Despite an alarming number of proprietary file formats, hardware configs and CPU implementations, today’s recording devices are moving toward an ever-global interconnectivity. Industry standards and manufacturing alliances are expanding, and no workstation is truly an audio island unto itself — or is it? The music, post and mastering production systems highlighted here bristle with the AES/EBU, VITC, SMPTE and 9-pin ports that pave an open lane between platforms. But this guide focuses on stand-alone systems — digital audio workstations that require little more than a monitor, keyboard and an AC strip (or five) to power-up.
Because we are focusing on turnkey systems, this list does not include software-only solutions. And Digidesign’s Pro Tools, Soundscape’s R.Ed 24 and Sonic Solutions’ SonicStudio aren’t listed here, because they are not offered in a turnkey bundle with a Mac or PC. Also, compact all-in-one hardware workstations like Yamaha’s AW4416, Fostex’s D-2424 or Akai’s DPS24 have been excluded, because they don’t provide an option for displaying all record, edit, mix, effects and mastering functions on an SVGA monitor. It’s worth noting that Wave Digital’s e-commerce site is a pull-down menu dream that helps users easily build turnkey solutions from a host of software, hardware and computer manufacturers’ products, but, for the reasons given, it is not described below.
However, if you’re a post, music recording or mastering pro looking for a powerful, “one stop” desktop system, then you should find what you’re looking for. There’s something here for any budget — prices run from a modest $3,000 to more than the cost of a middle-class home!
Akai’s DD1500 ($10,000 to $15,000) is a modular system configurable for a variety of post facilities and high-end music production studios. The core of the system is the DD1500m Signal Processor Unit that handles multiple clock sources, all timecode synchronization tasks and digital I/O with four AES/EBU connectors (expandable to 12). The 1500m supports 32 audio channels and can create simultaneous real-time crossfades on 16 tracks. The DD1500’s Remote Control Surface includes numerous dedicated parameter buttons, an audio/video jog wheel for scrubs, and can play traffic cop for up to 16 Akai DD8 Digital Dubbers and other post equipment. A digital storage unit with room for two fixed or removable SCSI hard drives is also part of Akai’s top-of-the-line workstation, and magneto optical disks recorded on the company’s DD1000, DR8, DD8 and DR16 machines are more than welcome in a DD1500 solution.
Previously managed by Sascom of Canada and now marketed on an exclusive worldwide basis by the newly formed Cube Technologies GmbH (Cube-Tec), the average multichannel AudioCube 5 system is debuting for slightly more than its $30,000 AudioCube 4-II predecessor. All development is still being handled by HDA (Houpert Digital Audio) in Germany.
The all-in-one AudioCube 5, which is used by the Smithsonian for the “Save America’s Treasures” and “Smithsonian Folkways Recordings” programs, comes with a dual 1GHz Pentium III system, Windows 2000, a removable 36GB IBM audio drive and 9GB system drive, 40× CD-ROM, 12× CD writer, dual video display, 24 channels of 24-bit/96kHz AES/EBU digital I/O, and VITC and LTC, among other goodies (a 56-channel MADI interface card is due this summer and will be available as an alternate to the current AES/EBU card). SurroundCube users will be glad to know those features, including tools and Virtual Precision Instruments (VPI) for multichannel DVD-A work, will be incorporated in the overall AC 5 system, and Steinberg’s Wavelab 3.03 and NUENDO 1.5 software will both be included as standard equipment, along with PitchBandit, DeClicker, Surround-PAN, LFE Manager and other VPI modules.
Quadriga ($25,000 average system) remains in the AudioCube family as Cube-Tec’s 2-channel audio archival and restoration workhorse, an automated capture station for quality-controlled A/D conversion of sound archives to DAT, CD-R and digital mass storage systems.
DSP Media offers two high-end, post-production workstations. Starting at around $117,000, Postation II features sleek hardware surfaces and ergonomically amazing dedicated controls — it’d be right at home on the bridge of the Enterprise. (See Roger Maycock’s “Field Test” in Mix’s December 2000 issue for a thorough description.) Random-access video editing is standard equipment, as is a 32×32 modular digital mixing engine that’s scalable to 96 audio channels. Also included in this 24-bit record/edit machine are the company’s Digital Mixing Processor and Non-Linear Video Recorder/Player modules, each with its own SGI high-definition 1600×1024 touchscreen display and the MP-1 Surround Sound Processor, the latter bringing a comprehensive bus matrix and simultaneous multiformat mixing, output and monitoring to the post-production dinner table. Postation II is available with the new DMP engine (PX System) or in its PY System configuration, the latter incorporating up to two Yamaha 02R digital mixers in lieu of the DMP interface. Also available from DSP Media is the Desktop System, a “trimmed-down” version of the Postation starting at $70,000 that includes the company’s Digital Editing Processor, Speed Console interface, keyboard/mouse and Non-Linear Video Processor.
Designed for stand-alone 24/48-track recording or used with the TEC Award-winning System 5 digital console, the Euphonix R-1 supports all formats up to 24-bit/96 kHz and includes a 12×12 MADI router — essentially a 768-channel matrix for real-time routing over distances of up to 150 feet. The R-1 is available in numerous versions — with or without converters — and a 24-track system is easily upgradable to 48 tracks. Three control combinations are offered, depending on whether the user requires a screen/mouse/trackball/keyboard/etc. New for the R-1 is Version 3.0 software, which integrates the system into a networked environment by sharing with other workstations via Broadcast .WAV files. Also, Euphonix plans to support AES-31 file interchange in Version 4.0.
A long-standing member of the stand-alone DAW club is Fairlight. Included with the company’s FAME2 ($116,000 base) and Prodigy2 ($83,000 base) systems and available as an upgrade path for its Prodigy ($69,000 base) and recording-only workstations is Fairlight’s new QDC Technology. Released in November 2000, QDC’s specs push the envelope of high-quality audio right out the window. Sub-nanosecond jitter provides a clock system that exceeds AES specifications for measurement reference regardless of sync source, and the company claims editing and recording commands respond with no perceptible delay. See Barry Rudolph’s “Technology Spotlight” on page 112 for more details.
Now available in a 48-track version, Merlin is a stand-alone 24-bit (96kHz-capable) recorder/editor with synchronized waveform display and full edit tools. Users can select from analog or AES/EBU digital I/O, and the system can interface via MediaLink to multiple MFX3plus, FAME and Prodigy workstations, Merlin recorders, outside file servers and Windows- or Mac-based DAWs for seamless file sharing.
The FAME2 Fairlight Audio Mixer/Editor) workstation provides up to 48 record/mix tracks and 48 long-throw, motorized faders, up to 32 output buses, a 96kHz sample rate throughout, and as many as 48 analog and AES/EBU digital audio I/Os. The Prodigy2 features the same sample rate options, up to 32 record/mix tracks and 32 channels of AES/EBU and analog I/O, and a 16-fader control surface. The original Prodigy provides a 24-track recording/mixing engine upgradable to 32, a 12-bus mixer upgradable to 24-bus and 16 motorized faders. Each Fairlight system comes with LTC I/O, 4-band EQ and dynamics processing on each channel, compressor/limiters on all mix buses, integrated stereo and surround sound monitoring, and varying amounts of dynamic automation, mutes, pans and aux sends per channel. Whew.
Here’s another distribution/nameplate change: iZ Technology, developers of the TEC Award-winning RADAR II random-access digital audio recorder formerly distributed by Otari, is now handling its own distribution and direct sales. For $4,995, the new RADAR 24’s base system comprises a rackmountable audio engine capable of 48, 96 and 192kHz recording at 24-bit resolution, a BeOS-driven software backbone and a QWERTY-like control keyboard. Twenty-four channels of TDIF and two channels of AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital I/O are standard equipment, as are a 9GB removable SCSI drive, integrated 100-BaseT Ethernet, and backward file compatibility with RADAR I and II systems. Any standard SVGA monitor plugs right into the back of the RADAR 24 base unit, and though not required, any Mac or PC can control a stack of RADARs via MIDI machine control.
iZ’s optional Session Controller ($1,195) sports hardware transport controls, a jog wheel, and dedicated edit and macro keys, and a 24-channel meter bridge can be attached atop the controller for $495. A 24-channel/96kHz AES/EBU card ($995) is available, and the same 48kHz analog I/Os found on the earlier RADAR units can be had in the form of an add-on card ($1,695). The company’s RADAR 48 is also available (price TBD), with the choice of two removable 9GB drives or one 18GB SCSI drive per base unit, and an optional 48-channel AES/EBU digital interface card can be added to the included 48 channels of TDIF I/O.
The Mackie HDR24/96 is a 24-bit/24-track recorder/editor that can function as a stand-alone unit or be fitted with a standard S-VGA monitor, PC keyboard and mouse for more extensive editing and control. An internal 20GB drive is standard; a second bay accepts interchangeable media, such as Mackie’s M90 22GB removable hard drives or 2.2GB Mackie PROJECT cartridges. Retail is $4,999; optional I/O cards — priced from $99/each — handle analog/ADAT/TDIF/AES interfacing. The deck supports 12-track/96kHz recording in double-wire mode, fed from third-party 96kHz ADCs. Standard features include MIDI/SMPTE sync, with a built-in 100BaseT Ethernet port for transfering tracks to another Ethernet-equipped computer or server. For more info on the Mackie HDR24/96, see the review in last month’s Mix.
Otari continues to refine and expand its RADAR II 24-bit/24-track recorder/editor, with a host of new features and enhancements. The system is based around a rackmount main unit with a 48-track-capable RE-8 II remote controller/keyboard/meter bridge. A 9GB onboard disk is standard (additional drives can be added via a rear-panel SCSI connector), and sync lock includes all SMPTE/EBU timecode rates/formats, video composite (NTSC and PAL) and word clock. The latest V2.12 software adds waveform display, DVD-RAM support and several operational tweaks. Existing users may require a hardware upgrade to access the new features. Otari plans numerous system updates, including a 24-channel AES/EBU I/O card, MADI, a 96kHz Turbo card and a RAID array.
Joining the Akai and Yamaha offerings in the compact hardware workstation category is Roland’s new VS-2480 ($4,495). Recently announced at Winter NAMM 2001, the latest mega-member of Roland’s VS family lays claim to being the first self-contained workstation offering 24 tracks of 24-bit/96kHz audio in tandem with a 64-channel digital mixer, onboard effects processing and optional CD burner. Any VGA monitor and the included mouse plug into the 2480’s back panel (no add-on card required) to join the unit’s 17 motorized faders as one compact, little, ergonomic hardware wonder. SMPTE and Word Clock input, dual-stereo effects processors (expandable to eight), eight balanced XLR and 16 balanced TRS inputs, and a drag-and-drop, mouse-driven environment round out the VS-2480’s bullet list.
SADiE’s new 4.0 software update, which now supports all Microsoft Windows operating systems and is fully compatible with Mac audio disks and proprietary EDL formats without the need for file translations, is featured in the company’s ARTEMiS ($15,495 base), 24-96 ($12,995 base) and RADiA ($7,495 base) stand-alone turnkey solutions. The new software also supports SADiE and DirectX plug-ins, 96- and 192kHz sampling rates on any SADiE hardware, 5.1 surround mixing and 32-bit audio resolution throughout each system.
The company’s 24-96 and ARTEMiS systems come complete with a 667MHz Pentium III rackmounted PC, 10GB drive, 17-inch monitor, 40× CD-ROM drive, and a keyboard and mouse. Four-channel RS422 and timecode cards are included, as are Rorke data drives, an external SCSI interface and SADiE 4.0 software. The 24-96 provides up to 32 audio I/Os, LTC/VITC support and eight channels of analog I/O with an optional XLR breakout box; it is also available as a portable “lunchbox”-style Pentium III, starting at $16,495. Boasting three times the DSP power of the workhorse 24-96 is ARTEMiS, which offers multitasking capabilities for background recording and backup routines, and two removable 9GB SCSI drives come as standard equipment. Rounding out SADiE’s stand-alone workstation team is RADiA, which features the previously described Pentium III-based PC system and is based on the original SADiE Classic workstation. Capable of recording 24 tracks of compression-free 24-bit/48kHz audio onto removable SCSI drives via four balanced analog XLR, AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital I/Os, RADiA is also sold as a single PCI card for existing SADiE systems.
Priced from $3,999, the Tascam MX-2424 is a disk-based, 24-bit recorder/editor offering 24-tracks at 44.1/48 kHz or 12-track operation at 96 kHz. Multiple four-rackspace unit can lock together for more tracks, and each unit includes onboard MIDI and LTC SMPTE synchronization, and standard S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital I/O. A planned upgrade of its MX-View software for the PC or Mac will add full-function editing with waveform views and onscreen control of multiple MX-2424s. Card slots allow the user to add various optional I/O cards ADAT/TDIF/analog/AES/etc. Other features include a jog/shuttle wheel, an onboard 9.1GB drive (45 minutes of 24-bit recording), an open slot for a second internal drive, a SCSI port for adding external devices and a Smart Media Flash ROM card for loading system updates. (For more details, see the MX-2424 review in the October 2000 Mix.)
FrameWorks/DX from WaveFrame is a potent 24-bit workstation with up to 96kHz sampling, 64 disk channels and several turnkey configurations. Pentium III-based rackmount systems start at $9,495 for a unit with 16 channels of digitaloptical I/O. Also available is MADI I/O (64 channels on a single optical or coax cable) and AES/EBU I/O (for up to 34 channels of 96kHz). Optional plug-ins include Reverb, TimeStretch, Dolby Digital AC-3 and DTS 5.1 Surround encoding and Denoising/Declicking — total price depends on components chosen. Dual-monitor display, an 18GB Ultra 160 SCSI drive and 128MB RAM are standard, and each system can be upgraded with a dual-CPU PC and removable Kingston audio drives. Full mix automation of all parameters, classic WaveFrame-style editing, and 10-band and parametric EQ are included, as are multiband dynamics processors, CD mastering, 5.1 surround panning, a user-configurable digital mixer and an open architecture that also supports DirectX plug-ins. The new WaveFrame/7 system, based on the post-production workhorse WaveFrame 408+ recently put out to pasture, is worth noting in brief here. Based on the same rackmount CPU options, WaveFrame/7 promises 24-bit audio up to 96 Khz and a host of power tools like the WaveFrame Sound Selector database, cue sheet printing, and special spotting, logging and ADR modes. Pricing for turnkey systems starts at $11,495.
Offering several “studio-in-a-box” turnkey solutions, Xytar includes microphones, cables, a modem and even a preconfigured Website with its family of Cyrix 400MHz, Duron 900MHz and Thunderbird 1.4GHz-based rackmount audio engines. The company’s ADMS 32HD series of 32-track/96kHz studios range from an $8,999, 20-bit version with eight analog I/Os and a 9GB Jaz drive, to a 24-bit, 32 I/O, 37GB drive package for $17,499. Each ADMS 32HD system includes one of the CPUs, a 17-inch high-res monitor, keyboard/mouse, analog and S/PDIF digital I/O and a 32-channel Xytar mic mixing console. An additional 2GB removable Jaz drive, 32× CD reader and 2× CD-RW drive are also onboard, and the company’s Music Webcaster package with MP3 encoding software, Netscape Communicator, a 56k internal modem and a ready-to-post music Website package is included for easy links to existing music sites.
The company’s new musician-oriented IBMS32 workstation ($2,499) features two analog I/O connectors, a 16-track console and the same base system as the ADMS line, sans the Music Webcaster package. Also new is Xytar’s DMS4848 CDR system (starting at $29,499 for the 20-bit version), a 48-channel solution that provides simultaneous recording on 48 tracks, a 48-channel console and — you guessed it — a 48GB removable Winchester SCSI hard drive. The company’s Sight-Impaired Users Option, a $2,000 hardware/software package featuring proprietary voice command and read-back technology, is a boon to those not so fortunate. Right on.
Randy Alberts is a musician, engineer and writer exploring music and recording technology in his Pacifica, Calif.-based studio.