Test Drive: The Roland DM-80 Multi-Track Disk Recorder

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The 5 x 1½-inch LCD display on the remote controller surprisingly provides better-than-adequate graphics in the various graphics modes, and the numerous text screens are easy to read and work with. However, it does not show all eight tracks at once. You can only see tracks one through four, or tracks five through eight. This provides only a minor inconvenience -- having to move the cursor to see the other tracks -- but is hardly an obstacle, especially when you remember that in the analog world, you can't even see tracks.

To the left of the LCD display are four cursor keys used for positioning the cursor in the display. Below them are two Phrase Locate keys labeled Previous and Next. These are used to skip to the start and end points of phrases. Below these keys are eight Marker/Autolocator keys. Press one to store the current time. Press it again to return to that time from anywhere in the project. Use the Delete key below to clear it. A Shift key, next to the Delete key, is used together with a few of the Marker/Autolocator keys to access the DM-80's looping and automatic punch-in/punch-out functions. The loop function is intended more for rehearsing punch-ins and is not seamless.

Just below the LCD display is the Execute key, much like the "Enter" key of a computer. The Function key accesses various functions available by pressing the neighboring five "soft" Function keys, F1 through F5. To the right of these is the Menu key. This accesses the Level Check screen which displays peak-reading bar-graph meters for inputs and outputs. Clipping is also displayed. In fact, this display recreates the level meters on the front panel of the record unit. Other functions of the Menu mode include autolocator Marker editing, time display setting (SMPTE, minute/second, measure/beat), a project Save command, and a Revert command which is somewhat like an "undo" command. Pressing Revert reloads the last saved version of the current project. If you don't regularly save your project while working, this Revert function can quickly become a "start from scratch" function. To the right of the Menu key is the Exit key which returns you to the last screen.

Below this first row of buttons are the DM-80's seven mode keys: Record, Playlist, Mixer, Tempo, Trigger, Catalog, and System. More on these modes in a moment. Below the mode keys are the eight track status keys. Each key has a bi-colored LED which turns red when in Record mode, green in the Play mode, orange in the Trigger mode, and is off when the track is muted. At the bottom center of the control panel are the transport keys: Zero (for zero return), Rewind, Play, Fast-Forward, Stop, and Record. Audio does not playback at fast speed during Fast-Forward and Rewind modes, but the display jumps ahead or backwards to show how far you're going in either direction.

To the right of the front panel is a large data wheel. This is used for data entry and for scrolling through the audio in a project. The DM-80 does not "scrub" audio like many systems. However, a Preview button below the wheel engages playback of audio in segments up to five seconds long and loops this audio as long as the button is pressed. Using this Preview function, together with the data wheel, is how "cuing" is done on the DM-80. It's not as familiar as scrubbing audio (in either the analog or digital world), but locating exact edit points is still rather easy. A numeric keypad below the data wheel is also used for data entry. Finally, the Jump key engages another locate function. Press Jump, enter the desired time, then press Execute.

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