Basic Home Recording III

Jim Goodman

Part 3 – Standalone Recorders

As we start looking at equipment we have to remember beginning with the end in mind. Do we want to produce a commercial grade CD, a simple project demo or a scratchpad for ideas.  This is really important because there are a variety of options out there for recording platforms and media. For the sake of space and since we are just looking at the absolute basics we will touch on standalone and pc recording platforms in basic generic terms. This installment is on standalone systems. The 2 basic types of standalones we will look at are cassette and Digital Audio Workstations (DAW).

The original and most popular standalone for multi-track home recording is the cassette multi-track deck. You may hear these referred to a port-a-studios. These are the simplest of all of the units mainly because most folks are aware of how a cassette deck works and are not intimidated by the technology. There are simple units that can record 2 to 8 simultaneous tracks onto a 1/8” inch cassette tape. It is kind of cliché’ to say this, but the Beatles Sgt. Peppers album was recorded on a tape 4-tracker, as were many other albums. Granted the media and equipment was different, but the reality is the concept and how it works is the same. These cassette port-a-studios are easy to use and were the choice of many songwriters because of the price, anywhere from $99 to $600. The biggest drawback to these units was their track limitations and the noise that tape generates naturally. Some of the higher end decks addressed these issues with Dolby and double speed recording and have built in mixers.

Here are 2 units I have owned and used and think very highly of:

Tascam 424 Mk III                                        Tascam Porta02

The second option is the DAW. These units are the next generation of port-a-studios. These DAWs offer much more flexibility than there cassette ancestors. Prices range from $200 to $2500. The biggest benefit is the digital format. Much more quiet, midi capable, onboard effects processors. The only real drawback to these units is the technology is evolving so fast that these units sometimes are built and shipped with technological flaws causing intermittent lock ups and sometimes loss of data. When you get into the higher end units and then studio grade units they have computer interfaces that will allow for downloadable firmware updates to address issues. The cheaper units usually need to be sent in for firmware updates at the factory. In this arena you really get what you pay for. Having said that though there are many time tested units here are 2:


Roland BR-1180               
Tascam 788