Should I buy a stand alone digital recorder or a computer based system. Good question, and a hard one to answer. Today there are many computer based systems both for Mac and for PC. In addition, Roland, Boss and Tascam along with others make good quality digital recorders.
Perhaps the first question to ask yourself is what do you want to do? If you are simply going to record 1 or two tracks or even up to four with a minimal amount of fuss with effects and microphones you may opt for some of the small portable systems made by Alesis Zoom, Boss or Korg for example.
The Alesis Palm Track sells for around 79.00 and can do most things expected of a hand held digital recorder including some things you would not expect such as voice removal. The built in microphones (4 of them are also very flexible). Zoom also makes the H1, H2 and H4 models all with built in microphones. You may also want to consider the Zoom Q3 which would allow for audio and visual recording -load right up to you tube. In short, don’t rule out compact and simple. All of the above are very powerful and portable, with more than enough recording time and effects to capture some live stuff, rehearsals or ideas when practicing, or some demo recordings. Why bother with computer based stuff or larger stand alone systems if you only need to do the above. You would save yourself time money and space.
If you want to do more and really edit and layer tracks then a larger stand alone system or computer based system would be best. If you are not very comfortable with computers then a standalone would perhaps be best, particularly if you are not a Mac user. The PC based systems tend to have more issues with setting up the drivers and software than the Macs. Much of the Mac stuff is really just plug and play. The Mac operating system is also more stable.
However, we use a PC based system and it works fine. We just had to fool with it a bit at first getting the right drivers installed. I say that if you are not very comfortable with computers then the stand alone system is best because then you can spend your time recording and just learning the system. Regardless of Mac or PC you are going to need to educate yourself on the system you have currently or the computer system you will need to purchase. Then you will need to look into the software and interface system you want to work with the PC. -More education and time spent. Finally you will need to set it all up.
So ultimately, the PC or MAC based system if it is newer gear, along with the latest versions of software and interfaces compatible with your choice of PC will be more powerful and have many more plug ins for effects compressors, amp simulators and all the other stuff available these days. Not to mention you can add stuff to these systems. I would say that the PC or MAC based systems are useless if you just want to keep it simple, be happy with the compressors and effects built in a standalone system. You will spend more time recording and less time messing with the computer. Not to mention you will spend less money.
For example Tascam has just released the DP24 for 699.00 Which if you look at what it can do, with 8 simultaneous recording and an ability to bounce even more tracks this system will handle a large product and produce great recordings.
So in summary, it should be more about what you need to do and can do with your budget and abilities. Of course another option is to do none of the above and go to a studio, and let someone else worry about it. Sometimes just playing is more fun.
Jay Schultz, Pro Audio, Birdlandmusic.net