Digital recorders offer so many benefits to musicians; you'll wonder how you ever lived without one. You can record practice or rehearsal sessions to review later so you can identify areas that need work. If you're taking music lessons, recording your instructor's suggestions will certainly help when you're practicing a week later. Songwriters can ensure the catchy melody or lyric they thought of on the way to dinner doesn't get forgotten. You can even use digital recorders to make a demo of you or your band performing and post it on MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube to promote your career.
Today, musicians have plenty of digital recorders to choose from, all in a variety of price ranges and providing different features. This article can help narrow down your choices and guide you towards finding a digital recorder that best suits your musical needs.
The first thing to think about when searching for a digital recorder is what you'll be using it for. That weighs heavily on the types of features you need. Recording music for demos or reproduction requires you to consider how many tracks you're getting for audio and MIDI, and whether those tracks are actual or virtual. Do you need multiple tracks to play back or record simultaneously and if so, how many? Will you need advanced editing and mixing capabilities or can you live with basic functions? If your recorder doesn't have a mixer, you may need to buy one eventually. Hammering out these details before you even start looking can save you time and money, and help you zero in on the digital recorder that can offer you the best benefits for your musical career.
If multitrack recording is going to be the digital recorder's main use, you need to know that this creates a lot of electronic bits and will eat up your digital storage at an incredible rate. So you're probably going to want flash storage or a hard drive right away, or as your needs grow. Having a recorder that connects to external storage or provides you with the option to upgrade internal storage with larger devices is something to consider.
Of course, superior audio will be at the top of every musician's list. Look for higher sampling frequency and bit-rate stats, as that means better quality. The standard for CDs is 16-bit/44.1kHz. If price is not an issue, you should contemplate buying a unit with higher sampling frequencies as that gives you more headroom and high-frequency response in your digital recordings. Translation: your recordings will sound more professional.
The number of input and output options -usually abbreviated as I/O – on a digital recorder is also important. If you're connecting your recorder to a computer or other audio equipment, you'll want USB or FireWire connectivity. For connecting music equipment, look for a studio-class digital recorder with I/O options like S/PDIF, word clock, ADAT, and AES/EBU. And don't forget to assess whether you need 1/8", 1/4", or RCA jacks.
User-friendly controls should factor into your decision as well. Controls should be well-constructed and able to withstand many years of use. Also make sure the dials, EQ controls, faders, meters, and sends are logically arranged, easy to find and simple to operate.
Thinking ahead to what you might want to use your digital recorder for in the future is also a great idea. DVD and CD-burning capability, onboard effects, sound modules, and a built-in MIDI sequencer are extra features that can increase your recording ability and help you avoid buying additional equipment later on.
For posting performances on the internet, it goes without saying that you'll want a video recorder with the best picture quality possible. The higher the megapixels, the better it is. Greater optical zoom provides you with more framing options as well as improved reproduction quality. Looking at the video camera's memory is also important because you'll want to know how much video or how many stills it can store. Most use SD cards for storage while some have built-in hard drives. Still photo capability, image stabilization and connectivity to your computer for video editing are other significant features you'll want to consider. Battery power is another one. Battery power influences how long your camera performs, and while most batteries last less than an hour, your video recorder's image storage capacity should offer you at least 20 hours of recording time.
Your budget is also a consideration when choosing an audio or video recorder naturally, to get more features, you need to pay more.
Some final advice: look for a digital recorder that can create uncompressed recordings in PCM format. On a PC, they're usually called .wav files, and on a Mac, they'll have the .aiff suffix. Highly compressed files can leave you with hours of editing and that's the last thing you want after recording.
Last but not least, buy a recorder that gives you the most recording time you can afford. Considering future needs before your purchase is a wise idea. If multitrack capability is something you think you or your band might need down the road, then it's better to make that investment now as it will probably save you money later on.