DAR Sabre Plus Hard Disk Workstation (part 1)
DAR's SoundStation II wowed the world when it first appeared, even accepting the fact the the AMS Neve Audiofile had already been available for some time. For one thing, it had a bold eye catching design when most sound equipment was still strictly utilitarian. Another feature was its touch screen - how one should interface with a hard disk recorder was still a matter for great debate in those days. But possibly the reason for its initial and continued success is that the SoundStation II had been very well thought out. People looked at it, liked it, and got down to some serious work with it and made money. These days, there are hard disk recorders on every street corner. You can plug a microphone into an off-the-shelf computer and record your own voice, and even edit it sometimes. If hard disk recorders are no longer a novelty, they are rapidly become a necessity, and however many different models there are available there will always be a ready market for the one that can do it better, faster and more reliably. But now there is the feeling that cost is a significant factor, and the most expensive may not always be the most appropriate for the task in hand. DAR recognised this a couple of years ago with the introdution of the Sabre, a cost effective alternative to SoundStations Delta, Sigma and Gold. The original Sabre came very close to the capabilities of SoundStation, but with certain very clearly defined limitations. It could only work from optical disk for one thing, and beyond acquiring an additional optical drive it wasn't expandable. The user might have seen these limitations as being unnecessarily restrictive, but DAR have to make a profit and having a well defined range of products makes good business sense. Now DAR have to face intensified competition from the likes of Doremi, Sonic and Dyaxis and the update from Sabre to Sabre Plus is a logical step. Since it is some time since a DAR product appeared in these pages I have chosen to cover Sabre Plus from square one. If you are already familiar with Sabre you may wish to read the 'Spot the Difference' box first.
In common with other non-PC hard disk recording systems Sabre Plus comes as a controller, display, and equipment rack. The rack can be put out of sight while the controller has a very small and neat footprint. In fact, if you look closely at the Sabre Plus and SoundStation controllers you will see that Sabre Plus is almost as well specified in the knob and button department. Practically all that is missing is SoundStation's touch screen whose place is taken by a conventional computer style monitor and mouse. The provision of a mouse could be seen as a drawback when so often we clamour for controls which are dedicated purely and simply to audio functions. But in fact the mouse does integrate very well with the locator and vernier controls. The display is a high resolution 17 colour CRT with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels which is rather more than the 640 x 480 you would expect with a standard computer monitor.
Central to the operation of Sabre is the optical disk storage medium which is now a 1.3 gigabyte magneto optical disk drive, or two if you have more leeway in your budget. The 1.3 gigabyte disk, even though it is still slower than a hard disk drive, attains a much better speed and reliablity than the old 650 megabyte drives. Even the fastest 650 megabyte drives were a bit iffy about replaying a large number of short segments in rapid succession. The original Sabre had a Playback check facility where the system would tell you if a segment was missed during playback. Sabre Plus still has this feature, but it should only be necessary when playing back from an older disk or when eight tracks are being played and some have real time crossfades. The 1.3 gigabyte drive that DAR use with their own special driver software is amply fast enough to replay not just eight simultaneous tracks, but eight tracks with a number of real time crossfades too! In fact the disk could probably support twelve tracks most of the time but DAR feel that a rock solid eight is better than an uncertain larger quantity. One interesting point about 1.3 gigabyte drives is that access times differ according to whereabouts on the disk the data is stored. Apparently the outer parts of the disk are much faster than the inner, and if the whole disk was as fast as the outside then sixteen tracks might have been a practicality.
I'm sure it is worth emphasising that the enormous advantage of optical disks is that you create the project on the disk and then take it away with you on the same disk. Apart from sourcing the audio in the first instance, there is no need to copy data across to the disk. In a few years time I am sure that all audio work will be done this way. (If the hard disk manufacturers stand still - which they won't!). Although it is now possible to work completely from an optical disk, some users still prefer to have a magnetic hard disk available. The advantage of course is in the capacity. DAR can offer one or two disks up to 8 gigabyte, and since Sabre Plus has a SCSI connector, you can if you wish source your own hard disk drives. The other advantage of hard disks is that they can record on all eight tracks at once and have better crossfade performance. Magneto optical disks are slower to record since an erase pass is necessary which doubles the workload. Hence, Sabre can record eight simultaneous tracks to hard disk, four to optical.