This affordable device from Belkin can help take your garage band to the next recording level, even if some details are left unattended
As a guitarist and singer, I've been looking for an affordable device that lets me make good recordings without a lot of fuss and muss. So when I first saw TuneStudio, which is electronics accessory maker Belkin International's recently released four-channel audio mixer—and the first I've seen with an iPod dock—I was excited but skeptical.
The prospect of recording songs by my band, Cupcake Fighting League, straight to my iPod with something more advanced than a small portable microphone intrigued me. But I had doubts about how portable and versatile TuneStudio would actually be.
As it turns out, TuneStudio is an affordable choice ($400, though it is widely available online for $200 to $300) for musicians who want a stylish, lightweight device for recording and mixing on the fly—all good things since you never know when inspiration might strike.
When gazing at the gray, sloping face of TuneStudio for the first time, I was immediately excited by the number of dials, inputs, and LEDs that cover the product, promising plenty of recording options.
Without paying much attention to the included manual, I plugged in the yearbook-sized TuneStudio, attached a microphone and guitar through two of the inputs, and popped my iPod into the device's dock.
Not all iPods work with the device but it does support the iPod Classic, second- and third-generation iPod nano, and fifth-generation iPod Video. I plugged in my headphones and turned on TuneStudio, and the option to record popped up on my iPod's screen.
After fiddling with various knobs, checking the recording level LEDs, and, admittedly, taking a quick look through the manual to make sure I was on the right track, I pressed "record" on my iPod and started making music.
It was simple to record guitar and vocals simultaneously by myself, and I was pleased with the clarity of the sound. It took me some time to figure out how the various-frequency equalizer and other audio-adjusting knobs should be tweaked to make my voice and guitar sound best, but it was fun to play around and get my bearings.
I was curious to see how TuneStudio would react to less direct input, so I took it to a Sunday band practice and set it up with two microphones plugged into its XLR inputs and angled in opposite directions.
With some technical assistance from our bass player, who has admittedly more recording savvy than I, we started recording.
My expectations were pretty low, given the simplicity of our setup and the dearth of instruments plugged directly into the device (I later realized we probably could have plugged the studio monitors into TuneStudio).
While we didn't get incredible results, the recordings were surprisingly clear. The vocals, which came out very quiet on a recording on a different portable device that belonged to a friend, were right up there with the guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums.
In fact, we liked the recordings so much that we uploaded them to our MySpace page—a fairly simple process since TuneStudio recordings made straight to an iPod are saved as voice memos and can be easily imported to iTunes and then manipulated on a computer.
Once the files are on a computer, they also can be enhanced with various music editing software. I cut and edited my recordings with the Mac version of the free audio editing and recording software Audacity. TuneStudio comes with a copy of Cakewalk Music Creator LE.
Although TuneStudio supports four simultaneous audio inputs, recordings to the iPod are WAV files that consist of a single stereo track, which makes it hard to edit unless you record each instrument and vocal part separately. It would have been nice if the individual tracks matched the inputs. Fortunately, TuneStudio can be attached directly to a computer via a USB cable (not included), which lets users stream audio to and from a computer and enables activities such as overdubbing, which I did on my laptop.
Picking up my trusty guitar one more time, I recorded several different tracks onto my laptop, layered and edited them with Audacity, and then added a vocal track. This method sounded much better and gave me many more audio options than my old recording method of using a cheap USB microphone.
TuneStudio didn't come with a padded carrying case, and I constantly worried I would snap off a plastic knob or damage one of the inputs. Sure enough, either a power adapter or one of several cords I was carrying with TuneStudio in a tote bag managed to scratch its large "Recording menu" button.
It would be cool if TuneStudio included more than one headphone jack so a number of users could accurately monitor the sounds their instruments and microphones are producing. Presumably, though, users can plug in a splitter to enable two people to hear audio levels.
Generally, TuneStudio was fun and easy to use and produced consistently good sounds that made me want to keep playing and recording.