Odds are, your DAW supports multitrack recording. But you don’t have to chain yourself to your computer-based setup. Swapping your open system (OS, DAW, interface, preamps, plugins, and whatnot) for a closed system (just a recorder) can be a smart move if you need to work on the go. To help you find the perfect closed system, we’ll look at five of the best multitrack recorders on the market.
Included in this guide:
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The Tascam Model 24 main panel has 17 input channel strips, 16 of which have mic preamps. Meanwhile, the last strip is for an RCA/stereo source. That said, four of those 16 channels can also be used with stereo sources, leaving you with a total of 22 analog inputs. Now, add the L/R channels of the main mix, and you’ve got 24 possible tracks that you can record simultaneously.
If you want to route a guitar or a bass directly into the recorder, though, you’ll have to use the first or second channel since they’re the only ones with high-impedance inputs. But on the end of the panel, you get two main XLR outputs alongside a dedicated sub out (good for bouncing tracks). Tascam also included control room outputs, one headphone out, and three aux sends (two pre-faders and one post).
The LiveTrak L-20 can record 20 tracks along with the master stereo signal. Out of the 20 channel strips, 16 correspond to the staggered XLR/combo inputs, while the remaining are for stereo lines. The first 16 channels are split into four blocks, each controlled by one phantom power button. Two out of the 16 XLR inputs are high-impedance for direct connection to electric guitars. The rest? They have switchable 26dB pads instead of the Hi-Z buttons.
You have balanced XLR outs for the master. But in the monitoring section, you also get six TRS outputs for headphones or stage monitors. The nifty thing here is that you can toggle master or cue mixes on each one.
The metallic Bluebox is ideal for recording up to six stereo tracks from synths, keyboards, and drum machines. The output options let you monitor a cue mix while sending the main mix to a PA system. However, it’s worth noting that the Bleubox is branded as a compact mixer first and foremost. So, its recording capabilities aren’t as impressive as its mixing features (like the four-band parametric EQ). For instance, it doesn’t support punching-in or phantom power for external condenser mics.
The MICRO BR-80 is a hand-held digital recorder and audio interface that runs in three modes. First up, we have the two-tracked Live Rec mode that uses the built-in stereo mics. Any recordings you capture on Live Rec can be imported to the eight-tracked MTR mode as a foundation for your song production. Finally, the eBand mode is made for backing tracks and phase training.
It’s worth noting that while the built-in mics are condensers, the external mic should be a monaural dynamic mic. Of course, you can hook up a guitar or bass into the ¼” jack instead. If you do, remember to shift to high impedance using the Guitar/Mic switch on the bottom panel.
The handheld R4 is designed with musicians in mind, which is abundantly clear in the track-bouncing feature that you can repeat and layer. However, without bouncing, you can only record four tracks directly from external mics (with optional phantom power) or instruments. It’s also possible to stereo-link two adjacent tracks by connecting the L/R channels of the output device (ex. synth) to inputs A and B, respectively.
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Sending phantom power to a dynamic mic will likely not damage it. However, extended exposure could wear it down over time. So, you want to be careful if your recorder/mixer doesn’t let you turn phantom power on/off for individual channels.
For most musicians, 4–8 tracks is a good place to start. But it’s always better to have extra channels to give yourself room for larger projects. Of course, some recorders will allow you to bounce tracks so you can go beyond the number of inputs.
The “virtual track” count refers to the number of takes the recorder can handle. On the MICRO BR-80, V-Tracks can also be used for bouncing when you’re out of the main tracks. Not all recorders support this feature, though.
Your editing options are typically very limited on digital recorders. Plus, there’s the issue of small displays. The recorders are still more portable than DAWs. They’re also closed systems and less likely to crash.
Yes, models like Bluebox and MICRO BR-80 can be USB-powered, so you can hook the cable to an external battery rather than adapters or hubs. Keep in mind that it’s better to avoid connecting all your USB-powered gear to the same brick to avoid noise issues.
The Tascam Model 24 jams 22 analog inputs into 17 channel strips, so you can easily record a full band without having to sacrifice portability. The LiveTrak L-20 is a lot like Model 24 in that it offers 16-mic preamps, but it’s two channels short. Finally, the R4 MultiTrak is the ideal pick for those on a budget. Despite being affordable, it delivers 32-bit float capture and a dedicated bounce track to stretch the four-track architecture as much as needed. Remember that you don’t have to give up your computer-based setup just yet—your DAW might come in handy for complex processing.
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