by Steve Cunningham
Last month we took a look at Tascam’s US-428, which ships with a “light” version of BIAS’ Deck software for the Mac. This month we take a look at the full version of Deck, including a preview of the upcoming version 3. Deck is a complete multitrack editor that lets you record tracks, monitor them while recording others, adjust the level and EQ of what you’ve recorded, and mix down your recording to a stereo master file. It’s often referred to as “ProTools for the rest of us,” and with good reason.
Back in the mid-‘80s, a small company in the Bay Area called OSC took on a contract programming job for another small Bay Area company called Digidesign. OSC designed and implemented the recording and mixing part of what became ProTools version 1.0, while Digidesign contributed the editing portion using code from their SoundTools software. The guys at OSC observed Digidesign’s almost immediate success with their pricey ProTools product, and decided to develop a multitrack program with most of ProTool’s functionality, but at a price that mortals could afford. That program became Deck.
The rest of Deck’s history is a rags-to-riches-to-rags Silicon Valley story. Before long, OSC (and Deck) was acquired by Macromedia in a stock deal, but within a year Macromedia’s stock price had fallen precipitously. The OSC crew who had joined Macromedia soon bailed, and Deck languished on Macromedia’s price list for several years. In 1999, Deck was purchased by Berkley Integrated Audio Software (BIAS), who has since upgraded the software several times. The current version as of this writing is 2.7, but version 3 is within weeks of shipping, and in fact, the screenshots in this article are from version 3.
Deck offers features we’ve come to expect, including visual waveform editing, noiseless track bounce, multi-point auto location, moving-fader mixer automation, non-destructive real-time and destructive effects, and 44.1kHz or 48kHz, 16-bit audio. For less than 400 bucks, you get not only Deck but also Peak LE (bundled free), a stereo editor that lets you encode your projects in AIFF, WAV, RealAudio or MP3 formats. You also get a copy of Adaptec’s Toast 4.1 CD burning software.
I installed Deck on a 400mHz G4 with Mac OS 9.04, Quicktime 4.12, 572 MB of RAM, a 10-gig system drive and a 75 gig IBM Deskstar IDE drive to handle media storage. It should be noted that the version 2.7 PDF documentation that accompanies the software only recommended using SCSI drives “with a SCSI throughput of at least 1.2MB per second required to work with 8 tracks.” Current ATA-66 and ATA-100 drives are more than adequate for streaming large numbers of audio tracks. This documentation was obviously written some time ago and deserves an update from Bias.
Effective with version 2.7, Bias requires a product authorization code (PAC) like most other copy protected software, although the software will function for 15 days without this code. Deck comes with a serial number, and when you submit that to Bias, they send you the authorization code. Of course, Bias’ hours to issue a PAC via e-mail or phone are bankers’ hours, M-F 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM PST, so beware of this if you choose to embark on a big audio project on a Saturday night or over a holiday. The software can also be authorized by fax or postcard.
The first step after installation is to allocate more RAM to the Deck application. The program comes set to use a minimum amount of memory, but Deck is happy with as much RAM as you can afford to give it. The available number of tracks varies from computer to computer, and is not only dependent on CPU speed and RAM allocation, but is also dependent on hard drive speed. Users of 7200 rpm ATA drives will be able to access more tracks than users of 5400 rpm drives, although this is dependent on sustained transfer rate. The owner’s manual also recommends that file sharing be turned off.
Deck 2.7 supports Apple Sound Manager and most ASIO-compatible audio hardware, including Creamware Pulsar, Digidesign AMII and AMIII, Digigram VX Pocket, Echo Gina, Layla, Darla, and Mona, Gadget Labs Wave 824, Sonorous STUDI/O, Yamaha DSP Factory, Lexicon Core 2, MOTU PCI-324 and 2408/1224, M-Audio Delta Series, Sea Sound Solo, and the TASCAM US-428.
Chances are if you have an ASIO spec audio card, you are covered. With the proper drivers, Deck will work the Digidesign ProTools Digi 001 card as well for those Pro Tools LE users who are more comfortable using Deck. In any event, a dedicated ASIO-compliant sound card is recommended for those who have a PCI slot and few dollars to spare.