DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATIONOriginally an Australian company based in Sydney but now headquartered in the U.S., DSP Media Inc. is well-known in high-end professional audio circles as a manufacturer of audio post-production systems. Now in its second generation, the recently introduced Postation II is a sleek looking, all-in-one audio production center that combines dedicated hardware controls with a touch screen interface to provide a comprehensive, fast and easy-to-navigate digital audio workstation.
The Postation II is a fully integrated system consisting of three primary sections: the Digital Editing Processor (DEP); the Non-Linear Digital Video Processor (NLV); and the Digital Mixer (composed of the VCS Virtual Control Surface and the DMP Digital Mixing Processor). Additionally, a fourth section – the Monitor section (MP-1) – ties closely into the digital mixer. While the Postation II may be categorically divided, it should be noted that it is a fully integrated system, with the emphasis on integration; the company’s intent was to create a system that gives audio engineers the ability to execute commonly required digital audio tasks from one integrated station. Control processing for the DEP, VCS, MP-1 and NLV are five rackspaces each; the DMP unit is 3U and the VCS power supply is another two rackspaces.
My observations during a comprehensive, hands-on session at the company headquarters indicated that speed and integration were paramount in the Postation II design. If you are performing recording/editing tasks, then you work with the DEP. If you’re locating to timecode or performing other video-related operations, then you work at the NLV. Finally, all mixing and monitoring functions take place at the VCS.
All operations cross-reference the three divisions of the Postation II. So if you locate to a particular video frame with the NLV, then the DEP positions itself to the corresponding timecode address, while all mixing, monitoring and automation aspects similarly follow suit. This way, as you move from one component within the Postation II to another, you are always exactly where you need to be, and every aspect of operation is touch screen-accessible.
THE DIGITAL EDITING PROCESSORThe centerpiece of the system, the DEP, can be configured for 16, 24 or 32 tracks at 44.1 and 48 kH, with 16 to 24-bit resolution.
With its associated buttons and switches positioned directly in front of the editing processor’s display, the DEP’s keypad is referred to as the “Speed Console.” This control surface has been ergonomically designed to accommodate one-handed operation. The system’s transport controls and various editing functions are logically arranged so that your fingers can access a surprising number of actions, while requiring very little actual movement of your arm. At the heart of this area is a large scrub wheel. The illuminated buttons in the upper left represent the track-select keys, while the 10-key pad is used to enter timecode addresses and locate points and related parameters.
The Postation II opens into the AudiOS production environment, the operating system designed to work exclusively with audio. The editor uses its own unique interface, as opposed to employing a Windows or Mac-based interface. This is a hybrid system using an Intel motherboard for processing that is complemented by DSP’s own proprietary boards. This arrangement enables DSP to swap out older motherboards as newer, faster CPUs become available, without having to modify other components to gain faster processing capabilities. At the component level, the Postation II operates on DOS (for fast boot-up) – but this is only evident when it is first started or when a support technician steps the user through diagnostic routines in order to check the system.
One of the most important aspects of Postation II’s operation is that there are dedicated function keys for every task. This enables the operator to work quickly, because there are no nested menus to wade through in order to access a particular function. DSP refers to this method of operation as “single action editing.”
The Postation II’s display area consists of a single page for all functions, making the system quite intuitive. As all edit, locate and transport parameters are located directly beneath the screen area on the Speed Console, there is no need to access different display screens for different functions. The design concept was to make every aspect of editing as fast as possible.
The editing processor’s display area is split into three segments. The Track Window is the top portion of the display area where you can see all 32 tracks laid out according to where they fall within the overall timeline of the audio. Audio data (or audio clips) is represented by elongated blocks. You can also have waveform displays on the Track Window. This screen provides start and end information, along with the particular audio clip’s name. A vertical line (cursor) that spans the Track Window from top to bottom represents the play head – enabling you to see precisely when any one segment of audio data is about to play.
Beneath the Track Window is the second part of the display, the Scroll area. Most editing takes place here, as this area shows the waveform for the currently selected track. By selecting different views, you can – for example – reduce the Track Window to show eight tracks of audio clip information, along with two tracks of waveform data. These two waveforms can represent a stereo pair, two adjacent mono tracks or two non-adjacent tracks.
Along the bottom of the screen, the third section of the editing processor’s display consists of the Smart Window, which shows the system’s In/Out Marker points, current timecode address, Clock status and additional parameters. The Smart Window display changes depending on the particular task. The display panel shows the machine setup status of the total environment, LED ladders for individual tracks and a host of additional views. When writing automation moves, the Smart Window displays miniature fader moves, in addition to the actual moving faders on the adjacent mixing/monitoring component.
On the far right of the Smart Window is the Overview, a collapsed view of the current project. The highlighted yellow section of this collapsed view represents that portion of the total project that is displayed on the upper Track Window. Beneath this area, the system provides data entry prompts, the current project’s name and edit status information.
The Postation II’s editing processor provides an array of DSP functions, including time compression/expansion, pitch shift, varispeed, reverse clip, gain adjust, compression, gate and limiter. Mixing DSP functions – such as reverb, delay and chorus – are handled by the mixing processor. Therefore, when working at the Postation II, it is important to distinguish between your various tasks. If you want to perform mixing, then you focus your efforts to the left portion of the system at the Digital Mixer/Monitoring Section. If you seek to de-ess and normalize dialog, then you focus on the Digital Editing Processor.
WORKING WITH SAMPLE LIBRARIESFor accessing and working with your sample libraries, the DEP’s Quick Import function is a process where sound effects can be loaded into the system, organized in the database by category and keyword and made readily accessible. The Quick Import button calls a list of sound effects that are currently in the background and places that list in the editor’s Smart Window.
You can search for particular types of sound effects, then audition the desired sound effect in context. When you find the sound that’s just right, pressing the Select key makes that sound effect a permanent component of your project.
DSP Media is currently expanding this system to include Quick FX, a system similar to the CDDB commercial CD database that identifies a disc’s content solely by its unique ID. Once incorporated, Quick FX will be able to identify sound effects CDs and capture all the pertinent content (such as file name, size, duration, etc.) and retrieve that data so that it becomes part of your Postation II effects library – sparing you from the drudgery of having to import, label and otherwise identify your files.
THE NLVThe NLV section handles the video portion of your project and functions as a picture-driven locator for the entire system. The NLV revolves around a touch screen interface. The entire control interface is occupied by pictures – more specifically, frames from your project that can be “jumped” to by simply touching the picture. It should be re-iterated that if you scrub video, audio scrubs right along with it.
The NLV is divided into two primary sections. The main picture window in the display shows the video in context (you would also typically use a larger external video monitor), while 20 locate tiles surround the main picture. These “tiles” are your timecode locators. Touching any one of the 20 pictures instantaneously transports picture, audio and mix data to the associated timecode address. Capturing a location is as easy as pressing Mark and touching a blank tile. This approach enables the operator to work with visual cues, as opposed to always focusing on timecode.
The NLV also includes an ADR mode for dialog replacement that provides onscreen text, visual cues to prepare the talent for record entry, along with countdowns and beep tones. The NLV can be used to drop the DEP into record – enabling the operator to work from the NLV during an ADR session. Takes can be accumulated into a “clip stack” and reviewed directly from the NLV, with the DEP automatically following. Further, as every audio track is precious, the NLV also has the ability to capture an audio guide track, thus freeing up the DEP for actual production work.
While most audio post-production is done to a “locked” video, there are occasions when a producer may decide to cut a segment or make some other edit. For such purposes, the NLV includes basic video editing capability – enabling you to perform these tasks at the Postation II. If you delete a three-second segment of video via the NLV, the Postation II automatically deletes the associated audio and mix data. Because digitizing video into a random-access system is a real-time process, the NLV’s editing functions can save substantial amounts of time should any unforeseen changes be required.
THE DIGITAL MIXERThe mixer portion of the Postation II is divided into two elements. First, there’s the VCS, which consists of the moving faders, touch screen interface and its own processor. The Digital Mixer’s audio engine is the DMP (Digital Mixing Processor), a 32×32 mix engine. To the left of the VCS is the MP-1 and its Speed Monitor controller, which itself has 48 digital and 24 analog inputs and can accommodate up to eight multiformat mix stems. There are eight keys available to select your various mixes. (More on this in a moment.)
On the VCS, the screen aligns with the hardware faders, providing 16 on-screen channels at a time (known as a fader bank) that corresponds directly to the hardware faders below. The upper left screen area shows the user the available fader banks – with support for up to 96 channels. For reference purposes, this display also shows the fader positions within each bank. This area tracks the real-time movement of the faders, enabling you to see at all times precisely what’s going on in any fader bank.
The onscreen display shows all the various EQ, pan and aux sends on a per-channel basis. There are two dynamics banks per channel with a full assortment of processors, including compressor, limiter and expander, among others. There is also sidechain capability.
As the system is optimized for surround sound mixing and monitoring, the Postation II’s pan control is referred to as the Sound Field, identified by an onscreen rectangular box. To position a sound (track) within the Sound Field, simply move your finger to the desired position onscreen. The Postation II also provides an active hardware knob and button for this purpose. Furthermore, the system includes a Divergence parameter for positioning a track just in the center speaker, as opposed to the center of the left-right field.
As a sound for picture production tool, the Postation II’s surround sound panner (Sound Field) can be positioned onto the NLV video screen. This gives you the ability to move, for example, the sound of a train from left to right as the corresponding picture moves across screen, tracing the position of your sound as the picture progresses.
All sound positioning, EQ, dynamics and other parameter adjustments are automatically written and saved into the Postation II’s automation system, which, along with scene recall, is stored in the DEP. The Postation II provides dynamic and snapshot automation.
The Postation II incorporates a sophisticated bus matrix capable of providing simultaneous, multiformat mixing for output and monitoring. Multiple audio formats – including mono, stereo, 4-channel (Dolby Pro Logic), 5.1 (Dolby Digital, DTS, DVD) and 7.1 (SDDS) – are supported. The VCS display shows the bus outputs, aux sends, metering and a real-time EQ curve, in addition to dynamic settings. While providing a number of controllable parameters, the Postation II is capable of, for example, creating a “downmix” from 5.1 to stereo and, similarly, makes the necessary adjustments to accommodate other mix formats.
With its 32 output buses, the system can output multiple mix formats and control up to three transports via Sony 9-pin protocol. This enables you to dump mix stems to a DA-98HR and perhaps a mix minus (dialog) to Digital Betacam in a single pass.
AVAILABLE OPTIONSFor networking multiple Postation IIs, DSP Media offers the Total Editing And Mixing (TEAM) system, which provides a means of integrating multiple units via a high-speed Local Area Network. With TEAM, projects can be shared among the various interconnected systems in real time, while providing access to a RAID array server for central file access and storage.
To facilitate file transfers between two Postation IIs, DSP Media provides AVtransfer, a comprehensive Windows NT-based OMF (Open Media Framework) file interchange utility. The application facilitates faster-than-real-time transfers between the DEP and other OMF-compatible devices.
SO WHAT’S THE WORD?Cool – very cool, in fact. The Postation II provides a wealth of features in a surprisingly easy-to-graspinterface. The abundance of visual feedback, coupled with dedicated function keys and an intuitive touch screen interface makes the Postation II a first-rate audio post tool. The system’s visual appearance is as state-of-the-art as it gets, and the layout of both hardware and software makes sense from beginning to end.
Pricing begins around $77k to $233k for a large system featuring 96 inputs/64 bus outputs, group processing and 32-track editor. A typical 32-track editor/32-output mixer system is approximately $148k.
Cheap? Not exactly – but if you’re serious about a new, high-end DAW, you owe it to yourself to test drive the DSP Media Postation II.
DSP Media Inc., 11330 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604; 818/487-5656; www.dspmedia.com.
DIGITAL AUDIO16, 24 or 32 tracks16, 20 or 24-bit32/44.1/48kHz sample ratesAES/EBU I/Os on DB-25 connectors
DIGITAL MIXING32, 64 or 96 inputs6-band parametric EQ, twin filters and dynamics32 outs – assignable between aux, group and mix busesOptional EQ & dyn bus processingVCS moving fader console with touch screen control24-bit D/A and A/D, as required
MACHINE CONTROLSingle port (RS-422 Sony protocol)3-port group machine control (RS-422 Sony protocol)
SURROUND SOUNDMonitoring32 digital inputs from mixer48 AES/EBU tape returns24 analog tape returnsUp to 8-channel monitoringBus/Tape switching4 speaker sets (2×8, 2xStereo)
DIGITAL VIDEOMotion JPEG compressionFull sync with the digital editorTouch screen controlADR and foreign dialog modesPicture editingAudio/video cut sync feature
POSTATION II DIMENSIONSFootprint: 102.4×47-inches (WxD)