Stand-alone Home Music Recorders - dummies

By Jeff Strong

The first affordable stand-alone home music digital recorder to hit the market was the Alesis ADAT (which stands for Alesis Digital Audio Tape) in 1992. This machine revolutionized home recording, making it possible for the home recordist to create some pretty high-quality recordings without having to spend a fortune. Many commercial studios used ADATs as well.

In fact, a lot of hit records from the mid-to-late 1990s were recorded on ADATs. The ADAT uses digital tape cartridges, which look much like VHS videotapes, and they function much like analog tapes. And like analog tapes, the digital tape cartridges have limited editing capabilities.

Stand-alone digital recorders are the least common type of home studio recorder because they require a separate mixer and other outboard gear, such as external effects units or preamps. This makes the cost of this type of system higher than a comparable number of tracks that you get in a studio-in-a-box or computer-based system.

The advantage is that you can swap out these recorders as newer models come out without having to update your whole system. This is one reason why stand-alone recorders are so popular in commercial studios and for recording live events where a live mixer is used. The following illustration shows a typical stand-alone recorder.


The following major manufacturers produce stand-alone hard-drive recorders:

  • Alesis ( Alesis makes the 24-track HD24 and HD24XR hard-drive recorders. These units are the company’s follow-up to the hugely popular ADAT recorders of the nineties.

  • Fostex ( Fostex has entered the stand-alone recorder market with the DV824 and DV2424 MK2 recorders. These models record in 24 bit wave format so you can import the files into a computer for editing, though you can also do some basic editing in the recorders.

  • TASCAM ( TASCAM makes the DR-680 8-track recorder and the flagship X-48 48-track workstation. The DR-680 is a basic recorder, but the X-48 is a hybrid that allows you to connect the recorder to your computer for all the editing and plug-in power contained in computer-based systems.

These stand-alone units cost from about $500 to $2,000 or more, depending on the number of tracks and other options. You also have to buy other necessary gear separately, such as mixers and signal processors, which raises the overall cost of these systems considerably.

Because these companies’ product offerings are constantly changing, your best bet is to check out each of these manufacturers’ websites and compare their specifications. The next step would be to try a demo of each product with the features you want, so that you can find out whether you like their sound. Also, be sure to check out the compatibility of the system with other systems, if that’s important to you.