Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Upgrade Quandry

I have been recording on my Fostex MR-8 digital 8-Track recorder for the past 5 years, or so. The two CDs of material I have "released" have been recoded entirely on this little unit. It's been a workhorse for me, and I have no complaints. There's a MR-8 MkII version of this unit available now, as well as a MR-8HD, with an internal hard drive. I've, honestly, got nothing bad to say about this unit.

It's served me well, and I wouldn't be as good a musician as I am right now (which is a debatable level) without it. It's allowed me to record my little songs and refine them to a fairly respectable level.

After five years, however, I'm feeling a bit confined by 8 tracks. Add to that, the unit requires track bouncing (fairly decent description of the concept here) to use all 8 tracks. It's not as bad as doing it on a 4-track, because there are 4 dedicated "bounce tracks," so you can record 4 tracks, bounce those to tacks 5 & 6, in stereo, and then record on tracks 1-4 again.

It's effective, but what it also means is that the mix you set for tracks 1-4 is set in stone once you bounce 'em over to 5 & 6. If you'd like to chuck the levels you set the drums and bass, for example, on 1-4, when you star laying down guitar, you can't just do it, and you may have recorded over the original takes. (When you record on 1-4 again, you're recording over the original takes, leaving only the mixed stereo on 5 & 6)

All this is a long-winded, and probably too technical, way of saying I feel I'm ready to have more tracks, and more flexibility, to work with. I feel like I've more than gotten my money's worth out of the MR-8, and I feel OK with looking for something new. Plus, there's a offer for twelve months same-as-cash in December, and the account is basically paid off. The time is right to look at a larger purchase.

I also want to get some monitors to work with. I've always used headphones for recording and mixing, which isn't the best option. Anybody will tell you the truest sound will come from a monitor, and not speakers pushed up against your ears. So, that's an upgrade that's in the cards, too.

The question that is now on the table is, what would be a reasonable upgrade? There are 16 and 24 track digital options.

For the 16 track, we have the Fostex MR-16HD/CD. Looks like a solid unit, and it's the same manufacturer as my current unit. The reviews I've found are solid, and my history with Fostex tends to make me confidant. One unfortunate thing is that Fostex is NOT a brand offering the 12 month financing. However, since I'm buying monitors, too, I can get monitors with that financing, and anything I buy with it is covered, as well. So, a thought, but not a huge issue.

On the 24-Track end, we have the Tascam 2488 NEO. As would be expected, it's more expensive, but I'm also reading through the manual right now, and it's simply has a ton of features.

(Side note...How great is it that you can find the owner's manual of just about anything easily on-line now? So many questions answered by looking at this.)

I gotta say, this thing is, essentially, a pro recording studio in a single unit. That's really cool, and really compelling, in a "that would be so cool" way. Tascam is a known brand, so it's not like an unknown quantity, even if I've never worked with their stuff, personally. Financing is in full effect here, no shucking and jiving with other items to get the deal.

In both of these cases, bouncing is going to be an issue, looks like. The MR-16 offers 8 tracks, then combined stereo bounce tracks for the rest. The 2488 NEO has 12. At the end of the day, I'm kinda hedging toward this package, which would give me the 24 track, with the monitors, and some extra equipment.

I really don't know what to do here. This recorder would be a MAJOR upgrade for me. It would be like having an actual, professional recording studio at my beckon call. That's exciting, and the features and stuff are top notch. Plus, with this package, I'd have actual monitors for mixing, plus some nice new headphones, and a new microphone. Don't NEED that stuff, but buying the recorder with monitors is only about $20 less than the package.

Thing is I don't NEED 24 tracks. I don't. Not at this point. However, this unit would make it very easy to record things like real drums and stuff in the future, if I go that way. I mean, like I said, I've been using my 8-track for 5 years now, so I'm looking at this as a long-term investment. That said, would a 16 Track be just as good?


Maybe I just need a better-quality 8-Track

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