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Digital Information Exchange 1987 (part 3)

What Jeff Baxter, ex-Steely Dan member, was doing speaking at the DIE seemed to be a good question - before he took the rostrum. Apart from extolling the virtues of low cost recording, as in the Akai 12-channel DR 1200, he certainly stimulated the audience into a flurry of questions, which may have become a heated debate but we were already running late and lunch had to be fitted in somehow...



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hat Jeff Baxter, ex-Steely Dan member, was doing speaking at the DIE seemed to be a good question - before he took the rostrum. Apart from extolling the virtues of low cost recording, as in the Akai 12-channel DR 1200, he certainly stimulated the audience into a flurry of questions, which may have become a heated debate but we were already running late and lunch had to be fitted in somehow.

The second of John Watkinson’s excellent presentations was on the subject of hard disks - a topic of increasing interest. A hard disk is pretty much like a floppy disk in concept, except it is totally enclosed, built to tighter tolerances, and has several disks stacked up on one common spindle. Digital audio can be recorded on the disk, with an access time to any part of the recording less than 10 milliseconds. Compare that with tape.

A hard disk can be looked upon as a bucket for data representing digital audio. The same hard disk could contain one long track, or several shorter tracks. The only limit to the potential number of tracks is the rate at which data can be read out.

To a hard disk recording system, it doesn’t matter where the data is located on the disk. Editing, or crossfading two takes together, is only a matter of reading out the data from the takes in a different way. The existing data doesn’t have to be changed, only the instructions on what to do with it need be stored. Limitations arise when you need to do more processing on the data than the system can cope with. For example, a four track crossfade at .99x normal speed takes a lot of computing power.

Day 2 also included Carl Schofield explaining the Audio Tablet hard disk based editor, Karl Otto Bader on Studer’s DASH editor, and a weary looking Steve Jagger with an informative description of the AMS/Calrec Logic 1 and the reasoning behind it.

It seems that the most talked about presentations are the ones that generate debate between the audience and the speaker. That point was obviously understood by Cary Fisher, opening Day 3, who explained to us the key features of the new Sony 3348 48- track recorder, and then pretended not to know of a sensible use for one of them.

The 3348 is the fulfillment of the promise of the multitrack DASH format, filling in the spaces left on the tape by the 24- track 3324. Twenty-four tracks of digital audio may be recorded on the 3324, and then the tape put on a 3348 and tracks 25 to 48 recorded. Or looking at it the other way round, forty-eight tracks can be recorded on the 3348, and then tracks 1 to 24 can be replayed without difficulty on the 3324. Cary usefully explained that this was not clever trickery, but simply the full exploitation of the DASH format as originally devised.

Extra features include a twenty second RAM memory which can be used to relocate audio on the tape (John Watkinson speculated during questions whether future options might include a hard disk!). Also there is something known as ‘digital ping pong’ whereby any combination of two tracks may be digitally copied, with no processing delay, to any other combination of two tracks. Ideas from the floor on what use this might be put to included making safety back ups before drop-ins (but surely the autolocator provides a non destructive rehearse function?) and making compilations of vocal takes in the digital domain (losing the level matching abilities of going through the console). A third proposed use was reordering tracks to make the track sheet neater. My guess is that the function is there so that important tracks can be relocated to tracks 1 to 24 if necessary for playback on a 3324. Any offers?

Alan Jubb of Neve gave us a history of MADI - the proposed standard format for multichannel digital interface. MADI is the brainchild of engineers from Mitsubishi, Neve, Sony and SSL. Alan explained how it was thought that the takeup of digital multitrack was being slowed by the difficulty of transferring digital audio from one format to another. The MADI standard had to meet several criteria: A high probability of industry acceptance...Based on readily available components and not based on proprietry designs of MADI group companies...A short development time...Economic to implement...Transparency to the AES/EBU interface...Capable of at least thirty-two channels.

Alan gave an informative and interesting explanation of this important topic.

Sam Toyoshima, well-known for his studio designs, followed, giving a report on what is happening in digital audio in Japan. His presentation ended with examples of the different types of music popular in Japan, together with photos of some Tokyo studios.

John Stadius of Soundtracs and Dave Whittaker of Harman UK presented what they called the ‘New Way’ of recording using a Direct to Disk recording system and a low-cost mixing console such as the Soundtracs Eric.

Richard Salter of Sony Broadcast took the place of the indisposed Roger Lagadec and explained the ‘Total Sony’ concept they use within the company. Basically, the object is to have the ability to use all of the vast resources of the Sony company in any division. For instance, expertise in the video or domestic audio fields can be put to use in the professional audio division where appropriate.

One product of this collaboration is the SDP 1000, a prototype digital equaliser demonstrated by Andy Tait. It features comprehensive parametric EQ and filters, together with a dynamics sections. Most important is the user interface consisting of a workstation-type unit with a tracker ball, and a very useable video display. You can see and hear the EQ and dynamics curves you are creating. Timecode based automation is also a feature of this unit.

The final presentation was by Paul Lidbetter on Neve’s development tool, Casper. With Casper, Paul demonstrated the effects of instantaneous switching of gain and EQ, also the offensive nature of zipper noise in digital faders. Of course, Neve’s solutions to these problems were demonstrated too.

Day 3 concluded with another demonstration of HDVS, for the benefit of the many studio people who had missed out on Day 1.

If there are conclusions to be drawn from the three days of the Digital Information Exchange, the most important might be that video may no longer be considered as a poor relation to sound (or vice versa!). The developments in this parallel field ARE going to make a difference to the way we handle audio. Advances in technology are increasingly pushing forward the rate of change in sound engineering practice. If many of these developments are first appearing as by-products of video recording and processing techniques then we must be aware of them at their earliest stages. With intelligent presentations and useful questioning from the floor, the DIE will continue to be an important source of information.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004

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