This post is part of the series Multitrack Equipment, your guide to creating the best multitrack recording setup for your budget.
If you’re a live PA engineer looking to do a bit of recording at gigs, you may want a stand-alone box that justs records everything that goes through the desk and don’t want a computer to deal with. Or perhaps you’re a professional band and are looking for an all-in-one studio. If so, there are times when you should and some when you shouldn’t get something like a multitrack hard disk recorder. So let’s have a glance over what’s available and then see if there’s something that’s suitable.
There are a large range of units available on the market from the home-studio-in-a-box to more sophisticated digital hard disk recorders. The smaller end of the scale with some sort combination of inputs, faders, and recording media may seem an attractive option to the home recording enthusiast as they are so cheap compared to a separate mixing desk, recording machine and mic amps etc. However, as a rule of thumb, the all in one box type things tend to be too fiddly, very limiting to use and transfer files off of, not very robust and don’t produce particularly high quality audio, so it’s normally best to steer clear of them. In this situation we would suggest spending your money on a decent multitrack interface (go for the Presonus) and run it with Reaper (reviewed here), you’ll save a packet and get a much better end result.
So something more serious than a port-a-studio is the plan, and 24 channels would be perfect as 9 out of 10 times everything at a live gig will fit on there and you can just leave it running. For the added bonus of just being able to plug it in and hit record, a hard disk recorder is probably of equivalent cost compared to 24 channels of audio interface and software. Of course the sacrifice is that you have to use external mic amps (fine if running off a pa desk) and have to transfer everything off of it to be able to mix it in a studio/software program.
An Alesis HD24 is probably going to set you back about £1100 for 24 channels, and if you’re looking to buy new, that’s the one we’d recommend as it’s rock solid in record. It absolutely straight forwards to use too, just record-arm the required channels and hit record. Potentially you could use it to mix off of to as it has all the outputs for it, but perhaps this is a bit clunky for building a serious mix from.
Frankly, the best way to stick to a shoestring budget here is via the web’s best friend eBay. Look for something like the Mackie mdr24 which comes on every now again at reasonable prices of around £600-700. Something like the Mackie, or the Alesis will happily sit next to your mixer at a live gig and record the whole show without a hiccup.
If there’s something else that you already use and would fit the budget, do let us know in the comments below.
[image via Ben and Debs Blench]