Today we’re taking a look at stand-alone multi-track recorders. In previous articles we’ve covered getting your ideas recorded at home on your computer, but some folks don’t get along with computers, and it’s for those folks that they make the stand alone multitrack recorders.
Lets face it – there’s a good amount of complexity when it comes to computer based recording. There’s alot to worry about.
Enter the standalone or SIAB (Studio In A Box) which makes it easier for anyone – especially a beginner, to get the music recorded with little drama.
Basically, all we’re talking about here is a box. A black box, if you will. You don’t have to worry about how much memory or hard disk space it has (at first) or what software it’s running or anything about plugins, drivers, computers crashing, or viruses. You just plug it in and go to town!
Why Tascam? Tascam makes some of the best multitracking units available, and they’ve been around for donkey’s years (that’s a long time – ok 1971 to be exact). Fostex is out there too, sometimes cheaper, but I know and trust Tascam so we’re going to be talking about them here.
When looking at a stand alone multitrack unit, there are a few features that make or break it in my mind. Here they are, in no particular order:
- How many tracks. Probably the biggest and most obvious, and will make the biggest difference in the price. Are you happy only being able to record 4 instruments without bouncing? Would 8 fit your needs better? I personally think 8 is the absolute minimum if you’re going to record full finished songs with a decent sized “band”.
- Does it have an effects loop or onboard effects? It’s not so bad if there are no onboard effects, because you can always get pedals and other outboard toys to add effects to your songs. What really makes it tough is if there isn’t an effects loop. Basically an effects loop allows you to add effects to the track without that effect being recorded on the track. You can tweak later when the track is done being recorded, and you can add multiple effects. You can change the effects without having to re-record the entire take.
- Number of inputs, and how many tracks you can record simultaneously. If you only have one input, or one track that can be recorded at a time, it might stifle the creative process a little. Maybe you want your drummer to be able to record his part with your bass player for instance. Or maybe you want two vocalists to be able to record their parts together to work out the harmonies. A bare minimum I’d look for here is two inputs, and two simultaneously recordable tracks – at least.
So I’ve organized this article into 4 categories, and I hope you find a fit in one of them. We’re gonna look at the following price ranges and products.
- $200 – The Tascam DP-004
- $300 – The Tascam DP-008
- $500 – The Tascam DP-03
- $800 – The Tascam 2488 Neo
If your budget is over $800, you probably arent in the market for a Studio In A Box. They make ’em, but we’re gonna stick with the musician’s budget for this article.
You’ll be surprised what you can get for $800 anyway. You might just feel inclined to make an impulse purchase. I know I will just writing about it!
There are a lot of products out there. So don’t go crazy on me if I forgot your favorite, or the one on your wish list. I’m just trying to provide examples in various dollar ranges so you can get a vibe on what’s out there.
So let’s get started! First up:
The Tascam DP-004 – $200 Range
In the lower price ranges you are going to sacrifice things like number of inputs, per track eq knobs, and number of tracks. This is a four track recorder that for the price is a killer deal. You’ll be limited to just four instruments, or having to bounce tracks, which can get messy.
It can record two tracks at once, which is a nice feature since I assume most users would be recording vocals and guitar, or maybe two guitars at once. It also comes with internal mics which the reviewers say are not bad.
You can transfer your songs over to a computer with the provided USB port, so further editing and mastering should be possible.
This includes a 2GIG SD card, but as you know you can get them in much larger sizes for larger projects.
- More details and specs on the DP-004
The Tascam dp-008 $300 Range
The DP-008 is a bestseller – and for good reason. The big brother of the DP-004 obviously doubles the track count to 8, allowing you to dramatically increase your instrumental possibilities. You still don’t have a heck of alot of control knobs PER track, but you do have that functionality built into the software, it’s just not as natural and convenient as grabbing a knob to get things done. You’re still limited to two track simultaneous recording as well. You’ve got two XLR inputs with phantom power, which increases your microphone selection considerably. It also sports one effect – built in reverb.
Here again, USB is provided for the computer connection, and it records to SD cards (up to 32 Gig), and built in mics are ready to go. For $100 more, you get alot more.
It’s still not a unit you’re going to record your next CD on (probably) but it’s getting closer.
- More details and specs on the DP-008
The Tascam DP-03 $500 Range
We’re getting smaller in model numbers now (DP-03), but bigger in functionality and value.
It’s got the ability to record 8 tracks, just like the DP-008, so what makes it that much better? What’s eating up that extra $200 you’re going to pay for this puppy>?
Well, it’s got all the stuff that comes with the DP-008, like the ability to record two tracks at once, SD card media, phantom power, and all that jazz.
With the DP-03 you also get a built in CD burner, so you can mix and master right to a CD when you’ve got that song down pat.
It’s got dedicated 2 band EQ knobs, as well as reverb send knobs.
Also offered is support for bouncing, punching in, mastering effects like EQ and compression for individual tracks or the overall mix.
This unit also still fits into what I would call the “portable” category.
- More details and specs on the DP-03
The Tascam 2488 NEO
So we’ve jumped $300 over and above the DP-03 and what do we have to show for it? A whole hell of alot.
Let’s start with 24 tracks of musical possibilities. Size. You’re not going to be (comfortably) dragging this thing around with you, although it is still smaller than an entire recording studio.
What are you going to do with 24 tracks? 4 guitars and a band and some horns? Strings? Kazoo? It’s up to you.
You’ve got reverb, amp simulation, preamps, effects, EQ processing – the whole shootin’ match.
Eight inputs – you can record the entire band. You get 4 XLR and 4 standard 1/4 inch.
250 virtual tracks – you can save takes and choose the best ones later.
USB to connect to your computer, and of course the CD burner.
80 gig hard drive.
This thing will allow you to produce recordings like the pros for a killer price – $800.