A multitrack recorder is a piece of equipment or software that enables you to record on…. would you believe it… multiple tracks. A “track” (also known as a “channel”) represents the individual audio of each person involved in the recording. That might be two people, or it might be 20.
In this guide, we’ll look at how to do multitrack recording, as well as why you might want to (or not want to, as the case might be).
Let’s dive in.
Main Pros of Recording Audio on Separate Tracks
If you’re new to podcasting or audio production, it’s understandable that you won’t want to learn about new techniques and terminology without having a good reason, first. So why bother multitrack recording at all? Here are a couple of compelling reasons.
One File Per Guest = Better Editing Control
In my experience, these are the two big benefits of multitrack recording:
- Flexibility and control over individual gain and volume levels.
- The ability to independently clean, process, or mute sections of each track.
Here’s a classic example of multitrack recording at work. Say you’re interviewing a remote guest. As they’re giving you a detailed and thorough answer to a question, suddenly, your phone rings.
If you were recording the interview on one single track, the noise of the ringtone would be mixed in with the interview guest’s answer. With a multitrack recorder, you’d simply remove or silence that section of your track in the editing process, and the listener will never even know it happened.
Or, in another example, say you record a single track recording where your guest’s audio is much quieter than yours. You can fiddle about with this in post-production, but you risk just making your own audio much louder in a bit to raise there’s. It’s far from optimal.
So, that’s it settled, then? Multitrack recording is always the best option, no matter what? Not necessarily. There’s rarely a one size fits all answer in podcasting, and there’s still a chance that multitrack might not be for you.
Potential Cons of Recording Separate Audio Tracks
There are still a few potential downsides to multitrack recording.
- Increased costs – you may need additional equipment, “better” equipment, or new software.
- Increased complexity – it may make recording sessions trickier to set up and manage.
- Increased editing/production time – it may take you longer to merge together and process the individual tracks.
Don’t let these put you off right away – there are still ways to do multitrack recording without excessive complexity or expense, and we’re going to cover them, shortly. They’re just a few potential pitfalls to be aware of.
Multitrack recording also doesn’t offer the same level of disturbance protection if you’re recording together in the same room. If our phone ringing example happened in a ‘local’ recording session, everyone’s individual mic would still pick up the noise. Here, multitrack recorders still give you flexibility correcting volume levels and varying mic technique, but there will always be a level of ‘bleed’.
Best Multitrack Recorder Options
So, what are your options if you’re keen to go down the multitrack approach? Let’s start with the digital side of things.
Multitrack Recorder Software
There are a few remote recording tools out there that are built around the demand for multitrack.
Using software is often much simpler than carrying around and setting up equipment. You’ll have access to guests and co-hosts worldwide if you go this route.
The downside, depending on how you look at it, is that the best remote recorder tools are subscription-based. This means costs are higher in the long term than if you bought equipment. Depending on what equipment we’re talking about, though, it could take years to spend more on multitrack recording software.
The recording quality of these tools is of an ever-increasing standard. I still don’t think the vocals sound as good as if they were recorded directly into a digital recorder. You’re also at the mercy of the quality of your guest’s mic, which is something you can’t control (though you can try!).
Podcasters were wary of relying on recording software in the past because of the “what if my computer crashes?” problem. Fortunately, the best remote software tools record directly into the cloud, so you should never lose an entire interview, even if the gremlins do strike.
And, many remote multitrack recorder tools will also capture video, too. This is perfect if you want to add a video component to your content.
Here are three great multitrack recorder software options.
- $20 for 5 hours of recordings a month
- 1 Host & up to 3 Guests (5 guests from $40 per month)
- 12 hours video recording from $40 per month
- Try SquadCast
- Free unlimited single-track recording
- $180 a year for 5 hours of separate audio & video tracks
- One host and up to 7 guests
- Try Riverside
- Free unlimited audio (mp3) and video recording
- Up to 12 participants per recording
- Upgrades available for $216 per year
- Try Zencastr
Multitrack Recording Locally Into a Computer
Want to record two or more participants in the same room or location directly into your computer? That’s doable. Remember, though, you’ll still have more ‘bleed’ from one mic to the next than if you were recording remotely online.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
If you only have two participants, you can use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a USB Audio Interface. You’d need to plug in two XLR mics, and record into software like Audacity or Adobe Audition. This route uses a stereo recording where one person is on the left channel and the other on the right. After the session, you can split these tracks, and do the post-processing and levelling independently, before syncing them back together. Here’s more on this.
Rode NT-USB via Rode Connect Software
If you’d like to have up to four participants, then 4 Rode NT-USB Mini mics via Rode’s Connect software is an ideal option. These are all USB mics, so you don’t need a USB audio interface. The Rode Connect software is free, and the mics are a bargain at less than $100 each. This is one of the simplest and best multitrack recorder options out there at the moment.
Multitrack Recorder Equipment
Looking for a dedicated multitrack recorder that doesn’t tie you to a computer or software? There are a few good options on the market.
Zoom PodTrak P4
My favourite is the Zoom PodTrak P4, a $200 “all-in-one” podcasting device. You can plug in up to four XLR mics, and bring in remote guests, too (either via phone or online). You can even play pre-recorded clips, music, and sound effects live in your sessions.
Rode Rodecaster or Rode Rodecaster II
Zoom H6 Digital Recorder
The Zoom H6 is also a great option if you only want in-person and local recordings. You can plug in four XLR mics as standard, but you can buy an additional attachment that can take up to six.
Split-Stereo Channel Recording
An older and more basic way of doing split-track recordings is to record in stereo, where one participant is picked up on the Right channel, and the other on the Left. These can be split out into separate mono tracks later on.
This route won’t work if you record in “Normal” or “Joint” stereo. It has to be “Split” stereo where two mics are panned to the hard left and right. This would typically be via a USB audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
For some more background info on this – when you record a piece of audio, you do so in stereo or mono. A stereo track has two sides to it, a left and a right channel. Normal stereo tracks will be different on the left and right, whereas “joint stereo” will be identical. Think of mono as an only child, stereo as siblings, and joint stereo as twins.
So everything here is still on one track, and what we might call an “all-in-one” recording. However, if a stereo track is recorded with one participant on the left channel, and the other on the right channel, it can be split into two separate tracks. This is a very basic form of multitracking.
This was a common recording method in podcasting for many years, via the Ecamm Skype recorder. It would record you on one side of the stereo channel, and your remote guest on the other.
If you published one of these recordings without doing any production work, your listeners would hear the host in one earbud, and the interview guest in the other. That’s not a great listening experience. Ultimately, before publishing, you’d want to mix this recording as a stereo or mono file.
It’s worth noting that this is a pretty uncommon way of recording these days, anyway. Most multitrack recorders – software and hardware – will split out your files automatically, so you’ll unlikely need to worry about this.
Manual Multitrack Recording
One final option is to run a manual multitracking session. Here are a couple of examples.
Everyone can get together on Zoom or any other remote call platform if you’re recording online. Each person then sets up a way to record their own side of the conversation. This could be loading up Audacity, or setting a digital recorder on the desk in front of you.
Once the session is over, everyone sends their own audio to the designated editor to be polished and synced up. When done well, these recordings can sound like everyone was sitting in the same room together.
Be warned, though, there’s always a risk that someone hits the wrong button and doesn’t record their own side of the chat. Always run a backup recording when working this way – lower sound quality in one ep is better than no episode at all.
Finally, if you’re getting together in the same room, see if everyone can bring their own laptops. If each person records into Audacity on their individual computer, then you’re all recording on separate tracks that can be synced together later on!
Editing & Producing Multitrack Recordings
One common argument against the multitrack approach is that it can increase editing and production time. However, you can outsource this work if you’re prepared to spend a little money.
Another option is to use a ‘Podcast Maker’ tool like Alitu. Alitu can take the separate tracks of your multitrack recording, clean and level them up, then sync them together automatically.
You can record, build, and publish your episodes within the Alitu interface. It includes extra features like music, transcriptions, and hosting, all under one single monthly subscription.
Alitu makes podcasting quick and easy, so why not try it out free for seven days and see what you think?
Summary: Recording Audio on Separate Tracks
Hopefully, this guide has helped you to decide whether or not multitrack recording is worth bothering with. Here are the key takeaways.
- Multitrack recording can give you a lot more flexibility and increased audio quality.
- Software options like Riverside and SquadCast make remote multitrack recording simple and accessible.
- You can run four USB mics into your computer and record on separate tracks using Rode Connect.
- The Zoom PodTrak P4 is an affordable “all-in-one” podcasting device that lets you record local and remote guests on separate tracks.
- You can use Podcast Maker tool Alitu to automatically clean up and sync together multitrack recordings, then, publish your podcast for the world to hear.