Thinking of going daw'less

I don’t like being tied to a computer for making and learning music. Distractions, compatibility issues, noise issues, being holed up in a room (most often alone), portability, perpetual costs of this and that. I think I want to go with something simple and portable. Thinking of what my real needs are, things I often use(d) in Reaper, it isn’t that much, other than customizing things to make using is less of a pain. On the learning music side, I use vari-speed, looping, and some js plugins for manipulating stereo info (cancelling center, muting left or right). On the recording side, after having gotten away from virtual instruments and effects, I pretty much only need a straight up audio recorder, something like a 4-track.

I’m eyeballing a Zoom H6. It would be nice to have a small standalone battery powered device for toting with a guitar and scratching things down (mostly what I did in Reaper for recording) to work on, using the same small device for capturing jams, rehearsals, and live stuff. Are there any other devices I should be looking at here?

Is it going to be any less portable than other audio gear you will also need to make music with? Like a keyboard or guitar?

For learning music and capturing ideas, just an acoustic guitar using the built-in mics, probably keeping the recorder in the pouch of the guitar bag.

For jamming / rehearsals, no mics, cables, stands, interface, or computer to deal with, optionally adding line feeds to supplement the builtin in mics.

For live capturing, either use the builtin mics, same as with jams / rehearsal, and / or take some feeds from the mixer (up to 4 line cables).

It seems like it would be alot less to fiddle with in that respect as a do-all device.

Optionally, I could go a little bigger and more powerful (but less simple) with something like a Zoom R16. Although, I imagine the built-in mics are going to be significantly lesser quality than the H6, and maybe battery life won’t be so great.

Ultimately, I’m thinking portable, from back porch picking out ideas and learning licks to recording live gigs, with no computer, interface, plugins, ever involved.

If you want to go real basic you should also look at the Tascam DR-40. Up to 4 channels of audio, and the built in mics are very good. I use it for field recording and live recordings of string quartets etc. Just set it up, check levels, and you’re good to go.

You’ll still want a computer for editing / playback though.

Does the Tascam have speed and pitch functions for using it as a phrase trainer?

I have no idea … I just use it for field recordings (sounds), and sometimes live music.

Semi related thing I want to interject in this conversation. I am glad that the lounge is now DAW agnostic, not hosted on Cocko’s, and we can talk about more software, more choices, more developments. I never really believed fanboyism is good for consumers.

I thought Cockos were always cool with talk of other DAWs, they didn’t object at least. There that line where full dedicated threads sometimes did feel a bit disrespectful though.

One notation, under daw…

I recommend the Sound Devices MixPre devices, I have the MixPre3M and it’s great

On the portable recorders, the Tascam DR-40X is looking like the least trouble at the best price point. It is limited to 2-track simultaneous recording though. (Looks like it does have 4-track simultaneous recording) But it does have varispeed. On varispeed, all of the hardware recording devices I have looked at are limited in that it can’t be used with 96k files, which is too bad, because there is alot less artifacts and therefore more clarity when slowing 96k recordings vs. 44.1k/48k, which is helpful for the intended use of picking out notes from recordings.

The portastudio type devices don’t look so good at their price points. For example, with all the Tascam DP devices there is only 2-track simultaneous recording. Even cassette 4-tracks could do 4-rack simultaneous. The Zoom equivalent R devices look to have been riddled with issues such as audio time drift (a hardware issue), phantom power whining noise (hardware issue), and various firmware bugs. And alot of the Zoom device issues have went on for about 10 years, and Zoom still sells these devices knowing that they have these same problems. That doesn’t give me confidence in their other devices. So it looks to be in general, the Tascam stuff is lower on features, but the Zoom stuff is more problematic. And Zoom’s Livetrak devices don’t have varispeed.

It seems like it has a good, rugged design. The kind of gear you don’t worry too much about dropping.

Yeah it’s pretty solid, Tascam and Zoom feel more like prosumer devices with cheap plastic and calculator-like displays. I bought the Zoom H5 initially but then returned it once I came across Sound Devices, it also has nice preamps with limiters that make it impossible to clip

I ordered a DR-40X. Then I read that the preamps in blow so bad that it’s pretty much unusable with dynamic mics. It seems that these portable hardware recorders are brimming with gotchas. And not unlike the Zoom devices, this has been an issue since the original DR-40 which came around maybe 10 years ago. The DR-40X got updated with usb mic and interface capabilities, but they left the crappy preamps as is. Go figure. On the Zoom side, the H4N is said to have unusable line inputs that clip at low levels.

I just use the MixPre3M with an SM58 to record vocals while a precomposed backing track plays and it works great, I also copied the test from this video to try and get it to clip by screaming into it with high gain levels and everything held up. It’s a little expensive though

That’s a different sort of recorder than what I’m looking for. For my uses, if I were going to go for something like that I might as well just use a laptop, interface, mics, mic stands, mic cables… I could see those Mixpre devices being useful for pro video applications and probably orchestral recording. But that is far and away from my use cases.

I’m trying to end up with something that is usable as a decent sounding standalone capture device (with no other gear involved), practice device, and can do a decent job at capturing a live band when fed a couple of lines or more from a mixer. I think the Tascam DR-40X will do that, but it blows that the mic preamps are likely very low gain. Had I known that, I would have just opted for a $100 device that only has builtin mics and a usable stereo line input.

60 db of gain should be the minimum for mic preamps these days, but lots of devices out there save a nickel by providing 35-45 db of gain and hiss like a snake because of it.

Boom Box.

You joke, but it would actually be a good idea for a device. A multi-track recorder with fx and a solid music player geared toward musicians. A pair of builtin mics. Detachable decent quality high powered speakers. I bet it would sell like mad if done well and at the right price point. Throw a respectable sampler / synth in there and a MIDI input, and it would take over the world.

I was just thinking about this very thing the other day and that it would be a fun device to learn and make music with. Boomboxes were the shit back in the day for music fans, but none of them were ever made for musicians.

That’s exactly what it is