Although many producers and musicians we’ve spoken to within the last decade have migrated over to digital audio workstations, computers and other recording equipment to make their songs and field recordings, there are still many who enjoy using a multi-track recorder to lay down their creations. In fact, nowadays music and recording equipment come PC-compatible so you can combine them if you ever feel like it. We digress, and present to you our shopping guide on the top 10 best multitrack recorders on the planet. Let’s check it out.
What exactly is a multitrack recorder?
When it comes to multitrack recorders, their use is a bit self-explanatory — they help you record multiple pieces of audio on separate tracks to create a larger, more complex combination (your musical masterpiece). They were (and still are quite commonly) how individuals laid down vocals on one track, drums on the other, and so on before computers existed. There are quite a few shapes, sizes as well as uses that are available today so we found a little bit of each category and price-point to give you some help with your shopping endeavors. They’re a bit different than the best audio mixers out there since you can record straight to the device as opposed to using it as a middle-man. Both are equally as effective and it all comes down to preference and use.
Below we give you a brief summary of the different types of multitrack recorders out there as well as a few other factors to keep in mind when shopping for yours. We also like SweetWater’s multitrack recorder guide for some additional information about what they exactly do.
How to pick the best multitrack recorder
- Your budget – There are some relatively affordable multitrack recorders out there if you’re on a strict budget, especially if you aren’t looking for many bells and whistles and can settle with 8 to 16 tracks (the number of tracks available as well as simultaneous recording functions really increase the prices of these things). Otherwise, if you’re in the mood for a high-quality, top-of-the-line recorder, we have a few of those in here as well to give you some options. Who knows, you may end up wanting to save some more cash before buying yours after reading this guide.
- What type of recorder? There are a few different types of multitrack recorders that you will need to take into consideration before making your purchase. Which type you need really depends on what applications or settings you foresee yourself needing to use the recorder in. Below are the most popular types:
- Small-format – These are geared towards home studios and others who aren’t looking for a crazily priced multitrack recorder with bells and whistles. They typically include a feasible amount of tracks, have decent audio quality suitable for most recordings, are technically portable, and a few ins and outs to help with connecting some other gear you have. We have quite a few in here.
- Large-format – Resembling racks and a bit more slim in size, they’re for professionals who want some full-format stations to include in their studios. Although they can work for home studios as well, they’re priced a lot higher due to the exceptional audio quality, numerous in and outs, and other advanced features that come with them.
- Field recorders – These are multitrack recorders that are brought into the field for those recording outside of a studio — many of them come with built-in tripod connectors, built-in mics, and more. We have some in here if it fits your needs.
- Portable recorders – Many of the best multitrack recorders are technically portable, but we’re talking about handheld, smaller-sized models. These are for field recording, concerts, music videos, interviews and more. We do have a best portable audio recorder dedicated to this type, but have a few in here to give you some options as well.
- How many tracks? Here’s a very important feature of your recorder you’ll have to keep in mind. We have numerous possibilities here, and the most common track numbers include: 8, 16, 24, and 32 tracks. How many different pieces of audio do you foresee yourself needing to record into your piece of gear? We always recommend going higher just in case. Again, your intended use matters here.
- Additional specs – Here’s where the price starts to increase, but for good reason if they have what you’re looking for. Try to see what you really need as opposed to fancy-sounding specs that are price dependent. We have some that come with effects, others with portability, multiple XLR inputs for external mics, metronomes, simultaneous recording,
The top 10 best multitrack recorders
This one is listed first for a few reasons — if you were able to squeeze by with 8 tracks, you’re getting an extremely affordable price and overall build here. You also get built-in stereo microphones, two mic preamps, a built-in tuner and metronome as well as quick USB data transfer. Since you’re recording straight to SD, it’s a lot easier in terms of work flow to get your ideas going. Although it does have two built-in microphones, they aren’t particularly studio quality, so instead you have two XLR inputs to attach your studio mics for some higher-quality tracks. If you’re planning on using additional instruments, you also have two 1/4″ inputs. Lastly, you have a few highlight features you can play around with — reverb, it’s portable, you can record two tracks at once, and it weighs merely less than 2 lbs. The Tascam DP-008EX is a must if you’re in need of one of the best 8-track digital recorders for a very affordable price.
If you wanted to save a few more dollars and can get away with 6 tracks, you can also check out their model below this: the Tascam DP-006.
This is the best multitrack recorder if the previous model didn’t have enough tracks for you. The R16 is more expensive but it has a lot more additional features and since you’re getting twice the amount of tracks it will be worth it in the long run — even if you didn’t foresee yourself needing that many, you may find yourself wanting additional tracks in the future. That’s why we usually recommend people shoot a bit higher than what they were expecting just in case. This also provides some portability, nearly 100 studio-quality effects (guitar amp, mastering effects, etc.), functional with 32GB SDHC cards (for easy transferring to your computer as well), 8 balanced XLR and 1/4″ combo inputs, an LED meter bridge, and more. The 6 AA batteries you can put into the unit provides about 4 hours of consistent operation. The Zoom R16 is a beast if you have the cash.
If you wanted even more tracks and had some more money to spend, you can also check out their 24-track model that’s highly rated as well: the Zoom R24.
Here’s another solid multi-track recorder by Tascam, and this one is very popular within the music gear world. You have a whopping 24-track standalone recorder here with 8 microphone inputs, some signal processing, USB compatibility and 2 GB SD card storage. What’s also attractive and a big standout is the ability to record simultaneous inputs, so if you were interested in let’s say recording an entire band, multiple instruments at once in the studio or merely different individuals talking on a set, this is a great multitrack recorder to grab. Although not necessarily as small in size as others, it’s still portable (weights about 13.5 lbs., although we recommend taking some care of it if you’re traveling). There are some high-quality mic preamps with phantom power if you plan on plugging in some external mics, the rate is pretty solid (16 or 24-bit, 44.1k/48k), and one of the inputs is an impedance-selectable type, which helps for those who are planning on recording strings, guitar or bass. The Tascam DP-24SD is a must if it pertains to your needs and budget.
Their Tascam DP-32SD gives you some more power and additional tracks if you want to check it out.
We’ll always be huge fans of Boss music gear because of the respect they have in the game. This recorder is rated quite highly by many so we’ve got it in here. The BR-800 is recommended for those looking for a more travel-friendly recorder since it’s battery-powered and has a super sleek design (with some touch-sensor switches, too). You have SD-card recording, 8-tracks (simultaneous playback), built-in rhythm generator, and some decently sounding on-board effects processor (mainly for vocals, guitar and bass). If you don’t have a mic yet, there’s a built-in stereo condenser microphone and also an advanced drum machine with editor software inside. The 8-tracks might seem small but you are getting 4-track simultaneous recording which is great for those rehearsing a band or group. The Boss BR-800 box comes with its own SD card so if you don’t have any other gear, the built-in mic and memory will help you use it immediately.
Grab the Boss Micro BR-80 if you want something a bit smaller and cheaper in price.
Here’s another one of the best multitrack recorders for the money. The F8 by Zoom provides us some top-of-the-line stuff here: an 8-channel, 10-track field audio recorder and mixer, multiple inputs (eight of them) with XLR\TRS combo connectors, an audio quality of 24-bit/192 kHz (that’s high), some high pass filters, and more. In terms of build, it’s quite unbreakable (though you should definitely take care of it) — an aluminum chassis protective body with a weight of merely 2 lbs (not including batteries). This thing is loaded with high-quality mic preamps (phantom power on each with +48 or +24 V), and it supports SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots of up to 512 GB so you’ll never run out of room.
The Zoom F8 is for the serious field recorders out there (it has a built-in slate mic/slate tone with front panel switch and a built-in tripod mount). It’s definitely expensive as compared to other multitrack recorders out there but we think the features and specs justify the price tag.
Allen & Heath Ice-16
Although Allen & Heath are most commonly known for the dj equipment, such as mixers and turntables, this particular multitrack recorder is a beast. It’s unique because it not only comes with FireWire connectivity, but also 16-tracks that are recorded directly to a USB drive, 16 separate analog inputs, audio quality up to 24bit\96 kHz and more. The biggest part of this is obviously the audio quality, but also the 16 x 16 (ins and outs) attached to the sleek unit itself, so if you were in need of a bunch of hookups, check it out. There’s also a signal present and peak LED meter to help with mixing, mono headphone bus for input\output monitoring, daisy chaining (connecting multiple stand-alone units together, hence the ‘chain’ terminology), as well as some intuitive controls on the unit itself.
Although mainly geared towards professionals, we would never steer you away from grabbing a recorder like the Allen & Heath Ice-16, especially if you’re willing to take the time and learn how to use it properly.
Tascam is a pretty big name when it comes to portable audio recorders, so what about this one? Well, it’s one of the best budget-friendly multitrack recorders out there, so if you weren’t looking for a monster with a bunch of ins and outs you may not be using and wanted to save some money, this may be the perfect model for you. The DP-006 is a part of the series the first recorder listed in here is in. You have up to six tracks of recording, average audio quality at 16 bit/44.1 kHz (we’ll take it for the price), two tracks simultaneous recording, two built-in omnidirectional condenser mics, SD/SDHC compatibility (up to 32 gigs), level\pan control, and USB 2.0 connectivity for high-speed transferring to your PC or Mac.
The Tascam DP-006 is a great model for those who don’t want a crazy machine and would rather save their money for other gear to go alongside the recorder. It’s pretty portable as well.
We’re Roland gear lovers and they’re great for being pretty versatile in the music equipment realm. This one here is an absolute monster. It’s an 8-channel recorder and mixer that is recommend for field recordings, allowing us up to 8 XLR outputs for connecting to other pieces of gear (perhaps you have a mixing console to bring along as well). The audio quality for the channels is up there at 96 kHz and you can record up to 4 channels simultaneously at a rate of 192 kHz. These are what basically sets this apart from a lot of multitrack recorders out there, and don’t forget the built-in USB audio interface, touch panel display and SMPTE timecord for in and out video sync as well. It’s not for rookies.
The Roland R-88 is basically for those who want to record and mix in pro field audio applications, but we wouldn’t mind having one of these things regardless of where you’re at if you can afford it.
As promised, we wanted to include one of the best smaller-sized, handheld portable audio recorders in the market since they’re often sought after by many. Although we do list them all in our best portable audio recorder article, this here is one of the best — It has a built-in X/Y pattern microphone to capture sounds in the field, on-the-go or any other creative manner you can think of. You can tilt them 90 to 120 degrees if you feel like it. The on-board MS (mid-side) decoder if you want to use an external mic with it, and the four tracks is a decent count for the size.
It’s often used with DSLR cameras but we know many who like to conduct interviews, record band practices or concerts with this thing by merely holding it in their hand. If you needed an immediate answer to the best handheld portable recorder, here is the Zoom H4N.
JamHub Tracker MT16
Last but not least, we have a JamHub appearance that gives us an impressive 16-tracks in a super small size (and for a decent price we might add). There are 8 inputs, 24-bit converters, SD and USB storage as well as having the ability to upload into the cloud wirelessly. The tracks are editable and hold the quality of 24-bit so you’ll get some near studio-quality tracks out of it. It’s also as big as a stomp box.
The Jamhub Tracker MT16 is slowly becoming a bit more rare around the internet as far we’ve been able to tell, but if you see one for a decent price it’s worth the money if you need something like this. Check out our JamHub MT16 review for some more info.