Punch recording allows “punching in and out” of a sound track to fix mistakes at particular points, rather than being forced to re-record the entire track. Punch recording is a feature of multiple track recorders where a single track is used to record a single instrument or voice at a time. Punch recording is not used on tracks that have already been mixed down. If punch recording is done correctly, a listener will not be able to tell that editing has taken place.
Traditionally, punch recording required pressing a physical button to switch from playback of a sound track to record mode. The musician or singer would already be playing (or singing) along with the track, but recording would start here. With another punch of the button the recorder returned to playback mode, preserving the rest of the original track. While in record mode, the problem area would be re-recorded.
Since it is problematic for home musicians to both play an instrument and operate punch recording at the same time, this feature has been automated in software and in many recording devices today. The punch in and out points can be preset digitally so that physical action isn’t required during the actual process.
The key to seamless punch tracks, aside from setting correct punch points, is to ensure that recorder and instrument settings mirror the original track. This includes volume, EQ, compression (if any), and pan or placement of the instrument inside the acoustic envelope. Otherwise the edited portion will sound suddenly fainter, louder, sharper, muddier — or like it’s coming from a different location in space. While these problems can be potentially fixed after the fact with digital software, it’s less time consuming to get it right the first time.
An alternative to punch recording is to use digital mastering software to edit mistakes. This software can adjust note pitch, timing and other acoustic characteristics with mouse clicks. Hardcore traditionalists might consider this cheating, while others will find it handy. Some people combine a good physical recorder with good mastering software for the best of both worlds.
Small personal recorders can fit in the palm of a hand, while standard home recorders are about the size of a laptop. Built-in CD burners are available in all but the smallest models and will cost more than models without burners. Most home recorders work with flash memory cards, making transfer to the computer easy. Some models also feature Firewire or USB ports.
Multi-track digital recorders with punch recording range in price from a few hundred US dollars to several thousand, depending on features and quality. Higher price ranges generally result in a better mixing board with more control over contour, but this isn’t always the case. Look for sales or closeouts to get a good deal.