Tech Tip:Which Recording Format Is Best For A Home Studio?

Each format has its advantages and disadvantages. Decide which one most closely fits your needs, and then check out the features of various makes and models.


Digital multi-track recorders get your music onto tape quickly and easily, plus they're portable. Archiving your work is inexpensive. However, they have no cut and paste editing or built-in audio processing. Punch-in recording writes over the original material. Making backups requires multiple recorders. Mixdown may require an external mixer.


Stand-alone hard-disk recorders are capable of detailed editing, and they offer immediate access to any location. Usually, a mixer is built-in. On some units, automated mixing, onboard effects, and/or timecode capability may be included. And they're portable. But some use data compression, and the editing screen may be small. Archiving media is more expensive than digital tape. On some machines, punch-ins and bouncing are destructive; on others, they can be undone.


Computer-based hard-disk recorders have the advantage of a large screen for editing. There are many high-quality software plug-ins for processing. Punch-ins and track bounces are non-destructive. Automated mixing is built-in. Most recording software also includes MIDI sequencing. However, a system can be expensive, including a powerful computer, an audio card, software, and an archiving media. And it's not portable.


Mini-Disc multi-track recorders are very affordable, portable, and include a built-in mixer. They offer some editing capabilities, but not as extensive as those on hard-disk or computer-based systems. Unfortunately, they use data compression, which increases with each track bounce, diminishing the sound quality. Backups can't be made.


Analog tape recording is less of an option these days. The sound of a high-end analog tape recorder can't be beat, but the cost is high. Cassette recorders are OK for capturing an idea quickly, but their sound quality is far below that of a digital system.


MIDI sequencing offers detailed editing, but it's restricted to electronic sound sources, so vocals or acoustic instruments can't be recorded. However, most MIDI sequencing programs include some audio recording capability, so the two formats can be easily integrated.


Many home studio owners use combinations of the above, such as a digital multi-track recorder coupled with audio editing software. Don't forget to budget in a mixdown deck, whichever is appropriate: CD recorder, 2-track DAT recorder, or 2-track cassette recorder.