Q. What’s the best setup for live multitrack recording?

Published in SOS October 2009
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I have been involved with our school fund‑raising events for some years now, starting off by doing sound and lighting. Nowadays I only get involved with recording the event, and for some time have been wanting to break into multitrack recording. I have been taking a live mix of the system output and a pair of ambient mics, but I would like to do this onto a multitrack recorder, so as to be able to remix later. Most basic multitrack recorders can only record two tracks live, so are no good. I do have an old Yamaha four‑track cassette recorder, but this is limited by the quality and the recording time of compact cassettes. Four tracks live is obviously the minimum, but if we had more available, the next step would be to use insert points on the main mixer to be able to do a different mix than the live one. Can you give any advice as to all this? I understand that it's possible to do it on a laptop, but I don't know where you can get the extra equipment needed, or whether this is the most cost‑effective solution.!

Modern digital recorders such as the Zoom R16, which is capable of recording eight tracks of 24‑bit audio at a time, can be very suitable for live multitrack recording.Modern digital recorders such as the Zoom R16, which is capable of recording eight tracks of 24‑bit audio at a time, can be very suitable for live multitrack recording.

Geoffrey D Glass

Via email

SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: To answer the last point first, the issue of what will be most cost‑effective depends a great deal on the I/O configuration you need, whether you already own a suitable laptop, and what facilities you need or already have for mixing.

If you already own a fairly modern laptop, you may feel that it's more sensible to buy audio interfacing for that than try to find a stand‑alone hardware alternative. For eight inputs, the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 and Presonus Firestudio Project interfaces are strong contenders, and the Focusrite has the advantage that you could easily add another eight inputs to it at a later date, via a multi‑channel preamp connected to its ADAT digital input.

That's not to say that there aren't stand‑alone options that compete at this price, though. Check out Zoom's R16, for example, which records eight tracks of 24‑bit audio at a time to solid‑state memory; Korg's D888, which records eight simultaneous tracks at 16‑bit resolution to its internal hard drive; and Fostex's MR8 HDCD, which can manage four simultaneous 16‑bit tracks of recording to hard disk. All of these machines allow you to export your recorded audio to computer systems via USB if you wish, but you can also mix (with fairly basic facilities) on board.

Those are just the models that are currently in production, and it's worth bearing in mind that you can pick up discontinued multitrack recorders second‑hand for a song, now that so many users are abandoning them for computer studios. This may be a particularly attractive option if you want lots of inputs. For example, my quick glance at the SOS readers' adverts unearthed models such as the Tascam MX2424, Alesis HD24 and Fostex D2424LV, all for under £600 in the UK. The outmoded big beasts of the digital multitracker craze (think Yamaha AW2816/AW4416 and Roland VS1680/VS2480) might also be worth a look if you want a box that can not only record, but can also provide pretty powerful audio editing, mix processing/effects and automation. Bear in mind with earlier units, however, that you need to have a plan for getting the audio out of them if you're wanting to mix the multitrack in a computer system. Options here include Ethernet transfer for some of the big modular multitrack systems, or WAV export via CD/DVD using a large‑scale multitracker's internal disc burner.    

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