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It’s a Recorder! It’s an Interface! It’s the Zoom R16!

6:00 am Home Recording

I got into computerized recording fairly recently, finally scrapping my trusty (or more accurately, dying) Yamaha MD8 (an 8-track MiniDisc recorder) and substituting a MacBook laptop running GarageBand, Logic Express, and Cubase. A quick rainy weekend spent rewiring the whole studio and I was ready to go!

To get audio in and out of the laptop, I bought an Audio Genie Pro two-channel interface from American Audio. (See my article A Simple Audio Interface For Your Computer for more info about this device.) The Audio Genie Pro’s two-channel limitation was not really a problem, since I usually only record one thing at a time anyway, even if there is another musician with me, which there usually isn’t.

A problem arose, though, when I went to transfer dozens of unfinished 8-track songs from the MD8 to the laptop before bagging the old gear. The MD8 lacks a digital output, and with only a 2-lane “audio highway” leading into the laptop via the Audio Genie Pro it would take four passes to transfer each song. Plus, the resulting tracks would have to be painstakingly realigned on the computer to bring them back into time sync. There had to be a better way!

Feel the Zoom

At the time of the studio upgrade, another issue that was concerning me involved the recorder I was using for my on-location recording business, a solid (and quite heavy) Korg D16XD. Although generally reliable, the 5-year-old Korg had developed a few signs of age, including a noisy fader on Channel 4 and other such problems. And it was so very heavy! I was on the lookout for some way to replace it without spending another $2500.

One fine day, I sat down with a cup of coffee and opened the new issue of Recording magazine. And just what do you suppose I saw? It was an ad, right inside the front cover, for something called the Zoom R16. According to the ad, it was a portable recorder that could also serve as an 8-channel audio interface to a laptop for recording, and could serve as a control surface for whatever DAW was running on the computer! The cost? $399.

Hmm, I thought. A portable recorder. An 8-channel interface. Aren’t those the very two things I am after at this exact, specific moment? And a control surface into the bargain! Plus, it comes with Cubase LE! Can it all be true? Well, I applied my usual diligent, thorough online research and ten minutes later I had ordered one for myself. And guess what? It was all true.

Snakes and Ladders

Detailed reviews and descriptions of the R16 and its specs and capabilities can be found online, like this review from the ubiquitous Recording magazine. What stood out for me was that it can record eight tracks at once (just like the Korg) and it has eight XLR input connections (just like the Korg), although (unlike the Korg) only two have phantom power. And of course that 8-lane audio highway into the laptop, perfect for the MD8 transfer project!

The R16 connects to the computer via USB using a special driver that comes with the unit on a CDROM. It has two built-in condenser mics for impromptu recordings, and runs on a set of AA batteries. (If it’s connected to a computer it takes its power from the USB port.) You can even connect two R16s together and record 16 channels simultaneously. Try that on your Korg!

I bought a short 8-channel snake from Musician’s Friend and connected the direct channel outputs of the MD8 to the eight inputs on the R16. (The Zoom also has a stereo output for monitoring what is coming from the computer.) With the USB connection made, I was ready to go! Though somewhat time-consuming (due to being done in “real time”), the transfer process went well, with all of the unfinished songs now residing on the MacBook as Cubase projects.

The R16 has completed the huge step up that computerizing my home studio has represented. In addition, I have already used it to make on-location recordings for several customers without a hitch. (It can record up to 100 track hours on a 32GB SDHC card!) And I haven’t even discussed the dozens of built-in effects, including amp modeling, or the control-surface functionality, which permits an efficient, mouseless workflow.

For more info, just Google “zoom r16″. There’s plenty of it out there!

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3 Responses
  1. Mike Leeson :

    Date: July 24, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    Keep up the good work. As an amateur audio enthusiast, your articles are a great help.

    We’ve bought the R16 for recording our podcast. Before we had to use mixed-down stereo recording for 3-4 mics and maybe a skype caller.

    It’s a huge jump forward for us in audio quality and control.

  2. Thomas :

    Date: January 10, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    You are right about the Zoom being a great recorder. However, I sold mine due to the fact that, just like all other Digital recorders today, NO ONE includes Analog Insert I/O points on tracks 1,2. What I mean is, what if you wanted to go back and add Tube warmth or more EQ from an external device to a pre-recorded track? Without an Insert I/O, you couldn’t! So, for now I’m on the Yamaha MD4s mini Disc kick. Of course, thses things are getting old, but maybe there’s years left in them yet. That said, Zoom is still great-just no Inserts.

  3. Gypsy :

    Date: June 4, 2012 @ 8:43 am

    Your’e a bloody star Man.
    Thanks so much for all your very valuable advice.

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