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Q. Can I record multiple tracks onto a PC sequencer simultaneously, via the soundcard I/O, as on a tape-based system?

By Sam Inglis
Published January 2001

I am thinking about spending some cash on a new setup for a home studio, as I'm getting a bit frustrated with the limitations of my current setup. I'm considering a dedicated PC and a mixing desk (a cheap 16‑channel desk or something similar), but I don't want to go to the expense of a tape‑based system, and quite like using a PC‑based sequencing package. I have also been looking into multiple I/O soundcards.

I'd like to know how to put this setup together, in terms of routing and so on, and whether I would be able to record multiple tracks simultaneously onto a PC sequencer via the I/O as I would on a tape‑based system. Do I route my sound sources through the card then just mix through the desk, or can I record via the desk? I just want a simple recording system that I can tweak if needs be, but at a reasonably low price.


Assistant Editor Sam Inglis replies: If you have a multiple I/O soundcard and a mixer, you should indeed be able to record multiple tracks simultaneously like on a tape‑based system (with the additional benefits of virtual tracks, non‑linear editing, and so forth). Obviously, you can only record as many separate tracks at once as you have inputs on your soundcard, but you can record either with or without a mixer provided your sources are at line level to start with.

If you're using microphones, you'll need a mixer or some stand‑alone mic preamps to get the signal up to a level that the soundcard can deal with. Using a mixer also has the advantage that you can monitor the signals you're recording without waiting for them to go through the computer (which causes a delay known as 'latency'). The routing should be set up just as you would for a tape recording, except that if you want to do the zero‑latency monitoring thing you'll need to feed the input signal from your sound sources to the monitoring on the mixer, and mute those channels on the software mixer in your sequencing program.