Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Budget Multitrack Recording Hardware

By bindlestiff in Technology
Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 10:11:52 PM EST
Tags: recording, multitrack, music, musician, home studio (all tags)

The MiniDisc Spins Down

It is my unpleasant duty to announce the imminent death of the Minidisc, at least as far as home-studio musicians are concerned. It died for most of the rest of you quite a while ago, but still hangs on among musicians and anyone who needs a reusable, high capacity, compact, beautifully accurate alternative to tape.

So lets all go window-shopping for multitrack digital recorders under $400.00 US and see what we find.

This weekend I felt like making some casual recordings of my original songs for voice and guitar. I have pro sound equipment: mixer, condensor and dynamic mikes, effects, direct boxes and computer interfaces and software that allow me to record and edit on a workstation, but I didn't want to set all that stuff up on this particular day. I just wanted to plug in something ready-to-run and a microphone and grab an old guitar. I pulled out my Sharp MDDR480HS grey-market MiniDisc recorder, plugged in a Sony ECM-DS70P mike, flailed away at the mighty Guild 6-string and had a ball. It was fun but it wasn't cheap. The stereo recorder cost me over $300 and is really more suited for recording live gigs than even casual studio work, but it will do just fine in a pinch for recording songwriting ideas or rehearsals. I got great results, but when I was finished, I was moved to research what it would cost to switch to a professional quality multi-track recorder. I'm tired of fighting with software drivers in both Linux and Windows, and frustrated with motherboards and their constant south bridge chipset issues. ADAT is outside my budget, tape sucks and while the MiniDisc gives a great recording it's no substitute for the real thing. The last time I looked into the idea of buying a dedicated multitrack recorder the equipment was expensive enough to be prohibitive but that situation has now changed, mainly due to a lack of downward price movement in the Minidisc field. Sony seems to own the very small US Minidisc market and feels no need to compete on a price basis. Recording equipment on the other hand has finally begun to come down in price.

Here's what I percieve as the current top-of-the-heap portable MiniDisc recorder; the Sony-MZ-RH1. At $329.00 USD there are more expensive models but this is what I would choose were I buying one today. Sony-MZ-RH1

Taking that as my base line, I went off to Musicians Friend to see what the competition looks like. These units are presented in no order other than that in which they caught my eye, and while I tried to stay in the same general sub-$400.00 USD price field I wandered away for a couple models that seem like an especially good deal. You'll notice I don't even mention effects, for a couple of reasons. One is that I don't consider them to be something you should be thinking about when recording. If you are recording an instrument that has it's own effects loop such as an electric guitar stack or keyboard and you know exactly what you want, and are OK with the idea of not being able to go back and take out that horrible flanger effect you plugged in, thats just fine but in most cases I think the goal should be to record pristine tracks, other than perhaps a bit of compression to keep the peaks down. You can always muck them up with your favorite plug-in later, and if you were smart enough NOT to record the original track with effects you can always change your mind. The other reason is that the manufacturers and retailers are always more than happy to distract you by blathering on and on about how great their effects are, and you can only find out if they are lying by trying them out yourself. I won't waste our time by repeating their marketing claims.

I've tried to consistently point out some features such as number of tracks, USB, XLR Balanced microphone inputs, and number of tracks for simultaneous recording, but this doesn't mean I'm describing EVERY feature of these devices. I haven't said a word about tone controls, faders, warrantees, displays, A/D converters, effects patch capability, sample rates, user interface, firmware upgrades and many other issues. You have plenty of homework to do. Keep in mind this stuff is at or near the -bottom- of the barrel of stand-alone digital home studio recording equipment; for more money you can get substantially extended capabilities. Also keep in mind I don't yet own any of the devices in the following list. I decided to go shopping at the low end of pricing and I'm taking you with me. What follows is reasonably well-founded guesswork from a musician/computer geek familiar with the technology and terminology. It's worth every penny you're about to pay for it.

Some Nomenclature

Phantom power
XLR Balanced, TRS Balanced and Unbalanced Inputs
Track Bouncing: The practice of combining multiple recorded tracks (bass and drums, for example) into a single track in order to free up track capacity to record more tracks.
Virtual Tracks: The ability to keep multiple versions of a track, only one of which can be selected for playback at a time.

Taking a musician to shop for gear is about as smart as inviting a crack whore along on a Colombian vacation. Let's go!

The Gear

Korg D4 The Korg D4 for $349.00 USD. It uses compact flash cards up to 2 Gigabytes so no moving parts and a gig of flash can be had for about $20 lately. USB connectivity, 4 tracks with 8 virtual tracks per track, runs on 9 volts, has two line inputs and one balanced XLR, records 2 simultaneous tracks and comes with an onboard drum machine. Cons: I don't think we have to settle for 4 tracks at this price level.

Korg D888 The Korg D888 is quite a bit more expensive at $699, but ye gods I want one. 40 gig IDE hard drive, 8 XLR inputs with phantom power, 8 tracks of simultaneous record and play (!) with 8 virtual tracks per track, USB 2.0 connector, MIDI Time Code transmit, optical S/PDIF connector, 2 headphone jacks, effects, and it appears to be basically an ordinary 8 track mixer you can use for gigging that happens to record. For the extra money you also get some features usually found on more expensive equipment or digital editing software such as punch-in/punch-out for overwriting sections of a track or inserting a quick track segment, 100 mark points and four editing points to help you locate particular sections of a track, a metronome... could someone hand me a towel? Cons: Well, just the damage to your bank account.

Tascam DP01FX The Tascam DP01FX is $449.99 for a unit with somewhat similar features to the Korg D888 but only the usual 2 tracks of simultaneous input and only two XLR jacks. It could not be used as a gigging mixer, and I'd still prefer to spend the extra $250 for the Korg. If your budget can't go there you might feel differently. I see there is a promotion right now that lets you get the Tascam unit with an MXL V63M condensor mike for an extra 99 cents. This is an entry level $100 condensor microphone, so it's a great inducement. Cons: They are facing hard competition at this price level from Fostex.

Foxtex MR-8 MKII The Fostex MR-8 mk-II at $249.00 (!!!) has 8 tracks, uses Compact Flash, has two phantom-power XLR inputs and two simultaneous tracks of recording, midi connector, USB, two headphone jacks, runs from DC 12 volts or 6 AA batteries. That's almost a hundred bucks less than the minidisk! You could spend the money on Compact Flash cards and (for long-term storage) a DVD burner for your computer. I note this unit can take CF up to 2 gigs. It also has the ability to drive an external CD burner over USB and has a very complete manual available online. If you're on a small budget this unit is a killer deal. Cons: Few, but see the track bouncing problem described for the Fostex MR8HD below. I suspect this machine may have the same limitation.

Fostex MR8HD The Fostex MR8HD at its current sale price of $399.00 US is -very- competitive. 40 gig IDE drive, 4 simultaneous recording with 4 XLR phantom-powered jacks, USB, S/PDIF, 2 headphones, 8 tracks. It appears to be pretty much an MR-8 with hard drive instead of Compact Flash, and 2 more XLR jacks. For someone like me who likes to record a voice track, a miked guitar track and the same guitar running through a pickup all at once, this is a nice little system for very little money. Cons: I note it does have one odd pecadillo in that you cannot bounce multiple tracks to a single track but only to -two- tracks, 5/6 or 7/8. This is a limiting factor in terms of flexibility but not a deal-killer when you remember it records 4 tracks at once.

Tascam DP-01 Portastudio Tascam DP-01 PortaStudio. $299.00. 40 Gig IDE hard drive, 8 tracks total, 2 to record, 1 headphone, USB, Midi, with no XLR jacks, instead you have two 1/4 inch TRS jacks. Cons: the lack of XLR inputs means any condensor mikes will have to be self-powered or be given an external supply and you'll need an XLR to TRS adapter. If I had to choose I'd try the Fostex MR8 instead. If you need the extra storage afforded by the hard drive and don't care about the missing XLR inputs this unit might be an option, but be aware you may badly want XLR and phantom power later.

Boss BR-600 Boss BR-600, $399.00 for 8 tracks, USB, two headphone jacks, uses Compact Flash. All the docs I found were strangely silent on the issue of how many tracks it can record at once but I'll assume its the usual two tracks. There are no XLR jacks but it does come with an XLR to TRS adapter. Runs on 6 AA or AC, and has a drum machine onboard. I'm a little ambivalent on this one but it does have the very nice feature of supporting 8 'virtual' tracks for each track, like the Korg D4 and D888 we started with. I'm not sure if the virtual takes can be saved between sessions. Having all these virtual tracks can suck up storage in a hurry but I can't imagine anyone running any of these units with less than a gig of storage anyway, which is as much as this model can handle. For this price level I'd much rather have the Fostex MR8HD. Cons: the one-gig limitation is not shared by competing models at this price level and below; you can do better.


So that's our shopping trip. Did you make up your mind? I have decisions to make. The Korg D888 is my favorite but price is an issue unless you'd like to let me hold your wallet for a few minutes. If we can't go there, I may need to choose between the Fostex MR8HD and the Tascam DP01FX, pretty much in that order. Feel free to visit my website if you buy any of these, and let me know how it turned out.



Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o Sony-MZ-RH 1
o Phantom power
o XLR Balanced, TRS Balanced and Unbalanced Inputs
o Korg D4
o Korg D888
o Tascam DP01FX
o Foxtex MR-8 MKII
o Fostex MR8HD
o Tascam DP-01 Portastudio
o Boss BR-600
o http://www .rixtertech.com/drupal
o Also by bindlestiff

Display: Sort:
Budget Multitrack Recording Hardware | 68 comments (49 topical, 19 editorial, 0 hidden)
Cheers dude (none / 1) (#1)
by aural junkie on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 04:53:33 PM EST

The mini-disc part was interesting. The other stuff kinda went over my head but I appreciate the music hardware article.

+1SP from me.

Who the fuck do you think you are? K5 Weather? - Mr Strange

Audacity is free and better than all you list. (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by Basser on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 10:23:02 PM EST

You got's a computer right?

Audacity (none / 0) (#12)
by bindlestiff on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 10:57:19 PM EST

Yes, I know, use and love Audacity and my Delta 410 card and interface patch block. But this article isn't about workstation audio. It even specifies that and explains exactly why. Audacity (and ProTools, and the Cakewalk product line) is great and there's no reason why a person using dedicated hardware to lay down tracks can't send them right over to a PC and use the Linux or Windows version to mangle waveforms until their brains turn to pasty goo, but not everyone wants to be tied to a workstation every time they are actually laying down tracks. This article is about recording. It's not about editing, mixdown, or mastering. To write about those things in connection with products I'm not familiar with would be a disservice to both the reader and the vendor. It's about dedicated hardware devices that become ready to record by plugging in and placing a few high-quality mikes, pushing the power button and adjusting some levels without having to haul a PC and monitor around. It's about paying a little extra for some simplicity and portability. Audacity is "better" after the fact when its time to edit your tracks and cook a mix but I would question wether that holds true when you just want to throw a little gear in the car and head over to your buds house to work up some ideas, or when you've got a little spare time and would rather spend it laying down that new bridge that's ringing in your head than setting up gear. If I had the cash I'd probably have a pricey MOTU box that would put any of these low-end recorders to shame, but that's a different neighborhood where I can't justify going.
Good tools are a good thing. Knowing how and when to use them is even better.

[ Parent ]
zerg (none / 0) (#29)
by FattMattP on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 04:29:17 PM EST

Correct me if I'm wrong but Audacity can't handle more than two tracks.

[ Parent ]
Audacity (none / 1) (#31)
by bindlestiff on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 05:09:39 PM EST

Audacity can handle multiple tracks very well. I use an old M-Audio Delta 410 with an Albatron motherboard that's just not up to really servicing the card. But once that data is into the PC Audacity handles multiple tracks nicely. I'm looking more and more favorably towards the Korg D-888 which I now know exposes its entire hard drive to your PC over USB, not just an export partition. The Korg and Audacity will make a great toolset.

[ Parent ]
nice article (none / 0) (#11)
by zenofchai on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 10:39:44 PM EST

but if the target already has a laptop, for example, they can use it as a "portable multitrack recorder" with any insane number of sub-$400 firewire audio interfaces.

but good article. and minidisc still rules.
The K5 Interactive Political Compass SVG Graph

Re:Nice Article (none / 1) (#13)
by bindlestiff on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 11:13:01 PM EST

Thanks for the complement.

'but if the target already has a laptop, for example, they can use it as a "portable multitrack recorder"'

It's a free country, Sport. Oops, I guess we can't really use that old chestnut anymore, can we. But we're still free enough that you can use a laptop and your firewire gizmo as you please, and when you prove to yourself that you can lay down 2 or more tracks simultaneously at 44k or better, without dropouts with 100% reliability while playing back up to 6 already recorded tracks I will be damn well impressed, and would love to hear all about your laptop, your firewire gizmo and the OS and software you are running. Hey, maybe you could write an article. I -will- tell you for free that will be one hell of a frigging laptop. ;)

[ Parent ]
well does anybody have any experiences here? (none / 0) (#18)
by army of phred on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 07:50:46 AM EST

I like the flexibility of computers but on linux I get reliable dropouts unless I issue 3 syncs in a row at the bash prompt, then I'll be ok with simultaneous record with playback, stereo 44hz. I don't have any software that will do any audio at all on windows. This is with a 2ghz processer and decent disks.

"Republicans are evil." lildebbie
"I have no fucking clue what I'm talking about." motormachinemercenary
"my wife is getting a blowjob" ghostoft1ber
[ Parent ]
Reliable Digital Workstation Audio (none / 1) (#20)
by bindlestiff on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 08:32:19 AM EST

The south bridge seems to largely determine how things work out; if the bus isn't up to the job it doesn't matter how fast the processor is or what OS you run. Intel chipsets, and only particular Intel chipsets at that, seem to have had the best success. As an AMD fan this hasn't set well with me but those are the breaks I guess.

[ Parent ]
linux's problem (none / 0) (#23)
by army of phred on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 12:29:55 PM EST

seems to be its handling of disk caching, thus the syncs.

"Republicans are evil." lildebbie
"I have no fucking clue what I'm talking about." motormachinemercenary
"my wife is getting a blowjob" ghostoft1ber
[ Parent ]
Maybe there needs to be a Linux distro... (none / 0) (#49)
by skyknight on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 07:39:30 AM EST

for audio recording enthusiasts.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Linux Audio Distro (none / 1) (#51)
by bindlestiff on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 05:06:31 PM EST

>Maybe there needs to be a Linux distro for audio recording enthusiasts.

There is, it's called Dynabolic, free. It's not going to get you around the south bridge issue though, your machine is either up to the job or its not.

[ Parent ]
you need low latency (none / 0) (#52)
by kromagg on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 07:12:37 PM EST

The linux kernel generally optimises for throughput, and less for latency. There's some low latency patches floating around, which of course damage your throughput but are more suited to the task.

I once came across some audio howto for audiophiles but not really bothered to look for it. The faq from jackd might have some pointers. (http://jackaudio.org/faq)

[ Parent ]

Scoop should learn to populate the subject field (none / 0) (#27)
by FattMattP on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 04:19:59 PM EST

But we're still free enough that you can use a laptop and your firewire gizmo as you please, and when you prove to yourself that you can lay down 2 or more tracks simultaneously at 44k or better, without dropouts with 100% reliability while playing back up to 6 already recorded tracks I will be damn well impressed, and would love to hear all about your laptop, your firewire gizmo and the OS and software you are running.
My setup: IBM Thinkpad T30 (WinXP SP2), firewire card, MOTU 828mkII, Adobe Audition. I have no problem recording more than two tracks at a time, even while playing back other tracks. It works great and I've never had problems with it. I don't connect the laptop to a network unless it's to move a file off to my server. No web browsing (ever). No other installed software except for Reason 2.5.

That being said, there's a lot of great reasons for choosing a dedicated hardware device.

[ Parent ]

MOTU (none / 0) (#33)
by bindlestiff on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 05:26:33 PM EST

And let's not forget the MOTU 828mkII alone is around $750 new lately, and most of the guys bleating 'Audacity and a soundcard are all you need' haven't a clue why we're even talking about this stuff. If someone does want to go the DAW route I'll agree, MOTU is the way to go if you can afford it. No one provides better firmware support.

[ Parent ]
Free! (none / 0) (#14)
by j1mmy on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 12:50:45 AM EST

I found a four-channel recorder sitting by the dumpster outside my old apartment. Two of the channels don't work, but otherwise it seems to be okay. I have no use for it. It has a 320 meg scsi disk inside. Not much use for that either.

Interesting (none / 0) (#60)
by Kadin2048 on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 11:37:30 AM EST

What brand is it?

I have a minor fascination with old studio gear. It's always interesting to look at the garbage pile behind any studio, and then add up the list prices of what it originally cost them.

My personal favorite piece of obsolete tech is a dbx 700, which is a non-PCM digital 2-track mixdown recorder. As far as I know, it's the only non-PCM digital tape format that ever achieved any sort of popularity.

One of these days I'll figure out something to do with it.

[ Parent ]

minidisc troll (2.40 / 5) (#15)
by dongs on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 04:20:55 AM EST


I like minidisc. I also hate it. (3.00 / 5) (#17)
by creature on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 04:51:34 AM EST

I had a minidisc player for many years. I used it as my portable music device of choice - I still have loads of minidiscs sitting around.

Unfortunately using it became just too much of a chore, because Sony sat on the format and kept it proprietary. It would have been awesome to have an MD drive for the PC that let you record music to it. It would make it so much easier to do the titling for MDs - no more sitting on the bus tapping away on the portable's controls, scrolling up and down for each letter. 2 minutes with a qwerty keyboard would be so much easier. Plus using it in the PC would mean you wouldn't have to record from your line/optical out - avoiding issues with track skips, and no real-time requirement. It shouldn't take me 70 minutes to get a disc with 70 minutes of music on it. Even cassette decks had a high-speed dub option on them.

Yeah, Sony tried to fix this with their NetMD system, but they couldn't resist their urge to knobble it to make it useless to anyone who cares  about their music. "God, if we provided a USB interface to our MD players then piracy will explode!" they said, and limited the bitrate they would store.

So yes, MD died because Sony tried to hold on too tightly and crushed it.

bah, audacity and the computer mike (none / 1) (#24)
by minerboy on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 01:25:49 PM EST

Is just as good, and its free

Good for One, Bad For More (none / 1) (#26)
by virg on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 02:35:43 PM EST

> bah, audacity and the computer mike is just as good, and its free

Try recording more than one signal at once, and you'll find out the fault in that idea. Firstly, unless your computer has multiple sound inputs you simply can't do it. Add in a firewire device to capture more than one input and your concept of "free" falls by the wayside. On top of that, recording several inputs at once over firewire is delightful until you find that you need a superfast hard drive with a relatively massive cache just to keep up, and suddenly you're talking big bucks for a high end computer, so portability goes in the bin. Toss on the cherry of trying to play a track back while you record so you have something to play to, and unless you've got bleeding edge hardware you're out of luck. Doing all of this on a PC at the price point of these devices is a pipe dream.

Only need to record one track at a time? Then the title should tell you this article isn't directed at you.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
just record one track at a time (none / 0) (#39)
by minerboy on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 07:53:18 AM EST

If you have to record vocals and guitar simultaneously, your making a mistake. the quality of both tracks suffers for this. If you have a whole band and want the energy from a "live take" the four track won't do it for you. If you just can't get the time sync right with doing them at the same time (i.e. your rythmic skills are lacking) you can buy a decent 4 input preamp for ~ 100 bucks. Mix before you go into the computer. Now if you want to be able to adjust later for your bad mix, you can't, but for guitar and vocals, you shouldn't need to. If your Music and ear are so good that you need to subtly adjust each one during the track, you should be using a real professional multitrack system.

[ Parent ]
Personal Preferences (none / 0) (#41)
by virg on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 09:47:11 AM EST

I think you missed on the "not for you" portion of the article. Saying that everyone who wants to record guitar and voice simultaneously is making a mistake is very arrogant of you. Saying "Mix before you go into the computer" assumes a lot of stuff, including owning a portable computer that's powerful enough to do the job, wanting to carry said computer to wherever you're recording, and buying extra equipment on top of that computer.

In short, you seem to think that the only way to record is your way, and I personally disagree with enough of your comments that I find it easy to believe that I'm not the only one. If you prefer the cleanliness of single-track-at-a-time recording, then more power to you. I'm more interested in a device that doesn't hold me to that limit, but isn't a bank-buster.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Huh ? (none / 0) (#42)
by minerboy on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 12:49:19 PM EST

It boils down to quality of recording vs. price. My opinion is that the ~ $500 multitrack systems are a waste of money, since you can get equally good recoring for at least 1/5 of the price. If I consider everything buut the cost of the microphone, it comes out like this.

Microphone preamp $109 in addition, I'll wager that the quality of the preamps on the cheap multitracks is less than the unit here, plus there are $50 dollar preamps available.

The Computer - $ 40Does not have to be very special, as long as it has a decent sound card (16bit AD)- and no, I'm not counting shiping costs.

Some software - about $ 20 Even the older versions of software will provide more flexibility for processing than a Multitrack - If you are a bit more facile with sound processing Audacity will work well (maybe even better) for free

So I'm still under $200, add the price of a servicable microphone, Maybe a big hard drive, an internet connection, and a bag of weed, and I'm still cheaper than most of the multitrack unit, plus I can distribute the music to the 3 other people in the world that might be interested.

The Multitracks are more compact then the cheaper arrangement, and if you want to record "your gigs" then yeah, maybe they'd have a use there, but if you bought a laptop instead of the desktop, only about $30 more, it will be easily portable.

[ Parent ]
Recording on the Go (none / 0) (#43)
by virg on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 02:00:12 PM EST

> I'll wager that the quality of the preamps on the cheap multitracks is less than the unit here, plus there are $50 dollar preamps available.

That's a bad wager. The components will at least be comparable, and often better since the people who build the lower end units also make the higher end stuff, and they don't tend to option out parts like the preamps to third parties. Since it's the R&D that costs, not the part itself, the quality is likely to be high when Korg or Fostex builds something, even something under $500.

> Does not have to be very special, as long as it has a decent sound card (16bit AD)

You're delusional (or you've never actually done it yourself) if you think a 16 bit sound card is up to decent recording. Sorry, but I've done it for quite a while, on a number of rigs, and even good quality sound cards fall down a lot. Also, the storage and throughput for a system like this has to be something other than bargain-basement. I can't see eBay from work, but I'll guess your $40.00 system doesn't come with more than 100 GB of drive space, and I'll guess it doesn't include things like a monitor or keyboard either. Also, good luck finding a laptop on eBay (or anywhere else) that's less than $100 and still has a battery capable of more than twenty minutes of run time. There goes portability, unless you sink an extra bill into a new battery. The devices mentioned in the article mostly run on internal rechargeables or even consumer batteries.

And on top of all of this, none of your ideas allow for multitrack recording, which is what the entire article bases on. Does the Firewire card come with the price of the bag of weed? Will your $70.00 laptop even be able to use a Firewire card? Sorry, but your solutions don't match up to the devices you're trying to displace.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Why not pay just a little more (none / 0) (#44)
by minerboy on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 03:00:59 PM EST

First, you don't need a firewire to record into a computer. Old computers (0.6 gHz) are plenty fast enough to handle recording, and will come with sound cards that will perform above what can be discerned by the ear of the non-professional - the only loss is in processing effects. The Preamp I speced out has 4 inputs, and should work fine for someone and their guitar. In the good old analog days most recording was done out of a mixer anyway.

my experience is that standalone preamps are always quieter than on-board ones. Maybe the on-board preamps will be fine, but what if its not -do replace the whole system ? Same goes for other component failure

Now its true that a simple computer/studio system will not be that great, and is only for a hobbyist. If you are more serious why not try This Korg D3200 32-Track Digital Recording Studio , at $1300, its about the price of a good instrument, and certainly worth the investment for a serious musician.

If your not serious, then might as well go for the near free computer recording.

[ Parent ]
Your band fucking sucks (1.50 / 4) (#35)
by AlwaysAnonyminated on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 07:13:35 PM EST

Posted from my Droid 2.
Damn, all I had to wait 10 years (none / 1) (#36)
by HackerCracker on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 12:37:10 AM EST

Back in the day, I had a Tascam Portastudio with all of four tracks to record with (around the same time that Cubase Audio came out for the Atari Falcon--man I wanted one of those!). Sure, with careful planning you could bounce ten tracks but I wanted more (can you ever have enough?). So by the time I'm in the market for a semi-pro 8-track all of the sudden nobody's making analog machines (or at least not selling them) and so I end up with a Emu Darwin.

Flash forward ten or so years and now the Darwin is collecting dust while I do all my work on the Linux box (equipped with M-Audio soundcard, 'natch) with Rosegarden and Ardour.

I've often thought that it might be nice to have a more portable rig like one of those dedicated units, but I still can't justify the expense. In a pinch I still use a cassette tape recorder if I really need to. Well, that, a Mackie 1202 and an SM-57 but that goes without saying. ;-)

Mackie (none / 0) (#40)
by bindlestiff on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 08:38:26 AM EST

My old Portastudio still sits on the shelf, and a mulish beast it was too. I'd be lying to say I miss it.

>I've often thought that it might be nice to have a
>more portable rig like one of those dedicated units,
>but I still can't justify the expense.

Well, thus my much lambasted attempt at raising the issue. Trying to write something for Kuro5hin has been, ummm, 'interesting'. In the Chinese sense. I've listened more closely to the critiscism than some of the angry readers might suspect, but I also understand a little better why the queue has 2 stories in it right now instead of 20.

>a Mackie 1202 and an SM-57

Me too, plus an AKG C-1000 mike, Tech 21 SansAmp direct box, Lexicon MPX 100 (hey, all I need is a little reverb) ART 341 EQ (yes I'm cheap) and the mighty Samsom S-Com 4 channel compressor/gate, in which all faith hope and trust reside. Happy.

[ Parent ]
Tape Sucks? (1.00 / 6) (#45)
by ktakki on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 12:30:28 AM EST

Well, you probably never used a real tape deck, like a Stevens, a Revox, a Studer, or a 3M deck. Pro tape formats (24-track on 2", stereo on 1/2") rival digital formats and give you sound-shaping options like tape compression and head bump that digital can only reproduce (poorly) with plug-ins. Plus, you can flip tape and record backwards or do pre-verb.

Your budget is way too low, so you're restricted to crippled proprietary formats like Sony's failed MiniDisk. That shit started at 12-bit companding. How long before it took them to offer a basic 44.1 PCM option? Ten years? Fifteen years? MiniDisk is for idiots.

Look, you're a nullo with less than $500 in your bank account. Pro audio is not a poor man's game. You belly up to the table with no less than $25,000 or you go home with your tail between your legs. What's your mic budget? Effects? Board? Room treatment? I've spent $125K on architecture and room treatments alone, before a purchase order for equipment was even signed.

Yeah, you can have your fun laying tracks with that Guild 6-string, but don't pretend that you're a fucking expert on multi-track recording, nullhole.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

OK, Cassette Tape Sucks (2.20 / 5) (#46)
by bindlestiff on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 04:32:03 AM EST

>Tape Sucks?

I'm sorry to have set your delicate self off on a tear, and sincerely do accept some blame. I should have said "4 track cassette tape sucks". I'm sure you could go there. And yes, 2" and 1/2" tape are wonderful, I'm sure. And yours is best of all, if it'll make you feel better. <smooth> <smooth>

> Your budget is way too low

Did you actually read this article?

> Pro audio is not a poor man's game
>You belly up to the table with no less than $25,000
>or you go home with your tail between your legs

Macho doggie analogies aside, I'm entirely in agreement with you. But this post is about the kind of stuff that people buy to sit in their rehearsal room or hotel room or bedroom with, not serious gear. Get a grip, guy. If you want to write up something that belongs in Mix magazine and post it here instead, and you think anything less Sucks, be my frigging guest. Why'd you bother reading this? Oh that's right you really didn't. Well, I'd love to hear about your studio, and would love to see the kind of quality writing we see in Mix here, and since you did such a good job on the Cheese Sandwhich story we can see you're qualified. Go for it, Sport. ;)

But this story wasn't about your gear. It wasn't even about -my- gear. It's just about some gear that Joe Six-pack might buy, and not much detail at that. And ever since I posted I've had, on top of some kind and reasonable people who probably read the article with some perspective after reading the phrases "$400.00", and "casual recording", 30 idiots whining that Audacity and a Soundblaster clone on a 486 are all you need and another few who seem incensed that it's even been publicly suggested that Tascam, Korg and Fostex could possibly make a product that preserve a recognizable waveform for less than 3 grand. Both groups need to get a grip. I know that some of you have forgotten more about recording than I'm ever likely to know. So why didn't YOU share something, Einstein?

> What's your mic budget? Effects? Board? Room treatment? I've spent $125K on architecture blah blah <blast off>

I know. I know. It's OK. Breath, ktakki, -breathe- !!! But this article wasn't the "Here's everything you need to know to set up a studio" article. Not even a "home studio". Not even "Here's how to record yourself giggling in the back seat of moms car". It was just a little window shopping at stuff that basically replaces the old Tascam PortaStudio 4 track we all remember. ...G.e.t..a...G.r.i.p... If I had added in every disclaimer I would have needed to fend off lighting fuses on the delicate egos festering here, they would have been longer than the text. It's just a walk through the music store, and the cheap end of the counter at that. Sorry you couldn't cope. Try Prozac?

>Yeah, you can have your fun laying tracks with that Guild 6-string

Yes, I can, and do, and will. Just one of the many differeneces between us, I'm sure. ;)

>but don't pretend that you're a fucking expert on multi-track recording, nullhole.

I think you and a few dozen others I've heard from have that covered without me. <laughing>

[ Parent ]
More money than brains (2.33 / 6) (#48)
by nanobug on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 12:41:49 PM EST

I guess having over $125k invested in pro audio gear just compels you to assert how much better your knowledge, gear, and bank account is than everyone else, right?

You're a nullo with too much money and impaired social skills.  Recording audio is not a game reserved for trust fund kids.  You belly up to the table with what you have and have fun with it, or you're completely missing the fucking point.  $3000 microphones, expensive effects, a mixing board the size of a kitchen table, and fancy room treatments are all well and good, but sometimes less is more.

Yeah, you can have your fun laying tracks with all that fancy equipment, but don't fool yourself into thinking you're somebody important.  Until you can step foot in any club with nothing more than a guitar, an amp, and a mic and rock the joint, you're just another nobody trying to replace talent with equipment.

[ Parent ]

You're a poseur, bitch... (none / 1) (#53)
by ktakki on Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 01:47:46 AM EST

I guess having over $125k invested in pro audio gear just compels you to assert how much better your knowledge, gear, and bank account is than everyone else, right?
Right. And that $125K was just for the architecture, not for gear. And that was a cheap build-out.
You're a nullo with too much money and impaired social skills.
Nullo? I don't think that word means what you think it means.

nanobug has posted 111 comments, 0 stories, and 0 diaries.

ktakki has posted 1098 comments, 3 stories, and 82 diaries.

Who's the nullo here, bitch?

Until you can step foot in any club with nothing more than a guitar, an amp, and a mic and rock the joint, you're just another nobody trying to replace talent with equipment.
I've done it without the amp and mic, just an acoustic guitar and my voice. And I've been doing it for thirty years, bitch.


"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

[ Parent ]

You've been doing it for 30 years (none / 0) (#65)
by nanobug on Sun Oct 15, 2006 at 08:23:47 PM EST

and yet you're still a nobody.

And btw your postcount doesn't indicate anything more than the fact that you have entirely too much free time on your hands.  Perhaps if you were as much of a superstar as you seem to think you are, you wouldn't be spending so much time asserting your superiority on the intarweb.

[ Parent ]

mindless cash elitism (none / 0) (#54)
by Delirium on Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 03:08:45 AM EST

That's not really how things work these days; plenty of bands that used to have expensive gear are selling it because they realize it's no better than much cheaper stuff, usually digital. I'd say the most interesting new music these days I've heard is being made by people doing all-digital setups; hell even Merzbow dumped his analog equipment over a decade ago.

"Pro audio" is a rich man's game in the way that $2000 speaker cable is a rich man's game: For people selling or buying snake oil.

[ Parent ]

caveat (none / 0) (#55)
by Delirium on Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 03:16:37 AM EST

If you're trying to capture perfect live sound, there's still expense in the acoustics and microphones. That's really it, though—there's nothing on the strict recording side that can't be done by commodity digital hardware as well as old-fashioned analog tape. And yes, any "effects" you want can easily be done digitally to arbitrary accuracy (certainly to more accuracy than you can fit in the bits on a CD).

[ Parent ]
blah blah blah my dick is so big etc etc [nt] (none / 0) (#63)
by HyperMediocrity on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 07:27:39 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Nice article (3.00 / 3) (#47)
by nanobug on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 12:33:14 PM EST

I just wanted to buck the trend and let you know I thought your article was very good.  It's unfortunate that for some people, audio recording is like religion and politics in that it cannot be brought up in polite conversation.   I found your mini-reviews informative and you did a good job covering your price range.

And to those of you who completely missed the point of the article and have nothing to offer up besides 'zomg thats way too much money when you can just record tracks 1 at a time on an old p2 thinkpad w/ cubase' or 'OMG minidisc is shit and how could you even think of recording anything without spending at least $25,000?@!?', all I have to say is get a fucking grip.  Some people need more functionality or ease of use than a Thinkpad can provide.  Likewise, not everyone who wants to record something is trying to be the next Mutt Lange.  

Get a Mac.... (none / 0) (#50)
by dxh on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 08:16:45 AM EST

Seriously, Garage Band rocks.

I wish ATRAC died, too. /nt (none / 0) (#56)
by ksandstr on Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 01:33:01 PM EST

Korg D1200 MK II (none / 1) (#57)
by kozmikyak on Wed Oct 11, 2006 at 11:39:09 AM EST

I had one of these and only sold it so I could upgrade to the D3200.  The D1200 shows up for $500 or less on Ebay, and has a few features in its favor:

  • Records 4 tracks simultaneously
  • Can record 6 tracks at 24-bit or 12 tracks at 16-bit

If you're willing to live without a built-in CD burner you could settle for a D1200 which is otherwise identical.  These sometimes sell for as little as $300 on Ebay.  You can always export your mastered track to a PC and split/burn from there.

If you would buy used, these are not much pricier than some of the units mentioned here but for my purposes the ability to record at 24-bit resolution, even with reduced track count, is worthwhile, especially if one wants to record in a live setting, because it allows one to not push the levels dangerously close to clipping just to get good signal/noise ratio.  One can always normalize and dither tracks to 16-bit if one wants to add more tracks in a controlled setting at a later time.

The Fostex MR-8HD would be absolutely perfect for doing live matrix recording (stereo pair of condensers, stereo feed from soundboard) if it recorded at 24-bit resolution.  Unfortunately, to find a 4-simultaneous-track portable recorder one needs to get an Edirol R-4 for about $1000.

Korg D1200 MK II (none / 0) (#58)
by bindlestiff on Wed Oct 11, 2006 at 04:30:45 PM EST

If I'd known about that model I'd have included it, makes an interesting alternative for someone who's not put off by the lack of 4 XLR inputs. The display looks a little nicer too, but at $850 new I suppose it should.

I've already got a D888 on the way. The 16-bit limitation is a serious one but I wanted new merchandise and the Korg D3200 32-Track is just too much for my budget. I'll give the D888 a serious workout and if it doesn't cut it, we'll find out wether Musicians Friend's 45 day satisfaction guarantee is for real. At anything more than $700 I might as well take the recommendation of some of the good people who've posted here and look at some firewire equipment, probably MOTU.

[ Parent ]
Good pick (none / 0) (#59)
by kozmikyak on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 12:20:28 AM EST

The D888 looks like a really good bargain, especially for someone who wants to do more tweaking/editing on a computer after downloading it.

The D1200 and D3200 are a bit more fiddly, you have to export your tracks from a special copy-on-write filesystem to a FAT32 partition which can't be made bigger than 8GB.  That sounds like a lot, and it is for a bunch of 5-minute songs.  But it gets weird if you have 3-hour live tracks that nobody could split at time of performance.  I just got my D3200 a week ago on Ebay for $950, so if you go much beyond $700 you're probably right, you could just get one of the higher-end recorders used or buy computer interfaces.

I've never owned a laptop good enough to run 8-12 channels of audio, or I would probably have gone that route myself.  There's also some ease-of-use factor involved in a dedicated recorder, just one unit to plug in.

I think our different criteria are based on the fact that I mostly do live one-take recording.

[ Parent ]

Is that even practical? (none / 0) (#61)
by Kadin2048 on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 11:58:19 AM EST

I've never owned a laptop good enough to run 8-12 channels of audio, or I would probably have gone that route myself.

Is there a laptop good enough to do 8-12 channels of audio simultaneously? Reliably?

That's the same kind of recording I used to do, a while bac; I used an analog 1/2" 8-track (that's an open-reel 8-track, not the cassette beast) and never felt too constrained by 8 channels for recording rock. I know it's the standard today to mic the living hell out of everything -- it wouldn't surprise me if a kickdrum gets eight channels these days, just because it can -- but with proper mic placement I got good mixdown flexibility with eight channels in a well-designed room.

Was it the highest quality possible? No; but it was enough for local or regional bands who wanted something more than they could do in their garage but less than a "real" studio who wasn't going to talk to them unless they had a record deal.

There is room for that middle ground; not everyone wants "dirt-cheap and shitty" or "uber-expensive audiophile." Frankly I think that market is probably much bigger now than it was then.

A laptop-based system seems neat, but it sounds like recording 8 simultaneous channels is just asking too much of it, and laying down tracks isn't an option when you're doing jazz or anything improvisational. If a system can only do two channels at the same time, you might as well get a room with nice acoustics, screw close-micing, and do a stereo pair ORTF. (Which there is nothing wrong with -- if you have a good room available, there are good arguments for doing it that way regardless of how many microphones you have at your disposal.)

[ Parent ]

Yes, possible, but not easy (none / 0) (#62)
by kozmikyak on Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 12:31:29 PM EST

First of all it almost always requires a Mac laptop.  Second, it requires a dedicated firewire interface for an external hard drive, and another dedicated interface (Firewire or otherwise) for audio.  Third it requires foregoing DAW software and using something like Boom Recorder to get the raw tracking done.  The typical DAW setup just isn't stable enough in my experience.

All in all, it's an expensive proposition to put together a laptop-based recording solution if one wants it to be reliable.  That, and the ease of setup factor, are why I've stuck with the dedicated units.

Note, however, that the dedicated units are essentially computers and can fail.  Granted they have a dedicated OS without as much possibility of failure but they can and will crash.  That's why I use a flash-based, battery-powered recorder as a backup.

Nothing at all wrong with ORTF, but there are lots of circumstances under which one can use other tracks.  In practice, unless a band has its own dedicated engineer and enough prestige that the club lets the band use their dedicated engineer at the board, sound is inevitably bad, usually due to musicians cranking their amps too loud or the soundman cranking the amps up in the PA over the voice and acoustic instruments.  It helps to get at least ORTF plus a board feed, because by correcting the time delay between the board and the microphones one can usually patch together a useful recording.  This is a common practice among taper-friendly bands; while it isn't entirely "authentic" to the room it can reliably extract listenable recordings out of bad acoustic situations.  Also, some clubs have outputs for each of their submixes, and being able to record those separately is useful.

The best live recordings I've ever gotten are when my own band set up the PA and the recorder, set our levels at proper balance before beginning, and left it alone all night.  Used ORTF plus a stereo feed from the board, and panned the board such that the stereo image was the same.  Very nice results.

I almost never record just a board feed.  The basis of my recording is always an ORTF pair, plus whatever I can get from the PA.

[ Parent ]

Editing (none / 0) (#64)
by bindlestiff on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 04:54:59 PM EST

"The D888 looks like a really good bargain, especially for someone who wants to do more tweaking/editing on a computer after downloading it."

Exactly my plan: use the D888 to lay down tracks, then mix and master on the DAW.  Convincing a PC or even a laptop to act as a passable workstation -after- the recording is done is a lot less frustrating than counting on it to capture without  droputs while playing back a reference track or two plus a click track.

"The D1200 and D3200 are a bit more fiddly, you have to export your tracks from a special copy-on-write filesystem to a FAT32 partition which can't be made bigger than 8GB."

Thanks, you've just made me feel better about not springing for the higher end models.  The wide-open file system on the 888 should be a lot of fun.

[ Parent ]

Korg D888 Early Impressions (none / 0) (#66)
by bindlestiff on Fri Oct 20, 2006 at 11:20:49 AM EST

In the unlikely event that anyone is actually following this article, I'll post an update.  The D888 has arrived and I've tried just a couple of things.  After this weekend I'll know a lot more but for now -


  • Sound quality is very acceptable and the display is backlit and readable.

  • On-board effects should you choose to use them are acceptable.

  • The USBFS file system works as advertised and really makes this machine a pleasure to interface with your DAW of choice.

  • The track marking system works well and jumping to marked points is instant and easy.

  • As other reviewers have noted, the onboard pre-amps are crap, useless on their own.  You MUST have some sort of pre-amp wether using condensor or dynamic mikes to get any good use out of the Korg D888.

  • The screened type on the case is way too small and sort of a grey color on grey metal.  Whoever made this decision is an ergonomic idiot.  You'll be memorizing what everything does, or applying labels to the case, or keep a magnifying glass handy.

Pre-amps (none / 0) (#68)
by drerock on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 08:41:00 PM EST

I am looking to get a multi-track recorder, and the D888 looks like a good choice for people with the dough.

Could you please explain the problem with the pre-amps on this unit?

Do you think having a separate pre-amp is necessary or can it be tolerated?

Thanks, Great article

[ Parent ]

Piracy still the bottleneck (none / 0) (#67)
by Sinter on Sat Feb 17, 2007 at 11:27:06 PM EST

Lots of good information. As a Sony MD owner, I have to add that it's day is definitely over ... the solid-state (no moving parts) box has moved into the neighborhood to stay.

Fine with me. I thought it was aggravating that my Sony had no digital output (to protect prerecorded discs ?? ... I've never seen one) ... and no way to turn off the lossy compression (for high-quality, if short, field recordings.)

When something like a 40, 60, 80 GB iPod but with uncompressed recording, a decent audio front end, and USB shows up for under $400, I'll be all over it. Other than killer sample libraries, or film-quality audio, good enough for everything.

I'm not holding my breath; audio-in has been pulled from most consumer audio gear for 15 years, thanks to piracy concerns. A decent laptop that'll take a pro-quality audio card is one way around the bottleneck.

Budget Multitrack Recording Hardware | 68 comments (49 topical, 19 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!