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What Is a Multitrack Recorder?

By Larry Ray Palmer
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the world of audio recording and sound engineering, the multitrack recorder is used to capture and combine sounds from several different sources. Common configurations of multitrack recording consist of 4-, 8-, 16- and 32-track recorder devices. Each sound or group of sounds is given a specific track for recording, making it possible for the sound studio engineer to alter the way the recording sounds by adding, removing or adjusting the individual tracks separately. Modern multitrack recording systems may be standalone units, computer-based software multitrack recorder devices or a fusion of the two.

Using a multitrack recorder, sound studio engineers can edit recordings to produce special effects or create a customized listener experience. Techniques such as doubling of vocals can be used to increase the power of a singer's voice or create the effect of a choir joining in on a chorus. Even small bands or solo artists can create intricate multipart recordings in a home sound studio by recording each part individually and then mixing the tracks.

The four-track recorder was the original multitrack recorder, and it paved the way for home recording studio production of music and audio. The song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," by the Beatles, was recorded on this type of multitrack recorder system over a period of 129 days. Using a process called "bouncing down," where four tracks were recorded on the multitrack recorder and then remixed into a single track before being remixed with other bounced-down tracks, the sound studio engineers of Abbey Road created a multitrack recording experience that was unparalleled at the time. This process would become easier and more time-effective with the invention of 8-, 16- and 32-track recorder devices, thus eliminating much of the need for bouncing down tracks.

The modern multitrack recorder has become much more advanced than the original systems. A computer-based software multitrack recorder may make a virtually unlimited number of tracks and effects available to the sound engineer. In such cases, the need to bounc down may be completely eliminated, provided that the system has sufficient sound input capabilities. Pairing standalone equipment with a powerful computer based multitrack recorder can create a hybrid system with many audio inputs. In such a scenario, it is technically possible that an entire orchestral production could be recorded in a single pass and then edited by the sound engineer to pinpoint individual performances.

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