Review: JamHub Tracker MT16 - EMusician

Review: JamHub Tracker MT16

Portable 16-track recorder for gigs and rehearsals
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JamHub’s Tracker MT16 offers two modes: Split mode, which stores separate WAV or MP3 files per track; and Combined mode, where all tracks are stored as a single integrated .BND file that can then be split to individual tracks. THE TRACKER MT16 is a perfect example of shrinking technology. In a device that is smaller than a slice of pizza (in Brooklyn, anyway), JamHub assembles eight TRS audio inputs, an SD card slot, a 1/8-inch headphone jack, a USB port, a JamHub connect port, a backlit LCD, an Ethernet port, a DC power jack, four navigation buttons and six status LEDs. Perhaps more impressive, the Tracker MT16 can record 16 tracks simultaneously at sample rates up to 96 kHz (with some limitations, which we’ll discuss later). The Tracker MT16 has built in Wi-Fi, enabling it to download and install software updates automatically (so you don’t have to) and an Ethernet port that mirrors this function. Very clever.

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Audio is patched into the Tracker MT16 via TRS inputs or the JamHub port, the latter allowing you to connect it directly to a JamHub studio or—using JamHub’s specially designed Breakout Snake—to the TRS inserts on any analog mixer. Recordings are made in one of two modes: Split stores separate WAV or MP3 files per track; Combined stores all tracks as a single integrated .BND file that can later be split to individual tracks using JamHub’s free BandLab Splitter software.

Two recording modes are provided because, after recording, the Tracker MT16 performs an encoding process that takes way longer for Split recordings than it does for Combined recordings. Combined recordings cannot be auditioned, so Split mode is appropriate for recordings with a low track count (stereo for example) or where auditioning is critical. Encoding a Combined file typically takes no more than a few seconds, so your workflow won’t be interrupted when recording in Combined mode.

JamHub’s philosophy behind the Tracker MT16 is all about sharing the recordings. Doing so with 16 files is unwieldy and inefficient. A .BND file helps make a recording easier to manage and more efficient to up/download. If you were sharing five songs with 16 tracks each, there’s a good possibility that a track could be lost or exchanged between takes. The process is simplified by sharing one .BND file per song and allowing each person to split the file once they’ve received it. Splitting takes anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on file size and track count, but it is still more efficient than recording in Split mode. (Tip: avoid splitting files while they are on an SD card. It’s painfully slow.)

The Tracker MT16 is actually a UNIX computer disguised as an audio recorder so it takes about a minute to boot, and recalls your settings from the previous session. Once I understood that there are three top menu tiers (Play, Record, and Settings) it was easy to get around the Tracker’s UI. The Audio menu includes settings for sample rate, file format, Recording mode, track arming and Channel Mapping. Files can be named only prior to recording; once the name is saved, the Tracker returns to record ready, displaying the file name, elapsed time, file format, sample rate, and available storage space. Pushing the Play button again starts the recording process.

I used the Tracker MT16 to make some recordings via the TRS inputs and the JamHub Breakout Snake. Each TRS connector on the Snake is wired with tip and ring shorted: Plugging it into a mixer’s insert jack automatically loops the signal back to the insert return (e.g., the channel’s path is not interrupted) while still tapping the insert send as a direct output to the Tracker. The Channel Mapping menu is where you choose the audio input, and the Tracker is smart enough that it won’t record onto tracks that don’t have an audio input (for example, you can’t arm track 9 when using TRS inputs 1-8).

Due to the relatively slow transfer rate of SD cards, there’s a recording limitation of six tracks via the Snake Cable or TRS input at 96 kHz. You can also record 6 tracks at 96 kHz via the JamHub input to a USB drive. However, I was able to record larger sessions (16 tracks at 96 kHz) using a 1TB Seagate Expansion Portable Drive and, much to my surprise, the Tracker supplied bus power for the drive, which canceled the need for another PSU.

One of my recordings was routed from a Mackie mixer with channels for three vocals, guitar, bass, two mono keyboards, and two drum mics. Being in a small rehearsal space we certainly did not need the bass, guitar and drums in the P.A. system. Since the Breakout Snake taps the mixer’s insert pre-fader, turning down these channel faders did not cut the feed to the Tracker MT16. Record level is determined by the mixer’s mic pre. Your only indication of signal level is the Tracker’s Clip LED, and there’s only one Clip LED for all tracks. Therefore it’s wise to check level for each channel to determine which might be triggering the Clip light.

One thing we hope JamHub addresses in the future is the fact that files are not time/date stamped. In addition, the Tracker is not yet able to transfer audio files via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. (An upcoming rev is planned that will allow you to upload audio files via Wi-Fi to a server at BandLab.com, which can then be shared via BandLab account holders.). Once recording is finished, files are accessed when you move the SD card to a suitably equipped computer. (You can get a multiway USB card-reader for about six bucks.) You can copy from the SD card to a USB drive (FAT32 formatted), but be warned: You’ll get no confirmation of the transfer being completed. I preferred recording to the USB drive and connecting that to my MacBook or MacPro. (Mac users note that if you format a drive for Mac OS, it will not be recognized by the Tracker.)

I was able to import Tracker files into Pro Tools or Digital Performer easily. Several times, I recorded multitrack drums (kick, snare, toms, and overheads), bass, and guitar to the Tracker with fantastic results, and then mixed the session in my DAW. Certainly the Tracker MT16 sounds way bigger than it looks and produces recordings of professional quality—clean and quiet, with a wide frequency response. In fact I was surprised at the amount of low-end weight in the kick drum and bass tracks. Perhaps the limited playback ability of the MT16 enables JamHub to put more resources into the A/D converters (there’s no need for multiple channels of D/A). But whatever the reason, recordings will undoubtedly be limited more by the quality of your mics and preamps than by the Tracker’s converters. One quick side-note: The Tracker’s case gets quite hot, so I’d advise against putting it on top of gear that generates significant heat.

Tracks in Hand By combining a portable computer, line amp, and A/D converter in a compact box that’s easy to use, JamHub has created a very useful recording device. The fact that the Tracker MT16 can interface with a JamHub Studio using a single cable makes it a no-brainer for groups already using a JamHub Studio for rehearsal. And the ability to consolidate the tracks into a single file makes file exchange very easy.

If you’re looking for an alternative to making recordings with a laptop, and need to share the resulting files, you definitely need to check out the Tracker MT16.

Steve La Cerra is an independent audio engineer based in New York. In addition to being an Electronic Musician contributor, he mixes front-of-house for Blue Öyster Cult and teaches audio at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry campus.

SUMMARY

STRENGTHS: Records 16 tracks as MP3 or WAV files at 44.1, 48 or 96 kHz. Easy integration with JamHub Studio or any analog console with TRS inserts. Supports SD cards up to 64 GB.

LIMITATIONS: Limited playback capability. Minimal signal metering. No indication of headphone volume level.

$560; Breakout snake, $75
jamhub.com