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General questions about digital recorder

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Minimalist, Nov 16, 2004.

  1. I’m interested in a digital recorder but have not really a clue. I don’t want to spend more than $300 (for the recorder). So here are a few questions:

    How good is the sound quality of digital recorders in that price range?
    Is it good enough to record a demo (to land gigs)?
    What are virtual tracks?
    How expensive are recording medias?

    This should be it for a start. ;) Thanks.
  2. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    The term "digital recorder" is kinda vague. Do you mean multitrack or just a stereo 2 track recorder. For $300.00 I think your options will be limited in the multitrack arena. However if you want a quick and dirty way to record demos, get your self one of those Sony HD MiniDisk recorders. Sony Hi MD You will have to get a mic for it and this may bumb your cost up a bit, but its a good little machine. Plus you can upload your audio onto your PC for editing, MP3ing and what have you. The disks are 1gig in capacity and I think they are pretty cheap too.

    I really don't think you are going to find a digital multi track that is really worth a sh** in that price range. Maybe somebody around here has ideas though.

    P.S. Think of virtual tracks as a kind of "alternate take" on the same track. Lets say you are recording your bass line and you make it through the tune but you think you can nail it even cleaner, so instead of ditching your first take you make a virtual track of it and "hide" it so to speak. Now you record another and another and another untill you are ready to quit playing bass altogether, and you listen back to all your virtual tracks and decide which one you like best. Its like extra tracks though you can only hear one of them instead of all of them. Hope that makes sense. Of coarse there are many uses for virtual tracks, like comping of takes, almost everything you hear on a major release is derived of several different takes (except bass players we always play it perfect on the first attempt).
  3. Lowfader


    Jul 11, 2004
    What about a Fostex MR8? Sells for 299.00. I've never used one but i've noticed the MR8 gets alot of bidders on ebay.
  4. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    That might be kinda cool. The big downside I see is that you are limited by 2 tracks of simultanious recording. Fine if you are using only two mics, but if are trying to use a few more it would be kind of a pain. But, hey its 300 bones probobly do the trick.
  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    A real drawback of the MR-8 is that the memory card that comes with it lets you only records 25 "track minutes" that means if you use all 8 tracks that's a song 3 minutes long.

    The MR-8 is also quite picky about what brands of memory cards will work OK (unlike Boss units which work with anyone's card) so that the only "sure thing" is to buy a card from Fostex direct for $100+, quite a hike compared to the $300 base price.

    If you want to mix on the MR-8 to transfer to a PC for burning a CD, you have to keep 2 tracks free to hold the mix (making it a 6 track machine). To use all eight tracks you have to mix to an external recorder (though it does have a digital out which could be used to feed to a PC).
  6. I'm not willing to spend that much for the cards.

    I was also looking into using my laptop. MF is selling a soft- and hardware package for about 399 (presonus firewire and cubas LE). A little more than I'd like to spend and a differnt route but from what I understand it would give me ecactly what I'm looking for. How userfriendly is the software? Is there any hard- or software I'd need in addition (other than the usual mics etc.)?
  7. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    Hate to raise the bar even further on you, but if you are talking about laptop stuff, I would suggest the Mbox for about $450, not a fan of Cubase (of coarse I'll get flamed for that).
  8. ----
    I'm sorry for the epic post length. I didn't set out to write a novel, it just worked out that way. I've tried to be thorough, so that my experience can benefit future generations. :)
    On with the post...

    A couple of responses to points mentioned in this thread Re: Fostex MR 8, Mister Eight as I like to call it:

    The recording quality is actually very impressive for the price. If you know a place you can try one, it might be worth checking out.

    The one glaring drawback of our good friend Mr. 8, as you mentioned, is that you can only record 2 tracks at a time. As great as I think this little red toy is, it pisses me off too. The best thing I can think of if you want more mics (for example to track drums), is to get a small mixer, and just play around recording drums until you find a setup that sounds good recorded. Dub some guitars over the drums afterward, to make sure they sound good in a mix as well. Once you've got everything set, record the stereo output of the mixer. Not the ideal solution, but it works pretty well. The good thing about having your own recorder is you're not paying for the time you spend experimenting like you would in a professional studio, and everything you do is a learning experience.

    I've found the short track time to be less of an issue than I thought initially, but that's because I've recorded short songs lately. I also rarely use all 8 tracks at once (more on that in a moment). However, here is a list of cards that fostex has tested and confirmed as of this summer, including at least one gigabyte card. Check the model numbers in the column second-from-right at the online computer outlets and wait for a deal. One will come up.

    I'm convinced that this device was never meant to be a full standalone, but more of a pc interface without the latency issues. I record my tracks onto the MR 8 and then use a USB cable to upload them. I then open the raw WAV tracks for effects and mixing in a pc based multitracker (Kristal audio enginefree, free) . I use free vst effects like these and these when I'm mixing. Next I export the mixdown and send it off to a WAV editor (Audacity, free) and then export a "master" (I pretend to master, but i really don't know how :)) as an mp3 for the internet and a wav for buring to a cd.

    My method for tracking works thusly:
    -Record 4 tracks, load them onto my computer for later, AND bounce down a rough mix to use for reference.
    -Delete the four originals from the MR 8 (remember, they're preserved on the computer and can be sent back to the MR 8 if need be).
    -Record 4 more tracks. Load to PC, bounce down aanother rough track if need be.
    -Repeat, giving me 12 digital tracks before I have to even consider any trickery like making a reference mix on the pc and loading it back onto the MR 8, which would allow me to use unlimited tracks.
    -Load everything into the multitrack software (just load all tracks at the beginning of the timeline, no need to synchronize)
    -Mix and add effects as desrcibed above.

    Now all this isn't to say you CAN'T get a decent demo mix on the MR 8 as a stand-alone. You can, and it's not difficult. Using it in conjunction with a pc however, brings it to another level entirely.
  9. OK, did some more research and thinking about what I really/need want. First thing I realized is that I need to spend more $.

    OK, here is what I need/want:

    o 16 tracks total.
    o A minimum of 4 tracks simultaneous.
    o Capability to mix the recording at a bigger/pro studio
    o Affordable storage.

    From what I read have basically 2 options:

    First recording on my laptop. Problem here is that I have no idea what additional hardware I need (preamps, firewire etc.) and how much that would be. I downloaded Kristal and messed a little bit with the demo song. It would give me all the mixing options I would need right now.

    Or I could get an external device like the Fostex VF 160. What other recorders are out there in this price range. Doesn't have to be new. Maybe even with built in effects?

    What in general would be the better solution, what would be cheaper, considering the only effects I’ll need are compressor, delay and reverb?

    Finally are there and good tutorials on the Internet. the ones I found are not really addressing what I'm looking for.

    BTW background of all this is that I'm trying to find a way to record bands, make a rough mix that also may serve as a demo but do not plan to attempt to make a pro mix. For that I'd take the recordings and go to a pro. Thanks.
  10. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    While I have an Apple PowerBook, I decided to go with a standalone multitrack recorder, the TASCAM 788 ( Music123's Closeout Page for the 788 ). I've only used for personal recording and jamming with some friends, but I've been impressed. I can record 6 inputs simultaneously to the internal hard drive. Each song can have up to 250 virtual tracks which makes it easy to get the best take possible. There are some onboard effects, including compression, delay & reverb along with others, but I haven't played enough with effects to give any kind of rating for them.

    I posted what I thought of the 788 in this forum within the last few months so if you want to do a search you should be able to easily find it.
    It seems this device is on closeout (and cheaper but less capable replacements have been released) so this could be a factor for you. Also, there are no XLR imputs so if your mics need phantom power you would need a separate device to provide that power.

    Here's the most complex recording I made with the 788. This was my first attempt at >2 track recording & mixing. The vocalist is probably too far in 'front' of the rest of the music but other than that I think this recording was 'OK'. Definitely not the greatest recording because there was mic bleed all over the place. This was due to our being in a 10x10 basement. Still it might give you an idea of the recording capabilities of this unit.

    I don't think I'd recommend this unit if you plan to shuttle your tracks to/from your PC as it doesn't have the ability to directly connect to a computer. You can either play out the tracks in analog or digital through the TOSlink connector (2 channels only). You could buy the CD burner attachment but TASCAM wants like $200 or so for that so I think that option is overpriced for me.

    Basically I think you'd be happier with a standalone multi-track recorder because the recorder is made to do one job, help you record and edit your recordings.

    This is all IMHO, I'm not any kind of professional, ya-da ya-da ya-da, this is what I'm enjoying after mucking around a bit with my PowerBook + GarageBand.
  11. The jury seems to be out on whether or not you can actually export files directly with the 788 (without a cd burner). The marketing blurb on the page you linked seems to indicate that you can export tracks over a SCSI cable, and the Version 2.0 firmware upgrade makes some noise about wav export, but in my quick browse I couldn't find a definitive answer. Here's a page with a bunch of 788-related documents you could sift through.

  12. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    Thanks for the link!

    I haven't tried with SCSI or the TOSLink (which I think is the only way to get digital audio out with thhe 788), but I have played through to my computer while the computer was on record. I'd guess this degenerates the signal though since it's doing the D:A->A:D dance.

    The only part my computer plays is to convert to mp3.
  13. My thoughts are if you have a computer than why not use it. It will have loads more processing more and ram than any stand alone unit. Cubase (for example) records something like 199 tracks so all you have to do is buy some hardware that will get the tracks into your computer. I started off with a Soundblaster and quickly upgraded to a 24/96 ST. Still only two channels in, but as many as I'm ever going to need and with all the EQ, Reverb, Amp Sounds, Intruments I'll ever need.

    So my new project, I too just got my hands on a PC laptop, and I know that there are dozens of USB boxes out there to get 2 channels in so I'll start to investigate how to get 8 channels in to it at a time.

    My 2 cents.