It's the height of summertime, and everyone who isn't stuck behind a front-of-house position under a shed every night is either on or thinking about going on vacation. But as much as your spouse and children would like you to leave it behind, your audio career might have to go along with you. Laptop, sandals, cell phone, straw hat, sunblock, 4-track hard disk recorder (with built-in signal processing)...You're ready to roll.
There's no shortage of really, really portable and powerful audio stuff to take with you. Here are a few examples:
Tascam's US-428, a USB-supported controller for your laptop-based hard drive recorder, complete with analog and mic inputs, EQ, 24-bit D/A and A/D converters, and selectable 44.1 or 48kHz sampling rate. It comes bundled with Steinberg's Cubasis sequencing software for PC and Mac. (And it actually uses the sand that gets into the unit to add grit for simulated analog sounds.)
Roland's ED U-8 Digital Studio is a complete PC-based hard disk recording system. The U-8 front panel design includes sliders, faders, transport controls and pan pots, providing direct control of software mix and control functions. Desktop recording is made easy with an interactive four-step "EZ" recording function. Simply press the EZ record button and it will guide you through the record process from selecting an input source, adding digital effects, to adjusting your record levels. The ED U-8 is equipped with more than 130 onboard 24-bit DSP effects, including amp simulation, compression, distortion, chorus, reverb, delay, EQ and noise suppression with three assignable effect knobs on the U-8. And it has an onboard guitar tuner (really!), which is useful for sing-alongs on the beach. Years of training and experience reduced to the level of operating a Coke machine-what more could you ask for on vacation?
Fostex's VF-16 is a fully integrated digital multitrack recorder and digital mixer, offering 16 input channels, 16-track recording (24 using FDMS-3 format) with noncompressed 16-bit, 44.1kHz, CD-quality recording. Up to three hours of recording time per GB are offered, as well as 24-bit stereo A.S.P. effects, 32-bit processing and mixing, and superior digital effects. Each of the 16 input channels has channel-on, pan, 3-band EQ with parametric midrange, compressor, effects send and two aux sends, which are selectable pre/post. We found that the optional Pina Colada conduit seemed to go a little heavy on the rum, but what the hell, we're on vacation!
Want to hear what you're doing over the crash of the waves on the beach (or the crashing of the .WAVs in the hotel room, when foreign electrical grids send random 40-megaton power surges into the hotel room nightly)? Try Roland's MA-150U USB stereo Micro Monitors, which are "plug and play" for connection to a PC via a single cable; they provide a digital connection via USB interface. There's also a headphone jack so you don't keep the family awake. (A forthcoming software-based plug-in option will also order room service.)
The best little lightweight mixer I found wasn't at MARS or Manny's, but at Lechter's, the fabulous kitchen supply place found in every mall west of the Sudan. The identity of the manufacturer was unclear, since the only specifications on the unit itself were the words "Hecho en Mexico" and a few less-than-scientifically precise measuring marks along the side (though these were helpfully imprinted in dual scales, both U.S. and metric, making the mixer compatible for both the NTSC and PAL formats). operationally, you couldn't ask for anything simpler, based on the matchbook-sized manual that accompanies this unit (thoughtfully provided in English, French, Spanish, German and Tagalog): "Add Pina Colada mix and rum, tighten aluminum top, shake vigorously, open (bang on rock if too tight!), pour drink. Repeat often." The lack of equalization, MIDI control, serial ports and any kind of software upgrade path were initially disappointing. But after several passes through the machine's operation, we found that we couldn't care less. We're on vacation!