Turn On, Plug In, Rock Out
THIS FOR A
messing around on
your bass and you
maybe even the
Riff That Could
Make You Rich. You
that if you don’t
record it, you’ll forget it—
but by the time you power up
open your favorite
software, set up
a new track, grab
a cable, plug into an interface, and set
levels, the moment has passed.
Inspiration comes whenever it wants
to, and in a perfect world, we’d always be
ready for the muse and prepared to record
her gifts. Fortunately, there’s no shortage
of portable digital machines that are built
to help us do just that, and most of them
come loaded with rhythm patterns, built-in
tuners, effects, and more. Many songwriting/
practice tools double as personal practice
rooms and portable studios, though
some specialize in one area or the other.
We focus here on select devices that have
at least one q" input, making seizing the
moment as easy as turning on, plugging in,
and tapping RECORD.
Let’s look at some of the things you’ll want
to consider if you’re in the market for a portable
recording and practice device:
Ease of use Smaller machines with fewer
knobs and switches may have deeper levels
of menus and submenus.
Rhythm tracks/metronomes Practicing
and recording with a metronome makes a
big difference, of course, and hearing a cool
drum part can give you fresh ideas.
mp3/.wav recording Check to see if you
can record directly as mp3 or .wav files—
or whether you’ll have to go through a few
Looping Several machines allow you to
loop sections or whole songs.
Slow down without pitch shift It’s great
to be able to import an .mp3, slow it down,
loop a selected section or the whole song,
and play along.
Effects Most effects on these tools are
built for guitarists, but some have a few
options for bass players.
Storage Most devices accept Compact
Flash or SD/SDHC cards, which can hold
at least 1GB; some recorders can handle
16GB or 32GB cards.
Connectivity Most devices have USB
connections, but Firewire is faster; some
digital recorders have both.
Editing software Some devices come
with accompanying software, for example
a “light” version of a recording program.
At the most affordable end of the spectrum,
Line 6’s BackTrack ($70) is a straightforward
machine that’s built to capture up
to 12 hours of ideas; the BackTrack+Mic
($150) adds a built-in microphone. Tascam’s
DP-004 ($150) is a cassette-recorder-size
digital 4-track with a cool user interface;
the company’s DP-008 ($240) offers twice
as many tracks, while the GT-R1 ($229)
combines digital recording capabilities with
some of the attributes of Tascam’s playalong
trainers (including the CD-BT2, the
MP-BT1, and the GB-10). Korg named the
Sound on Sound ($200) for its layering capabilities
and made it easy to separate tracks
once you connect the device to your computer;
its “sound stretch” and other features
make it a decent practice tool, too.
If you can shell out $300, you have several
more options. Boss’s Micro BR can do
32 virtual tracks, but if you need more than
the Micro BR’s 1GB-card max, you can
get the newer BR-80 for the same price.
It handles up to 64 virtual tracks, comes
with Sonar X1 LE software, and accepts
SD/SDHC cards up to 32GB. The top of
the line is Zoom’s R-8, which allows you
to simultaneously record two inputs—a
drum machine and bass, for example—and
features an interface that’ll be familiar to
anyone who used cassette multi-tracks back
in the day. The R-8, which allows unlimited
virtual tracks, also stands out from the
pack by including 500 drum patterns, half
a gigabyte of loops, and a looper/sampler.
If the advances of the last few years are any
indication, we’ll be seeing more of these
pocket-size multi-tasking multi-track recorders
as time goes on, as well as increasingly
sophisticated interfaces that make it easy to
record straight to your tablet, mp3 player, or
phone. Later this year we’ll be doing roundups
of the hottest handheld recorders and
interfaces on the market. Until then, poke
around peer reviews and ponder the potential
of these and other potent portables.