Introduction: Cheap USB Simultaneous Multitrack Recording

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

this youtube video --> Using Multiple Mics with GarageBand

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

cool edit pro
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

Picture of 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  just had to get that shameless self promotion in there.


vahuja (author)2016-12-12

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

NikolaĐ (author)2016-02-04

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.

Multiinput (author)2015-09-10

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?

DanielE16 (author)2015-05-20

usb hub 3.0?

alexdrew5858 (author)2013-12-03

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?

aknox (author)alexdrew58582015-02-02

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?

Audio Solutions (author)2013-03-11

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

nashdaflash (author)2013-03-08

ok will do

nashdaflash (author)2013-03-07

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

hoonflap (author)nashdaflash2013-03-08

I don't see why it shouldn't work, but I might try two before I bought seven. I have one USB mic and I've used it simultaneously with three of the USB sound cards before and didn't have any problem. I think as long as it's recognize as a separate audio interface it should be fine. Let us know how it goes!

iggy91 (author)2012-08-01

I was never satisfied with the way my acoustic guitar sounded with a one-mic set up, but couldn't afford a expensive multitrack sound card. Bought 4 of these USB cards for like $2.50 each (shipped).

I now use two microphones - one mic dead-center in the sound hole, one might at the beginning of the frets, one mic panned hard left, one hard right. While they are essentially recording the same thing, the slight differences make for a beautiful stereo sound. Maybe not studio quality, but much better than I was getting before.

I've also experimented with a three input setup - the mics set up as above, and my guitar's pickup as a third input, dead-center in the track. It shows promise, but I haven't got it to sound quite right yet.

I've got a lot of experimenting to do with mic positioning, how far to pan the inputs left/right, etc, but I can tell you now this was the best $10 I've spent in awhile.

Thanks so much for this instructable! Now I need to start writing something someone would want to listen to!

alphawolf620 (author)2011-12-24

so far its working good, ill be recording some bands for fun soon. as for noise and feedback i have gotten none. no hissing, clean clear sound. and if you do have a little bit of noise, hisses, people s's sound like hissing snakes, or it sounds a little off there is the d ess'er, reverb, pop and click edit works great. the only one that i can get to work with this setup

noingwhat (author)2011-12-18

How is the quality on these adapters? Is there a lot of noise?

Certainly I'm not expecting it to be similar to a soundblaster card or anything else that is a few hundred dollars, but if anyone has ever plugged in a rock band / guitar hero mic (they are USB) you get a surprisingly clean signal, and I was wondering how it compares to these cards.

hoonflap (author)noingwhat2011-12-23

You get what you pay for, but as for noise, it's pretty clean. The audio from the live demo wasn't mastered or anything, and if you can see the signal is pretty low when I'm not singing or playing. And I did it with the cheapest mic I had. Again, this isn't awesome quality gear, but for the price, I think it works great.

noingwhat (author)hoonflap2011-12-23

Awesome! As I said, I'm not expecting anything stellar, but I am hoping for rockband mic quality, so that's good to hear. Thanks!

ascentuk (author)2010-11-26

dont get me wrong here , im impressed with what you have achieved here.

but the recording quality on those cheep usb audio cards is generally quite poor

at least the ones ive seen have been poor , lots of noise and hiss in the recordings

when you compare it to a recording done with an m-audio card or my yamaha 01x

do you find that to be the case with these usb audio cards you got ?

either way its a very cheep way for any budding musician to get a start on recording.

top stuff :)

hoonflap (author)ascentuk2011-12-23

The M-Audio interfaces I'm familiar with only have a few channels, until you start shelling out some $$$. I recommend them though, they sound great, have phantom power and onboard preamps, great if you're just doing one mic and one guitar.

alphawolf620 (author)2011-12-22

just for an update.

so far great results, clean sound, easy setup.

now for the software.

Cool edit pro seems to be the only usable software. with some cons
-no monitor live playback
-if you change one hardware unit, it changes every track that is using other hardware.
other than that works great.

FL studio
-does not seem to comply at all with multi track recording

cant seem to get the program to do multi track to work at all.

anyone please q in with some info

hoonflap (author)alphawolf6202011-12-23

I wish I could help, but I'm really not that familiar with the other programs out there. I found Cool Edit Pro years and years ago, and it's been able to handle the sorts of things I've tried to do, so I haven't branched out that much. I'm glad you got it working, if you get something recorded I'd love to hear it.

alphawolf620 (author)2011-12-22

i got mine on from gamesalor international limited. 10 cards for less than 20, shipped.

i have been playing with it today...and i have had no feed back from anything but my crappy mic, but the good mic i have and anything i have plugged into it works great.

stranoster (author)2010-09-01

Not sure if it's helpful to anyone, but these guys (Dealextreme), do them for very cheap, and ship globally for free. Not normally one to tout people, but I've been buying through them a lot recently, and it's pretty speedy delivery.

noingwhat (author)stranoster2011-12-14

Just wondering how often exactly do you buy from them? I tried ordering some batteries from them and after waiting over a month for my shipping status to change, I decided to cancel the order and I'm hesitant to give them another chance but there prices make it so hard to turn away...

alphawolf620 (author)2011-12-11

i just ordered 10 of these cards and it came out under 20 dollars, cant wait to get them, GF father is a pro musician and would love to be able to record multi track

doing them in mono is a good idea, that would make 20 tracks. i have cool edit pro, and even as a new user it works great.

be sure and update when i get to play around

JasperLX (author)2010-06-20

Loving the Singstar Mics!

macman808 (author)JasperLX2010-10-15

yeah i'll have to steal my sisters. >+C=P

jakebaldwin (author)macman8082011-09-27

I did the same thing with Singstar last year while recording audio from a small room. The little hub that plugs into the Playstation works just as fine if you're okay with one mic being all left track and the other all right. I'm not sure about quality, but I didn't have to buy anything but the Singstar equipment. Of course, if you want multiple instruments then it's another story.

And personally, I use the $30 iMic for my MacBook with a blown out soundcard. I guess it isn't really ideal in terms of funds for this particular project.

hot-fresh-rider (author)2010-07-18

Since you guyz are talking about USB and recording and latency, check out "DPC Latency Checker" especially with WiFi enabled Laptops/Notebooks/Netbooks.

silood (author)hot-fresh-rider2011-08-19

:) just use ASIO drivers ( asio4all is a good start)
and you're done both with latency and recording
resolution ( hardware limits apply ofc ).
Keep in mind not all soft can do ASIO tho, just find
one that suits the needs .. ( lots of nice software now days )

Also keep cards solo on USB hub, that is no mice or keyboards
connected on the same bus ( keeps speed to highest )

H3PO (author)2011-03-26

I've also used these cheap sound cards for extending the channels on my Laptop, and if you can live with the recording quality its fine.
One thing to note though, you can't use these soundcards for _output_ to anything else than headphones. Plug one of these into some grounded equipment like a mixer or amp and it will burn out. This is a problem related to the circuit design on these USB-powered soundcards.

it_dont_work (author)2010-06-19

what was your recording resolution? and latency ? nice little ible

hoonflap (author)it_dont_work2010-06-19

thanks, glad you liked it. the resolution was 16-bit for the demo in the video, but i think it should be able to do 32 float, i'll have to check when i get home. latency for the demo i think is 10ms.

Pignanelli (author)hoonflap2010-06-24

I doubt seriously whether these things will do greater than 16-bit resolution recording.... I just ordered 4 of them, so I will let you know!

Pignanelli (author)Pignanelli2010-07-13

OK, got these today (4x$3), and sadly found that not only will they not record or playback greater than 16-bit resolution sound (which I expected), they will not record at a greater rate than 24 kHz (meaning the frequency response of any recording is limited to 12 kHz) - which I did not expect! =D and in addition, the record quality has a great deal of noise and DC-offset in it... (Although the playback seems to be quite clean, clear and loud.) They look exactly like the ones pictured, but are not marked with a model number or other than "USB SOUND". ................................ They came in an envelope with no docs or drivers, so these tests are with the default windows drivers - correct me if there are better drivers to use..................

it_dont_work (author)hoonflap2010-06-19

thats alot of latency. if you can stably record at 24bit 44.1k 48k you could have a nice little amature system if you added a small mixer for some pre amps and probably some entry level mics could be in your budget's range. also try checking out it's full of alot of the features and options i use in professional packages and studios without the price tag attatched, its a very good multitrack recorder. i'd love to see some drum recordings to hear the overall fidelity of the system better. the only issue i can see is your syncing to multiple clocks which adds alot of distorian in tracks, you'll notice this more if your recording multiple tracks at once (4-8-16 tracks). great idea over all.

hoonflap (author)it_dont_work2010-06-19

ha, i'm sorry i must admit my noobish understanding of "latency." what i gave you as "10" was actually the number of recording buffers (see picture). boy do i feel foolish. from reading about latency, i would say that i have experienced none, as i didn't need to realign any tracks even when using 6 usb soundcards. they stay together pretty perfectly. both the examples (the one from the video and columbus stockade blues) were not temporally moved at all. however, i did see in cool edit pro that you can force latency correction if you know how much you have. again, i apologize, i'm a biochemist who only hobbies as a musician. if you want to suggest some definitive tests i could let you know exactly how much latency is inherent in the setup.

it_dont_work (author)hoonflap2010-06-21

latency isnt that big a deal for the hobbiest, in the simplest possible way, its the difference in time (or samples) it takes to say strum a cord to what you hear back thro your cans. dont say your foolish mate, im a sound tech, i know nothing about bio chem.

hoonflap (author)it_dont_work2010-06-21

in that case i revoke my foolish remark about being foolish. anyways, i haven't had any problem using them all together (no real difference between tracks recorded at the same time so low latency or they have the same latency), but i haven't really tried to lay tracks back over them afterward where it would seem latency would be a problem. and i don't really recommend it for live performances or anything. as a guy who knows about sound, what kinds of things can i do to push it a little, put the usb soundcards through their paces? have gear will test. thanks for the info btw

it_dont_work (author)hoonflap2010-06-21

change your session settings in a reaper session (download link i posted before) to 24bit 48,000hz and your sample buffer to say 64 samples to begin with, maybe add a guitar amp plugin and di an electric guitar as well as a vocal track and maybe a sterio micing of a spaced pair, xy, mid sides what ever you have the equiptment for (if you do) and record a live demo at once. it'll be a good system on the cheep if you dont get any digital distorian. id say that you definatly would in that senario. but that would only show the efficency of what you have. the other side of it is quality, the little usb sound cards dont have very accurate analog to digital converters which dont sound very smooth. but from what i can here in your recordings with the usb cards you can make them sound 10 times better by running your level into the system lower as your burning and clipping alot in your recordings. about a third of the way up 90% of programs input meters is the sweet spot. some more practise with abit of equ and compression and closer micing techniques, just move the mic around untill you hit the sweet spot, the mic is what your going to hear so let it capture what you want to begin with. to get any better oquality than what you can this those changes is practise and more $$$ into gear. and really dont worry to much about latency reaper and to some extent cool edit pro have a software engine that will account for it on its own and align tracking. it just gets annoying when your recording and what you hear can end up a semi quaver out of time. the simple answer is mute the monitor mix. and a great way to expand this would be to use the insert out puts of a cheap behringer mixer or similar into each usb card, and as wileur says link the sync clocks of each card with abit hackage. but also to remember that with a stereo y spliter you'll get 2 tracks out of each 1 usb sound card. as the input records in stereo, and multi tracking software can be set to record only in mono per track or a stereo track. grab a large diapgram condensor mic a mixer and a nice sm57 and you'd be heading towards having what you need to record with semi profesional quality. sorry if anything is conveluted its 2am where i am atm

hoonflap (author)it_dont_work2010-06-22

awesome, very detailed for 2am! thanks, i will try this as soon as i get back home. impromptu business trips are a blessing in disguise, since they give me a company credit card and part of my job is entertaining. i checked out reaper, it looks pretty sweet, so i'll be back in a couple of days with some results for you. i'm glad there's somebody knowledgeable to help me technically evaluate this system.

vassax (author)2010-07-06

I've been playing drums for 12 or so years and my biggest problem is the recording hardware, I had been thinking of something along the lines of what you have accomplished here, but i think i was over complicating it, I also have been using Cool Edit for quite some time. From a fellow musician, "Dude, your project is freaking awesome, and I shall be following in your footsteps" plus now i don't need to save up to buy a firewire card, build a dedicated recording machine, or purchase a Prosonus FP10 to get the results you got with a few "hong kong" made usb sound cards. Thanks Allen

schetleft (author)2010-07-04

how well does this work with a bass guitar? i want to find an easy route to record my bass, but i have had no luck

profpat (author)2010-06-26

wow! you got the usb sound card very cheap, here in the Philippines, a generic usb sound card will cost us around 9 dollars U.S., anyway thanks for the instructables...will teach this to my son who is in to music mixing...

insmac (author)2010-06-25

I suspect the bandwidth of the USB bus would be the limiting factor.

lucek (author)2010-06-24

I own that exact usb sound card. it sucks.

Geosync (author)2010-06-24

So inspiring! Never imagined such a simple approach to multi-tracked recording. I'm so happy you posted this ible. As of today, an eBay seller lists a 3-pack of the "3D Sound" USB sound cards for $8.50 WITH free shipping! How can you go wrong? :) (Please, folks, it's a rhetorical question.) Your recordings are outstanding, btw.

ArisenProdigy (author)2010-06-24

I would like to shake your hand. My band was scammed about $2,500 out of a mid-way decent recording rig recently. You might have just saved us. Great recordings, by the way. Audacity is what cool edit pro is, by the way. The settings for Audacity is very similar to Cool Edit Pro. When I get the stuff for this project, I'll see if I can get you a little walk through if its any different.

hoonflap (author)ArisenProdigy2010-06-24

please let me know how it turns out. it'd be great to hear what other people can achieve with this. what kind of band are you in?

ArisenProdigy (author)hoonflap2010-06-24

I already ordered the USB soundcards. I'll definitely be doing this project, so expect feedback from me :) We're an alternative style rock band, we have an album out but since then, we've been trying to set up our own studio with multi-track recording. You can hear us at The solution to our problem you've given me is incredible and I'm kicking myself for not figuring that one out myself! The USB Hub you used doesn't seem to have a power supply. I'm assuming then that these USB soundcards don't require much power and no external power is required for a USB hub?

hersman (author)2010-06-24

Wow!!! That recording was awesome. Who would've thought it was such a cheap and quick setup. My only question is what kind of specs to you have on your laptop you used that day to record with?

blainekehl (author)2010-06-24

Wow! The sound quality on that recording of the Elderly Brothers (great name!) is amazing! Well done. Doesn't hurt to have great musicians like that either huh?!

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