Analog & Digital Multitrack Recorder Buying Guide

Looking for information on a digital recorder? If you’re anything like us, you are consistently amazed at new technologies that appear in the musical instrument industry, especially with regard to how many features, functions, and processing that manufacturers are packing into the current batch of multitrack digital recorders. We can remember the days where having a Teac 144, Tascam Portastudio, Porta One, or Fostex X-15 cassette based recorder was a big deal, so needless to say the sheer number of options and functionality out there today can be somewhat overwhelming for the average buyer. Hopefully, with the guide below, we will introduce you to some of the most popular features available in today’s pool of multitrack digital recorders, tell you a little bit about what they do, and hopefully give you some information that you can use to assist in your purchasing decision if you happen to be lucky enough to be in the market for one. For clarification’s sake, though, please note that we are going to be focusing on the portable, stand-alone multitrack recording systems for this buying guide.

Recording Media & Number of Tracks

In the early days, MTR’s (multitrack recorders) were based on cassette tapes (remember those?), then transitioned to ADAT or Alesis digital audio tape which could support 8 track, and then advanced again to the 8mm digital video tapes and minidisk recorders. For the last several years, though, most units are hard disk based or secure digital media – depending on size, complexity, and the number of tracks you need. In today’s marketplace, you can find anything from true 4 track to 24 or 32 track recording, with most systems providing some capability to bounce tracks down to accommodate additional recording needs. If you think you’ll only be doing some basic songwriting on an acoustic guitar, for instance, you can probably get away with a 4 track unit. If, however, you’ll be doing any live recording of a band, you’re most likely going to need at least 8 tracks. In our opinion, you should error on the side of caution and “double down” if possible. You never know when you’re going to need those extra tracks, and for a few hundred more dollars, you’ll most likely find the additional flexibility worth it in the end.

Mic Pre-Amps

Most digital recorder units come with some type of microphone pre-amps these days, while many of the smaller units actually come with built-in condenser microphones for on the go recording. Those with pre-amps, though, vary in quality. Also, to ensure you’re able to utilize the extra sensitive condenser variety of microphones, be sure that the unit also has on-board phantom power.

More to Come!

Stay tuned as we continue to add additional detail and information to this buying guide for digital recorders. If you're a reader and you have some specialized knowledge about this category, send us an email via the contacts form or stop by the forums and post that you're interested in helping to build this guide. is by musicians for musicians, and we certainly recognize that the experts are out there.