Tracktion. It's all a matter of personal style and what you find easiest.
posted by jdfan at 1:24 PM on March 15, 2007

I use an Akai DPS-16.

They can be had for 5-600 USD on eBay. The upgraded to the DPS 24, which is more expensive, but better.

The DPS series has audibly superior preamps and a/d conversion to any Tascam, Roland, and Zoom. It also has a very useful interface.

On the downside, since it's an older unit, the only ways to back up or burn cds are with a scsi connection or S/PDIF. I use an old scsi cd burner, but many users put an IDE hard disc in a SCSI box with an adapter. You can't run it straignt SCSI to a computer, because they both want to be masters. I haven't found this to be a problem, but some might.

For me, I bought it with a little research, but I got lucky. I record releases with it and get compliments on my sound, even from audiophiles with absurdly expensive stereos.

The a/d conversion is often an overlooked piece of the puzzle.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2007

I just purchased a 20" iMac, a Focusrite Saffire LE, and I love it. My monitors have never sounded better, and the interface has 6 in/ 8out, with an expandable track number in whatever DAW you work in (I <3 cubase).br>
go computer-based.
posted by blastrid at 1:03 PM on March 16, 2007

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