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At some point in time, just about anyone who calls themselves a musician will have an itch to record themselves. The technology that used to cost a small fortune is now readily available for any musician looking to record some music.
Multitrack recorders have been especially popular over the last 20+ years, primarily because they don’t necessarily need a computer. Any of the following multitrack recorders will be worth your time and money if you’re seeking a DAW-less setup.
TASCAM DP-008EX – Best Overall
The DP-008EX is an 8-channel recording unit that allows the ability to record up to 2 tracks simultaneously. As the name implies, each recording project supports up to 8 separately-tracked recordings, ensuring you can compose songs with rich layers.
The DP-008EX has 2 XLR inputs as well as a pair of 1/4” line inputs, allowing you to connect both microphones and electrified signals to the device. There is also a pair of internal microphones at the very front of the DP-008EX.
Want to listen back to the audio that you just recorded? The DP-008EX has both a headphone output as well as an RCA output that you can use to connect to speakers or a stereo receiver.
This multitrack recorder even comes with a few extra features packed in, including:
- Footswitch for recording punch-ins
- Stereo reverb
While you can probably get by using the DP-008EX to record basic demo tracks, you might wish to use a DAW for post-production. The DP-008EX does come equipped with a USB output so you can easily transfer the recordings to your computer for this purpose.
In terms of audio quality, the DP-008EX records 16-bit, 44.1kHz audio, proving that this device is far more capable than it appears. From the surface, this looks like a mixer with radial faders and a small status screen (which, to some degree, it is).
When using the DP-008EX, all of the recorded data will be saved to an internal SD card. The device supports SD cards up to 32GB in size and comes with a 2GB card already installed.
While it seems like quite a bit to this device as it is, the DP-008EX actually has one massive benefit that helps make it the best on this list. The DP-008EX is extremely small and designed for absolute portability.
There’s a fair chance you could probably stash this away in a bag or a case if needed. Because it’s powered by a pair of AA batteries, you can literally take this anywhere, though a power supply is sold separately.
Of course, the DP-008EX is also extremely affordable, coming in at roughly the same cost as a top-of-the-line beginner guitar. This proves that you don’t need much money to be able to record quality audio.
JoeCo BlackBox BBR1-B – Best Premium
If you’re in a band that prioritizes live shows and ensures that each performance is unique, the ability to record each concert is a requirement. It’s even better yet when the audio is of pristine, soundboard condition, as it gives you a product that you can merchandise to your fanbase.
There are many ways to capture these types of scenarios, but one of the easiest is by employing the JoeCo BlackBox BBR1-B. This is a rack mount unit that can easily be installed with the rest of your gear in your sound rack, making routing an absolute breeze.
While this is definitely an expensive option, the truth is that more expensive multitrack recorders of a similar nature can be found. However, the BlackBox BBR1-B is slightly more of a practical choice for most groups that do not require 32 channels of inputs.
The BlackBox BBR1-B supports both 1/4” and Female D-Type to 1/4” inputs. Because this is a 24-channel multitrack recorder, you can track 24 tracks simultaneously in 24-bit, 96kHz audio resolution, with the device using the BWF file format when saving projects.
To say that you’ll be able to record some extremely high-quality audio with the BlackBox BBR1-B is an understatement. But such a device wouldn’t be as useful if it didn’t have an easy way to transport the files to a computer.
Interestingly enough, the BlackBox BBR1-B uses USB2 drives for storage, which means you don’t need to connect long cables to your computer. It’s generally recommended to avoid thumb drives for this device, but any other high-powered USB2 drive (such as an external hard drive) will work superbly.
For being a rack unit, the BlackBox BBR1-B does provide ample track metering as well as a range of controls for each track. But, again, aside from preventing clipping and ensuring your levels are ideal, you’ll probably use this in conjunction with a DAW if you are using it for professional purposes.
Overall, the BlackBox BBR1-B seems to be appropriately named considering that it can record so many tracks simultaneously. Anyone in a band, or anyone who records full bands could consider this a serious investment in their careers.
Zoom PodTrak P4 – Best Budget
Are you somebody on a tighter budget that is looking to get into the world of podcasting? The Zoom PodTrak P4 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is, by far, one of the best budget 4-channel multitrack recorders on the market specifically designed for podcasters.
This is yet another example that proves that you don’t need to spend much money to get yourself a powerful recording rig. If you already have some top-notch microphones, this could be all you ever really need for your podcast outside of instances with numerous guests.
The PodTrak P4 is incredibly intuitive in both its design and its workflow, making it easy for anyone to catch on quickly. At the top, you’ll find 4 phantom-powered XLR inputs, which each has its own level controls.
The PodTrak P4 makes it easy to see what each channel’s level is at thanks to its built-in LCD screen. Each track, as well as the main output, has a visual monitor so you’ll never need to worry about clipping.
A dry microphone signal can often leave a bit to be desired, but PodTrak P4 comes with 4 different microphone preamps to help with this.
Every professional podcast you’ve ever listened to has likely utilized music for the intro and outro sections of its episodes. The PodTrak P4 makes it easy to do this yourself by providing 4 sample pads that can be loaded with the audio files of your choice.
Furthermore, like the XLR inputs, each of these sound pads has its own level control. Having this much control without a computer means you could practically record every aspect of an episode right on the spot, which could be useful for live broadcasters.
There’s nothing worse than trying to record something with another person, only to discover that there aren’t enough headphone jacks. You won’t encounter this problem with the PodTrak P4, as it’s actually equipped with 4 headphone jacks to ensure each guest has a monitor.
The PodTrak P4 records audio at 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution and saves the files to an internal SD card. However, one of the best things about the PodTrak P4 is that you can even use it as an external sound card in conjunction with your computer.
Using it in this fashion means you can record into a DAW or streaming programs in real time. Regular external sound cards can cost more than this but do not even offer this kind of versatility.
Another important aspect of the PodTrak P4 is its portability, providing just over 3 hours with a fresh pair of AA batteries. Of course, you can always use a power supply to mitigate this worry altogether if you’ll be in a location with a power source.
While the PodTrak P4 is definitely marketed toward podcasters, it must be said that any musician could easily find as much use with this device. You’ll pay a premium for simultaneous 4-track capabilities on a traditional external sound card.
TASCAM Model 24
Some people prefer to have the kind of complete control over the minutia of each track that only a traditional mixer can provide. If you’re looking for a 24-channel multitrack recorder that offers this control, be sure to check out the TASCAM Model 24 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
Using the Model 24 will be incredibly intuitive if you’ve ever spent any time at all working the mixer to a PA. It features a traditional design, providing faders for level control as well as radial faders for EQ, panning, and monitor levels.
While the Model 24 is a 24-track unit, it’s important to note that it only has 22 inputs available. Of these, both XLR and 1/4” connections are supported, with 1 channel reserved for 1/8” stereo/RCA input.
You will need to be mindful of which microphones you are using require phantom power. Only 16 channels on the Model 24 have built-in phantom power, which may not be the biggest deal for most people.
As far as audio quality goes, the Model 24 provides some of the best in its class, with 24-bit, 48kHz resolution. The Model 24 is also equipped with a large number of different effects, including:
When recording audio, the Model 24 saves its data to an internal SD card, which can be easily transported to a computer. Of course, one of the beautiful things about the Model 24 is that you can use it as your computer’s sound card to use in conjunction with your DAW of choice.
The Model 24 easily connects to a computer with a USB connection. While it supports use with computers that are fairly dated, you’ll want to be mindful of whether your computer’s operating system and processor speed are supported.
The Model 24 is an absolute tank, weighing 22 pounds and having a fairly square frame with dimensions near the 20” mark. While it might be fairly bulky, it’s still quite portable in nature and is perfect for those occasions when you want to record live shows or a special recording session at a cabin (for example).
While the Model 24 is fairly pricey for most individuals, it’s actually priced perfectly at the lower end of the spectrum for a professional’s budget. Plus, you can almost be positive that this device is something that will last years of heavy use.
Zoom LiveTrak L-20
Not everyone has the budget or the need for a 24-channel multitrack recorder The Zoom LiveTrak L-20 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a great option for professionals who still have a need for quality with some extra recording capability when needed
In terms of design, the LiveTrak L-20 is modeled more like a traditional mixer, offering 20 channels that can be recorded simultaneously. Each of these channels supports both XLR and mono 1/4” connections.
Along with that, the LiveTrak L-20 has traditional long-throw faders to control the recording level of each track. Additional controls are provided for gain and compression levels.
The LiveTrak L-20 makes it incredibly easy to set up with regard to the channels that are being recorded or played back. Each channel has a recording selection button, as well as mute/solo options.
You’ll also be able to utilize reverb and other effects in the master control section of the device. Each bank is packed with usable effects, with little-to-no fluff to keep things lean.
You can almost guarantee that the recording quality of the LiveTrak L-20 is top-shelf. The device supports resolutions up to 24-bit, 96kHz quality.
As far as storage goes, the LiveTrak L-20 records and saves directly to an SD card. However, you can use a USB cable to use it as a computer’s external sound card, which unlocks the highest recording quality possible.
Zoom has gone the extra mile to pack the LiveTrak L-20 with features that ensure its longevity. For instance, you can create and save up to 6 different individual headphone mixes per project, ensuring that each member of a decently-sized band can hear themselves in real time.
There’s even an option for a talkback microphone, allowing the sound engineer to communicate directly into the monitor/headphone feed. This eliminates the time and hassle of each member having to remove their headphones to be able to communicate.
Another additional feature that can be extremely useful for live recording scenarios is its built-in metronome. This, too, can be piped directly into each person’s individual monitor mix.
Bands are notorious for adding elements of surprise to their performance, sometimes to the chagrin of the sound engineer. However, the LiveTrak L-20 has a bit of a safety net by buffering and capturing audio 2 seconds before the button is pressed to record.
For the price, the LiveTrak L-20 gives other expensive options a run for their money. This multitrack recorder has so much versatility that you could find yourself not only recording live performances but using it for the front-of-house mix during said performances.
In fact, the LiveTrak L-20’s ability to connect with Zoom’s proprietary application makes running sound an absolute breeze. You can essentially step away from the board and change the levels from your cell phone or tablet device.
Where the DP-32SD differs from multitrack recorders with the mixer console design is that it’s designed to be more like using a DAW. Ultimately, that means you are provided with more hands-on control for recording purposes, rather than for real-time performances that can also be recorded.
Does that mean the DP-32SD isn’t as capable as the mixer designs? Yes and no, but ultimately, it just means that you likely won’t be using the DP-32SD to act as a mixing console during a concert.
As you might guess from its name, the DP-32SD is a 32-track multitrack recorder. This specific model offers 8 inputs, which can be used with either XLR or 1/4” connections.
Ultimately, what this means is that you can record 8 inputs simultaneously, with each project allowing the space for 32 individually recorded tracks. For a device like this, having this amount of space is quite impressive and is definitely one of the DP-32SD’s strongest points.
The ease of using the DP-32SD only increases with the fact that a footswitch can be connected to the unit. This allows you to start or stop the recording and helps with punch-ins, which is incredibly convenient for those who are playing a distance away from the multitrack recorder.
While this multitrack recorder costs a bit less than some of the more premium options on this list, it doesn’t compromise on recording quality. You actually have control over its recorded sound resolution, offering a bit depth of 16 and 24 bits, and a sample rate of 44.1kHz and 48kHz.
You’ll be able to apply a wide range of different effects to each track as well as the master track as needed. A headphone output is also provided for real-time monitoring and playback purposes.
The DP-32SD records directly to an SD card, of which there is a 4GB card pre-installed into the unit. However, you can easily transfer your recorded tracks to a computer with its USB Mini-B connection.
This is definitely one of the most popular choices for those who don’t want to deal with a computer during the recording process. Its price definitely makes it a justifiable purchase for any serious creative.
If there’s one option that comes close to being one of the best multitrack recorders overall in terms of price and capability, it’s the Zoom R20 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon). This unit is the perfect middle ground between affordability and versatility and has everything a thrifty musician could desire.
The R20 has the ability to record 8 tracks simultaneously, supporting a total of 16 tracks for each project. Of these inputs, 6 are XLR-only, while 2 support both XLR and 1/4” connections.
An important thing to note with the R20 is that the first channel has Hi-Z for anyone that needs it, which is rare to find at this price point. Furthermore, 3 channels have built-in 48V phantom power.
Each channel of the R20 has its own faders, with gain knobs that have been color-coded for easier track recall. Selecting which inputs are to be used during the recording process is super easy as each input has a selectable recording button to engage/disengage recording.
What’s even better about the R20 is its fantastic LCD screen. This displays each track in a very similar way to what you would see using a DAW/computer setup.
Using this screen comes in handy when you are using the R20 during the editing process. The device does come equipped with EQ and effects to help enhance the sound of your audio.
Speaking of audio, the R20 records in 24-bit, 44.1kHz resolution, which is quite amazing for a device like this. All of its recorded audio is stored on an SD card, with support for up to 1TB when using the SDCX variety.
While you can always use the SD card to transfer files to a computer, the R20 does have a USB connection for this purpose. You can even purchase a Bluetooth adapter that allows you to control the R20’s operation directly from your cellphone (iOS only, unfortunately).
If you think that the R20 is packed with features already, you better buckle up, because it doesn’t end here. Not only can you import MIDI files into your project, but the R20 also has a number of synthesizer sounds that you can utilize by connecting a MIDI controller.
The R20 is also equipped with a voice-guided assistant that can help you through the process should you ever get confused. Think of this like your GPS navigation voice leading you to safety whenever you’re lost.
For the price, the R20 is almost unbeatable considering everything that it has to offer. As you can see, it’s quite capable but comes with a portability factor that cannot be denied.
Plus, if you do opt to install a 1TB SDXC card, it could be years before you ever have to worry about file management. This is, by far, one of the best value options to be found in the multitrack recorder niche.
What To Look For When Buying A Multitrack Recorder
Let’s face it, the needs you need to be met in a multitrack recorder could vary wildly compared to somebody else’s intentions. Just a brief look to see what is available is enough to stun you to paralysis considering all of the different options and features that are available.
How do you know what you need, and more importantly, how do you know what is enough? The following points will help guide you to these personal conclusions so that you can make the best decisions possible.
At the end of the day, nobody likes to spend their money and find out that their choice didn’t meet their expectations. Feel free to revisit these points multiple times on various days to ensure that your line of thinking is consistent before you do make the purchase.
It probably goes without saying that your budget is going to ultimately define the parameters of the different multitrack recorders that are available to you. While it might seem like you need to spend a good amount, the reality is that recording equipment isn’t necessarily as costly as it used to be.
Ultimately, what it comes down to (aside from having funds that you can reasonably and justifiably spend) is where you are in your journey. The needs of a casual hobbyist and the needs of a professional differ greatly, and, so too, does the budget range that is the most justifiable for each.
In general, anything priced near the $1000 range or above should probably be left best to professionals or aspiring professionals. If you have the opportunity to generate an income with your multitrack recorder, these purchases can essentially pay for themselves.
With that being said, as this article has illustrated, there are some fantastic options available for every budget level. Just because you have a smaller budget doesn't mean you are left out in the cold when it comes to being able to record music.
Construction & Style
Once you have your budget figured out, it’s time to figure out the kind of style you want your multitrack recorder to be. There are a couple of styles, with each serving an intentional purpose behind their designs.
One of these styles is modeled after a traditional mixer like you would use with a PA sound system. These are nearly identical in every respect with the addition of recording capabilities.
Mixer-style recorders can be exceptional for capturing recordings of live performances. They usually provide the most capability with regard to how many tracks can be recorded simultaneously, but this versatility can come at a cost.
The other popular style follows in the footsteps of the original TASCAM Portastudio. These are designed to work more like a DAW, and while they can be used to capture live performances, are best for emulating the process of recording in a studio.
Other recorders you could consider are handheld field recorders, which often provide onboard microphones as well as external microphone connections. These are not recommended for those looking for professional recordings requiring multiple instrument tracks.
Number Of Channels
Perhaps the biggest area that most people get tripped up with is when they need to consider how many channels their desired multitrack recorder should have. The general rule of thumb is to at least have some extra channels to be safe.
There are a few reasons for this, the first of which comes down to the fact that musicians can be quite unpredictable. You might not think it today, but 3 months from now, you could be involved with multiple musicians and attempting to record a project.
Let me tell you, there is nothing worse than not having enough dedicated channels for each instrument and microphone. There are some workarounds if you’re crafty (such as employing a separate mixer for 1-2 tracks on the project), but this can sacrifice control over tracks not recorded individually into the device.
Another reason for this is, should a channel happen to go bad, you’re not at a complete loss. In these instances, you can just use one of the other inputs to get by (granted that there are enough available in said instance).
With that rule of thumb, if you think you only need 4 channels, consider opting for 8 to be safe. Adopt this thinking to whatever number you are currently thinking.
However, you should be aware that having too many channels can also be an issue, especially when it comes to mixer-style recorders. You’re essentially lugging around extra bulk that you never use.
With that being said, the portable studio types of recorders are best off with as many channels as possible. That way, you can record as many tracks as possible without limitation.
Another thing you will want to consider is the recorder’s ability to record multiple tracks simultaneously. If you know you’ll be recording a full band, make sure at least that many channels can be recorded at the same time.
Connectivity & Data Storage
Most multitrack recorders use SD cards for storage. However, some devices do not offer much capacity, so this is something to be aware of.
Furthermore, if you are using a recorder as an interface with your computer, you may need to ensure that your computer’s build is supported. Generally, this isn’t much of an issue.
The extra features beyond the recorder's basic capabilities are often what tip the scales in the buyer’s mind. Take the time to weigh out the different features that each product you are considering has to offer.
While it might seem tedious, the more time you spend in this comparison phase, the better your money is spent. And with that, you’ll usually be far happier with your purchase.
Best Brands For Multitrack Recorders
If you’ve only just begun to consider purchasing a multitrack recorder, there’s a fair chance you might not know which brands on the market are the most reputable. In the music industry, a good reputation does not come easily as musicians are typically quite honest about what is good and what isn’t.
While you don’t necessarily need to buy a name-brand product, you should know that much of the market’s offerings are dominated by just a handful of different brands. The following brands are considered the industry’s giants when it comes to portable recording devices and multitrack recorders.
When it comes to the world of portable recording, there is no better-established brand than TASCAM. After all, this is the company that pioneered the possibility back in the late 1970s with their 4-track cassette recorder.
While TASCAM has a range of other audio equipment products, it has essentially built its legacy with portable recorders. If you purchase a TASCAM multitrack recorder, you can be sure that the company’s reputation will ensure a product that will provide years of utility.
Make no mistake about it, Zoom is not affiliated with the popular video chat client. This Japanese company has been a serious competitor to TASCAM since the 1980s.
Today, Zoom is primarily known for its range of portable recording devices, as well as a range of effects processors and interfaces. While many of Zoom’s products are designed for musicians, it is one of the first companies to specialize in products designed for podcasters and content creators.
Top Multitrack Recorders, Final Thoughts
Once you’ve learned the workflow of a multitrack recorder, tracking music becomes an extremely simplistic process. Thanks to multitrack recorders, all musicians of any age can record the songs that have been plaguing their minds.
The best part is, you don’t really even need to spend a ton of cash to have a viable recording rig. With these devices, you’ll have all you need to record music, aside from the instruments and (possibly) other musicians.