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Choosing a Multichannel Digital Audio Workstation

As digital technology has spread throughout the audio world, so random-access systems have appeared for almost every audio application, from PCMCIA-based portables for location recording to completely automated systems for overnight music broadcast. And as far as digital audio workstations (DAWs) for multichannel recording and editing are concerned, the potential purchaser is positively spoilt for choice.

As digital technology has spread throughout the audio world, so random-access systems have appeared for almost every audio application, from PCMCIA-based portables for location recording to completely automated systems for overnight music broadcast. And as far as digital audio workstations (DAWs) for multichannel recording and editing are concerned, the potential purchaser is positively spoilt for choice.


Illustration: Kay Marshall

Choosing the most appropriate DAW may seem a daunting task, so a useful starting point is to find out what is available for what cost. There are well over 100 DAWs currently on the market, but it would be meaningless to the reader for them all to be listed in a couple of lines. Mix invited a representative sample of manufacturers to provide some basic details, along with the highlights of their systems and costs.

A natural tendency is to look for the cheapest price. But, given the number of variables involved in configuring a system for a particular application, calculating a realistic cost may prove less than straightforward. A number of questions need to be answered. For example, if you are considering a card and software solution for your existing PC platform, you will need to find out whether your CPU and storage have the required specifications and capacity, or whether they need to be upgraded or even replaced. Packages that rely solely or partially on the host processor will usually require the latest models, and it should be remembered that whichever platform is used, the number of continuous channels supported, as well as the overall performance of the system, will be highly dependent on the specifications of the hardware you use, including your disk drive(s).

What type of synchronization capabilities and I/O will you need? Will you be satisfied with the integrated mixing capabilities or will you need to mix externally, and how will you get material in and out? Is a stand-alone workstation an option for you? Are you interested in transforming an existing computer into a workstation, or purchasing a computer with digital audio applications in mind? Even if your computer has built-in audio capabilities, appropriate cards must be added if you require professional I/O and sync interfaces. What kind of display will you need? Will mouse-driven operation suffice, or will you eventually require more hands-on control?

Although the system profiles included here will not tell you everything you need to know about a particular system, they do give a general picture of the wide range of choice available in terms of system requirements, operational control, main software features, and synchronization and mixing capabilities. However, as system configuration requirements will vary, the prices, listed either for entry-level or typical full-blown configurations, serve only as a rough guide.

Unless stated otherwise, systems listed include provisions for sampling rates up to 48 kHz, up to 16-bit word lengths, and timings displayed in SMPTE timecode and absolute time. Please note that, unless stated otherwise, price bands represent cost of the system, minus PC. Also, in the interest of space, we’ve left out workstations that are purely software-based, such as Opcode’s Studio Vision Pro and Macromedia’s Deck II; and stand-alone modular multitrack recorders, such as Fostex’s Foundation and TimeLine’s MMR-8. Both types of systems have their own benefits and should also be considered in your decision-making.

Most of the profiles below do not cover the important issues of archiving, machine control, file transfer, customer support or future development plans. Those interested in more detailed listings are referred to the new 6th edition of The Tapeless Audio Directory, an international buyer’s guide to DAWs, disk-based recorders and automation systems. TTAD, available through the Mix Bookshelf, uses the same terminology throughout and covers not only all existing systems, but those soon to be launched. Listings include comprehensive technical and operational specifications, future development plans, typical configurations and costs and suppliers details. More information on TTAD can be found at the end of this article.

LESS THAN $5,000
CreamWare TripleDAT, TDAT16 and Masterport

Designed for multitracking, signal processing and CD mastering, the TripleDAT package relies on a minimum Pentium 90 platform with 16 MB RAM and 1GB drive to support up to 256 stereo tracks. The system supports real-time effects and Red Book CD writing, syncs to MTC, MIDI clock and word clock, and displays in bars and samples. Mixing includes segment- and track-based volume and pan, real-time effects, and aux channel with volume pan and effects. The TDAT16 is aimed at digital multitracking, ADAT and digital mixer environments, requires a Pentium 200 platform and Windows MM compatible MIDI interface, and provides 16 channels of ADAT I/O with optional analog I/O. MasterPort is a 4-I/O audio board for Windows, designed as an entry-level TripleDAT system supporting 16 stereo tracks. Cost: $1,798. $2,198 for TDAT16 audio board including TripleDAT V2.5 software. $998 for MasterPort. Phone 800/899-1939; visit

Digidesign Audiomedia III
Digidesign’s Audiomedia III card with Session software combine to provide real-time, nondestructive editing, with four tracks of simultaneous recording using both analog and digital inputs, plus 6-band parametric EQ, provision for 2 effects sends and 4 returns, MIDI and digital video sync and support of multiple sample rates. They can be also purchased separately; because Wave Driver software is also provided with the AM III card, it is compatible with a variety of software options from Digidesign and Digidesign development partners. Hardware requirements for the Session system are a Pentium computer with 75 MHz or greater and one free PCI slot, or DOS 6.0 or greater with either Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. Price is $795 for AM III, $199 for Session. Phone 415/842-7900; visit

Digigram Xtrack
Aimed at radio editing, multimedia editing, post-production, dubbing, CD mastering and home studio production, Xtrack supports up to 32 internal playback channels via 2 or 8 inputs, and 2 outputs. It requires a Pentium 133 platform with 24 MB RAM and 1.2GB drive, and relies on ISA or PCI bus Digigram PCX cards. The PCXpocket provides 2-channel I/O in a PC card type II format for laptops, and a separate sync card is available. It will also operate with all MPC WAVE-compliant packages and PCX-specific hardware. It syncs to RS422, LTC, video and AES/EBU. It supports level adjustment, time stretching, noise reduction, pitch shifting and EQ and can transparently mix MPEG compressed and linear data on a single track. Cost: from $2,820 for a studio system, from $2,500 for portable PCXpocket systems. Phone 703/875-9100; visit

Digital Audio Labs V8
The V8 is aimed at multitrack recording, mixing, ADAT editing, production and audio post for video. This modular hardware package supports 16 disk tracks plus 16 inputs and ADAT sync; it requires a Pentium platform with recommended 48 MB RAM, any size 7200 rpm or faster drive, and any appropriate third-party recording/editing software or DSP plug-in. The internal bus supports 24-bit word lengths, and the system sends and receives LTC, VITC and word clock, and sends MTC. It supports virtually any mixer configuration, including faders, panners, mute-solo, aux sends and receives, and internal buses, and most mixer functions and DSP effects can be automated. Cost: from around $2,500. More than 100 inputs and outputs can be added, with up to 16 active at any time. Phone 612/559-9098; visit

E-magic LOGIC Audio and Audiowerk8
Geared for both the home studio and professional music production, EMagic’s LOGIC Audio and Audiowerk8 card combine to provide recording, mixing, real-time and file-based DSP, MIDI sequencing, scoring and systems management. A configurable 24×8 mixing arrangement features 8 buses, plus 8 possible inserts per fader for adding host-based DSP. All fader and plug-in movements are automatable through MIDI editing. Minimum system requirements are either Mac 25MHz 68040 with 32 MB of RAM, or Pentium 133 with 32 MB of RAM; the system relies on the host PC for real-time DSP. Two cards can be combined to double the outputs; future expansion daughterboards will provide ADAT optical and S/PDIF I/O options. The Audiowerk8 card lists for $799; Logic Audio Mac is $799, Logic Audio Windows is $699. Phone 916/477-1051; visit

Ensoniq Digital Systems PARIS
Designed for musicians, project studios, multimedia producers, broadcast and post-production facilities, this package is available for Mac or Windows 95/NT platforms and can play back a minimum of 16 real-time tracks for each EDS-1000 PCI card installed, and up to 128 tracks of nondestructively mixed 24-bit digital audio. It relies primarily on proprietary processing, and includes the Control 16 dedicated control surface with 17 faders, EQ, aux and pan control, jog wheel, monitor level knob, and dedicated buttons. The software supports eight 16-channel submixes, signal routing, EQ, real-time effects processing and MIDI data, with automation of all mixer controls. The system syncs to MTC, external word, 256 Fs clock, LTC and VITC, and also displays in samples and bars/beats. Cost: from $2,895, excluding PC. Various analog and digital I/O and sync options are available. Phone 610/647-3930; visit

Event Electronics Layla by Echo
Layla, designed as a cost-effective solution for various applications, is a 20-bit multitrack recording, editing and mixing system based around a PCI card interface (featuring Motorola 56301 DSP power) combined with a rackmount breakout box. The system includes multitrack recording and editing software; the hardware is also compatible with many PC and Mac audio recording/editing packages. The rack box has eight balanced analog ins and ten balanced outs, with 20-bit converters. The OmniBus™ audio assignment architecture allows configuration of outputs as monitor mixes, aux sends and discrete channel outs. S/PDIF I/O is also included. Layla requires at least a 486DX4 (Pentium highly recommended) running Windows 95, with at least 8 MB of RAM; a PCI bus slot is also required. Retail is around $999. A PowerPC version is in the works. Phone 805/566-7771; visit

Korg Soundlink DRS 1212 I/O With Deck II
aThis package, aimed at home-based digital recording, supports up to 30 tracks of audio through a total of 12 inputs and outputs comprising stereo analog, ADAT optical and S/PDIF I/O. It requires a 603e or above Power Mac with PCI slots or compatible and 24 MB RAM, relying on the host processor. It includes the third-party Macromedia Deck 2.6 software. Twenty-bit word lengths are also supported. The system syncs to MIDI clock and word clock, and also displays in measures/beats and samples. Mixing functions include level, pan, EQ and effects, with fader and pan automation. Adobe Premiere format third-party effects are also supported, and the system is compatible with Cubase VST 3.5, Emagic Logic Audio and MOTU Digital Performer. Cost: $1,250. Phone 516/333-9100; visit

Metalithic Digital Wings for Audio
Designed by musicians for musicians, this package is based on Metalithic’s patented Reconfigurable Computing Technology, delivering 128 tracks of Windows 95-compatible recording for less than $1,000. Audio is saved as .WAV files, and DWA can be configured as MIDI master or slave. Standard analog I/O includes one stereo line input, one balanced mic or stereo line level input, and one stereo line out. DWA’s Way Cool Edit feature offers various DSP options, including Intuitive EQ, dynamic and time processing, noise reduction and analysis tools. An intuitive color-coded interface makes for ease of operation. The system runs on Windows 95, 32 MB of RAM and a Pentium processor or better. Cost: $799. Phone 415/332-2690; visit

Soundscape Digital Technology SSHDR-1 Version 2.0
The SSHDR-1, geared toward audio post for video, professional recording studios, broadcast and film, supports from 12 to 196 channels through 196 analog outputs plus TDIF and ADAT. All audio processing is handled by the SSHDR-1 rack unit, and the user interface comprises any 386/486 platform with 8 MB RAM and Windows 95. Third-party MIDI controllers and plug-ins are supported, and optional software for CD mastering and hardware for video capture is available. Twenty- and 24-bit word lengths are imminent; the system syncs to MTC with full chase lock, word clock, super clock and LTC/VITC via sync converter to MTC, and also displays in measures/beats. The mixer is fully customizable and features 16 buses, parametric EQ, sends, meters, routing and real-time effects plug-ins. Cost: $4,200 for SSHDR-1 12-track system with 2-in/4-out analog and S/PDIF, and 8-in/out TDIF. $11,635 for 24 tracks with 20-in/24-out plus 16-in/out ADAT/TDIF. Phone 805/658-7375; visit

Spectral Prisma
Designed for broadcast production and post-production, this 8-channel package relies on proprietary processing and DSP, and requires a Pentium-based Windows platform with recommended 32 MB RAM and 1GB internal drive. Three software interfaces are available for broadcast, multitrack production and post-production, and any MIDI hardware controller can be used in addition to the mouse. Up to 50kHz sampling is supported. The system chase locks to MTC, LTC, VITC and AES/EBU. Each mixer has two independent parametric EQs, at least two aux sends, solo, and automated fader, pan and mute. Cost: $4,425. Phone 425/487-2931; visit

Voyetra/Turtle Beach Systems Pinnacle Project Studio
Geared toward multitrack recording, this package supports unlimited virtual tracks through two outputs. It relies on the proprietary MultiSound Pinnacle DSP and the host PC processor, requiring any 486 DX2/66 with recommended 16 MB RAM and internal drive with 8 MB free for software installation and 40 MB for data. It includes dual Kurzweil synthesizers, a MIDI sequencer and a direct-to-DAT digital audio interface, with 24-bit word lengths also supported. It syncs via MIDI to MTC and SPP, and also displays in bar/beat/clicks. Mixing includes independent volume and pan, and is scalable for both MMX and non-MMX machines. Cost: $599.95. Phone 800/233 9377; visit

BETWEEN $5,000 and $25,000
Akai DD1500 Digital Audio

Aimed at audio post for video and film, as well other applications, this proprietary 16-channel system is controlled using the DL1500 remote connected via Ethernet, with optional VGA monitor and keyboard for graphic editing. It supports LTC, VITC, word clock, video sync and all rates of biphase, also displays in feet/frames and perfs, and supports serial timecode via the RS422 port. Additionally it can act as a master in a MTC, or MIDI clock w/SPP synchronized system. The internal 16-channel mixer controls level, pan and the optional 3-band parametric EQ board. Mixer functions can be controlled via the assignable front panel fader and pan control, the optional Mixer Tab with 8 faders and controls, or via MIDI for automation. Cost: from $9,990. Phone 817/336-5114; visit

Avid AudioVision
AudioVision is a cost-effective system that combines audio recording, editing, processing and playback with playback of integrated sync-locked, full-screen, full-motion digital picture. The system is available in 4-, 8- and 16-channel configurations, and offers real-time signal processing, nonlinear/ADR looping capabilities and various machine control options. It is also compatible with Avid Media Composer video editing systems. AudioVision requires an 8100/100 PowerMac; other requirements vary with system. Phone 800/949-AVID; visit

Digidesign Pro Tools
Aimed at audio post and broadcast facilities, as well as all levels of music production, Pro Tools supports from eight to 48 simultaneous tracks, and up to 64 channels of analog and/or digital I/O. Most Power Macs are supported, with Pro Tools PowerMix relying on the host processor, and Pro Tools III with TDM (a 24-bit mixing and processing environment) using proprietary DSP. A variety of third-party controllers are supported, and the internal mixer allows dynamic automation of volume, pan, reverb rooms, mutes and pitch changes. All automation can be graphically edited, and DSP plug-ins are available from almost 100 third parties. Cost: Prices start at $795 for Pro Tools PowerMix; however, large-format Pro Tools recording and mixing systems average $21,000. The product is 100% scalable. Phone 415/842-7900; visit

Doremi Labs DAWN (Digital Audio Workstation Nucleus)
DAWN, designed for audio post for video and radio production, supports eight to 64 channels in modules of eight channels. It relies on proprietary processing and requires a 68k or Power-Mac platform, with 16 MB RAM and minimum 200MB internal drive. The software supports spotting, autoconform, recording, loop-recording, editing and premixing; the system syncs to MTC, LTC, word clock, AES/EBU clock and video reference (house sync), and also displays in feet/frames. Mixing functions include level automation. Cost: depends on application. Phone 213/874-3411.

Micro Technology Unlimited Krystal MicroSound
Aimed at audio post for video, CD PQ code editing and mastering, multitrack mastering and editing, this Windows 95/NT workstation with recommended Pentium or Pentium Pro 133MHz and 32 MB RAM uses proprietary DSP processing and supports IDE or SCSI drives. Twenty- and 24-bit support are also imminent. It syncs to MTC, LTC, VITC, word clock and video blackburst, and also displays in samples. The MicroEditor software provides a trackless, unrestricted assembly environment with overlapped segments automatically mixing. Up to 22 stereo segments can be dynamically mixed and played live, and a static submix of denser areas is performed, although every segment (up to 256 stereo) is independently editable at any time. Starts around $6,590. Phone 919/870-0344; visit

Merging Technologies Pyramix Virtual Studio
Aimed at broadcast networked production, CD mastering and audio post for video, the system allows linear multichannel record and playback over industry-standard networks and supports 16 channels via the proprietary Kefren DSP card. It requires a minimum Pentium 120 platform with a full-length ISA slot, 24 MB RAM, Windows 95/NT and minimum 800MB internal drive. Optional MIDI controllers are available. Twenty-, 24- and 32-bit word lengths and up to 96kHz sampling are supported; it syncs to LTC, VITC, digital clock, word clock, and also displays in samples. The 10×2 internal mixer supports 8 live inputs, 8 disk inputs, insert point per channel, 3 aux buses with internal or external DSP, mix bus inserts, real-time dither from 24- to 8-bit with noise shaping, and moving-fader desk automation. Cost: $7,595. Phone 847/272-0500; visit

Orban Audicy
Aimed at broadcast audio for radio and TV, this proprietary system is designed for multi-user, deadline-oriented production environments. It supports 24 tracks assignable to 10 channels, and includes a custom console with dedicated controls for mixing, editing, transport and effects such as time compression, Orban EQ, Optimod compression and Lexicon reverb. Universal sample rate conversion is available on input. Audicy syncs to AES/EBU, S/PDIF, NTSC or PAL video, and word clock, can chase or generate LTC, and frame formats may be mixed within a production. It supports real-time mixing of up to 10 tracks with or without effects processing, as well as stereo submix return; external inputs may be bounced for infinite layering, and tracks bounced to themselves to change dynamics. Cost: $19,950 for a complete turnkey system, including DSP engine, 17-minute RAM Control module, 2GB hard drive, balanced analog I/O, monitor and warranty. Phone 510/351-3500; visit

Studio Audio & Video SADiE
SADiE, aimed at CD premastering, radio production, post for TV and film, comprises a Pentium-based platform, a dedicated jog/editing unit and a stackable, motorized 8-fader unit. Eighteen, 20- and 24-bit word lengths and up to 96kHz sampling are also supported; the system syncs to MTC, LTC, VITC and AES reference audio clock, and also displays in CD frames, milliseconds or samples. The system relies on proprietary processing and supports real-time crossfades on all streams. The mixer is fully configurable with routable I/O, includes dynamics and EQ and clip-based automation. Background loading/archiving and multiple file formats are supported. A variety of complete turnkey systems, costing about $11,000, are available to meet specific application requirements. Phone 615/327-1140; visit

WaveFrame 408 V6.2
Aimed at dialog, ADR, Foley, effects and music recording and editing for television and feature films, this system supports 8 to 24 channels with real-time crossfades, expandable in blocks of 8. It relies on proprietary processing and is supplied with a Pentium 133 or 200MHz platform, 16 MB RAM, PCI video, SCSI controller and 1.6GB system hard drive, with an optional hardware controller. The 408 supports editing and adjusting sync while playing, cue sheet printing, P2 machine control, EDL auto assembly and direct recording of ADR and Foley. Twenty-four-bit word lengths and 44.056 and 47.952kHz sampling are also supported; it syncs to MTC, LTC, VITC and word clock, and also displays in feet/frames. The 10×4 digital mixer includes 3-band parametric EQ and a monitor mixer that can be automated via MIDI. Mixing may be expanded by adding Peavey MediaMatrix cards for up to 100 channels. Cost: $10,000 for an 8-track system with eight I/Os. Phone 510/528-8054; visit

MORE THAN $25,000
Augan Instruments OMX 24

The OMX 24, aimed at post-production for film and video, radio production, program automation and classical music recording, is a proprietary MO-based system supporting from 4 to 96 channels. It includes the RC3 remote for basic editing, with optional RC2 for film applications or the professional RC24. The standard software supports full editing and synchronization facilities. Special modules for 16 internal tracks, cart replacement and EQ are available. Twenty-four-bit word lengths are also supported. The system syncs to LTC, VITC, biphase, AES-EBU, word clock and external clock, and also displays in feet/frames and samples. Submixing to 2 tracks and full waveform editing are supported. Cost: around $29,000 for complete OMX 24-bit system with RC24 4-in/8-out digital/analog and MO drives. Contact Sascom for details of U.S. pricing: Phone 905/825-5373; visit

AMS Neve AudioFile
Aimed at audio post for video, the AudioFile system is available in 8-, 16- or 24-channel configurations, uses proprietary transputer hardware and has a proprietary tactile control surface with color TFT screen. All editing functions, including crossfades and time compression/expansion, are adjustable in real time, and an automated dialog replacement utility and full machine control are standard. The system also supports 24-bit word lengths and NTSC variants of 44.1 and 48 kHz, syncs to LTC, VITC, word clock, video sync, and also displays in feet/frames. AudioFile can be integrated within the Logic range of digital mixing consoles, offering from 32 to more than 200 inputs. Features include 4-band fully parametric EQ, dynamics and surround panning available to every channel. All mix controls have total dynamic and snapshot automation, with motorized faders and rotary knobs. Cost: dependent on system configuration. Phone 212/949-2324; visit

Digital Audio Research Sound-Station Gold, Sigma Plus, Delta Plus, Sabre Plus and OMR8
Geared toward audio post for video and film, all of these proprietary systems except the OMR8 are available in 8- or 16-channel versions and have a custom controller with a single page display touch screen. (The OMR8 is a modular 8-track recorder.) All of the systems can be networked and have file compatibility with nonlinear video systems. Twenty-four-bit word lengths are also supported. The systems sync to LTC and word clock and display in feet/frames. SoundStation Gold includes a motorized fader surface supporting track and segment-based automation of faders and pan. Cost: around $15,000 for OMR with 8 analog I/O, 2.6GB MO or 4GB removable hard drive. Around $29,000 for an 8-channel Sabre Plus including 6.5 hours of storage, LTC, RS422 and analog and digital I/O. Phone 44/1372/742848; visit

Fairlight MFX3
Aimed at audio post for TV, motion pictures, broadcast and music, this proprietary system can be configured from 4 to 24 digital and analog inputs, and includes a dedicated console and proprietary graphics system with real-time waveform scrolling and multilayered object-based editing. The software is available as building blocks and supports functions such as multitrack editing and recording, ADR with GPO control, Red Book SCSI CD writing, Sony 9-pin machine control, EQ, timestretch, OMF support, Web networking and dub chart printing. Up to 24-bit word lengths are also supported. The MFX3 syncs to LTC, video reference, AES/EBU and word clock, and also displays in feet/
frames. Mixing includes segment-based level and 4-band parametric EQ, segment and track-based pan and track-based level. Cost: $33,150 for a full-featured system with 4-in/8-out analog and digital. Phone 310/287-1400; visit

Sonic Solutions SonicStudio
SonicStudio is a family of PCI-based Macintosh digital audio workstations customized for specific applications, including CD mastering, audio for video post, radio broadcast, sound for picture, high-definition audio and DVD premastering and authoring. SonicStudio processors can be combined to provide up to 96 channels of I/O and 144 channels of playback simultaneously in a single system. High-density SonicStudio provides 96kHz/24-bit operation with up to 4 channels of simultaneous record or playback. Various system options and configurations offer features such as PQ editing, DDP playback and loadback, automated mixing, sample-accurate editing, QuickTime/.AIFF/CMX support, and broadcast options such as time-of-day stamping. System requirements and prices vary with configuration. Phone 415/893-8000; visit

Solid State Logic Altimix
Altimix is a proprietary 48-channel system aimed at audio post for video, and it is designed as a complete audio post- production station supporting file import, record, conform, tracklay, spot, edit, mix, process, sweeten, reconform and layback sound with picture. It has a dedicated editing and mixing console. It also supports 20-bit recording at 48kHz video locked, syncs to video sync, with machine control synchronization with LTC, MTC, and 9-pin serial machine control, and displays in feet/frames. Mixing includes all major surround formats with EQ and dynamics processing in every channel, and total dynamic automation of all objects. Automation may be carried out in non-real time against integrated random-access picture. Cost: depends on application. Phone 213/463-4444; visit

Studio Audio & Video Octavia
The Octavia system is based on the 2-channel SADiE system (see above), but is available in modules of 24 channels. Like SADiE, Octavia relies on proprietary processing and supports 18-, 20- and 24-bit word lengths and up to 96kHz sampling. See SADiE information for sync and mixing features. Cost: $34,995 for a complete Octavia including 4.2GB removable drive and 17-inch monitor. Phone 615/327-1140; visit

Yasmin Hashmi and Stella Plumbridge are partners in the independent consultancy SYPHA, publisher of The Internet for Broadcasters, The Tapeless Audio Directory and The Nonlinear Video Buyers Guide. For details, phone SYPHA at 44/181/761-1042 or visit