My wife is in a quartet and has been using a hand held cassette recorder to record their practice sessions. But the recordings are of poor quality. I thought it would help if they used a track recorder, but the affordable ones only record 1 trak at a time. For arrounf $250 I can get one that records 2 tracks at a time. But I thought I might just get a cheap laptop and use 4 usb mics and get better reults and have a new laptop to boot. Can I do this with a laptop and usb mics?
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Let's review how you get sound into the computer, just so we're all on the same page:
1. Sound (in Room) --> Mike
2. Mike analog signal --> Pre-amp/Mixer
3. Line analog signal --> ADC device (analog-to-digital converter)
4. Digital stream (through Busses) --> Digital File
Of these (not counting the assumed talent of the artist and composition), the biggest determinant of quality is the quality of the mikes. To be blunt without getting too graphic, USB MIKES SUCK! Most "Computer Mikes" suck almost as much.
Get 2 Minidisc or similar tech recorders-the kind that allow you to upload via usb- (~$150 each). Throw away the mics and get 4 Shure SM58's (~$125 each) and some portable, 2 mini-mixers (Behringer, etc ~$200 each). May need a couple of adapter cables, stands, etc. too. Total cost: ~$1325. That's not counting computer, which you'll need if you're going to be editing.
1. Go to a really quiet room that doesn't have echos or distractions from outside.
2. Set up mikes, hook up to mixer, hook mixer dual channel outputs w/adapters to recorders.
3. Start record of both at nearly same time, then use a clapper of some kind for sync purposes (at beginning of recording and at end)
4. Record. Stop.
6. Use CoolEdit/Audition (or Audacity, etc) in Multitrack mode. Load both "stereo" files in.
7. Sync up to leading edge of "clap" sound waveform (checking to confirm sync on end as well).
8. Crop all 4 tracks to wanted material, save as 4 mono wave files each.
Then do whatever you wanted to do with them.
Sorry, I can't give you a cheaper alternative (without resorting to used/pawn/ebay/friends/etc), but your situation is non-standard (more than 2 channels) and unless you are very willing to accept bad sound (quite possibly worse than the cassette), you would have to pay more anyway.
HTH and Good luck,
edit: If it's a quartet, why do they have to be multitracked? Any special reason? You could easily set up a cheaper system with a simple stereo setup similar to what I said for ~½ the cost. Simple X/Y would probably work ok. 'Course then you could spend more on better mikes & better recorders...