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

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The Mixer mode accesses the DM-80's internal, digital mixer. This is an eight-input, two-output mixer that not only creates an analog stereo mix at the back panel, but a digital stereo mix as well. The mixer offers faders, pan pots, and EQ. Furthermore, this automated mixer lets you perform a mix on a production piece - complete with fader movements, EQ adjustments, and pan adjustments -- and record these movements. Upon playback, the level, pan and EQ changes occur precisely as recorded, and the actual faders and pots on the fader unit remain still while those in the graphic display of the DM-80-R move accordingly. Why is the DM-80-F Fader Unit worth getting? Two main reasons: adjusting EQ, pan, and levels is FASTER on the fader unit than with the cursor and data wheel, and the learning curve is noticeably shortened. Is it necessary in a home studio or recording studio environment where turnaround time isn't so critical? No. In fact, the DM-80-S Macintosh software, at $650.00 (assuming you have the computer), along with the recording unit are probably ideal for these situations, without adding the remote controller or fader unit.

The Tempo Mode of the DM-80 is designed for music production and won't be dealt with in this review. However, the Trigger Play mode is worth examination. This mode enables MIDI notes to trigger playback of individual phrases. The function is monophonic and is also triggered with the numeric keypad (numbers 1 through 8). Recordings can play back in either "one-shot" (play to end) or "note on" (play while button pressed) mode. This function is handy in radio production for setting up a standard collection of sound effects and/or music elements often used in daily production of promos, sweepers, and some spots. When it's time to do a "winner" promo...boom! Load up the Winner Promo Project and have cash registers, zips and zaps, fanfare, your jingle, and whatever else you might need, at your fingertips.

The Catalog Mode is the DM-80's filing system. Projects are selected, saved, loaded, backed up, created, deleted, etc. in this mode. This is also where you can select a sampling frequency of 32kHz, 44.1kHz or 48kHz. The 32kHz mode sounds great, is perfect for radio broadcast, and saves a ton of disk space. The final button, the System Mode key, accesses the time display mode, the SMPTE rate/format, shut down and restart functions, MIDI and SCSI parameters, and more.

We mentioned the $650 price tag on the DM-80-S software for the Macintosh. If you own the computer, that gives you a DM-80 8-track system for a list price of $11,400. Add the DM-80-R Remote Controller and the DM-80-F Fader Unit at $1,995 and $1,295 respectively, for a broadcast environment, and the price tag of roughly $14,000 list is very attractive.

Drawbacks to the DM-80? There are very few. The lack of a "scrub" feature was a surprise, but it didn't really hamper fast radio production. The structure of the system is such that it operates as two 4-track systems (since the unit is also available as a 4-track) which function independently of each other. As a result, data from tracks 1 through 4 cannot be moved to tracks 5 through 8. This is not a problem if you plan your track usage ahead of time and maintain a standard, i.e. stereo tracks on tracks 1 through 4, and mono tracks on tracks 5 through 8, or some other configuration that doesn't encourage movement of tracks beyond the 4/5 border. There is no actual amplitude waveform editing available. However, the Macintosh software does support this function. The DM-80 is disk based, so there are delays when loading and unloading projects, and when performing routine functions. These delays are typical with disk based systems, but they still give one the feeling that time is being wasted, waiting for the event to take place. Take this software and shove the whole works into RAM, if you've got enough, and you've got a truly "high speed" production system.

The pluses far outweigh the shortcomings. The price tag is within reach of many. The learning curve is short enough to make the unit accessible to several people at your station. The 8-input, 8-output configuration lets you connect the unit directly to your existing console in the same slots your analog 8-track is plugged into, or you can conserve console space and utilize the unit's internal mixer, or better yet, invest in the fader unit. The DM-80 is compact. The recorder unit consumes only four rack spaces and can go anywhere, in or out of the production room. The footprint of the remote controller is just 17 x 10½ inches -- your typewriter takes up more room. Finally, it bears the name Roland, a company with undisputed success in the world of digital technology.

Software updates of the DM-80 occur with the replacement of ROM chips. The new version 2.0 update has just been announced and is expected to be available in the next month or two. Included among the 30+ changes to the operating system are amplitude waveform display on the remote controller, "group" phrase movement and copy, enhanced transport control, enhanced back-up options, enhanced memory usage/conservation, 32 more autolocate markers, and, of course, more.

There were no corners cut on data processing. The DM-80 has two 100 meg drives, delivering 18 track-minutes each at 44.1kHz. Of course, this is expandable to several hours depending upon the size of hard drives added. The recording format is 16-bit linear. Signal processing is 24-bit. A/D conversion is 16-bit, and D/A conversion is 20-bit. Frequency response is 10Hz to 22kHz, S/N is greater than 96dB, THD at <0.02%, crosstalk is >-93dB.

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