Digital Recording: MDMDAW Pt. 2
Part 1: Functions & Compatibility
The Great Digital Recording Face-Off, Part 2
This is the second of our two-part comparison of digital recording methods: hard-disk recording versus multitrack recording. If you haven't seen our first installment, click through to The Great Digital Recording Face-Off, Part 1 before joining us here in Part 2.
In Part 1 of this analysis of digital recorders, we left off comparing the features and benefits of the two most popular formats. Read on to learn more about the relative strengths and weaknesses of DAW's and MDM's.
There is no question that hard-disk recorders have the upper hand with regard to transport control, due mainly to their Random Access capabilities. There's no rewinding or fast-forwarding with hard-disk recorders; you just type in a bar number or click on a time-ruler where you want to locate to and then press play. When recording to multitrack recorders, a significant amount of the time is wasted rewinding and cueing up tape to a desired location.
On the other hand, most hard-disk recorders do not feature varispeed, a useful feature of MDMs which allows you to slow down or speed up in order to be able to hit those high notes or sing low parts without struggling. Varispeed is also useful for creating vocal effects by recording them at very low or very high speeds.
Auto Punch In/Punch Out
While most digital recorders allow the user to practice and set punch-in and punch-out times, it sometimes is easier to set these by choosing bar numbers in the song or by viewing the waveform of the audio track onto which you want to record. While hard-disk recorders offer these options and MDMs do not, managing punches manually with an MDM can be faster and easier (depending on your familiarity with the MDM's functions and the speed of your reflexes).
On the downside, MDMs generally require that tapes be formatted before use. Since this is done in real time, it takes an hour to format an hour-long tape. Of course, you can also find pre-formatted tapes. DAWs also require disk drives to be formatted, but that generally doesn't take as much time. It's a one-time operation, and a large hard drive can hold a lot more information than a DA-88 or ADAT tape.
A computer-based recording system is not very portable compared to an ADAT or DA-88, but there are many hard-disk recorders, both rack-mountable and not, that give you the flexibility of a computer-based DAW with the portability of the MDM. The Roland VS series and Fostex's D-series hard-disk recorders (see Part 1) are great examples of hard-disk recorders that are also portable.
MDMs definitely win out on this front since there are many studios that already have ADAT or DA-88 machines. If you've recorded to one of these formats, you could simply bring the tape to a similarly equipped studio and continue working there without having to do transfers. Indeed, the same is true of hard-disk recordings -- you could bring a CD-ROM of your recording to a studio that has a setup identical to your own -- but more studios use MDMs than computer-based hard-disk recording systems.
Most DAWs include some sort of mixer and built-in effects, while an MDM functions strictly as a recorder. When using an MDM for music production, one would generally need some sort of mixer and outboard effects unit in order to be able to do a suitable mixdown of the individual tracks. This makes DAWs the clear choice when wanting to do complete music production without having to wire together a lot of hardware from different manufacturers.