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Thread: Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit vs. Computer Based Recording Setup

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    Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit vs. Computer Based Recording Setup

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    Hey guys.

    I'm doing a paper for my class on:

    Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit vs. Computer Based Recording Setup

    I need to get actual user feedback for a piece in the article. So I need some feedback if you have the time. If not, I understand.



    What are the the Advantages of having a Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit
    (versus a Computer Based Recording Setup)?



    Thanks!!!
    JennyFin

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    Arrow

    Quote Originally Posted by fin13 View Post
    Hey guys.

    What are the the Advantages of having a Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit
    (versus a Computer Based Recording Setup)?
    Advantages of Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit:

    Plug-and-play operation right out of the box.

    Easier learning curve.

    No deeply embedded technical issues upon setup.

    Ease of use.

    Narrowly focused scope of operation. (is a recorder and only a recorder, not a word processor, internet device, etc.)

    Often times standalones can be more reliable than computer setups, and are less prone to bugs and crashes, but depending on the specific standalone unit this can vary somewhat.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lt. Bob
    ... subtleties of sound make a difference to those who really listen.

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    Go past '0' Vu while tracking? No problem unless it's digital tape.

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    Arrow Good point, but...

    nowhere is the distinction made between "standalone digital" and "standalone analog" recorder, of which you can find both in abundance.

    In general, the standalone analog recorder (tape Portastudio and porta-clones) are way more forgiving of pushing the signal up over "0VU". Digital standalone recorders (digital Portastudios and porta-clones) are strictly less forgiving.

    Just a tip.
    Quote Originally Posted by Lt. Bob
    ... subtleties of sound make a difference to those who really listen.

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    Taken from a purely technical viewpoint, leaving aside more subjective points such as sound quality, desirability and enjoyment of use, this is what I have to say on the matter:

    A computer is a universal tool. It can be made to act as a recording engine but it is not designed to do this.

    It will require a lot of upkeep and maintenance, both in terms of the filesystem, and if windows-based, the OS will have to be kept up to date and secure, even if the computer's sole intended purpose is to act as a recording engine. The recording medium is usually a hard disk which is prone to catastrophic failure and part of the maintenance routine must include backing up everything valuable on the machine and making sure that it is possible to rebuild it when the disk fails or the OS self-destructs.
    It has the advantages of greatly increased flexibility, ease of editing and more scope for upgrading it as new technologies emerge.
    Depending on the choice of hardware and software, licenses alone may eclipse the cost of a standalone recorder.

    A standalone recording system is an appliance. It is designed specifically to record and play back sound. A tape machine will need maintenance - arguably less than a computer, though more specialised and in many cases more difficult to obtain. A catastrophic failure of the machine will generally damage or destroy only the tape which is loaded on the machine, not wipe out the entire tape library and everything else as a disk crash would. It generally requires more outboard equipment, such as a mixer and standalone effects units.

    A standalone digital recorder is probably the best compromise, the OS and hardware are designed specifically for recording. It may or may not include its own mixer and effects units built-in. Maintenance will generally be limited to ensuring that the disk is backed up - it will again, usually use a fixed disk - and ensuring that there is enough space for the recording session.
    Advantages include ease-of-use and low maintenance. It will not need to be recalibrated like a tape machine and it will not deactivate itself if it has not been allowed to connect to Microsoft's licensing server for 90 days as Windows 7 is wont to do.
    It is less flexible, upgrading the DSPs is usually impossible without purchasing a new unit, and depending on the vintage, upgrading or replacing the disks may require hard-to-find IDE units instead of more current SATA disks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fin13 View Post
    Hey guys.

    I'm doing a paper for my class on:

    Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit vs. Computer Based Recording Setup

    I need to get actual user feedback for a piece in the article. So I need some feedback if you have the time. If not, I understand.



    What are the the Advantages of having a Standalone Multitrack Recording Unit
    (versus a Computer Based Recording Setup)?



    Thanks!!!
    JennyFin
    OK, I'm game. I have recorded a full length CD on a Roland VS1824CD, using a small boatload of outboard gear. I now work with Pro Tools, mostly. Immediate advantage to a newb: It will get you up and running faster, as a beginner, than most component systems. It is more portable, and therefore ideal for remote and live soundstage recordings.

    As I see it, there are 2 major disadvantages to the standalone. One, if any part of the system goes down, the whole studio may be down. If a compressor goes down in a component system, or a CD writer, it's probably no big deal. In a standalone, you need to be able to back up your tracks, often to CD-R. Lately, you can probably download WAV. files to your cell phone with the right app, but I am talking about obsolete equipment, for sure.

    Which leads you to the second major problem with standalone recorders. They aren't good at upgrades, as a rule. They haven't been built with replacable modular sections. They should be.

    Many people have chosen to use component systems with a USB or firewire powered interface or interface and a laptop, or these days, a souped-up notepad computer. There have also been impressive breakthroughs in the technology of handheld standalones.

    I think that Zoom, a subsidiary of Samson, known for some fairly cheap gear of sometimes questionable quality, has hit on the right idea. Only time will really tell us about the build quality, but their lead, I think, will be copied by companies who build top-flight gear. With the Zoom H4n handheld recorder, and the R16 multitrack, they have built machines that are standalone recorders, and are *also* USB powered computer interfaces. They can transfer WAV. files, and talk to most audio processing software, or record to onboard SD cards.

    The biggest limiting factor in any standalone is the preamp(s). If you've got $1000+ per channel preamps, they just aren't going to be in that standalone. In some cases, you can bypass the standalone's preamps by sending it a signal which is already digitalized. That's what I did, mostly, recording the CD I mentioned above. I had 18 tracks, but only 2 at a time that were good channels. Here's hoping that some of that is useful to you. -Richie

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    Hey Richard:
    I tried your model before buying the Korg D3200. The Korg preamps are excellent but if you wish, you can turn them right down and use your own preamps.
    The machine is much more reliable than any PC, I have ever owned.
    In short; absolutely not even as much as a hiccup fro the standalone recorder.
    However, for editing, you can't beat a computer with a good soundcard.
    So I use both.
    Cheers ♫
    Jim

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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Monroe View Post
    As I see it, there are 2 major disadvantages to the standalone. One, if any part of the system goes down, the whole studio may be down. If a compressor goes down in a component system, or a CD writer, it's probably no big deal. In a standalone, you need to be able to back up your tracks, often to CD-R. Lately, you can probably download WAV. files to your cell phone with the right app, but I am talking about obsolete equipment, for sure.
    What about something like the Otari Radar? That's basically a component digital recorder. That's what I was thinking of more than a completely integrated unit. Difference is, that unlike windows, it's not going to suddenly decide the audio interface is missing for no good reason.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jpmorris View Post
    What about something like the Otari Radar? That's basically a component digital recorder. That's what I was thinking of more than a completely integrated unit. Difference is, that unlike windows, it's not going to suddenly decide the audio interface is missing for no good reason.
    Yes I'm familiar with component digital recorders, There are several popular ones. Of course, once you have all those digital tracks, they have to go somewhere for processing, and become a CD, MP3, or get exported as a WAV. file, usually to a computer.-Richie

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    I started with a portastudio standalone, and am currently testing an audio interface to see if I want to go with computer recording, so this issue is highly relevant for me.

    From what I see so far:

    Stand-alone recorders tend to be limited in features but more reliable for what they do. For example, my Fostex MR16HD has only locked up a couple times in the last 2 yrs where it required a fresh power-up. My Emu 0404 USB + Reaper system has locked up with multiple problems at least a dozen times in the three months I have had it. For the standalone, the problems were fixable by repowering it. For the computer system, I would reboot either the audio interface, the recording software, or the computer itself (after I deduced what the problem was).

    My MR16HD has input EQ only (as presets) - no EQ during mixdown. It has phantom power for mic inputs, but only for all or none at a time. Flipping phase can only be done on input, and you have to set it through menu options - no toggle switch. Punching in and editing is possible, but arduous. Visual display is extremely small and difficult to read. It does have great reverb options for tracking and mixing, however.

    Summary of comparison - standalone recorder vs computer recording:

    Pros for standalone:
    -reliability
    -simplicity, ease of use, quick learning curve
    -dedicated file and operating system
    -portability

    Cons for standalone:
    -very limited EQ, compression, plug-ins, effects capabilities
    -limited or awkward punch in, edits, phase flip, and phantom power
    -small displays

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