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Digital Multitrack or Computer???

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Zoot, Dec 20, 2004.

  1. Zoot


    Sep 4, 2004
    Hi y'all.

    I am wanting to record some of my music and make my own demo Cds instead of paying to use someones Studio.
    I have an Elecric Drumkit that I can use for Drums so the question is....Multitrack or Computer program such as Cubase or Cakewalk.

    I have both programs on my Pc but am struglling to use them as I am not very computer litterate...

    Would I have more success with a digital multitrack??? Please tell me if they are easy to use and give good results???

    Many thanks.
  2. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Here's my experience - hope it helps. Many moons ago I had a tascam 4 track and I recorded hundreds of songs. I am not the most computer literate person around. Back when hard disk recording was just invented I invested thousands of dollars in one of the first sytems. The amount of money I invested helped in my commitment to learn how to use it. I put hours of time into it, and learned to navigate the program easily. A few years down the line it became obsolete, I had trouble replacing my hardisk and upgrading, and I literally threw it away. I bought a Korg D16. When I originally got it I was just about as motivated to learn to use it as my computer based system. I recorded three songs. They sounded like total crap. The KORG sat on my desk for abut 2 years until I finally sold it and got myself Nuendo - pretty much the top of the line hard disk recording software. That now sits in my computer and I don't use it. What's my point? Not sure, but I think it's this....

    Computer recording is fairly complicated, stand alone recorders are fairly complicated. The one that will work best for you is I believe ultimately the one you'll put most time into learning. First time I used computer based stuff I thought I couldn't live without the hand on faders and other such things. I got over that really quickly - and when I got the Korg, felt exactly the opposite. I wanted to be able to do things on the computer screen again.

    After all my experience, I have to say I prefer computer based recording for many reasons. It's less expensive for one - if you're going for quality. It's a whole lot easier to upgrade. Unless you spend a significant amount on a multitrack you're never going to be able to produce anything more than a demo. Computers have a lot more versatility. It's a gazillion times easier (at least for me) to edit music on a computer.

    I'd only ever get a multitrack again if it were real cheap, I was going to use it only for demos, and I wanted the portability. Actually, I think I'd get a laptop if I wanted the portability.

    I realize this post is somewhat onconsistent and I've no time to edit it cuz I have to go to work. My suggestion would be to stick with what you've got, buy a book about learning to use it, and invest a really good chunk of time into working the kinks out. If it ain't happening for you after a few months - go for a multitrack, but know that the ones that will get you good recordings, aren't the most user friendly things on the market. For a guy like me (and many of my freinds that also purchased them), they're INCREDIBLY complicated to use.

    Good luck. If you have any other specific questions that I'd be able to answer, I'd be happy to.
  3. keb


    Mar 30, 2004
    I far prefer recording to a computer. I find I'm a lot more productive. I think my preference is skewed, though, because building PCs have been a hobby of mine for many years and I know my way around them, and know a little bit on how to tweak and troubleshoot them. I can definitely understand how a computer can be a frustrating pain in the butt when it comes to audio recording. The modular nature of it is a big plus for me though.

    Sometimes I find myself pining for an old analog Tascam 8-track reel machine, but that's mostly just nostalgia talking. ;)
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Ask yourself these questions:

    1. Do you want to be able to record in different locations? If YES, then get a multitrack. It's too hard to pack up and move a computer (laptops are better than desktops but you still need to drag around outboard boxes).

    2. Will the computer be dedicated 100% to recording? If NO, you might want a multitrack. The biggest problem with computer recording is all the other stuff loaded on the computer making it unstable....especially if it's a Windows machine.

    When I asked myself those two questions I went for a multitrack. I do use the computer to burn my CDs but that's all. All recording, mixing and mastering is done on the multitrack.
  5. Zoot


    Sep 4, 2004
    Does the multitrack do a good job???

    I hear that you get rubbish quality.... I'd be looking for a digital 8/16 track around the £6-700 mark ($1200)

    whats your opinion??
  6. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Let me put it this way...garbage in means garbage out. The quality of the source (that includes mikes, room you are recording in, etc.) and your ability to use EQ and effects will have a lot more to do with the quality of the finished product than the recorder.

    At $1200 you'll get perfectly fine results from a multitrack.
  7. The Red Menace

    The Red Menace

    Nov 25, 2004
    I have fairly extensive experience with both (for an amateur) and when given the choice, I'd go computer every time. Some of those portable hard disk multitrackers (cough..cough..roland..cough) tend to give everything the same over-all tone no matter what. Probably the preamps. :confused:
  8. Eldermike


    Jul 27, 2004
    recording is only one step in a project. The computer gives you all steps in the same package. The cost can be deceiving.

    To have equal capability to a comparative 24 track analog system you will spend more on a computer based system. But, for a few inputs the computer option costs less.

    But then again if you choose to use the current home computer as a base for recording you may find it lacking in memory and storage making it unstable.
    There is much to consider if you are making your first decisions about a home studio.
  9. thwackless


    Nov 24, 2003
    Smithfield, RI
    Hey, man...

    Like, (I'll stop that) if you're going to use a PC for a studio, you want to optimize it for that job. The guy who built my computer stripped it down (at my request) to the XP Operating system and put in the drives I needed: DVD burner, CD reader, C-drive, etc. It's for Audio Only- Internet has been disabled. No in-written Dell garbage, etc.

    Tascam's web-site has a link/download that educates you pretty thoroughly on optimizing your machine, and it's mostly easy stuff to do. Most of the things that make the PC scenario unstable can be pretty well addressed and settled by you the user, especially if you're not doing any major-league production work- ie, a home/hobby studio.

    The PC has been fine for me for these reasons: 1) I'm doing it all in one place, my house. 2) I'm also not spending a lot of bread on outboard gear, and the results I get are acceptably awesome.

    If I need to record anywhere else, I have a crusty old Yamaha 4-track. I'm angling this year for a digital multitracker I can carry around in a rack box...

    I like the PC 'cause it holds my copy of Cool Edit Pro 2, Sonar 3, and a few other fun items that I'm learning how to use- but the multitrack editing in CEP 2 is great. Can't really do that kind of 'close work' on a studio-in-a-box.

  10. Alright, I figure it's 4 in the morning so why not throw in my two cents?

    Here's my take on the situation. Time and time again I have contemplated the purchase of a digital multritrack machine. I figured that it would be real convinient for spot recording, as oppose to carrying a whole bunch of gear to make up a similar system.

    Now let's pretend that portability is key in this situation, since I believe enough people before me have established that for a non-mobile setup, a computer based system that is appropriately setup would be the best way to go. So, with that in mind...

    Personally, the only digital multitrack that I would even consider buying would be the VS2000, or similar model, by Roland that allows for expansion cards to be added to have modern plug-ins that are used commonly on computer based system, sure as Antares Auto-Tune. Even with that in mind though, these systems tend to come with relatively small hard drives which leaves them to only be able to record so many songs before you have to dump all the data off of them...I do believe they can be synced up with a computer for purposes of dumping data.

    The next thing that I would consider is the fact that typically the preamps on these units really are under par. Now while it is true that a professional with worse gear can make a better sounding recording and mix than an amatuer with the best equipment, I'm sure you would agree it's always nice to have better gear. With that in mind, a company such as MOTU has products that are catered nicely for portability, such as the 828MKII or the Traveler. The preamps at least on the 828, don't know much about the Traveler, are actually pretty decent pre's, though I'll admit there are only two on there, though the 896HD would be another option, not to mention other companies making Firewire interfaces. So this would allow you to connect to a laptop fairly easily. From that point, pick any software you want, and you have what I feel is a more user friendly interface when it comes to actual editing.

    BTW, correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume you are using a desktop and that mobility is not really the biggest of concerns, and so as stated above, I really feel that you will get more out of a computer based system. I also agree with Joe Nerve (nice to see you again Joe) that the more time you put into a system the better you will be no matter which way you turn. But keep in mind also that a computer based system will also allow for more interchangability between other machines to have professionals look at it and help you out, or have people you know, or I'm sure some people on the board here wouldn't mind helping you out and looking at your stuff after you track everything helping you with the mix down.

    I don't know if any of what I have just said has made any valuable sense to you, but hopefully it has.
  11. fretlessrock

    fretlessrock Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    I've pretty much split the difference by going with a laptop/firewire setup. I spent a lot of time on both a Roland 840 and 1280 workstation, and also have some time on the Yamaha. They worked fine, the sounded good, and if I kept my levels in check the preamps did a respectable job. The finished product was pretty much "demo" quality, but I never had a really good tracking room or super high-end mics so that was no surprise. What really drove me nuts was the tiny little display! I had a headache after an hour of tweaking that thing.

    Another big "must" for me is to have the ability to import/export tracks/projects in a way that makes it easy to perform editing, mixing, or mastering on a computer. The Roland boxes that I used made this really difficult. They may have fixed it in the new versions.

    So I decided that in my current DAW I would use my iBook and an 8 channel external interface and external harddrive and see how that did. Regardless of the technology, I am still an 8-track guy at heart. If I wasn't addicted to non-linear edits I would be running a 1" 8 track machine and be totally satisfied.

    So my current rig is a 1.2Ghz iBook w/ 1.25GB of RAM, a MOTU 896HD interface, and a Glyph GT drive. I don't single-task the iBook but it has been plenty stable. I'm not trying to do more than 8 simultaneous tracks so I don't have to be totally freaked out about optimization. I just have to keep the machine clean.

    The bottom line is that I have about $2500 into my system, but it does a lot more than just record music. If I had to dedicate the system to recording I would probably buy a second laptop like a Powerbook and dedicate that to music production.

    I won't list Cons but I'll make a quick list of Pros for each system:

    PC/Laptop w/ Interface:
    Nicer interface
    More versatile
    Limited only by your budget for apps, RAM, CPU...

    Multitrack Workstation:
    One interface to learn
    No issues with virii or spyware
    Initially easier to use

    I usually hold up Victor Wooten's Yin/Yang album as an example of what you could do with a workstation if you have a pro engineer at the helm. That was done on a Roland 1240 (actually 2 of them IIRC). You could also check out Matt Garrison's stuff, much of which was done with a Powerbook and a MOTU 828.

  12. I'm using a Sony Vaio laptop with an MAudio 1814 Firewire audio interface and an Evolution UC33e controller. With this I can record 8 tracks of audio simultaneously and use the controller as a mixer. The sliders and faders can be assigned to pretty much any controller on Cakewalk that I like. So the three rotary knobs could be EQ, or sends depending on which "patch" I have set up on the UC33.

    If I ever needed more inputs I could add something like the MAudio Octane pre-amp or a Behringer ADA8000 which would give eight more mic inputs.

    It's a pretty flexible setup and really extremely portable - I can pack the whole thing into a laptop bag. Beats the pants of my old machine as well! :D Downsides? It wasn't cheap. But it is *beautiful*.


    PS. Oh yeah, and 1920x1200 resolution means that you have a lot of real estate to view your mix.
  13. Short answer: yes.
  14. Zoot


    Sep 4, 2004
    Cheers for your help y'all. But Im now more unsure than ever...probably because so many people seem to be against Multitracks.

    Obviously as Brainrost so cleverly put it "garbage in = garbage out". I want to record my band, and be able to sepnd time overdubbing, layering and experimenting with things to get the track sounding as interssting and good as possible.
    Are half-decent results within my grasp (obvioulsy its down to my abilties etc) or will all things recorded on a Digital Multitrack destined to remain as garage band DEMO quality rather than a half-decent Profesional level??

    Basically I dont want to waste £6-700 ($1200) on a thing that just gonna give rubbish results.

  15. My feeling is that mic selection, placement, and the room are the most important factors for you, as well the musicianship of the players. For the price range you're describing, you should choose the recording medium that allows you to be free and creative, since you're not going to get world class mic pres and ad/da conversion for that money. You can make great recordings with the digital multitrack, the difference is in your ears, recording techniques, and musicianship. Now, if you were comfortable with the pc and the programs you mentioned, I think there are some converters in your price range that would be better than those found in the digital multitrack realm, in my opinion of course, but if mic selection, placement, and the room aren't happening, and you don't have good ears for this stuff, no amount of great gear will make you sound good.
  16. odie

    odie Supporting Member

    Where I am at with things is I have a Tascam 788 harddisk multi-tracker. I also have the optional cd burner so I can export the files from that to PC. I am considering adding some better preamps and maybe a vocal mic. Later I will get a soundcard EMU or so sort to record direct to PC if need be. but for now I can record 6-8 tracks and transfer them to PC.

    This will work fine since we record single instruments or single takes. Ex. Record drums, transfer via cd, record guitar, bass etc. nice thing is I can send the 788 to each of the band members let them record and then I will be able to add and mix as I go.

    My take is either will work. The Multitracker will give atleast demo quality alone. With a PC it will get better.
  17. msquared


    Sep 19, 2004
    Kansas City
    I'm personally against using digital multitracks because I am used to computers and can do a lot more with them for less money when recording. I also find that you can upgrade more cheaply/easily with computers whereas with digital multitracks it's expensive or not possible. But they aren't bad. I've recorded more than one album on them and the results have been decent. What makes or breaks your album isn't going to have a lot to do with whether you use a digital multitrack or computer after all. It's nice to get the most bang for your buck, but you have to consider your personal comfort level with the technology as well as the quality of the technology itself.

    If you're struggling with simply using computer programs, you're going to have problems down the road doing things like troubleshooting and upgrading your recording system. The advantage of a digital multitrack seems to be that you don't have to deal with the kind of troubleshooting you occasionally have to do with computers, so the easy solution for you seems to be to just go the route of the digital multitracker.

    On the other hand, IMO putting in the extra effort to learn how to do it on your computer will be worth it in the long run. There are a lot of forums you can ask questions on which either address computer recording in general or a specific software package (note: Talkbass, for as great as it is, isn't the best place to ask for recording advice or software usage advice). I think you'll probably have some learning to do regardless of your path so you might as well do it on hardware you already have.
  18. odie

    odie Supporting Member

    We need more details anyway. What kind of PC/Mac. Is it up to par to record 6-9 mics or channels. Budget etc.

    You can get a Tascam 788 for a nice price from eay. Get some better pre's. Or if you got a decent computer you can build it up.
  19. ampeg66


    Dec 29, 2002
    For me, if there's ANY audio editing to be done, it's got to be on a computer, or at least the multitrack would have to let you do it on the computer screen, with software that’s comparable to what’s available for PC. It’s not fun doing anything on a multitrack’s tiny screen, through banks of buttons and layers of menus and pages.

    Whether it’s a computer or a multitrack, the learning curve to create good-quality recordings, and even just to learn the best ways to use your tools, can be quite steep.

    About six years ago, I had to decide too, and I chose to go computer and learn one of the major audio software packages - one of the ones I thought would still be around in 10 years (so far, so good...). Learning new features in upgrades of software you already know might be easier in the long run than learning a new box every few years. As in, I'm sure glad I'm about to start learning Pro Tools 6.7 right now, rather than whatever the new Roland VS box is (‘cause that was the other option at the time).

    On the other hand, didn't Victor record one of his solo records on a VS-1680?

    Just a couple of things to think about.

  20. Investing in a hard-disc recorder or a pc/mac based setup is a long term project. One that requires dedication and veracity to fully utilize the inherent capabilities of either set-up. If you are looking to record your band now, find someone who is good with their system and record it live in a large size practice room. In my experience of recording with different people and projects (seven cds with three different groups-not a lot I know but it has given me some insight) the 'tinkerers' do more damage to your original sound than any 'improvements' they add.
    The wrong reverb, hapless panning, over/under compression, and a million other bungles can really take away the power and personality of a well recorded live take. You can always punch in solos later if you feel the need.
    "But everything will bleed into the drum mics!"- No Biggie! Listen to old Stones tunes (Miss You) and you can hear the scratch vocals plain as day underneath. You may get lucky and the bleed will help tie the mix together.
    Unless you've got a good studio with a competent engineer, do your experimenting at rehearsals. Your songs will be stronger, your band tighter, and recording will go so much smoother.
    The alternative may very well be each player trying to 'experiment' with their recorded tracks and thereby destroying the cohesion of everyhting.
    two bits