Cheap USB Simultaneous Multitrack Recording

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Introduction: Cheap USB Simultaneous Multitrack Recording

want to record simultaneous tracks without an expensive pa system or beastly sound card?  i did.  i'll show you how with some cheap usb soundcards.

 i got tired of having to record one track and then another and then another when i could really do it all in one take, with much better results.  i had a couple computers sitting around in various states of disrepair, so i gutted the sound card from one and put it in another.  then using my recording software (cool edit pro at the time) i mapped the soundcards to different tracks and viola, it worked.  i hit up ebay and found some usb soundcards for about $3 each and bought about 8 of them.  using a usb hub, i plugged in 4 of them and attached a couple of different things and i was surprised when it worked much better than i anticipated.  



dislcaimer: it would seem these cards are limited to 16-bit recording.  that being said, as you can tell from the videos, it still sounds pretty good.  while i wouldn't try and start my own recording studio with this technology, for hobbyists, budding musicians, bands strapped for cash putting a demo together, i think this is a much better option than recording single tracks and having to overlay them.  thank you all for your interest, keep the comments coming, and i'd love to hear what you can make with this.

Step 1: Get USB Soundcards

first you'll need some usb soundcards.  these are pretty cheap, i think i paid $2.99 each and i got mine from ebay --> usb sound card

i might as well tell you what you will need.

materials
--------------------
1.  a computer
2.  usb sound cards
3.  usb hub
4.  audio recording software that supports multiple tracks (see below)
5.  3.5mm microphones or other audio out from devices 

some software options are cool edit pro (used in this example), garage band, and i think audacity can do this too.

as for the input, you're receiving end is gonna be a 3.5mm jack, but there are all kinds of conversion cables and jacks to help you out.  as soon as i got this working, i had grand plans of putting 6 or 8 of the usb soundcards and a hub inside a nice enclosure with some breakout cables which would extend the input jack to the exterior without having to do anything to the soundcards, and terminate it with the 1/4inch jack since i mostly use those for guitar and some of my mics.  i never got around to it, but feel free to trick out your setup with a nice wooden box (i initially wanted to use a cigar box).  don't forget to add a bunch of pretty lights.  i still have a lot of ideas...

as far as i can tell, this system is completely modular, the number of tracks is limited only to the number of usb soundcards and usb ports you have.  the most i've ever run at a time is six (i gave a couple away), but i don't see why it wouldn't work with more unless limited by your software or processing power.


Step 2: Hook It All Up

once you have your usb soundcards, you can plug 'em in.  i recommend using a usb hub to make things easier and use more tracks, but if you only wanted to record two tracks and you have two free usb ports, it's not a necessity.  

Step 3: Set Up Your Software

long story short, i started this instructable a long time ago.  i initially did a bunch of searching for ways to set this up using audacity and garage band but can't remember what i found.

garageband
------------------------
this youtube video --> Using Multiple Mics with GarageBand

audacity
------------------------
all you audacity users let me know how and i will include it here with credit

cool edit pro
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this is the software we'll be using today.  there are countless tutorials on how to use it, (here's a youtube video) so i won't be going that in-depth other than the usb config.  i will assume you know the basics.  now then.

start a new project.
goto options --> device properties
make sure your devices are listed and in use by changing the order

once you've got it all set, go back to the session view (with all the tracks) and change the recording inputs for the tracks you want by clicking the Rec button (see pic).  to figure out which input is which (because the devices are named the same) the fastest way is to assign them all to different tracks and just hit record (make sure each track is set to record) and test them out.  

Step 4: Record Some Music

press record and do some music making!  

i came up with this a while ago and since have got some more audio equipment, however last summer on my way up to rothbury with my sister we stopped over in tennessee at my grandpa's house and he wanted me to help him with some recording.  with only a backpack full of wires and mics and my laptop, we went over to the house of ernest ferguson (IBMA Pioneer of Bluegrass) and recorded a whole cd's worth of music.  below is one song from that session.

that track was recorded with a singstar mic for the ps2, a rockband usb mic for xbox 360, cable converter for the guitar and a lapel mic stuck inside the mandolin.  all my other mics require phantom power and because i was going to a hippie convention i really didn't want to drag a bunch of quality gear with me.  i think it turned out pretty good, and Ernie played pretty great for being 92 years old, and Gene did great as well at 84.  i'm gonna put it on itunes for them so be real excited and support folk musicians.

hope you enjoy, this should help bring multitrack recording to the masses, or at least to high school students or something.  if you record something with this, give us a link in the comments so everybody can check it out!

the video i made at the beginning was recorded with my phone, so sorry for the quality.  if there's enough response, i can do it better and in hd.  if you guys have any tips for other audio softwares leave it in the comments.  at $3 a track, you can have a pretty decent multitrack recording setup for under $20 as opposed to what, $500?  thanks for reading!  and if you found this useful, don't forget to rate!

btw my site (which doesn't get as much love as it deserves) is www.phildurham.com.  just had to get that shameless self promotion in there.

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    69 Comments

    I am so going to do this man... was looking at mixers and this might suit me good.... might have some issues with sound quality with a podcast but good for a take along backpack recording studio :)

    Sounds good, especially considering that it's not powered mics :) Mixing and music sounds better than some bar bands I have seen/heard.

    How Can I Use this is Reaper (another kind of daw)

    This is not working for me. Please help. I have 5 mic and 5 usb sound cards connected with a usb hub. Multitrack preference order is set as in this description with 5 mics and a Wavemapper. Setup displays all channels but only one microphone is recording.

    Got myself a bunch of cheap usb from ebay. Installed a cool edit pro selected the soundcard but i get no signal recorded.The usb soundcard is selected as a recording devive.
    Anyone who can give some advice?

    I know this is a few years old but I have one of these but my laptop refuses to recognize it and I can't find software. any ideas?

    i know this is an old reply, but what you'd want to do, is open one of them up and check what chip its running, then you should be able to find a driver for that chip easily, although id have thought it'd be class compliant?

    well....i guess this would work, if your in a real pinch. but seriously, without a good quality sound card, your recordings are going to sound like garbage compared to most home recordings. You gotta start with good quality audio to get a good quality recording.

    you can pick up something like an old m-audio fast track on ebay for less than $20. that will let you do 2 tracks at a time, but they make units to do much much more. There octane preamp has 8 channels, which is great for live drums.
    these units are a little older so you can usually find them pretty cheep.

    just thought id share a little more efficient way of making multitracking on a budget

    i have a usb microphone what are the chances of getting 7 more and trying your technique?