Image of a producer in a recording studio

Musical horses for courses

If technology has done one thing for us, it’s to bring previously unattainable potential to the masses. Now, armed with just a laptop and an audio interface, you can produce music on a scale that was simply not possible in years gone by. At least not without some serious budget.

Actually, that’t not strictly true. See, bridging the gap between the rudimentary ‘microphone in the middle of the room’ and full blown recording studio is the humble hardware recorder. You may have used them in the past; I have fond memories of using an old Fostex 4-track tape recorder, and remember the joys of bouncing audio down to make space for more layers. I say joys, I wouldn’t go back to that now given the choice. But there was something undeniably fun about manually moving faders and hitting an actual record button. You felt involved in the process in a way that you perhaps don’t with modern software-based applications.

With that in mind we’d like shine a light on hardware recorders. They may have been superceded by DAWs, particularly in the home recording stakes. However, there are still plenty of useful and practical reasons why you may actually prefer using a dedicated, external recorder over a laptop. Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between recording on hardware vs software.

Ableton Live Software


When you fire up your chosen DAW, everything you could ever need is right there at your fingertips. From effects to instruments, routing options to automation, it’s all available within a few tiny clicks. On one hand, this is clearly amazing. You can tinker and tweak to your heart’s content, getting everything just the way you want it. On the other hand, it can be hard sometimes to see the wood from the trees.

In order to develop your skills, you need to put yourself in different situations and find the right solution. It’s called experience and it helps you grow as a producer.

Some of the best authors in the world have spoken of ‘flashing cursor syndrome’. This is where you have a blank canvas that you can twist and meld to how you want it, but simply don’t know where to start. The same thing happens to every producer at some stage in their development. And when you’ve got 600 different drum kits, seven compressors and a whole host of plug-in instruments, it can be a bit daunting.

On the whole it’s hard to deny the appeal of software recording. Once you’ve written and rehearsed your tracks and they’re ready to record, then using a modern DAW can be extremely straightforward. You can quickly and easily navigate your way around a graphical representation of the audio. Thus, meaning edits and overdubs are extremely efficient to perform.

To start is relatively inexpensively too. All you need is a laptop, a piece of software like Ableton Live or Pro Tools, an audio interface and some headphones or monitor speakers. On paper it seems so obvious that you’d choose this option. But allow us to offer an alternative…

Tascam DP24SD 24 Track Digital Portastudio


Hardware recorders are devices designed and engineered to do one job, and do it very well. Devices like the Tascam DP32SD can record up to 32 tracks of audio (there’s also a 24 track version if your recording needs aren’t as intensive), arrange and produce before then exporting it into the format of your choice. Alternatively, a smaller unit like the Boss BR800 features plenty in the way of in-built sounds and effects. It will also give you that tactile control over what you’re doing.

The point is that these devices have only one job. They don’t double up as word processors, or email clients, or social media viewers. What they do is allow the focused producer a physical, controllable environment in which to do their job.


In truth, there is no right or wrong answer. We can’t recommend one route over the other simply because it’s a hugely personal thing. Many of the techniques remain the same over both methods of recording. Therefore, it’s more a case of deciding what’s more important to you. Will you jump in with a DAW software solution, with all the mind-boggling amounts of toys and flashy things that entails. Or will you opt for a dedicated recording device which lack in versatility but more than make up for it with their ability to get the job done.

Whatever you choose, Dawsons has options and can provide advice as to what would work best for you.