4-track Recording Tips
Here are some 4-track recording tips and must have gear for cassette 4-track recording. The links below are affiliate links from zZounds, one of the largest suppliers of top-brand musical instruments and equipment. If you purchase any of the 4-track recording gear through the links, the channel receives a commission at no cost to you... thanks for your support! If you have any questions, check out the How To Use the Affiliate Links Guide.
Must Have 4-track Recording Gear
Recording, Mixing, and Playback
A good pair of monitors is crucial for recording, mixing, and playback. These monitors are great because they have a flat sound. A lot of monitors overhype frequencies, which is great for listening but not so great for recording and mixing. If you like the way your songs sound on your monitors but not anywhere else, this is usually the reason.
Like the monitors above, having a good pair of headphones is important. These headphones are flat sounding as well. Headphones especially overhype frequencies, which again, is great for listening but not so great for recording and mixing. It's wise to get one pair and stick with them. I've had these for close to a decade and would get them again.
You’ll want a dynamic mic for your 4-track. The best all around mic for 4-track recording is the Shure SM58. It's great for vocals, and when you take the windscreen off, you have an SM57. Having one dynamic mic that you know the sound of and can use in myriad scenarios is invaluable. It seems like Shure mics were built to pair with the 4-track.
The AKG C414 condenser mic has been used on countless 90's indie rock albums. I'd read about it so many times over the years that I finally had to invest in one a few years ago. It's probably the most expensive item on this list. There's a lot of cheaper alternatives out there, such as the AKG C214 Condenser Mic, which is a simpler version of C414.
Phantom Power and Mic Preamps
I have three ART Tube MPs. They are a steal. They provide Phantom Power for condenser mics and have a +20db boost for dynamic mics (or any source). You can also color your mics by overdriving the unit. The Tube MP is also great for tracking bass and it has Phase Reverse if you’re tracking drums. It looks like it also has an Output Limiter now, too!
Here's a small mixer that will allow you to get the most out of the 4-track channels and tracks. It can be used to split a guitar or bass signal or record multiple line level signals to one track of the 4-track at once. The MX400 doesn't have the feature set or versatility of bigger mixers, but it will spark some creative ideas as to how an analog mixer could be used in tandem with the 4-track.
A second mixer is great to use as a Sub Mixer. The 424 has a Sub Input, which sends a stereo signal to the master fader. It's an easy way to expand your inputs and record more mics at once. (You could also record the outs of the second mixer to two tracks on the 424.) I don't have much experience with analog mixers, as I've always used a second 424 as a Sub Mixer, but there's a lot of variations and price points out there. The mixer pictured is the Behringer XENYX 1002B. I personally like mixers that have sliders.
If you're going to be recording with a band, you'll want to grab a headphone amp like this one. This will allow you to split the Headphone Out on the 4-track with up to 4 sets of headphones. The HA400 has a separate volume control for each set of headphones. It's simple and no frills and gets the job done. You'll also want to grab a Balanced 1/4" Cable to send the mix from the Headphone Out on the 4-track to the HA400.
The Behringer UMC404HD interface is a cost effective solution for bouncing your tracks to the computer. Any 4 channel interface will do, but I’ve found this one to be super useful at an incredible price point. The preamps sound great and you can bounce your stereo mix or all 4 tracks at once into a DAW. I also use it for audio when live streaming on my PC.
The Focusrite interfaces are another good choice for 4-track bouncing. I used to have the 18i8 but sold it to a friend that needed an interface. One downside to these is that the overload lights aren't accurate. You need to go with your ears over your eyes, which is usually the best way to go regardless. Another downside is that this is twice the price of the Behringer and does the same thing.
4-track Cables and Adapters
I’d recommend getting two of these cables. This will allow you to bounce all 4 tracks of the 4-track at once, which is important for mixing in post and backing up your tapes. These cables are also useful for hooking up monitors to the Line Out or Monitor Out. Hmmm... you might want to get three or four of them, come to think of it! This is the cable I use the most with the 4-track.
When it comes to 4-track recording, stereo breakout cables are useful for a variety of applications. I use mine to hook up gear to the 4-track that has a stereo 1/8” output (a headphone output) or a 1/4" stereo output (you'll need a HOSA Stereo 1/8" to 1/4" Adapter for this) such as the Digitakt, OP-1, or an iPhone. This cable makes it easy to record these types of sources in mono or stereo.
I would have gotten one of these RCA snakes if I didn’t have the Stereo RCA cables above. Check out all the colors, man! You also get extra cables, if you need them for something else or if one goes bad. This is a killer snake to consider if you’re planning to bounce a lot between 4-tracks, computer interfaces, rack gear... or some combination of all three.
Not much can be said about these Stereo 1/8" to 1/4" Adapters other than when you need one and don't have one, it can be really frustrating. I have a couple of these in my desk at all times. I use this with the Stereo Breakout cable above. They're also useful for headphones that have stereo 1/8".
I've never had any luck with these types of impedance matchers. That's not to say this one from Whirlwind is bad, as I've never used it, but all of the ones I've had over the years broke in the same way, with the sleeve breaking off of the XLR end. I'm including it here, as it's something you probably have or will come across, especially if you have an original 424, but you'd be 100% better off grabbing the ART Tube MP above.
A cable tester is useful whenever you're setting up recording gear and cables. It saves a lot of time and aggravation when it comes to diagnosing an issue. It's also a relief to know it's just a cable causing an issue in your setup and not your hardware. There's also an upgraded version that looks cool, the Behringer CT200. The test tone is also useful for checking channels on the 4-track.
Outboard Gear and Pedals
I used to have one of these. The ART Pro VLA II is a solid and cost effective tube compressor that's perfect for outboard mastering. You can also use it for parallel compression or compressing your sources before they hit the cassette tape. I wish I still had it!
This is a classic drum machine and another piece of gear that's been around for almost as long as the 4-track. This is a great sounding hardware drum machine. Sure, you could use samples in a DAW or the DM-1 drum app but where's the fun in that? (Nah, I do that all the time and digital samples can sound killer!) This drum machine is definitely a cool piece of kit if you're looking to go solo and/or DAWless!
I've always been partial to the Boss DM-2. It's simple and warm sounding. It's incredible on vocals as well as any other source you might want to delay. The analog nature of the pedal pairs well with the 4-track and they're both from the same era. I have a vintage, Made in Japan one, but I've heard great things about the newer Waza Craft series. If you look for a vintage one, make sure the chip trim settings haven't been tampered with.
I used to have one of these, too. Like the DM-2, it's incredible on vocals. The Holy Grail sounds like it's analog even though it's digital and the newer version sounds better than the big box version I used to have. If you're looking for reverb to use on all sorts of sources on the effects channel, this is the pedal to hook up to the 4-track.
An octave pedal like the Micro POG is great for transforming your guitar into a bass. I also use it to thicken up lead sounds without needing to double track. I have the original big box version which is awesome but it takes up a lot of space on your board! There's a couple versions of these: the POG 2, a newer, suped up version of the big box, and this Micro POG (plus a Nano POG that is the same as the Micro in a smaller form factor).
Keeley 30ms Double Tracker
This pedal is good for double tracking your sources to one track in one shot. Usually, you'd have to use two tracks to record a part twice and then bounce those to free up room. If you want to make the most of your 4 tracks with a minimal amount of bouncing, this is the way to go. I made this video on the pedal and the vocal sounds a while back.
If you want to do some punching on your tracks, and do it hands-free, you'll want an unlatching footswitch you can connect to the 4-track like this one. I have the Tascam branded one, but they are increasingly hard to find, and any unlatching switch will get the job done.
Don't forget to get some mic stands! For years, I used to duct tape an SM57 to my desk and try and get a good angle while playing acoustic, or I'd try to balance the mic on some books in front of an amp. Recording is easier when you have the right tools. Invest in a couple good mic stands of varying sizes and they'll last you a lifetime (or at least until the hardware wears out!)
It's good to have a variety of microphone and instrument cables of different lengths. I used to think getting longer cables was the right move but over time I've found I don't need to run them for as long of lengths anymore. Depending on what you need to do, it can never hurt to have a few extra cables laying around.