Hands-on with Belkin's TuneStudio


Ls_f8z109_07_cropPlaying songs, watching videos, flipping through photos. The iPod does it all and does it well. But recording onto Apple’s little wonder is not so easy. It doesn’t even have a microphone. Fear not, ye budding musician: Belkin is coming to the rescue with its TuneStudio. So how does it fare?

I confess, I get excited by new gadgets – even if I have no idea what they do or how to operate them. So it was with some sadness that I reluctantly handed our demo unit of Belkin’s brand new TuneStudio over to one of my colleagues.

Why you ask? Well, I’m not musically inclined. Actually that’s an understatement. I’m tone-deaf, I have no sense of rhythm and my 3 year-old puts me to shame on that little xylophone she has.

Clearly I have no business reviewing (or even touching) a device designed to allow musicians to easily record their tracks onto an iPod in multi-channel uncompressed audio files. So that said, here’s my office-mate Tim Ashby’s take on Belkin’s TuneStudio…

As a guitarist and a songwriter I found myself with a dilemma. I’d invested in a pretty good home studio setup centered around a Mac desktop, some nifty recording and editing software, several pro microphones, a digital input box which converts those pro mics into good old USB to send to the computer and a snaking mess of cabling leaving me little room to put my feet.

This setup produces amazing results, but it isn’t portable. If I wanted to record in a rehearsal space, at a friend’s house or even in the comfort of my own living room, I can’t, not without purchasing a $1500 laptop at the very least.

Belkin’s TuneStudio offered me a great solution for mobile recording and quick takes, as well as potential integration with my home studio. The TuneStudio is a 4-track mixer that records directly onto something which most of us have lying around the house: an iPod (5G, classic, 2G/3G nano). The TuneStudio will take up to four inputs at once and record onto high quality 16-bit stereo using the iPod’s voice memo feature. (As I found out, it is important to make sure your iPod’s voice memo feature is set to ‘high’ quality). Your recordings are retrieved through iTunes when you sync with your computer.

The TuneStudio has an impressive array of inputs and outputs. On the input side there are 1/4" jacks for basic podcast quality microphones and the direct input of electric guitars and basses, RCA inputs for line-in from a mixing board at a live show, a DJ’s turntable or an electric keyboard and XLR jacks with phantom power for balanced and unbalanced high-end microphones. On the output side one can independently control the mix heading to an iPod, monitor headphones and monitor speakers, as well as via USB directly to a computer.

Ls_f8z109_06_crop Each of the four input channels has gain, three-channel EQ, pan and level controls, including peak indicator lights. The professional looking unit also has left and right recording LEDs which bounced colourfully up and down as I strummed my guitar. If all these features sound a little fancy, it’s because the TuneStudio packs in a ton of useful features into its compact body.

However, taking into account the light-weight and portability of the TuneStudio it would have been nice to see a built-in microphone, as found on many portable 4-tracks, for truly instant song sketches when cables and microphone stands are not handy. Also, from a practical level it would have been sensible to include at least two headphone sockets for when two musicians are playing, and recording, together. However, a simple headphone splitter will achieve this.

As Belkin acknowledge in their promotional literature, the iPod configuration of the TuneStudio is ideal for quick takes where no computer is available. The price for this convenience is that there is no opportunity for overdubs or track separation as might be found on slightly higher-end digital 4-tracks. The user must set all the levels and pans and EQ correctly before pressing ‘record’ and searing the mix onto the iPod.

For many users the TuneStudio  will come into its own when they bypass the iPod and send the audio output via USB directly to their PC or Mac and record using software such as GarageBand, Audacity, ProTools, Cubase or the bundled version of Music Creator from Cakewalk.  At this point, the TuneStudio has the full versatility of a 4-track with many features and inputs not generally available within its price range.

Whether recording onto an iPod, or via USB directly onto a computer, the TuneStudio produces rich, warm recordings. The built-in EQ really helped me bring out the tone of my guitar before the sound was digitized onto the iPod. This is preferential to tweaking a flat sound using software EQ in post-production. However, I did notice some hiss through both the monitor headphones and on the final recordings I made with the TuneStudio. Tweaking the input levels, EQ and compression (as I mentioned, for the price this unit has a lot of high-end features) I was able to remove some of the hiss – but I was never able to eliminate it completely. However, at its price point I doubt many would expect better sound quality than the TuneStudio delivers.

Considering its bells and whistles, I think the TuneStudio will appeal more to musicians than podcasters. Therefore, it is interesting to see Belkin, a brand best known for iPod accessories trying to slide into a market dominated by brands such as Fostex and Tascam, with a rich heritage in audio recording. [editor’s note: Belkin is releasing a forth-coming podcasting-specific solution called the Podcast Studio, which is very similar to TuneStudio, but not intended for multi-channel recording]

For those who wish to get into home recording the TuneStudio offers an affordable entry-point. And, for those like myself, who have already invested in recording equipment it offers a great tool to use in conjunction with my existing microphones and equipment when I need to record away from my home studio. Now, if only Belkin offered a battery powered version to take out in the garden.

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17 comments

  1. jdit

    Does this only work with iPods? I have a voice (memo) recorder but it is not a MAC – I have tried using it to record and then store on my laptop only to be stumped when it came to hearing it again because of the formatting chaos…help!

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  2. AEngineer

    If you record onto this piece of equipment expect to have sub standard quality and unsatisfying mixing capabilities.

    But then again I'm an audio engineer and use pro-tools and professional Waves diamond bundle plug ins.

    But hey thats my two cents.

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  3. AEngineer

    Oh and by the way, just the fact that "Mr. guitar player" records on "professional mics" converted to USB…. honestly that should tell you a little something about the expertise of the person reviewing this product.

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  4. lisa jones

    how muchg does this thing cost? I'm a budding musician and I'm very interested in this product.

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  5. JP

    How much? Well, 2 seconds after typing "TuneStudio" into Google, I came to Belkin's website where it says "$249.99"

    Oh, and ignore Mr audio engineer – he's only cheesed off because products like this will take a few pennies out of his hands, and force him to work only with high-end performers.

    If Mr. Guitar Player has it plugged in using USB, who cares?? I mean, it's doing the role he wants it to! (Man, I hate arrogance)

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  6. Beatkicka

    Can you dub tracks on top after its dumped into a computer?
    How much harder would it have been for belkin to add multi tracking?

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  7. Tyler Thomson

    Hey JP…hes not being arrogant. What hes trying to say by the guitar usb thing, is the guys gotta be an amateur to do that. Anyone that records music on a computer will know that using usb to record isn't the greatest method. Its actually probably the worst. Well "direct in" would be the worst. But the latency you get is horrendous, when recording with usb. A pro? I think not.
    So arrogant – i think not. Maybe your being arrogant.

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  8. Field Recorder

    If you are looking at a decent field recorder which actually fits into your front pocket and records mp3, wave on an SD card with USB file transfer (not audio streaming), take a look at the Zoom H3. It costs under 300 bucks and does the job quite nicely. It is a 4 track recorder. I believe it can upload to an Ipod. Come to think of it, load the SD card with mp3s and you have an Ipod. I record the 'folks on the beach' through the PA system. I have recorded a pro level act using this and the results were quite satisfactory. Oh, I did take the recording and put it into my DAW with my diamond plug-ins as well. The Zoom device also has 51 preset effects so the acoustic guitar sounds like Hendrix (if you like). I don't work for Zoom, I only like the unit. The built in mics are good and along with the shower, produces a decent vocal recording. It has 2 combi plug inputs. It also has phantom power. Did I say under 300 bucks? Maybe I should call Zoom for a commission… There are tons of gadgets. It is all a matter of cost.

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  9. Field Recorder

    Oh, the zoom h3 records in 24 bit 96 Hz. It is a multi track recorder and can bounce tracks so you can 4 track to your hearts desire (bounce 4 into one and add three more, repeat.. you get the picture).

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  10. Filed Recorder

    My studio DAW interface is a Tascam DM-24 with firewire. 16 analog, total of 32 track, 8 buss, digital mixer, direct to DAW. Discoed now, but a great unit once you get a handle on hte headroom from their pre-amps.

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  11. sydnay

    i still dontt get itt,,
    how does thiis workk :S
    i really want somthiing liike that
    i mean i have a ipod and everythiing,,
    but if someone please if you could
    e-mail me what i need to do,,
    my e-mail : sydnay_finlay_56@hotmail.com
    mmkay thx x)

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  12. Hailey commet

    hey all if your going to cheese off other people (JP, Tyler tompson and AEnginer) don't do it here this is to review the product you like it you don't like it if your going to offend them don't bother people don't like having to scrole through all the offensive comments!!!!!

    all i want to know is how expensive is it does it work and will it work with an ipod touch? please respond to this comment thx

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  13. Simon Cohen

    Hailey, Belkin says that the TuneStudio is compatible with:

    iPod classic
    80GB 160GB

    iPod nano (3rd generation)
    4GB 8GB

    iPod 5th generation (video)
    30GB 60GB 80GB

    iPod nano (2nd generation)
    2GB 4GB 8GB

    no mention of the Touch, sorry. And as JP pointed out, it's got a MSRP of $249 US, but no word on an official release date yet.

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