- Portable Multitrack Recorders: The Tool Every Musician Or Sound Artist Needs
- Different Tools For DifferentJobs
- Top 10 Best Portable Multitrack Recorder To Buy 2020 Reviews
- 1 Tascam DP-008EX Digital Pocketstudio
- 2 Zoom R16 SD Recorder / Interface / Controller
- 3 Boss BR-800 Portable Digital Recorder
- 4 Tascam DP-24SD Digital Portastudio
- 5 Zoom F4 Multitrack Field Recorder
- 6 Sound Devices MixPre-3 II Audio Recorder
- 7 Roland R-88 Eight-Channel Recorder and Mixer
- 8 Tascam DR-40X Portable Four-Track Digital Audio Recorder
- 9 Zoom H4n Pro Digital Multitrack Recorder
- 10 JamHub Tracker MT16 Audio Recorder
- So What’s The Best Portable Multitrack Recorder?
- So What’s The Best Portable Multitrack Recorder For The Job?
Portable Multitrack Recorders: The Tool Every Musician Or Sound Artist Needs
Since Tascam introduced the first cassette tape-based Portastudio forty years ago, portable multitrack recorders have proven to be among the most important innovations in music production technology. Once used mainly to record song demos at home, different designs have evolved to cover a variety of niches in music and sound design. In a nutshell, if you’re an audio professional (or hope to be), you need at least one of these in your arsenal.
In this review, we’ll look at some of the best portable multitrack recorders with at least four separate tracks, with an eye toward choosing the best-in-class for different applications. But first, let’s look at the different tasks they might be used for.
Different Tools For DifferentJobs
Portable Multitrack Recorders come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with different feature sets, depending on the purpose for which they’ve been optimized. However, we can group them into a few broad categories.
So let’s take a look at some of the most common types…
First off, these all-in-one packages are made to record, edit, and mix songs. Multiple inputs accommodate microphones, synths, and high-impedance instruments like guitars. And a variety of audio effects can be applied to individual tracks. Editing functions, like copy, paste, undo, plus auto punch-in and out, looping and bounce are standard, but some models offer much more.
The mixing interface mimics a mixing console’s channel strip design, with multiple faders and function buttons for solo, mute, etc.
A second type is designed to capture a live performance, usually by plugging in to the main mixing board. These should have as many inputs as possible and be built to withstand the occasional insanity of a live show.
Third, portable multitrack recorders are used by sound designers, Foley artists, and other audio specialists for film and video production. These must also be very rugged, usually in a metal case, with special mounting hardware. Locking XLR connectors are almost mandatory, so a take isn’t ruined by unplugged cable. And SMPTE timecode read/write functionality is vital to keep audio and video in sync.
Finally, handheld multitrack recorders are useful in many situations, from discreet concert or field recording to interviews. High-quality condenser microphones are standard, therefore they need phantom power. These devices usually have limiters and other features to protect against sudden high sound levels.
No matter which multitrack recorder you purchase or why, a few features are always important. All record at least CD-quality audio at 16-bit. 44.1 kHz resolution, and many go far beyond this. The higher 24-bit size gives more headroom for mixing. People argue how much better higher sample rates sound, but they do make a noticeable difference for audio processing like time stretching and pitch shifting.
Also, high-quality, low-noise mic preamps are key to getting professional vocals. And of course, a USB port, preferably high-speed, is key to getting your files transferred to your computer. While also enabling it to double as an audio interface for a digital audio workstation (DAW).
So with all that in mind, let’s look more closely at ten of the best portable multitrack recorders in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices…
Top 10 Best Portable Multitrack Recorder To Buy 2020 Reviews
1 Tascam DP-008EX Digital Pocketstudio
The original Tascam Portastudio defined the portable multitrack recorder market, so it’s fair, to begin with this new take on a classic design. The all-digital DP-008EX builds on the Portastudio legacy, delivering eight tracks and a number of excellent editing and mixing features at a very affordable price.
At the same time, Tascam’s goal was simplicity and ease of use, so it doesn’t contain as many bells and whistles as some other, more expensive products. But even so, it comes loaded with functionality.
The DP-008EX includes a built-in stereo microphone pair, or you can use the XLR inputs to connect your own mics to the internal preamps. Two 1/4-inch instrument inputs are also included. You can record two tracks at once at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz resolution, straight to an SD card. And a 2GB card is included.
The mixer section is remarkably generous for a unit this compact. Each of the eight channels has its own volume, pan, and send knobs for the built-in reverb. And a USB port can be used to transfer your files to a computer.
A handy feature is Auto Punch in and out, which can be controlled remotely using the footswitch input. Other goodies include a chromatic tuner and metronome. And it’s very portable, weighing in at less than two pounds.
- Small footprint.
- Very simple to use.
- Low price.
- Can only record two tracks at once.
- 16-bit/44.1 kHz maximum resolution.
2 Zoom R16 SD Recorder / Interface / Controller
The Zoom R16 SD Recorder can record your entire band in one pass, thanks to its eight XLR/TRS microphone or line inputs with mic preamps. However phantom power is available on inputs 5 and 6 only, so you’ll only be able to use two condenser microphones, such as for overheads and they will need to be in these inputs. A built-in stereo condenser mic is also included for quick recording.
You can record a total of 16 tracks straight to SDHC cards with 24-bit, 44.1 kHz fidelity, up to a total of 32GB. Even better, you can sync two R16’s together to record 16 tracks at once, and playback 32 tracks.
You can loop playback with user-defined start and stop points, and set up to 100 markers per song. Also, the phase of each track can be inverted.
The R16 also includes more than 100 studio-quality effects, including reverb, delay, and distortion. Plus a great virtual guitar amplifier, a metronome, and a chromatic tuner. A bank-switching button lets the eight-channel faders control a full 16-track mix. A backlit LCD display and four-segment LED meters for each channel make it easy to produce your final mix.
Alternately, you can use the onboard USB port to turn the R16 into an 8-in, 2-out, 96 kHz audio interface and mixing surface for your favorite DAW. Steinberg’s Cubase LE is included to get you started immediately.
The compact unit weighs less than three pounds, and can be powered by six AA batteries, an AC adapter or the USB bus.
- Record eight simultaneous tracks.
- Internal microphones.
- Two R16’s can be synced together.
- LED meters are pretty basic.
- Phantom power on two channels only.
3 Boss BR-800 Portable Digital Recorder
Musicians know Boss’s reputation for delivering great gear at excellent prices, and the BR-800 Portable Digital Recorder doesn’t disappoint. It’s the perfect addition to a home studio when space is limited, but you can’t skimp on quality. You can record four simultaneous tracks at 24-bits. 44.1 kHz to the (included) SD card using the internal stereo condenser microphone or external inputs.
Use the dedicated Song Sketch button to instantly start recording with the internal mics. Or try the EZ Recording feature that will interactively guide you through the recording process. Other options include looping and half-speed playback.
You can lay down a drum track using the BR-800’s internal drum machine, which includes an editor. Then add Boss’s legendary guitar, bass, and vocal effects, and mix it all down with the onboard eight-track best audio mixer. While a high-resolution LCD touch screen gives you clear and accurate metering.
The BR-800 is ideal for field recordings because it’s compact enough to fit into a small bag and weighs just two pounds. It can be powered by six AAA batteries, as well as with the included AC adapter or the USB bus. The USB connector also means the BR-800 can become an audio interface and mixing control surface for your DAW.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Built-in drum machine.
- Boss effects are awesome.
- Phantom power on only one mic preamp.
- Maximum sample rate of 44.1 kHz.
4 Tascam DP-24SD Digital Portastudio
A strong contender for best portable multitrack recorder is Tascam’s DP-24, is a full 24-track (12 mono and six stereo) standalone recording studio. Everything you need to produce finished recordings is included. Eight simultaneous inputs make it easy to record an entire band in one take to an internal SD or SDHC card, at up to 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution.
High-quality mic preamps include +48 volt phantom power for condenser microphones.
The DP-24 also includes a full suite of built-in studio-quality effects, including EQ, compression, normalize, chorus and reverb. Plus it features two send busses in case you want to use external processing gear. Also included is a guitar tuner and metronome.
The elaborate and ergonomic mixer section has 18 faders with self-illuminated solo, mute and record arm buttons, and 3-band EQ. A high-resolution color LCD display provides clear and accurate metering for all tracks, including a Peak Hold function.
Other notable features include Auto Punch in and out, Locate with up to 99 markers per song, and a Bounce function to mix inputs with playback tracks, recording the result to a new track.
Edit functions include Copy Insert, Copy Paste, Move Insert, Move Paste, Open, Cut, Silence, Clone Track and Clean Out, plus Undo and Redo with Undo history.
A USB 2.0 interfaces provides connectivity to your host computer for file backup. There’s also a connector for an optional remote footswitch.
- All-in-one solution.
- Easy to use channel-strip console.
- Large variety of effects.
- Auto Punch can be tricky to use.
5 Zoom F4 Multitrack Field Recorder
The Zoom F4 is the perfect eight-track field recorder for professional video or film work. It’s housed in a solid metal case rugged enough to survive any situation. Up to six tracks can be recorded or played back simultaneously with an additional stereo mix track, at a resolution of up to 24bits/192 kHz for pristine sound.
Four mic/line inputs feature heavy-duty locking Neutrik XLR/TRS connectors, and +24-volt or +48-volt phantom power. Super low-noise mic preamps provide up to 75 dB of gain with a -127 dBu noise floor. Also included is a 3.5-mm stereo input and a Zoom mic capsule input.
Onboard Advanced Look-Ahead Hybrid Limiters provide overload protection for recording a wide dynamic audio range, with controls for setting threshold, attack, and release. The limiters add one millisecond of delay in order to “look ahead” to anticipate clipping before it’s recorded.
The Zoom F4 features a patented dual-SD card recording system. You can record simultaneously on two SD, SDHC or SDXC cards, up to 512 GB each, then instantly back up or split recordings. In addition, you can record directly to a computer via USB at the same time.
An internal time-code generator uses a temperature-compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO) for audio/video synchronization with 0.2 ppm accuracy. It can be powered by eight AA batteries, an external 9-16 volt battery or a Zoom AD-19 power supply with an included adapter.
A nice bonus is the bundled audio editing software. Where owners receive download codes for Cubase LE and WaveLab LE.
- Rugged construction.
- Dual-SD card recording.
- High-quality mic preamps.
- Free software.
- Mixer knobs are small.
6 Sound Devices MixPre-3 II Audio Recorder
The Sound Devices MixPre-3 II provides professional-quality multi-track recording in a very sturdy one-pound box. It’s a great choice when you need high-quality audio far from the studio. You can record up to five simultaneous tracks and a total of twelve tracks. While triggering recording from your camera using HDMI.
The MixPre-3 II is very ergonomically designed. The large color LCD touchscreen is easily readable in bright sunlight, and the input control knobs are large, with easy visible ring LED metering.
Basic mode gets you going right away, and is ideal for recording interviews and podcasts. In Advanced mode, you get access to metering, routing, time code, mic preamp gain, and other, more advanced features.
Three custom-design Kashmir mic preamps and 32-bit converters (up to 192 kHz) yield audio quality that’s as close to perfect as you can get, including an incredible 130 dB noise floor. A full-featured mixer includes overdubbing, punch-in and track bouncing. Plus analog limiting, studio-quality reverb, “vocal air” and other effects.
Other professional features include internal SMPTE time code generation, analog limiters, auto-copy, and a ten-second pre-roll buffer. The retractable 1/4-20 mount makes it work easily with a camera. Your projects can be exported to your DAW as a stereo WAV or AAC file, or 12 separate WAV files.
The MixPre-3 II can be powered with batteries, an AC adapter or the USB port. You can also use your iOS device for wireless control.
- Very high recording quality.
- Dual-mode operation.
- Camera mount.
- Limited physical mixing controls.
7 Roland R-88 Eight-Channel Recorder and Mixer
The Roland R-88 is actually a ten-channel audio recorder (eight channels plus a stereo mix). And is a full mixer that is ideal for field recording, event production, video shoots, or live music performance. Its relatively higher price is reflected in the number and quality of features it delivers.
Solidly built for hard use, you can record up to three hours of four-channel, 24-bit, 96 kHz audio on a 32GB SDHC card. And it actually can go up to 192 kHz. Eight analog inputs and outputs are available with locking XLR connectors, plus AES/EBU digital audio in and out.
The built-in mixer includes a three-band EQ and adjustable low-frequency cutoff. There is also a selectable input recording delay from 0.05 to 20 milliseconds for each channel, important for surround recording. The large touch panel display is very intuitive, and the display and front controls can be locked to prevent settings being accidentally changed.
The R-88 provides SMPTE timecode in and out so can sync to video. It also supports BWF and iXML metadata. This includes tags such as SCENE, TAKE, and TIMECODE_RATE, providing seamless data interchange with Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools and other digital editing systems. An optional remote footswitch can control for start, stop and record, marking and other functions.
You can attach a MIDI control surface to the USB port for mixing. Or use the USB connector to turn the R-88 into a multi-channel audio interface. It can be powered by AA or rechargeable Ni-MH batteries, AC power or external four-pin XLR battery packs.
- Eight inputs.
- Time-code in/out.
- Metadata support.
- Front-panel control locking.
- Relatively expensive.
8 Tascam DR-40X Portable Four-Track Digital Audio Recorder
The TASCAM DR-40X is an excellent entry-level handheld recorder, the latest revision of their phenomenally successful DR-40. Designed to be operated efficiently with one thumb, it’s suitable for filmmakers, musicians, sound designers, or anyone who needs a compact and simple high-quality audio recording solution.
The included pair of cardioid condenser microphones can be configured in either AB or XY orientation for a normal or wide stereo field. You can also use your own microphones or line-level source to record up to 24-bit., 96 kHz resolution, with a signal-to-noise ratio greater than 92 dB.
The high-gain microphone preamps include 48-volt phantom power. And two additional XLR/TRS inputs make it possible to record four channels simultaneously.
Three unique auto level modes (Limiter, Peak Reduction, and Auto Level) help prevent accidental distortion while recording. Six reverb effects are available, and an Overdub feature lets you add more parts to existing audio files. The DR-40X is also a great USB audio interface if you want to record directly to a computer.
The Overdub feature lets you add instruments or voices to existing tracks. A Level Align function will smooth out sudden volume jumps during playback. And, in Overwrite mode (with undo) you can automatically punch in to replace part of a recording.
In Dictation mode, you can jump back and forth in a recorded file in preset increments. Therefore when combined with its speed control and the special dictation EQ setting, it’s very useful for transcribing dictation or speeches.
For monitoring your recordings, there’s both a built-in speaker and a headphone jack.
All these great features make the Tascam DR-40X one of the best portable audio recorders you can buy.
- Portable and simple to operate.
- High-quality-audio recording (24-bit/96kHz).
- Built-in speaker.
- Only four tracks.
9 Zoom H4n Pro Digital Multitrack Recorder
The Zoom H4n Pro is one of the best handheld portable audio recorders around. Its light-weight, ergonomic rubberized body and locking XLR/TRS connectors make it ideal for recording film location sound, field recordings or concerts.
A built-in X/Y pattern microphone pair can be set to different angles between 90 and 120 degrees. And it can capture sounds up to an ear-splitting 140 dB at up to 24-bits, 96 kHz. Two additional inputs for mics or instruments make it possible to record four tracks simultaneously.
The main inputs support +24v and +48v phantom power. The included HD card can hold an hour of WAV audio, and MP3 is also an option. There’s also a slot for an HDSC card up to 32GB.
Musicians will like the H4n Pro’s onboard effects…
These include compression, limiting, a high-pass filter, reverb, delay, and several amplifier models. Also included are a metronome and chromatic tuner.
Filmmakers can connect the H4n Pro to a video camera when getting high-quality location audio on a budget is a priority. It’s also great for Foley artists to capture B-roll sound because it’s so portable. Plus it includes onboard mid-side decoding. This allows you to adjust the width of the stereo field during post-production.
You can loop playback at selectable start and stop points, and add up to 99 markers per recording. You can also vary the playback speed from 50 to 150 percent without affecting pitch. Or change the pitch without affecting the playback speed.
The USB port can turn the H4n Pro into a 2-in, 2-out audio interface, or transfer recorded files to your DAW. Cubase LE8 and Wavelab LE8 software are included.
- Small and easy to hold.
- Extremely large dynamic range and low noise floor.
- Only four tracks.
- Included mics can’t be removed.
10 JamHub Tracker MT16 Audio Recorder
Our final contender for Best Portable Multitrack Recorder is the JamHub Tracker MT16. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size of just 5 x 9 x 11 inches and 2 pounds. Because it packs a lot of power in a small box. You can capture audio from a mixing board or JamHub studio and transform it into fully editable 24-bit multitrack files for your DAW.
Eight onboard 1/4-inch inputs (6 mono, two stereo), and an optional 16-channel breakout snake let you plug directly into your mixer’s inserts. This allows you to grab clean, post-trim, pre-fader audio that’s unaffected by room or front-of-house mixes. And then record it to the onboard SD card as either WAV files up to 24/96, or MP3 files. The breakout cable also provides stereo Aux and headphone outputs.
The MT16 really shines as a recording accessory for the JamHub line of portable Silent Rehearsal Studios. Just plug in the included JamHub Connect cable to the back of the studio to record each stereo section as an independent file.
With the free Tracker M16 Control app, the MT16’s built-in WiFi lets you start and stop recording remotely from any iOS device. Therefore captured files can be transferred to your DAW via WiFi or the onboard USB port.
- Convenient to use with a mixing console.
- The perfect companion to a JamHub Silent Rehearsal Studio.
- High-quality 24-bit, 96 kHz sound.
- No onboard effects.
- No editing or mixdown functions.
So What’s The Best Portable Multitrack Recorder?
Picking an outright winner is a compromise. This is because people use portable multitrack recorders for many different purposes. However, the ones we’ve reviewed here are all outstanding products, the best of the best, as they say. So let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario that requires one piece of gear to perform several tasks…
You’re shooting a documentary about a band. You will need live concert footage with a great mix of the band, plus audience ambiance. And you will also need to record some interviews, and “wild sound” around the venue and neighborhood. You might also need to overdub some instruments during post-production. Audio and video have to stay in sync throughout the editing process.
So What’s The Best Portable Multitrack Recorder For The Job?
In this case, we would choose the…
It has all the audio features a videographer needs to capture a live performance with the utmost fidelity. And also back it up immediately. It comes in a sturdy package with locking connectors. Finally, it has a crystal oscillator for super-stable SMPTE timecode. Back in the studio, it becomes a high-end audio interface for editing, overdubs, and mixdown.
Having said that, if we could have two portable recorders, we’d lean toward the feature-laden…
…for studio song production or live concert recording.
While for location video shoots and Foley work, the handheld…
Of course, you may need a portable recorder for other reasons, and a different product might be a closer match.