A Pi Powered Recording Studio

In the mid-90s, you recorded your band’s demo on a Tascam cassette tape deck. These surprisingly cheap four-track portable studios were just low tech enough to lend an air of authenticity to a band that calls itself, ‘something like Pearl Jam, but with a piano’. These tape decks disappeared a decade later, just like your dreams of being a rock star, replaced with portable digital recording studios.

The Raspberry Pi exists, the Linux audio stack is in much better shape than it was ten years ago, and now it’s possible to build your own standalone recording studio. That’s exactly what [Daniel] is doing for our Raspberry Pi Zero contest, and somewhat predictably he’s calling it the piStudio.

Although the technology has moved from cassette tapes to CompactFlash cards to hard drives, the design of these four-track mini recording studios hasn’t really changed since their introduction in the 1980s. There are four channels, each with a fader, balance, EQ, and a line in and XLR jack. There are master controls, a few VU meters, and if the technology is digital, a pair of MIDI jacks. Since [Daniel] is using a Raspberry Pi for this project, he threw in an LCD for a great user interface.

As with all digital recorders, the money is in the analog to digital converters. [Daniel] is using a 24-bit, 216kHz, four-channel chip, Texas Instruments’ PCM4204. That’s more than enough to confuse the ears of an audiophile, although that much data will require a hard drive. Good thing there will be SATA.

Although you can buy an eight-channel solid state recorder for a few hundred dollars – and [Daniel] will assuredly put more than that into this project, it’s a great application of a ubiquitous Linux computer for a device that’s very, very useful.


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47 thoughts on “A Pi Powered Recording Studio

  1. Nice!

    I’ve been half-heartedly considering how simply one could do a digital 4-track, so I could make a “My First 4-Track” for kids. Just a big red record button and a couple toggles for which track to record. Save to SD card. Get your kids interested in music without throwing pro gear their way.

    1. Good idea, but I would still give them the pro gear if they have any real interest in it, and appear to be motivated. At least good gear. Nothing worse than having an instrument, telescope, microscope, computer, etc that is garbage to start with. I have always given my kid real equipment to use (wish I had it!), and he learned early its value and to take care of it. Honestly I trust him with my DSLR cameras, mics, instruments computers, etc. more than most adults.

  2. Actually there is more to it than just the ADCs. Pro sounding recorders also have very high quality preamps and anti-aliasing filters before the ADC, and those are costly. In the maker/hacker world, this is very often missed and folks wonder why they don’t get high fidelity when their running at high sample and bit depth.

      1. Please don’t build it like that, it’s a significant flaw.
        That socket is meant to be an outlet.
        While it probably won’t do any harm, the fitting chord surely will eventually.

          1. powerCON. Not SpeakON. PowerCONs are designed for mains and are not interchangable with speakON.
            I’m more of a event technician, not exclusively sound/audio.

          2. It’s worth it. Although they have the same handling as speakON. But only the blue ones are made for power in. The grey ones are power outlets. I like them. Especially for lighting devices.

  3. I considered a project similar to this a few years back. I wanted to turn my Mackie mixer into a small DAW, but then when I quit working with local bands, I lost interest in the project. I may revisit the project now and finish the DAW.

  4. I really like the idea, but “why oh why use a Raspberry Pi”?! Yeah, it’s all well supported and such, but recording 4 * 24Bit / 192kHz channels WHILE simultaneously storing data to SATA?!! At least use a SoC that has native SATA (there are a few which claim to be Pi-compatible)!
    Then, if you not recording the channels separetely, but mixing them in analog before storing: Fail, because that makes it pretty much useless for proper mastering! Also please consider adding 2-4 more channels.
    Plus I heavily doubt you would want to do audio mastering on a RPi 1 or a RPi 2. Maybe a RPi 3 would work…
    But well, then you’re in the price region of off-the-shelf solutions probably…

    1. Mainly is proof of concept. Primarily meant to see it go “toe – to – toe” with my old Roland vs-880 LOL. the cool part will be that I want to implement a “Module style” so lowest will be 4 channels but we can add more as we wanted, this is from when i opened a dead Yamaha 64Ch Mixing console and it was sepperated into 4 channel boards if you follow the project i will dwell into this a bit more.

      1. I also have an old 880EX, I ended up pulling out the old 4GB drive and put a SD card in it, makes it more useful or should i say less painful. Nice idea, I’m following your project with great interest.

    2. The data rate is only 2MB/s for that much audio. Double it to account for the audio coming in and going out, and it’s still well within the Pi’s USB 2’s capability, and there should certainly be enough CPU power.

      Is he mixing the channels in analogue, and then storing just a stereo mix? That would seem to be completely against the point of having a 4-track. I think the clever thing would be to record the audio at full gain, and record the positions of the sliders through a separate DAC. Maybe get an 8-bit MPU to do that if he needs more DAC channels. That way you can always re-mix it later. Perhaps the sliders are just to set gain for inputs of varying loudness, and are left alone throughout the recording.

    3. yes yes grandpa, because four 1GHz cores cant handle compressing audio streams in real time or anything, or usb wont handle 2.5MB/s
      need them analog burr brown parts, and elna capacitors, and gold connectors …

      1. Noirwhal was that guy, before that guy was cool. He/she/it can’t help himself/herself/itself. Good try though.

        In a few years we can expect “Noirwhal is the new that guy” to become a popular phrase in the juvenile lexicon. A year or so after that we might even see a new cable TV show by the same title. It’s just a matter of time.

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