Test Drive: Korg SoundLink Random Access Digital Audio Production System

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The transport, locate, and editing controls are to the right of the mixer section. At the bottom of the LCD display are the letters A through H which correspond to eight buttons below the display. These buttons are "soft" function buttons; their functions change according to which screen is displayed. To the left of these buttons are two UP/DOWN buttons for cursor control. To the right of the eight soft buttons are two PAGE UP/DOWN buttons which scroll through the different pages available in each of the operating modes.

There are seven operating modes selected with seven buttons near the top right corner of the console. The first mode is the MISC mode. This mode is used primarily for initial setup -- reference levels, digital formats, video sync modes, system date/time settings and more. Once these items are set, the MISC mode is engaged mainly to begin a new "session" or rename an existing session.

In the SoundLink, a "session" is just that. When you produce a promo or spot, all the sounds on your tracks, all your effects, levels, EQ, etc., are part of that session which is then saved to the hard disk. Any session on the hard disk can later be retrieved, complete with track assignments, effects, levels, etc., using the DISK mode.

Six screens make up the DISK mode where sessions are loaded, saved, and deleted. This mode also dedicates a screen to the sequencer. Another screen is used to delete unwanted "sounds" on the hard drive. (When you record a piece of audio, it is referred to as a "sound.") Two screens are used for backing up and restoring sessions to and from the 8mm tape drive on the Storage Unit. (Backup and retrieval time is twice real time.) The final screen in the DISK mode is a system screen used for installing additional SCSI drives, formatting drives, and other seldom used functions.

The third mode button is the AUDIO button. This is where most of your production time is spent. There are four screens in this mode. The first is the Record/Play screen where you get a visual representation of the eight tracks and the audio on them. The audio, rather than being represented by a waveform, is displayed as a white bar with the sound's name. When a track is recorded, the SoundLink assigns that "sound" a default name like SOUND_0637 or SOUND_0023 depending on the number of the last sound recorded. These sounds can be renamed so the screen not only provides a graphic display of where and how long a sound is, but also a 10-character description of the sound. For example, tracks 1 and 2 might display sounds labeled "Music-Left" and "Music-Right." Track 5 might have three short sounds on it labeled "Door Knock, "Door Open," and "Door Close."

Most digital workstations require spending some time with the manual before one can jump in and begin recording and editing. With the help of a recently written, 36-page "Quick Reference Guide" for the new Version 2.0 software, we were able to shelve the large and somewhat intimidating 3-inch manual and began recording and editing on the SoundLink within a matter of minutes. We decided to first record a simple voice track to track 5. Arming the track was a one-step process. Pressing the REC/PB button above that track lit the red Record LED and armed the track. Levels were set, and the RECORD and PLAY transport buttons pressed (just like on an analog machine). The screen began scrolling to the left, updating itself once per second. With the voice track on disk, the recording was stopped by pressing the STOP transport button. The screen displayed the audio track with its default name, "SOUND_00123." (There were already 122 other sounds on the hard drive.)

Pressing the REW transport control offered an interesting effect. Rather than return instantaneously to the beginning of the track, as random access can do, the SoundLink "rewound" the "tape" at about the same speed real tape would rewind. The screen sped by, indicating it was indeed in a fast rewind mode. Ditto for fast forward. Though you can't hear the audio go by in the fast forward and rewind modes, watching the screen speed by certainly preserves that sense of working with an analog machine. Once the quaintness of this simulated analog rewind and fast-forward got old, we resorted to the quicker, almost instantaneous way of returning to zero -- by pressing the "0" button followed by the "ENTER" button. Zoom! That's what digital is all about!

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