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Alesis MasterLink ML-9600: 24-bit/96kHz Hard Disk/CD-R Mastering Recorder

Alesis is no stranger to breakthrough technologies. Its 1991 debut of the ADAT digital multitrack sparked a revolution that continues to this day. And

Alesis is no stranger to breakthrough technologies. Its 1991 debut of the ADAT digital multitrack sparked a revolution that continues to this day. And rather than base that product on esoteric, proprietary media, Alesis designed the ADAT to use low-cost, readily available S-VHS tapes, which made it an instant hit. Now, Alesis is poised to do the same thing for mixdown decks, with the MasterLink ML-9600, a 24-bit/96kHz recorder/editor that stores high-resolution stereo mixes to hard disk or on conventional CD-R blanks.

Although MasterLink retails at $1,699-comparable to a studio DAT recorder-the unit goes far beyond the capabilities of a typical mixdown deck by combining a hard disk recorder, internal DSP and a CD-R burner in one unit. Its onboard 3.2GB IDE hard drive stores a minimum of 95 minutes of 24/96 stereo audio or a maximum 310 minutes at 16 bits/44.1 kHz. The CD-R burner creates disks in either standard Red Book 16-bit format for playback on any CD player, or as CD24[superscript]TM 24-bit disks. The CD24 disks are playable on the ML-9600 or readable by any ISO 9600 (Mac/Windows/Unix) CD-ROM drive for transferring its 24/96, .AIFF-format audio files to a high-end workstation.

The front panel has switches for selecting the input source, sample rate, word resolution and CD format, as well as dedicated buttons for playlist edit, track create/delete, track start/end, DSP select, track move, hard disk/CD select and standard tape recorder-type transport controls. A large vacuum fluorescent display provides metering, time displays and status monitoring.

Interfacing is simple: MasterLink’s rear panel includes analog stereo I/O on +4dB balanced XLRs and -10dB unbalanced RCAs; and digital I/O in both S/PDIF coaxial and AES formats. The front panel has a stereo headphone jack with volume control. A/D and D/A converters are high-quality, 24-bit 128-times oversampled types.

Housed in a two-rackspace unit, MasterLink seems little more complicated than a DAT machine, but beyond its basic disk recording/CD-R functions, it provides a wide range of mastering features. The unit offers a choice of sample rates (44.1/48/88.2/96 kHz) at 16/20/24-bit resolution. Onboard signal processing includes 3-band parametric EQ, compression, normalization and peak limiting, along with built-in sample rate conversion and noise shaping for creating standard 16-bit CDs from 20/24-bit files.

Editing features include the ability to create, save and recall 16 different playlists, each with up to 99 songs. Also within MasterLink’s editing toolbox is a gain control for each track, cropping functions for defining exact start/end points, and Join and Split features for combining or separating song sections. MasterLink’s onboard CD-R drive also offers the ability to upload new software, and Alesis plans future updates to expand the system’s capabilities.

The CD creation process is straightforward. Once tracks are edited or DSP’d to taste, the user simply selects CD24 or Red Book format, and a single button-push starts the internal Matsushita 4x CD-R, creating a full CD in about 20 minutes. Standard 16-bit CDs store up to 74 minutes; obviously, with its increased data requirements, a CD24 disc has a maximum capacity of about 26 minutes at 24/96.

One advantage that MasterLink offers over conventional mastering decks-whether DAT or analog 2-track-is the system’s ability to create backups of itself. Once recordings are captured to disk, the unit can burn as many CDs (or CD24s) as required, for safeties, archiving or simply having extra copies for the band or for distribution to clients, record labels, radio, etc.

Suited for a variety of applications, ranging from studio recording and mastering, to broadcast, live theater and audio post use, the Alesis MasterLink marks an important step in creating a high-resolution stereo recording solution that’s flexible, versatile and based on standard, low-cost media. When it begins shipping (slated for the end of this quarter), at a retail price of $1,699, the MasterLink ML-9600 will definitely generate a lot of interest from project and professional studio users everywhere.

Alesis, 1633 26th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404; 310/255-3400; fax 310/255-3401;