Test Drive: Korg SoundLink Random Access Digital Audio Production System

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Along with EQ and noise gates for each channel, the SoundLink also has an internal, digital reverb accessed with the EFFECT mode button. In comparison to some of the digital reverb boxes you're familiar with, this reverb is very basic. There are three reverb types: Room, Hall, and Plate. You can adjust reverb time, High EQ, Low EQ, pre-delay, and a few other parameters. Nothing fancy, but you get built-in reverb if you want it, and again, "snapshots" of various reverb setups can be saved for later use, and multiple reverb settings can be used simultaneously within a session. The EFFECT mode also accesses the SoundLink's digital limiter which is applied to the L/R mix output.

The MIDI mode of the SoundLink is the sequencer section mentioned earlier. The sequencer won't be of much use to most people in radio production, so this review will not examine the sequencer. However, if your studio is equipped with keyboards, samplers, sound modules and so on, and if you regularly use MIDI to produce your own music beds, then you have another big reason to take a look at the SoundLink.

The seventh and final operating mode of the SoundLink is the MARK mode. Below the data wheel is a large STORE MARK button. A mark is nothing more than a marker to designate a place in time. If you're recording a voice track and the announcer stumbles at a certain point then does a retake, pressing the STORE MARK button on the fly will mark that point so you can get back to it easily. The first mark is given a default name of MARKNAME00. The second time you press the STORE MARK button, a new mark with the name MARKNAME01 is written. The MARK operating mode provides one screen that lets you Erase, Move, Copy, and Rename these marks.

To the left of the large data wheel are the SoundLink's locate, edit, and transport controls. You get PUNCH IN, PUNCH OUT, and AUTO PUNCH buttons. Obviously, the SoundLink provides automatic punch in/out as well as manual punch in/out. Both work like a charm and are easy to use. Below these buttons are three more buttons that control the unit's "repeat" feature. Two points can be selected for repeated playback or looping, but the SoundLink does not provide seamless loops. There is about a one second pause while the SoundLink goes back to the beginning of the loop.

There are 99 locate points. The STORE, RECALL, and MARK buttons provide easy storage and retrieval of the locate points. A MEASURE button toggles the large, red LED time display (located above the data wheel) between time code and measures. A LOCK button is used to transmit transport control messages to external devices. Finally, the DIAL STEP button toggles between how the data wheel locates within a session. When set to SEC, moving the data wheel clockwise or counter-clockwise moves the location of the vertical "cursor" line in steps of one second per click of the wheel. This is the easiest way to move around in a typical radio production piece of thirty or sixty seconds. Press the DIAL STEP button again, and the mode switches to "minutes" which would be handy if you had an hour long program and wanted to move quickly from one end of it to the other. Another press of the DIAL STEP button sets the locate function to the "Segment" mode so that one click of the data wheel moves the cursor (or digital "playback head") to the next segment on the selected track. The locate mode can also be set to "Mark" which locates the next Mark with one click of the data wheel. Finally, the data wheel can be set to scroll frame by frame for the most precise movement. LOCATE and EDIT buttons above the data wheel select the wheel's function, whether it is used to locate within a session or to change the value of fields in the LCD display.

You get 120 track minutes with the SoundLink's standard setup, expandable to 720 track minutes (at 44.1kHz sampling). Other inputs and outputs on the SoundLink include a headphone jack on the console, a metronome output, 2-channel assignable digital ins and outs (AES/EBU, S/PDIF, CD/DAT), two sets of MIDI IN, OUT, and THRU jacks, as well as all the necessary jacks for interfacing with video machines and computers. There's also a jack for an external keyboard which speeds up the process of naming sessions and sounds. As mentioned, an RGB video output is available if you prefer a screen larger than the LCD screen built into the console. The A/D converters are 16-bit linear with 64 times oversampling; D/A is 18-bit linear, 8 times oversampling.

While the name Korg symbolizes something for "the musician," it seems the SoundLink is suited to a broader marketplace which doesn't exclude radio's production studios. Granted, most radio producers may never use the unit's 16-track MIDI sequencer or bother with the internal effects and signal processing if they have extensive outboard gear. But the SoundLink's learning curve is notably shorter than expected. The software is potent, but it's not cluttered with ten thousand confusing features you'll never use. The overall "speed" of production on the machine was certainly no slower than working on an analog 8-track, and as time passed and functions became more familiar, speed picked up considerably. Also, there are several ways to do things on the SoundLink, and it's obvious that the longer a person uses the unit, the more shortcuts they will discover. What is also pleasing about this hard-disk based system is that just one cable connects the console to the rest of the system. There is no additional PC computer to deal with, no computer monitor, no mouse, and none of the necessary cables to hook all these up with. Installation is unusually quick and painless.

As with most digital workstations, one great advantage is the ability to upgrade by simply installing new software. With the SoundLink, this is done via the 8mm tape drive. This Test Drive examined software version 2.0 which was released only six months ago. Before we returned the unit, we were fortunate enough to get our hands on a pre-release copy of the version 3.0 software which, among many other features, adds stereo expansion/compression and sample rate conversion, expanded mid-range frequencies on the EQ, threshold recording, a "Shift" function for quick movement of a segment without setting IN, OUT, and destination points, and more. The new software is slated for release in the first quarter of the new year.

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