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Digital recording promises to be the technology which will take us from the 1990s into the next century. By encoding analog sound into digital format, we can now process sound digitally, adding effects, mixing, and so on, plus edit to literally dozens of "generations" without any loss of quality. At this point, all you need is money, because even entry-level standalone digital equipment generally costs at least US$1000 to get started.

One way to beat this problem is to take the computer you obviously already have (or you wouldn't be reading this page, unless you're reading this at work...say, is that your boss I hear walking up behind you? :-), and by adding some boards and software to it, turn it into a digital multitrack recorder. This presupposes that you have a pretty good computer already; I would recommend a 166 MHz Pentium with 64 MB of RAM and 4 GB of free hard disk space as a minimum, but plenty of people have gotten by with less.

For the best results, what you want is to get a high-quality digital sound card made for this purpose, such as the Echo Darla, Gina, or Layla cards. Top software such as Cakewalk Sonar, Steinberg Cubase, PG Music Power Tracks Pro Audio, n-track, or SAW. You can then record audio and store it on your hard disk, in the same 44.1 KHz resolution used by DATs and CDs. Then you do multitrack recording and mixing down using your computer as the "console", just as if you had a separate digital multitrack recorder. And of course, on a computer, it's very easy and relatively inexpensive to add a CD-R for making your own audio CDs.

Try Digital Recording Now!

To find out how much multitrack audio recording your computer can handle, download Echo Reporter. It will give you an estimate of how many tracks your machine can deal with.

And to test what kind of audio quality you can get on your computer right now, free, etc. click here.

Cakewalk for the Rest of Us?

Some people have questioned whether inexpensive programs like Power Tracks Pro Audio or n-Track can really be as good as I've said (search the BBS for references). Can they really do good quality audio multitracking and MIDI and sync to SMPTE and notation and...? Well, if you don't believe me... try Power Tracks or n-Track for yourself free right now!

Of course, the fact that these programs cost in the $30 range might make them worth your time...

Buy Power Tracks Pro Audio right here at a discount!

How About Free?

Is that my favorite line, or what? :-) Digidesign Pro Tools Free, as the name implies, is free, and it supports 48 tracks of MIDI, 8 tracks of audio, and DirectX plugins, which is more than enough for many people. If you have the time to download this package and not a lot of spare money, Dragon's found you the secret URL right here.

If you are interested in standalone digital multitrack equipment, though, there are several ways to go:

  • Tape-based units. The Alesis ADAT was the first, followed by TASCAM's DA-88. These work with S-VHS and Hi-8 videotape media respectively. The great advantage to these types is that your finished product can be popped right out of the machine and safely tucked away, or handed to someone else for collaboration in their own studio. The disadvantage is tape shuttle time and the possibility that a machine can eat a tape.

Click here to find digital tape-based recorders on sale at Zzounds.com

  • Hard disk-based units. These are most popular right now due to the rapidly dropping prices of large hard disks. Some of these use more data compression than others, which is a tradeoff: more compression gives you more recording time, but can introduce artifacts to the sound (a technical term to say it screws things up sonically). Even with compression, though, the quality of many of these units is breathtaking (but see this). If I was going to buy one of these, I would make sure it could accept SCSI expansion so I could hook up an external Zip, Jaz, or writable CD-R drive. Imagine mixing down direct to CD without having to buy a DAT drive! Some of these can do that.

Click here to find hard disk-based recorders on sale at Zzounds.com

  • Minidisc-based units. These operate on what are basically small re-recordable CDs, but all of them use data compression to some degree (called ATRACS, and now past its 4th generation). The advantage is price and media removability/sturdiness. Earlier units had poorer compression algorithms and sound distinctly worse. Most of these units are 4-tracks, though Yamaha now has an 8-track on the market. Warning: multitrack Minidiscs use Data Minidiscs, which are much more expensive and harder to find than the audio Minidiscs used by ordinary inexpensive (~$300) stereo Minidisc recorders.
    -- Dragon

Some Useful Links for Digital Recording

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