Alesis ADAT - Affordable Digital Multitrack (part 4)
Set up and recording
As I said earlier, I have the privilege of testing two ADATs, which means that my trusty Fostex E16 has been able to sit in a quiet corner for a while (Im currently considering its future!). The manual suggests that ADATs can be rack mounted without the need for spaces between them and other equipment as long as the cabinet is not enclosed. I simply stacked them up in a corner of my master keyboard/sequencer table.
One of the key features of ADAT is its inherent synchronisability (if there isnt such a word then Ive just invented it). Buy one ADAT and you have an eight track system, buy two for sixteen, three for twenty-four and - counts up on his fingers - as many as sixteen ADATs to make up a 128 track digital recorder. I wondered whether syncing ADATs would be as complex and bothersome as synchronisation usually is, but no - all I had to do was connect a 9-pin connector on one machine to a similar looking connector on the other. If I had more ADATs, I could have continued the chain. If anyone had told me that this would be all there is to it I wouldnt have believed them, but it is and it works. In most synchronised systems, after a complex setting up procedure, you have to worry about the slave catching up with the master all the time, and when you press the play button you have to suffer several seconds of agony as the playback speed of the slave is slewed up and down to bring it into sync. Here, you just plug in and go, the slave is virtually always in the same place as the master so the time to lock up is usually three seconds or less, and the output from the slave is muted until lock is achieved. Its almost as good as having a single machine under your control, and in fact splitting the recording across two tapes can have some advantages since you can for instance record as many takes of the vocal as you wish onto a third or fourth cassette before compiling them back together onto the master or slave reel.
Before making a recording its best to format the tapes. You can record and format at the same time but I wouldnt really recommend this except for live recording where you intend to use the whole tape in one go. Formatting is a simple operation and takes as long as the tape lasts which is about 40 minutes for a S-VHS 120 cassette and you can stripe the timecode at the same time. As far as recording and playback go, the ADAT is just like a conventional multitrack recorder, but differences arise in the wind modes. As in most rotary head recorders there are two ways the tape can be fast wound. The quickest way of shifting tape (20 times play speed) is to wind it back into the cassette first, although the threading and rethreading procedure takes a little time. Alternatively the tape can be left wrapped around the head drum so winding is slower because the tape path is more complex (10 times play speed), but it has the advantage that wind can start immediately. It sounds like a bit of a dilemma knowing which to choose, but I would recommend making full use of the auto locate facility which has three memories. Since the machine knows from the current position how far it has to travel to the locate position it will choose the most appropriate wind mode for you.