The Best Multitrack Recorders - Digital

multitrack digital recorder

Originally published on Feb. 12, 2016 and updated on May 18, 2017.

Sponsorship Announcement

This gear guide is sponsored by Sweetwater and you can click through to their website to read customer reviews, check prices, or make a purchase, however all of the recommendations below have been made by the Gearank team.

The 2017 version of this gear guide is focused on stand-alone digital multitrack recorders that have everything you need built-in for recording, mixing, and producing music - if you're looking for handheld multitrack recorders then please read our Handheld Recorder Guide.

Our research shows that over the last 15 months since we first published this guide, sales of digital multitrack recorders have remained strong despite no major new recorders come onto the market during that time. The use of standalone recorders remains a great way of recording despite the popularity of computers and DAWs, in fact many of the recorders we recommend can be used as USB audio interfaces and can export your tracks to a DAW for further processing and mastering if need be.

One advantage that remains with hardware recorders over computer based mixing is that they force you to use your ears - when watching a computer screen it's sometimes tempting to mix with your eyes - some people find the absence of a computer screen improves their mixing skills.

Contents

What To Look For in a Digital Multitrack Recorder

  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks

    When multitrack recording was done on tape machines you could generally record on all tracks simultaneously, however digital systems usually only permit recording on a limited number of tracks at the same time - make sure the recording system you choose provides enough recording tracks for the kind of work you do.

  • Total Number of Tracks for Mixing

    If a digital recorder is listed as 8 tracks that means you can mix a maximum of 8 tracks regardless of how many you can record on at once.

  • Virtual Tracks

    Many digital multitrack recorders offer additional virtual tracks which are very handy because they allow for non-destructive editing. For example if you have 8 virtual tracks per track you can do 8 extra takes without 'recording over' previous takes. Alternatively you might have drums on 8 tracks and bounce them down to 2 tracks to free up tracks for other uses, however if you need to change that mix later you'll still have access to the original 8 tracks which you can reload then remix.

  • Effects

    You won't be able to add plugins so you'll either want to select one that has all the effects you need or one that has an external effects send/loop so you can use additional outboard signal processing.

  • Export Functions

    You may want to record on a multitrack recorder, then later export your tracks to a computer so that you can do additional mixing/editing/processing on a DAW.

  • Additional Features

    Many models come with additional features such as drum machines or allowing you to use them as a USB audio interface with your computer.

The Best Digital Multitrack Recorders in 2017

We've broken this guide down into separate sections:

Best 8 Track Recorder Roundup

TASCAM DP-008EX

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$250
TASCAM DP-008EX

The TASCAM DP-008EX is the clear standout in the 8 track market as evidenced by its comparatively high Gearank score.

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 2
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 8
  • Virtual tracks: 6 with undo/redo history function on all tracks
  • Inputs: 2 x balanced XLR with 48v phantom power & 2 x unbalanced mic/line/guitar
  • Outputs: 2 x RCA line, 1 x 1/8" stereo headphone + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1kHz
  • Bit rate: 16-bit
  • On-board effects: 6 reverbs, 2-band shelving EQ, compressor, de-esser and exciter, mastering
  • Effects send: Internal
  • USB audio interface: No - USB is for transferring files only
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes

The quality and clarity of its sound, its portability and ease of use are features that owners consistently refer to when rating it highly.

The most often cited complaint from reviewers was that it doesn't work as a USB audio interface, which is true, but it seems like an unfair complaint to me because it doesn't claim to be one. You can however transfer your tracks to a computer via USB. For a recorder which usually sells for $180 you can't expect it to have many more features than TASCAM have already packed into it - if you need one that also works as an audio interface then look at some of the other options below such as the Zoom R8.

The TASCAM DP-008EX is well suited to musicians on a budget that simply want a reliable portable device that records songs and allows for mix down and mastering to a final stereo track.

Zoom R8

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 400+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Zoom R8

Although the Zoom R8 is used by some film makers, it was designed primarily with musicians in mind because it works as a multitrack recorder, USB audio interface, sampler and a control surface for DAWs.

It comes bundled with Cubase LE so it provides both hardware and software recording and mixing options making it well suited to musicians who are just starting out in multitrack recording and music production.

It has a built-in stereo condenser mic which makes it well suited to portable recording or quickly capturing ideas without having to set up external microphones.

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 2
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 8
  • Virtual tracks: Unlimited (actually limited by storage space)
  • Inputs: 2 x Balanced XLR/TRS Combo Inputs
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" main out, Stereo 1/4" Headphone Jack + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1/48kHz for recording, up to 96kHz when used as a USB audio interface
  • Bit rate: 16/24-bit
  • On-board effects: 150+ DSP effects which includes amp modeling and mastering effects
  • Effects send: Internal
  • USB audio interface: 2 channels
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes

It lets you program punch in/out points and it also has a control input allowing you to use a foot switch (not included) for this as well as using it to start, stop, rewind,and patch up/down.

The most common positive reviews talk about the quality and clarity of the recorded sound.

When the amp and cabinet modeling features are discussed there is some disagreement - some people say they sound great while others say they're fairly average.

One thing that a number of reviewers complained about is that when you use the on board rhythm patterns or use it as a sampler you have to assign them to tracks - so if you use 2 tracks for this purpose you only have 6 of the 8 playback tracks left to use.

Since we last published this guide there have been more people discussing using it as a DAW controller and the general consensus is that it works quite well in this regard, both for transport control and assigning faders.

In his Sound on Sound review, Tom Flint said, "The sequencer and sampler will enable those interested in hip-hop, dance music and other assorted electronica to emulate the basic production techniques they are hearing, and the recording facilities will introduce newcomers to the wonders of multitracking and mixing in the most straightforward manner."

The Zoom R8 receives the most number of positive comments for versatility - mainly because it's portable, records well, and is a respectable USB audio interface.

Boss Micro BR BR-80

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$249
Boss Micro BR BR-80

The Boss Micro BR BR-80 is a portable multitrack recorder which fits in your pocket and is designed for use by all musicians, but it comes with some special features specifically designed for guitarists including Roland's COSM amp and effect emulators.

It has three modes you can use it in:

  1. MTR - multi-track recorder
  2. eBand - jam along with prerecorded tracks
  3. Live Rec - record using the built-in stereo condenser mic

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 2
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 8
  • Virtual tracks: 64
  • Inputs: 1 x Guitar/Mic and 1 x line level
  • Outputs: Phones/Line out + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1kHz
  • Bit rate: 24-bit
  • On-board effects: EQ, reverb, 40 amp models, mastering tools, vocal processing including doubling, harmony effects, pitch correction and more
  • Effects send: No
  • USB audio interface: 2 channels
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes

As an added bonus it also comes bundled with the entry level DAW Cakewalk SONAR X1 LE.

The main thing owners praise the Boss Micro BR BR-80 for are its portability, clean sound, and that it's a great device for capturing musical ideas.

The negative reviews focus on the difficulty in using the export function, and a few users report difficulty using the control wheel.

Overall, if you're looking for something portable you can record ideas with at anytime, and intend to use it as an audio interface, then you'll find the Boss Micro BR BR-80 fits the bill nicely, but you wouldn't want it to be your primary platform for producing music on - it's best thought of as a 'sketch-pad' for recording.

16 Track Recorder

Zoom R16

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 950+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Zoom R16

The Zoom R16 provides a huge step up from the 8 track recorders above because it allows you to record on 8 tracks simultaneously.

All 8 inputs can take microphones or line level inputs. Phantom power is only available on two tracks and one track can take a Hi-Z instrument (guitar) level input.

You can also use it as an 8 channel USB audio interface and it comes bundled with Cubase LE. You can also transfer any tracks you've recorded directly on the Zoom R16 to your computer via the USB connection.

It has a built in stereo condenser mic making it easy to use as a portable recorder.

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 8
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 16
  • Virtual tracks: Unlimited (actually limited by storage space)
  • Inputs: 8 x XLR and 1/4" TRS Combo with Hi-Z input for guitar - Phantom power on 2 channels
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1kHz
  • Bit rate: 24-bit
  • On-board effects: 135 types including amp and cab simulations and mastering
  • Effects send: Internal
  • USB audio interface: 2 channels
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes

The most commonly mentioned attributes in positive user reviews are that the Zoom R16 provides excellent value for money given that you can use it to record 8 tracks simultaneously to the onboard SD card or to your computer, and that the sound quality is comparable to much higher spec'd recording devices.

One issue that has been pointed out by a few reviewers is that it doesn't come with an input for a foot switch to allow you to punch/in out when recording - I agree that this is an oversight by Zoom.

A few owners also gave negative comments about the light-weight plastic construction, but given that many reviewers are still using this device a couple of years after they bought it that's probably not too much of a concern - just treat it carefully and you should be okay.

It appears that not many people actually use it as a controller - I could only find a few people who seriously reviewed this aspect of it and it seems on average they would only give it about 3.5 out 5 for this feature. If you're serious about wanting a hardware DAW controller then you probably want motorized faders and that's something Zoom couldn't provide at this price point.

The R16 does have a lot of fans though, in their review Music Radar said, "Having the simplicity of a standalone recorder is one of its strengths, and the R16 manages to combine said simplicity with a number of more advanced features that make it a great portable recording solution as well as a handy addition to your computer setup."

Overall probably the biggest testament to the Zoom R16 is that it's the only 16 track digital recorder that we found we could recommend after reading all the reviews - most of the other manufactures who were serious contenders in the 16 track space have given up leaving the Zoom R16 as the clear winner in this category.

24 Track Recorders

The two options below have the standard 8 channel simultaneous recording feature, however if you're looking for a recorder with 24 simultaneous inputs then check out the $1000 Cymatic Audio uTrack24 at Sweetwater which has been specifically designed for recording live shows but can also be used in the studio.

TASCAM DP-24SD

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
TASCAM DP-24SD

The TASCAM DP-24SD is designed to be a stand alone audio workstation allowing you to do all of your music production on board, but it also lets you export tracks to your computer via USB.

It does not offer any DAW controller or USB audio interface features.

You can mix 12 stereo tracks or 24 mono tracks and it has 12 selectable stereo/mono faders to enable that. It has 19 faders in total along with 12 rotary knobs to enable easy hands-on mixing without having to scroll through screens to select while you're working.

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 8
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 24
  • Virtual tracks: 192 - 8 virtual track per actual track
  • Inputs: 8 x Combo XLR/TRS - 1 channel switchable between line and guitar - Phantom power on all 8 inputs
  • Outputs: 2x 1/4" balanced TRS, 2 x RCA unbalanced, 1/4" TRS headphone jack, 1/4" TRS jack for effects send + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1k/48k
  • Bit rate: 16/24-bit
  • On-board effects: Many including 3-band EQ, reverb, compression, exciter, de-esser, noise suppression, amp models, mastering tools, and more
  • Effects send: 2
  • USB audio interface: No
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes via USB

The vast majority of musicians who have reviewed it praise if for its audio quality and ease of use.

The amp simulations have mixed reviews - but overall they lean towards being positive.

One issue that some owners report in a negative light is the limitation that you can't use more than one dynamic effect on a single track simultaneously - for example you can't use the de-esser and compressor, or compressor and noise suppression, simultaneously on one track. The same applies to time based effects, EG you can't have reverb and delay at the same time. You can work around this utilizing bouncing and virtual tracks, but it would have been better if you didn't have to.

There were also a number of reviewers disappointed that it doesn't have motorized fades or mixing automation.

Overall this is well liked as an all-in-one recorder for both live use and in home studios.

The following review by Andi Picker of the previous model provides an excellent overview of its features and functionality - note that it no longer has a CD burner - you can export to your computer to do that:

Zoom R24

84
GEARANK

84 out of 100. Incorporating 425+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Zoom R24

The Zoom R24 is very similar to the Zoom R16 described above with the main differences being:

  • You can simultaneously play back 24 tracks instead of only 16
  • The R24 has 6 channels with phantom power instead of the R16's 2
  • The R24 comes with 24 drum kits instead of the 16 the R16 has
  • The R24 usually costs $100 more the R16

Apart from that the two units are quite similar, and the pros and cons reported by owners and expert reviewers are pretty much the same.

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 8
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 24
  • Virtual tracks: Unlimited
  • Inputs: 8 x XLR/TRS balanced combo - one switchable to high impedance for guitar/bass - Phantom power on 4 channels
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS, 1 x 1/4" Headphone + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz
  • Bit rate: 24-bit
  • On-board effects: Over 100 including EQ, reverb, amp models, mastering tools and more
  • Effects send: Internal
  • USB audio interface: 8 channels
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes

Tom Flint reviewed the R24 for Sound on Sound and said, "Setting up to record is a breeze, and it's very easy to swap recorded audio to another location if using a particular input channel. Guitarists will find that inserting effects is no problem at all, and the in‑built tuner is fast to call up and use."

32 Track Recorder

TASCAM DP-32SD

82
GEARANK

82 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$600
TASCAM DP-32SD

The TASCAM DP-32SD is basically the same as the TASCAM DP-24SD above with the main differences being:

  • You can simultaneously play back 32 tracks instead of only 24
  • By virtue of having 8 additional playback tracks it also has 64 more virtual tracks (8 virtual tracks per playback track on both)
  • The 32 usually costs $100 more the 24

Customer reviews of the TASCAM DP-32SD rate it slightly lower than owners of the TASCAM DP-24SD and the main reason appears to be that people expect more than just an additional 8 tracks of playback for a $100 higher price tag.

Main Features:

  • Simultaneous recording tracks: 8
  • Tracks playback/mix simultaneously: 32
  • Virtual tracks: 256 - 8 virtual track per actual track
  • Inputs: 8 x XLR/TRS balanced combo - 1 channel switchable between line and guitar - Phantom power on all 8 inputs
  • Outputs: 2x 1/4" balanced TRS, 2 x RCA unbalanced, 1/4" TRS headphone jack, 2x 1/4" unbalanced jack for effects send + USB
  • Sample rate: 44.1k/48k
  • Bit rate: 16/24-bit
  • On-board effects: Many including 3-band EQ, reverb, compression, exciter, de-esser, noise suppression, amp models, mastering tools, and more
  • Effects send: 2
  • USB audio interface: No
  • Storage medium: SD/SDHC card - up to 32GB
  • Export tracks to computer: Yes

TASCAM say that many well known songwriters use their 32 track recorders including Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen.

Important Note About Digital Multitrack Recorder Memory

Most recorders only ship with a 1 or 2 GB SD card installed so you'll probably want to get some bigger SDHC memory cards. They're fairly cheap so you may as well go for 32GBs and you can buy them at a local store or online from Sweetwater.com.

Methodology

We looked at all multitrack recorders available from major online American music gear retailers, excluding handheld and field recorders, and entered all of them into our music gear database. We then analyzed forum discussion and reviews by users, owners and audio engineers and processed that information, which included over 3900 sources, with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the scores out of 100 you see above. We selected the highest rated options in each sub-category of track numbers and recommended them above.. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

Comments

Just a quick correction as it

Just a quick correction as it was made me upgrade from the Zoom R16 to the R24 - the latter has SIX phantom powered channels, not four! It should also probably be noted that the bit rate is either 16 or 24 - mostly pertinent because at 24 you can't use the built-in effects features.

Thank you Rob - I have

Thank you Rob - I have updated the Zoom R24 description to show that it has 6 inputs with phantom power.

According to the R24 manual, the limitation on effects is when using it as an Audio Interface - you can only use the effects in this mode with the sampling rate at 16-bit/44.1 kHz.

I want to note for buyers to

I want to note for buyers to be aware the Zoom recorders, either 16 or 24 track recorders do not have the ability to use a footswitch. Therefore for punching in and out is a deal breaker and I chose the Tascam 24 for this reason. Who wants to set auto points everytime to fix a spot? I use punch in tool for writing solos and experimenting so it's an important tool for me.

Hi, nice article. The Zoom

Hi, nice article. The Zoom R16 is actually an 8in/2out usb audio interface (same as the R24),
Cheers

I got my R16 to record 8

I got my R16 to record 8 tracks simultaneously into the computer using Reaper.

The Tascam knobs and faders

The Tascam knobs and faders are from a material that after two years of use starts to fall apart. Bought a DR24SD in 2013 en after 3 years of use the rubber starts to like melt or crack away.

Hi there I notice that the

Hi there I notice that the Boss BR-800 Multitrack Digital Recording Studio is not mentioned in your review. Please can you provide me with the pros and cons....I thought it was a great bit of kit?

Hi Deano,

Hi Deano,

The Boss BR-800 was included in our research but it didn't have high enough scores to be included in this guide when it was published.

It didn't miss by much so there is a chance it might be included when we next update this guide - in the meantime you can see its Gearank score in our Music Gear Database at https://www.gearank.com/gear/boss-br-800

Thanks Jason, it looks (as a

Thanks Jason, it looks (as a layman) the easiest to use, I am a not sure what to buy as this is the 1st time Ive bought a recording device. Thanks for the link BTW.

Hi Deano, which is the best

Hi Deano, which is the best device that is compatible with pro tools 12? Would have loved to have got the Zoom R16 but it doesn't work with Pro Tools.

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