Audio Masterclass Recording Studio Tips

Question - How can I transfer a multitrack recording to my computer?

An Audio Masterclass website visitor asks how he can transfer an old 4-track recording to his computer. Can it be done, or is he asking the impossible?
Question - How can I transfer a multitrack recording to my computer?
By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

A while ago in home recording history, people used to have a gadget called a 'Portastudio'. The original Portastudio was invented by Tascam, but other manufacturers soon released their own versions.

The concept behind the Portastudio was clever - use a standard cassette tape and record four tracks on it. Cassettes actually do record four tracks across the width of the tape already, the Portastudio just made it possible to record or play all four simultaneously, overdub individual tracks and bounce.

Four tracks might not sound very much, but for demos four tracks is actually not a bad number - maybe not for a fully-produced demo to play to a record label, but certainly to play your ideas to your collaborators or band-mates. Having more sophisticated technology has actually made it harder for songwriters - they are now expected to produce a demo of master standards. So songwriters spend more time on recording then they do on writing songs.

The audio quality of the Portastudio could be surprisingly good. Many ran the tape at double speed, and those with Dolby C-type or S-type noise reduction could sound almost as good as a modern digital recording.

But suppose you have some old 4-track tapes, and a Portastudio to play them on, how could you transfer them to your computer?

The problem is that the Portastudio has four tracks, and many people only have two inputs on their audio interface. Four into two doesn't go, so how can these recordings be transferred?

The simple answer is to record two at a time. Transfer two tracks, then wind the tape back and transfer the other two tracks. You can rearrange the tracks in your audio software so they play in sync.

With rhythmic music, it is usually quite simple to line the tracks up. If the music isn't so rhythmic, then it can be tricky, but it is definitely possible with patience.

The only potential problem is that the speed of analog recorders isn't all that stable. So even if you align the two sets of tracks at the start of your song, they might not still be in sync at the end.

If this happens, the solution will be to use one pair of tracks as a reference, then split up the other pair every ten to twenty seconds or so, so that the segments can be realigned. You might be able to get away with just one division halfway through the song.

Once you have your 4-track recording in your computer, you can process and mix to your heart's content. Or perhaps add another 40-odd tracks and sweeten your song to the max.

If you enjoyed this post in Audio Masterclass Recording Studio Tips you will probably also enjoy our Music Production and Sound Engineering Course. Learn more about Audio Masterclass courses here...