Help me pick an audio workstation
September 23, 2007 6:53 AM   Subscribe

So I want to buy a standalone digital audio workstation for a small but serious project studio, and I'd love feedback from folks with hands-on experience. I've narrowed the choices to Yamaha's AW1600, the Boss BR-1600CD, and the newish Zoom HD16CD. Of course there is . . .

We've got all kinds of computer-based gear (mostly MOTU), but looking at the options for 16-20 track standalones I see all kinds of reasons to want one, the primary reason being ease of use by a variety of different folks who will be using this studio to record everything from bluegrass to avant-garde jazz, and the portability factor as well.

As far as I can tell, these three units are quite comparable, with the Boss having what most people call the best effects processing, the Yamaha having the longest pedigree and maybe the best preamps (and we have had nice Yamaha digital I/O gear in the past, so I know it), and the Zoom being the most fully featured for the lowest price. The Zoom has not been widely reviewed yet, but we've been really impressed with their handheld digital recorders (they are branch of Samson).

Ease of use is a huge thing here. Musicians who don't know much about computer-based recording will be using it. Quality of mic preamps also, since we will be recording a lot of acoustic music (and using high quality mics). We don't need to record more than 8 channels simultaneously. A computer interface is necessary. Durability is also a real value to us.

So have you used or bought any of these models (or comparables from Tascam, Fostex, Edirol, and Korg)? Anything awful I should know about? Anything new coming right down the road? Thanks!
posted by fourcheesemac to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Also, I do want the unit to double as a control surface for a computer-based system, Cubase or Logic running on Mac OS X hardware -- I think all three do that, and I'd love comments on this functionality).
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:56 AM on September 23, 2007

It's been my experience that stand alone DAWs are just as hard to figure out how to use as the the computer based DAWs. I would encourage you to read the manuals first before deciding on which one to buy.

If you aren't dead set against a computer based recording setup, you should have a look at tracktion. It's super simple - the training for tracktion should take all of about 15 minutes to get someone up to speed to do some basic recording.
posted by bigmusic at 9:38 AM on September 23, 2007

I'm going to have to second bigmusic in that they are hard to figure out. We've got a bit older Yamaha (AW16G) and it's a very nice unit that has a whole lot of functionality. But the learning curve is steep, unfortunately. If these newer units are similar it might be frustrating for unfamiliar musicians who just want to jump in and start recording. At least based on my experience with the AW16G I think it'd take at least a few hours to get familiar enough to record satisfactory tracks.

Are you planning on being involved sort of like an engineer? If not, though this would be helpful even if you are, I'd recommend making your own cheat sheet with enough information to get started recording. I don't think you'd want anything longer than a single sheet of paper, though. But they'll need to know how to go about creating a project, setting levels, recording a single track or multiple tracks, recording subsequent tracks. Maybe adding effects and doing punch-ins, and EQing and mastering so they can record it to a CD. Make sure plenty of copies are available at the studio.

Obviously this is getting a bit long winded but you should try and read the manuals before you by and try to find as many reviews and discussions on usability as you can.
posted by 6550 at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2007

before you buy
posted by 6550 at 12:51 PM on September 23, 2007

I have a Zoom HD16CD and I love it. I don't know why anyone would choose to deal with the crap that comes along with computer based recording given the options for DAWs today.

  • It's quite easy to work with. You plug it in, hit a couple of buttons to select which inputs you want to record, and you're off to the races. I'd say it's easier to use than a computer with an 8-track breakout box (not that that's much of a comparison). It took me five minutes to figure out how to record, edit, bounce, and delete tracks on it.
  • You can connect your computer to it via a USB cable to copy the tracks to your machine to fuck with further (and copy them back), or even to control recording, I think.
  • I don't know about the preamps because I've just plugged synthesizers into it.
  • It seems quite durable.
  • The effects are not very good, but you really shouldn't buy a DAW based on the effects - they're never good.

  • posted by cmonkey at 12:57 PM on September 23, 2007

    MetaAsk: I don't really know the answer to your question (I'm computer-based all the way), but if no one here at ask.meta gives you a good answer, try the various gear forums on,, and/or Those sites alone will provide you with all the opinion you could want.
    posted by eclectist at 4:03 PM on September 23, 2007

    I've owned both an AW16G and a Zoom MRS1044 (ancestors to both models you mention). The Zoom interface was far easier for me to understand than the Yamaha. Unfortunately, the AW16G didn't have USB and getting tracks off it was a bit of a PITA. The 1044 didn't at first but I did get the USB card for it and it was awesome.

    I agree that computer DAWs are awesome and love Tracktion. But a dedicated unit is sooo much easier in many situations, not the least of which is recording a band with any number of instruments. Dedicated units like these are less likely to crash at the worst possible moment. And the price comparison is, well, incomparable.

    Can you go somewhere and play with all three? That's your best bet.
    posted by jdfan at 6:07 PM on September 23, 2007

    Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I spend hours every week in front of a Mac and a MOTU 828 rig, so I know what that's about. And reading those forums mentioned by eclectist is where I caught the buzz around the Zoom being especially easy to use, so cmonkey would seem to concur. That is my primary objective here. The Mac in the next room will still be there for the more ambitious users of the studio.

    Off to read manuals -- a great idea of course. Thanks all.
    posted by fourcheesemac at 7:40 PM on September 23, 2007

    I prefer the Akai DPS24 (although I only have a DPS16). They're easy to use and have great ad/da conversion, from what I understand (I'm like your less-sophisticated users, so simplicity is important for me).
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:58 PM on September 23, 2007

    « Older Do I have to eat meat? Iron problem.   |   I have reason to believe that my stepmother may be... Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.