Best Digital Multitrack Recorders In 2018 – Buyer’s Guide

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Before computers and software based music production came along, everybody had to make do with hardware based solutions. The multitrack recorder has been around in one form or another since the 1950’s and it’s popularity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Best Digital Multitrack Recorders

One of the key things that makes a digital multitrack recorder so appealing to musicians is that you’ll be mixing and recording mostly by what you can hear - rather than by visual representations of sound waves. This can be daunting, but it’s also the most likely to produce the best sound since you can’t just make something that looks good - it has to sound good.

On top of that, chances are that unless you’ve got a powerful computer with a high-end soundcard designed for recording and producing music, your computer simply won’t be up to the task of producing professional sounding music.

Actually choosing one is another matter, and we’ll get to our recommendations soon, but first we wanted to start with a little guide to help you find the best digital multitrack recorders in the years to come after our original picks have been overshadowed by newer models.

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Digital Multitrack Recorders On The Market

Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.

Buyer's Tips: What to look for when buying the best digital multitrack recorders

  • A multitrack recorder is defined first by how many tracks you can actually record on at any one time. Quite separate from the number of tracks available for mixing, and you will need to be sure you take this into account depending on your recording style. If you like to do the bass and drums first, moving onto guitar and then vocals, two tracks would probably be fine - but you may need more.
  • Non-destructive editing capabilities are the biggest innovation of multitrack recorders going to digital formats. Look for the number of virtual tracks, as these let you edit one track multiple times and still have the original recording intact.
  • The number of mixing tracks will also factor in. If you’re only working with a limited number of instruments, you may be able to get away with 8 tracks, but it’s not unusual for more complex set ups to need many more tracks.
  • Effects are also crucial, as you may only be able to use the ones that are built-in if the unit doesn’t support an effects loop.

Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the best digital multitrack recorders.

5 Best Digital Multitrack Recorders

1. Zoom R8

Zoom R8

Click to learn more / buy from Amazon

A very versatile multitrack recorder, especially considering the fairly low cost. It can eliminate the need for a large amount of other equipment as it functions as more than just a recorder and mixer, but as a DAW controller and USB audio interface as well.

  • Can be used as a DAW controller and 2-channel USB audio interface
  • Comes with over 100 effects including amp modelling
  • Has a built in condenser mic
  • The microphone is good - but not as good as a high quality external mic
  • The amp modelling is okay at best
  • The actual usage is quite tricky and slow going due to the old user interface design

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2. Boss Micro BR-80

Boss Micro BR-80

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Another 8 track recorder. It’s not going to be the centerpiece of your studio, and is more useful as something for trying out ideas and impromptu recording.

  • Extremely compact package with a large number of effects and works as an audio interface as well
  • Great for guitarists thanks to the effects and cabinet emulation
  • Includes Cakewalk SONAR X1 LE software
  • Only has one guitar/mic and one line level input
  • Doesn’t work as a DAW controller
  • No effects send

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3. TASCAM DP-24SD

TASCAM DP-24SD

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A true all-in-one workstation that omits the need for a computer completely. As the name implies, it has 24 mixing tracks, with eight virtual tracks for each of those. In addition, it can record up to eight tracks at a time compared to the two for the Boss Micro BR-80 or the Zoom R8.

  • Large number of faders and knobs means little in the way of nested menus to be navigated
  • All inputs have phantom power and has a line level/hi-z switchable input
  • Can export to computer via USB
  • Doesn’t function as an audio interface
  • Faders aren’t motorized
  • Effects can only be applied one at a time to a track

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4. Zoom R16

Zoom R16

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It’s quite likely that you’ll want to move past an eight-track recorder at some point. The R16 shares many of the same features that it’s smaller brother the R8 does, whilst letting you record up to 8 tracks simultaneously.

  • Can operate on battery power and has build in condenser mics for use on the go
  • Has mixing and transport controls that also work with a number of DAWs
  • 8 XLR/TRS inputs, plus two balanced output jacks and headphone output with its own volume control
  • Doesn’t have a built in rhythm generator like the R8
  • Ships with a 1GB SD card which will fill up quickly with the .WAV format files

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5. Zoom H4N

Zoom H4n

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For an ultra portable (literally handheld) multitrack recorder, the Zoom H4N has a pretty good corner on the market. It looks like it’s designed mostly for use by journalists and with video cameras, but it’s actually packing a ton of features just for musicians.

For this type of multitrack recorder, we had originally wanted to include the JamHub Tracker, but the company has unfortunately closed. You can still buy them online as of the time of writing here.​

  • Comes with X/Y condenser mic plus two XLR/TRS combo input
  • Handheld size, battery powered and capable of recording two tracks at a time onto its four mixing tracks
  • Comes with a variety of guitar and bass effects and amp modelling
  • Very limited number of tracks
  • Can’t be recharged, needing fresh batteries each time
  • Despite the small size, it has a fairly unintuitive user interface that takes a while to learn

So what are the best digital multitrack recorders?

Your first consideration will be the number of simultaneous recording options you need. If two is all you need, then the Zoom H4N is an easy way to get started.

For a larger set up, the TASCAM DP-24SD is the perfect way to get going, especially since it works as a standalone workstation.

However, the TASCAM can be a bit pricey, especially if you don’t need all of the tracks it has. The Zoom R16 is a best of both worlds option, and the Zoom R8 has a couple of advantages thanks to its rhythm features, as does the Boss Micro BR-80.

You will also need to consider whether it’s important for you to be able to integrate with a DAW. In this case, the Boss Micro BR-80 and Zoom H4N would not be the way to go, and you would be better off with one of the other three (which one precisely depends on your track number requirements.)​

Image Credits:

Featured image source: yoppyCC BY 2.0

https://www.zoom.co.jp/products/multi-track-recorder/r8-recorder-interface-controller-sampler

https://www.boss.info/us/products/micro_br_br-80/

http://tascam.com/product/dp-24sd/images/

https://www.zoom-na.com/products/production-recording/multi-track-recorders/zoom-r16-recorder-interface-controller

https://www.zoom-na.com/products/field-video-recording/field-recording/zoom-h4n-handy-recorder​

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