Published On: Wed, May 8th, 2013
Uncategorized | By Marcus Leadley

Guitar Home Recording Part 2

With the second part of our series, Marcus Leadley looks at the quick, easiest and most pocket-friendly solutions for getting your songs and guitars recorded. After last month’s focus on phones, it’s time to put those smart blighters away and find out what the specialists can do for you

A dedicated recording device is just that, and without a screen to power you will get extended recording time from standard alkaline batteries. Some are rechargeable and all of the necessary connectivity is there as part of the deal.

The quality of built in mics and mic preamps is appropriate for music recording and improves significantly the more you spend. Many also feature dedicated guitar inputs, tuners, amp models and effects. 

At the budget end of the market it’s simply not possible to compete with the cost of a phone app and a connector – assuming you already own a phone.

Contract deals aside, Android phones start around £40 for a slightly older model and an iPhone 5 would set you back a hefty £530.  It is possible to buy a digital recording device with a mic for less that £50 but this will be a voice recorder/dictaphone. They will record musical instruments, but hardly offer the best sound quality.

At around £45 the Line 6 Back Track is one of those gadgets that seems almost too good to be true. Offering between 2 and 12 hour hours (depending on quality)  mono recording it’s basically a flash recorded designed specifically for guitarist. It plugs in between your amp and guitar and records everything you play – unless you tell it not to.  

Every time there’s a pause it splits the recording into a separate file. If you play something that feels significant you press the Mark button and it moves the recording to a separate file. You can listen back direct from your amp or transfer the files to a computer.  

As well as a brilliant idea for songwriting and jamming there is as added advantage in the live situation – you can use the instant playback facility as a way to tweak your amp’s tone and volume and even walk out front while the band is playing to hear what you’ll sound like.  The Mic version (£100) adds the ability to record acoustic instruments, jam sessions and gigs. As the recorded sound is your raw guitar output before the amp you get to reamp it later – so you can continue to tweak it and experiment with different sounds.      

For a dedicated guitar recording device with a more traditional profile Tascam’s GTR-1 (£290) is an excellent piece of kit with a proper 1/4” socket, amp simulations and a multi- effects processor – as well as a pair of condenser mics for stereo live recording.

There’s an overdub faculty for building songs or developing parts. The device is also designed as a learning aid so there’s a centre cancel and pitch control feature and many rhythm patterns to play along with.        

If you want a basic digital stereo recorder there are many to choose from. The Alesis TwoTrack (£90) records at 16bit /44.1kHz using an X/Y pair of cardioid condenser mics. This a good, practical solution that minimized phase issues because the mics are essentially picking up sound at the same point. The layout also tends to minimize pickup from behind – so less chance of audience noise.  However, you don’t get the widest stereo field.

However it works well for bands. Files can be transferred to computer by USB. There’s an external stereo mic/line input if you want to experiment with the possibility of plugging your electric guitar straight in. Expect better results than with a phone’s input as there will be level control, but the impedance mismatch probably won’t have gone away.  

The Zoom H1 (£117) records up to 24bit/96kHz and also has a pair of good quality built in condenser mics. There’s an external stereo mic/line input. Like all Zoom recorders you can use USB to transfer files (recorded as WAV or MP3) and the H1 will even act as an audio interface, so it is effectively a very useful USB microphone as well.

The 2-track recorder/editor software WaveLab LE is included. For around £130 the Tascam DR-05 has mics designed for omidirectional capture, built in chromatic tuner varispeed, loop and repeat playback options.  

The Yamaha PocketTrak C24 (£170) is a high quality stereo recorder with built in mics – this one comes with a handy wireless remote so you can avoid handling noise or locate it in an out of the way location.

Roland offers the R-05 (£237), a no-nonsense, high quality recorder with internal stereo mic and eternal input. Further up the price bracket at £350 is the Olympus LS-11: high quality recordings, X/Y mics and slimline design. Cubase LE is packaged with the unit, although the recorded does not have the interface function.    

The Zoom H4n (£320) is another one of those products that should be up for a modern ‘Swiss Army knife’ award. It’s a 2-track recorder (again with built in X/Y mics) with proper XLR connectivity and phantom power if you want to use condenser mics. It’s an audio interface for your computer as well.

The H4n comes with Cubase LE giving you instant access to computer based mutitracking. It can also operate as a stand alone 4-track recorder complete with amp models and guitar effects. Oh, and there’s a guitar tuner as well. The Tascam DR-40 (£269) is another hand-held unit that can be use as a two or four track recorder.

With this one you can change the position of the internal mics from X/Y to A/B and use external mics at the same time if you wish for more complex mic’ing arrangement (a stereo pair and two mono mics for example).  As a musician’s 4 track you’re limited to a more basic overdub mode of operation and you won’t get amp simulations, reverb is the only effect and the unit isn’t an audio interface.

You can, however set the DR-40 to record a backup safety track set at a couple of db lower, which is very useful for loud gigs or rehearsals.  If this type of multi-function device interests you but the idea of four tracks seems like a step backwards, the Olympus LS-100 (£449) is a eight track portable recorder in the same hand-held format – but with no effects built in.  

Coming at multitracking from the most traditional direction, The Tascam DP004 (£199) lets you record and bounce tracks and you can record stereo using the built in condenser mics, so it’s great for gigs, rehearsals or songwriting at home.

The two 1/4” inputs are switchable for mic or guitar. The unit doesn’t have any onboard effects so your pedal board will be getting a work out. Zoom is well known for producing value-for-money multitrackers and the R8 (£296) is no exception. There are built in mics for live recording, 140 DSP effects and 18 guitar amp models to sparkle up your playing.

There’s an 8-track sampler with pads if you want to build tracks on the fly around loops and it works as an interface and a controller for your DAW. It comes with Cubase LE and and it will record 24bit/48kHz WAV files.

Blimey! The Boss Micro BR-80 (£332) is a miniature digital 8-track recorder. The extremely small footprint (138mm wide) means it’s highly portable so live recording with the built in stereo mics is an obvious idea.

There’s an additional stereo rhythm track and onboard groove library, 40 COSM amp models and effects for guitar, bass and vocals – so it’s something of an all in one solution. This unit will function as an audio interface as well as a dedicated portable recorder and comes with Sonar LE as part of the deal.

 If you want a slightly larger unit with plenty of real knobs to twiddle, the Tascam DP 008 (£349) is an 8-track digital Portastudio from the originators of the idea. As with the DP004 all your money is focused on a well-featured recording device, so you will need some sort of input effects processor.


List of  Digital recorders

Line 6 Back track
Tascam GTR-1:
Alesis TwoTrack
Zoom H1
Yamaha PocketTrak C24
Zoom H4n
Tascam DR-40:
Olympus LS100
Tascam DP004
Zoom R8
The Boss Micro BR-80 
Tascam DP 008



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