Technology

Otari RADAR II: MULTITRACK HARD DISK RECORDER

I don't want to date myself, but my relationship with Otari goes back to 1979 when I first bought a 1-inch, 8-track Model 7308 analog tape recorder. Shortly 6/01/1999 8:00 AM Eastern

I don't want to date myself, but my relationship with Otari goes back to 1979 when I first bought a 1-inch, 8-track Model 7308 analog tape recorder. Shortly after that, I purchased a 2-inch, 24-track MTR-90II. The MTR-90 and MTR-100 Series analog tape recorders have long been established among the most reliable and best-sounding multitracks available.

Otari had the foresight to see a changing industry and created RADAR I (Random Access Digital Audio Recorder), which has been on the market since 1994 in a 16-bit/48k format. The "I" has been considered one of the best-sounding 16-bit recorders on the market. RADAR II is a second-generation upgrade with many technological and performance enhancements. As part of its natural evolution, this machine has been upgraded with A/D and D/A converters that record at 24-bit/48k. Future upgrades to 24-bit/96k are promised; this is possible because of the modularity of the audio cards and mainframe.

RADAR II's mainframe is PC-based and housed in a four-rackspace/20-inch-deep chassis. The front panel has three drive bays and an illuminated Otari logo. A floppy drive is provided for loading software updates to the internal IDE hard drive and for importing .WAV files. The next drive is a 9GB ultrawide 2-SCSI drive in a removable (hot-swapable) bay. The ability to have multiple projects on different drives and slide them in was very convenient when I needed disk space and could not take the time to download a project or allocate more space on the current drive. The last drive is an 8mm Exabyte Eliant 820 fast data tape drive for backing up and restoring projects on the audio hard drive. This was not built-in on the RADAR I. The average download time is three times the length of the file size. You can back up individual projects or select multiple projects as a set.

The RADAR I required three internal SCSI drives to record 24 tracks of digital audio reliably. Thanks to the advent of ultrawide SCSI and drives running at 10,500 rpm, all 24 tracks can be recorded to a single drive in one pass. To get this kind of throughput, Otari uses a V24 SCSI engine, which directly processes all audio to the SCSI drives. This eliminates the processing of any audio by the motherboard.

FEATURES & FUNCTIONSOn the rear panel the analog and digital I/Os are handled by DB-25 connectors that are configured to the same specifications as Tascam DA-38, 88 and 98s. RADAR II's AES and S/PDIF connectors can be routed to and from any two channels. Connectors are provided for house sync, TDIF word sync, MIDI in/out/through for MTC and MMC, and SMPTE in/out. Above the 68-pin, ultrawide SCSI-2 connector, which is used for chaining audio drives, is the RE8II remote control interface. Two RADAR link (in/out) connectors are for locking up to eight machines or 192 tracks of audio. A Sony 9-pin serial machine control connector is available for remote transport control and synching. This wide variety of sync options allows you to drive, chase or transfer to and from most any source with ease. Support for an SVGA monitor is included for running RADARVIEW that graphically displays system and sync sources, metering, track overview, location points, track names and in/out edit points.

Operationally, RADAR II is much the same as a traditional 24-track analog machine in transport and track-arming functions. There is a feeling of stability with this unit along with a jog wheel that handles audio like tape. This is where the similarities end and the true functioning of the RADAR II begins to shine.

Editing, transport control and location functions are carried out by an RE8II remote session controller that closely resembles a custom computer-style keyboard. This remote has been refined from past versions and is 48-track ready. I found it most intuitive and well-laid-out. Dedicated function keys are used to carry out some of the most frequently used menu commands. These parameters include keys for varispeed, digital I/O, sync, cycle, chase, autopunch, most editing functions and UNDO! The QWERTY keyboard is used for project titling and naming tracks. Numerous hidden functions on the keyboard speed operations, such as typing the letter "M" to bring up the Mute Track page. Two rows of 24-track arming keys (1-24 and 25-48) are available, making this remote ready for controlling two machines. The arming keys also double as the track source selection keys for the editing of individual tracks. Blank keys are available for programming your own macros. This allows the user to customize moves and have instant access to the most frequently used keystrokes.

The supplied 24-track Meter Bridge can be switched between two machines via a small slide switch on the back. A jog/shuttle wheel allows for scrolling audio, fine-tuning of edit points and scrolling through the different menu functions. A 2-digit LED displays current project numbers up to the limit of 99 available projects, and a 2-line by 16-character backlit LCD screen offers feedback on numerical location points or any editable menu that is currently active.

The software allows for 99 projects to be created with 99 location points. Each project will remember project name, track names and system information such as bit rate (you can initialize projects at 16 or 24 bits and five different sample rates). To build a new song, go to the project menu and scroll to Create Project. This menu gives options to set start times, bars and beats display, tempo map, TC rate/format and any other variables. Access to another project is a keystroke away. The beauty of this system is its ability to copy material between projects and make copies of individual projects.

EDITING: CUT...PASTE...DUPE!On a recent album project, I was able to make slave copies instantly to record background vocals and record multiple lead tracks. After comping the lead vocals and bouncing down the backgrounds, I was able to copy the new parts and fly them back to the original project or master. Imagine, you need a project to be recorded in three different languages. Copy the project three times, creating International, InternationalV2, and InternationalV3. Record the new vocals on V2 and V3, then mix one after another. You'll have instant access to each version, and everything stays in the same place with only minor adjustments to the changed vocal parts. Because projects are "playlists," copying material between projects does not reduce the amount of free recording time. Erasing or recording over a copied project is nondestructive to the original project.

Conceptually speaking, this machine, being a hard disk recording system, could be regarded more as a multitrack audio dubber rather than a digital audio workstation. DAWs generally have a mixing interface, EQ, dynamics, plug-ins and the usual all-in-one packaging. RADAR II has no provisions for internal mixing and uses individual outs to interface to an external mixing console. The session keeps rolling at instant access speed because it is a HD-based system, but RADAR does not get in the way as computers often can. This leaves more time to concentrate on the performance and not the mouse or computer screen. Having almost all basic editing features available, RADAR provides instant access to creative editing when you need it.

For post applications, not having to wait for tape-wind greatly reduces stress and increases productivity. A click on the transport Fast Forward/Rewind button twice can double the speed of that function. If you marry the RADAR with a Doremi Labs V1 VDR (Video Digital Recorder), the locate time is virtually instantaneous for both video and audio stems. Studios or post houses will also be able to network the RADAR IIs together for seamless transfer of projects or stems to multiple rooms.

I found that using RADARVIEW on the SVGA monitor is very useful but not always necessary. On the monitor, audio appears as pale blue blocks (waveform display will be available soon). Block view editing did not slow me down, and it forces a person to listen to the edit points more closely. The space between the in/out points appears as a dark shadowed area. It is easy to find a location in reference to the track on the monitor. There is also a helpful feature on the meterbridge that allows you to edit quickly. As you jog the track, the bar graph display level rises as the amplitude of the waveform increases. This helps to locate an edit point at the beginning of a waveform.

Editing is simple and straightforward. To edit, you mark the in/out points with the dedicated buttons either on-the-fly, by scrubbing or numerically. Once the in/out marks are set, you can cut, copy, paste, move, slide, loop, insert, reverse, undo/redo and listen. The onboard soloing function allows you to audition any number of tracks that you wish to edit quickly. This is a fast way to identify edit points and problem areas without moving away from the remote. There have been projects where I will cut and paste all 24 tracks, cut sections of songs, and fly, fly, fly parts all over. During mixes, one of the worst things that can happen is lip smacks exciting the reverbs and creating those aggravating little clicks. Gone. This process can be time-consuming to mute and dangerous to erase from the tape, but all that has changed. Mark the in, jog, mark the out, down arrow to audition (down arrow plays between in/out marks, left arrow goes to in point, right arrow goes to out point) press Erase, press Track, press Enter. Gone. If you don't like the edit, Undo. Undo acts globally. If a record punch-in is performed and the previous take was better, it can be undone. The ability to undo multiple actions really sets hard disk recording apart from tape. With the right amount of RAM installed, up to 99 levels of undo/redo are available. This also applies to all editing moves.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERSA frequently asked question is, "Why install one more system?" In my studio, I have analog 2-inch with Dolby SR, Alesis XT20s, Tascam DA-88s, and Pro Tools and Sonic Solutions systems. Where would a system like the RADAR II fit? After a few mixes, I knew. In many of the studios where I have mixed, when they receive an analog, ADAT or DA-88 tape, tracks are bounced over to the Sony PCM-3348 recorders. Ultimately, this saves time on sync lock, rewind lock, and any problems you might have with ADAT or Tascam transport tape-handling, dirty heads or tape shed. Generally, this would be the standard for a facility, especially if it owns a digital deck and console. I feel the RADAR II will be most at home here. It can save thousands of dollars of wear and tear on tape-based systems while offering most of the advantages of HD recording system.

My preference is to start off analog with the basic music tracks and then move the project to the digital domain. This allows me to get the dynamic range on the acoustic instruments and vocals, less the noise floor. Personally, I have not found the sonic qualities of the Sony 3348 pleasing. The RADAR II reinforces that opinion. Recently having the 3348 alongside the RADAR for a surround mix on Travis Tritt allowed me to compare the sonic differences of both machines. On the RADAR, high-frequency transients were smooth and the width of stereo sources were natural and open, but the 3348 lacked the high-frequency content and the round, full low end. I am sure it might have been a more favorable comparison if this had been Sony's much-improved new 3348HR, but that would also bring up editing speed, size and price.

The RADAR II, compared to an analog source, translates very well. This could be credited to the quality of the Crystal chipsets used for A/D and D/A conversion. By the way, for digital-to-digital transfers, I use an Otari UFC-24 (Universal Format Converter). This unit can handle 24-to-24 transfers of AES, ADAT Lightpipe, TDIF, PD from any source to any source. The UFC-24 has solved most of my transfer problems over the past year. I have transferred from all these formats to the RADAR without a problem. As a future upgrade, Otari will be offering a board for the RADAR that will have multiple channels of AES/EBU as another source of I/O.

I can say that the RADAR II has been virtually crash-free. Data has been safe, secure, and the construction is very roadworthy. The sound quality, reliability, and Otari's history and reputation will make the RADAR II at home in many commercial studios, post houses and project studios everywhere. At $24,950, what can you find that compares in functionality and audio performance? It's here, immediately available, and it works.

Otari Corporation, 8236 Remmet Ave., Canoga Park, CA 91304; 818/598-1200; fax 818/594-7208; www.otari.com.