The benefits of using a stand-alone multi-track recorder

tascam-dp24-iphone3

If we’re honest with ourselves as musicians (slash) home recording enthusiasts, there are times when we just don’t feel like powering up the computer to record a song, or other musical idea.  You wait for the computer to fully boot-up (can be a rather long wait on an old Windows-based system), grab the mouse to open up your DAW, create a template (or choose from your favorites), etc. etc. etc. …..

Enter the stand-alone multi-track recorder

None of that stuff above is necessary with one of these all-encompassing machines that focuses on only one thing – recording your music…

Some days it just seems like its more work than fun on the computer because of having to do the same mundane prepping for the recording session.  Wouldn’t it be nice to just grab your guitar (or whatever), and simply press “record” to lay down your first track?  In-a-way it can be…

If you’ve never used a stand-alone multitrack recording station / console / deck, you might find that some of them (like the Tascam DP24 in the images above and below) can prove to be a nice alternative, or “break-away,” from your daily recording routine.

If you have the extra money and are considering buying one of these machines, I would do it.  Besides all the material you record on one can be transferred to your favorite anyway.  Here are some of the reasons I say you might find one useful…

Power up time is instantaneous

Just like I mentioned just a few seconds earlier, with a stand-alone recorder, all you do is the power on button and you’re instantly ready to start a recording session.  Of course, you have to get your guitar, mics, and whatever else ready as you would normally, but as for your main recording capabilities you’re set (your “computer” has fired up and your “DAW” is open as soon as you press the power button).

I’m seriously considering leaving my Tascam setup for “idea catching” purposes since its prep time (if you have a couple of mic cables and such already in place and ready to go) id next to “nil.” 

Currently I just use “voice memos,” and / or “music memos (which has a cool drum feature)” for recording on-the-spot guitar ideas, which is just fine; however, taking just a little bit more time to set the metronome to the right time, play the part as good as I can, get a good level on the recording… etc. … I can come back to this idea later on and it’s already closer to being a finished product.

Most of these machines come equipped with some sort of SD card storage capability allowing the user to record multiple songs with multiple tracks making it easier to just record idea after idea and transfer them to your computer at a later date (when you finally have the time, or are now “willing” to spend the time).

Hardly any latency issues

Latency is the term used to describe how much time it takes for the audio signal that was produced to travel through your recording gear and back to your ears.  If you haven’t experienced long latency times before, consider yourself lucky.  It’s rather annoying to have to sing a vocal track only to have it NOT be heard in your headphones until a whole, or half-a-second later – makes it almost impossible to record the track.

But with these wonderful little machines, latency is not normally an issue because there’s not a lot of extra “stuff” going on in the background that could slow the overall system down.

You are able to keep a “hands-on-faders” approach

Tascam DP24 – Open and ready for use…

Now, you can eliminate the whole need for a “mouse” (unless, of course, you plan to transfer your recorded material over to your favorite DAW).  If you’re like me, then sometimes you find the mouse to be “a little” annoying at times.  It’s a nice breath of fresh air being able to press buttons and push real faders with your hands.  Not to mention being able to make certain adjustments rather quickly in comparison (“sometimes” at least).

Of course, the limitation is that you do not have the capability to get as “surgical” with your audio as you would be able to in your DAW.  At least, not normally to level possible in a DAW.  Surgery is possible with the Tascam DP24, but if I plan to start getting that precise, I will have probably transferred the audio back to my computer by now and do it there instead.

Depending upon your age, reverting back to a stand-alone device of sorts might “take you back” to the good-ole “four-track cassette” days.  Obviously, the similar digital machines of today have come a long way, but I remember thinking (at the time – 1990ish) the Tascam Porta 03 was just magical.  I never thought that I would be able to record one guitar track over another without having to go to a “real” studio.

You don’t have to worry about the recorder “freezing up”

I’m sure at some point, you’ve gotten half way through recording a song and your DAW decides to start “acting funny,” or maybe even shuts down completely.  You fire everything back up hoping all is well and realize that the best lead guitar you have ever played (just a few minutes ago) didn’t save…

Computers are computers and sometimes (no matter how well equipped they are) they fail on us.  Of course, the same thing can happen to any type of machine, but it is less likely with stand-alone recorder because that’s all it does – record audio – that’s it.  Again, there’s not a bunch of other programs running in the background that could cause it to freeze up (…normally)…

You’re not overwhelmed with effects options

With most stand-alone recorders, there isn’t usually that much to pick from with regards to on-board effects.  Yes, most have the capability of inserting outboard effects.  But normally you have the basic eq, compression, reverb… maybe some distortion, chorus, etc., but not a great deal more than that.

Sometimes when there’s less options to choose from you’re able focus on what’s most important (eq, compression, etc.).  Now, you are focused on putting your best tracks down right from the beginning because you realize that you’re limited in what you can do to doctor them up later (unless you transfer it to your DAW).

Of course, recording only the best track possible should always be of utmost importance, but with the capabilities of computers these days some (at least I have done this) may tend to settle for lesser quality audio tracks just so they can hurry up and finish the recording. 

But with a stand-alone device you’re going to want that good quality audio right from the start.  So, you’re going to be more motivated to setup a good recording session by: focusing more on mic placement, getting good volume levels (not necessarily “cranking” everything up – just make sure you’re able to get the tones want at the time of the recording rather than later on), and playing your best no matter how many takes are necessary.

Speaking of tones… For those guitar players out there, you’ll have certainly noticed the “bagillion” great plugin effects, amp simulators, etc. that are out there.  And, I’m certainly NOT saying to not ever use these on your recordings.  All I’m saying is that when you don’t have access to them you’ll be more focused on getting the right tone from your amp via the amp’s settings and your pedal setup / configuration. 

Here’s an idea… You can always transfer your stand-alone material to your DAW (which you may have to anyway for bouncing down purposes) and record that same guitar track(s) over again with your favorite plugin(s) and combine the two (or three, or four)… Just an idea…

Those last couple of paragraphs almost sounds like using one of these stand-alone recorders will cause you to work more.  Actually, to some degree, that may be the case, but I think in the long run this tiny bit of extra work (focus) will make you (I) become a better musician and audio engineer. 

At the same timed, you don’t have to do any of this “extra work” if you choose not to.  Once you’ve found the way you prefer setup a recording session with this stand-alone kind of setup…. Once you’re able to quickly dial in a particular guitar tone (or whatever tone)… You’ll be off and running at a quicker pace and can just lay down track after track until your hearts content…

Overall everything is just more simple and straight forward

By opting to take a break from your computer and favorite DAW, you’re eliminating a lot of distractions from your work.  Not only are you now able to use your hands more like in a “real” studio, but you don’t even have a screen to look at.  Yes, there’s normally a tinny menu screen so you can program tracks and such, but for the most part, you are just looking at the audio levels on the various tracks (as you would in a DAW anyway).

Everything is a bit simpler in nature. 

Conclusion

First thing’s first… All I’m saying with this post is that having and using one these stand-alone multitrack recorders is a nice option to have if you’re able to have that option.  But by all means, if you are happy with your DAW setup, and need a new microphone or some other very important piece of recording gear – then, of course, buy that instead. 

The main takeaway here is that there’s a potential to create great music with less prep time and distractions with more focus on recording great audio right from the start.  Who knows, using one these could potentially even make you a better recording engineer since you’ll normally be “working with the less” on one of these machines.’

Hope this helps . . .

stephen-ruppe-signature

S. B. Ruppe

I like writing and recording music and other audio , checking out new music and recording gear, experimenting with tonal qualities, and just about anything-and-everything related to the subject of audio (music, or other wise)...

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