How to Choose a Multitrack Recorder
Digital multitrack recorders can fill the needs of anyone, from singer/songwriters to touring bands. Some are designed for simplicity, giving you an easy and reliable way to record many channels of audio to mix later in your DAW software. Others can be self-contained recording studios with internal effects processing, flexible signal routing, and powerful editing features. Since there’s so much to consider when purchasing a digital recording system, don’t hesitate to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer at (800) 222-4700 for more information.
All digital multitrack recorders are designed to record multi-channel audio. Nonetheless, there are several types designed for different applications, such as creating demos, recording performances, or working without a computer. How you’ll be using your Digital Multitrack Recorder should be your first consideration.
Categories of Multitrack Recorders
These are perfect for solo musicians and small bands. For our purposes, we’ll call anything that records eight or fewer channels and has a compact design a small-format workstation. These smaller workstations are perfect for basic projects, such as song demos, and usually have basic editing features and audio processing built-in. Keep in mind that you can often record more tracks than the number of inputs would suggest.
If your goal is to create professional productions, then you’ll want a large-format workstation. These are an alternative to computer-based production. While computer-based recording is here to stay, many musicians and engineers prefer the simplicity, reliability, and console-like experience of working on a large-format workstation. You can create radio-ready productions on any of these. Compared to small-format workstations, you’ll generally get more signal-processing capabilities. They also provide powerful editing features and the ability to wire in external processors, such as compressors and EQs.
Record-only Multitrack Recorders
When you’re mixing live sound and are tasked with recording the whole show, you don’t want to mess with your recorder. There are various choices among record-only multitrack recorders. Some are rackmountable and some are more compact; you simply connect your inputs and hit record. They’re perfect for schools, churches, and practically any other live sound situation. While these won’t have the audio processing and editing capabilities of a workstation, the simplicity of a record-only multitrack recorder can’t be overstated in a hectic live sound situation.
Track Types Explained
Let’s clarify the difference between recording tracks, playback tracks, and virtual tracks. Recording tracks are how many signals, analog or digital, you can feed the recorder at a time. Playback tracks consist of how many recorded tracks you can mix together and play back at one time. Finally, virtual tracks are how many individual recordings your workstation can manage in a single project session.
In the case of an 8-track recorder, you can generally record two inputs simultaneously, such as vocals and guitar. You could then record two more signals to add another layer, and proceed until you’ve recorded eight tracks. However, up to 64 virtual tracks allow you to record multiple takes on each track, so you could record up to seven additional takes for each instrument. You’ve recorded 64 different takes and can mix any eight of them together to create a final stereo mix.
Mixing on Workstations
Many small-format workstations give you faders to mix your tracks, but they may have fewer physical faders than playback tracks in order to save on cost and size. For example, a 16-track workstation may only have eight faders, and you probably won’t find any small-format workstations with motorized faders. These limitations are usually no problem for basic music projects. But, if you want to have access to all your track faders at once or need the precision and fast recall of motorized faders, then you’ll definitely want to look at large-format workstations.
It’s difficult to glance at a multitrack workstation and understand its capabilities. Even with just a few knobs and faders, you may have access to all types of routing, effects, editing, and mixing capabilities. Once you’ve found a workstation that has the right connections and track count for your application, take the time to find out if it has the editing and mixing capabilities you need.
Where to Go from Here
Hopefully you can now look at any digital multitrack recorder and have a general idea of the applications it’s best suited for. Take into account how many audio tracks you’ll want to record simultaneously and look for recorders that have at least that number of inputs. Next, decide whether you want to be able to edit and mix audio right on the recorder or if you plan to do that later in a computer-based DAW. From there, you’ll be in a great position to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer at (800) 222-4700. We’ll help you find the best digital multitrack recorder for your situation, and we’re happy to help you figure out the best way to integrate it with any gear you’re currently using.