Test Drive: The Dynacord ADS

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by Michael R. Lee, Ph.D.

What was once distant thunder is now a reality for digital sampling. Everything you always wanted but were afraid you couldn't afford is now available at a modest cost in an unprecedented new unit, the Dynacord ADS.

The first generation of samplers gave us functional but sonically inferior machines -- a glimpse into the future but no more. Second generation samplers gave us impressive performance at an astronomical price.

Now we have entered the third generation of digital sampling, first with the Emulator III and Akai S1000 and more recently with the Dynacord ADS and Roland S-770. Of all the machines in the third generation, none has more sonic integrity or functional flexibility than the Dynacord ADS. And none come close to its surprisingly low price (suggested list for the 2 megabyte rack version is $4,995).

Sixteen bit sampling has become the single most important criterion upon which to judge samplers. Anything less than 16 bits sounds downright dull. But even 16 bit digital-to-analog conversion is not enough. When triggering multiple sounds or using 16 voice polyphony, the signal-to-noise ratio drops from 96 db to 72 db. This is as unacceptable as 8 bit sampling. The Dynacord ADS gets around this with 20 bit D-to-A conversion for a constant 96 db signal-to-noise ratio.

One other thing that's constant is the sampling rate of 44.1 KHz (which can be cut in half). This eliminates audio anomalies caused by speed variations when you go up or down from the original sample. That's exactly how Waveframe has taken on New England Digital's Synclavier, and it definitely works for Dynacord with the ADS -- great signal-to-noise and unsurpassed sonic quality.

All that having been said, it's still not as important as figuring out what you can accomplish with a digital sampler and which one serves your needs best at the lowest cost. Unlike other samplers that are created almost solely for the musical instrument market, the Dynacord ADS is a decidedly slick and easily operable tool for the broadcast market.

For instance, voice manipulation is insignificant to most bands, save for rappers. However, in radio it provides production people with a chance to do the intriguing. The Dynacord ADS puts virtually limitless effects at your fingertips: arpeggiation (for that "helicopter" sound), looping (for repeats that may be overlaid with each other and separately panned) and digital splicing (computer programs allow you to do it visually) are a few examples.


Another unique feature of the Dynacord ADS is its built in mixer. It allows you to mix eight assignable channels just like a console. Each channel can be panned with level setting capabilities pre or post fader. It also has two effects returns. You can thus mix voice and effects within the Dynacord ADS by assigning them to different channels and different keys on the keyboard.

One thing you'll notice quickly about this unit is its versatility. It has stereo outs and six independent channel outputs. This allows some of the wildest panning you've ever heard. The ADS also provides flanging, phasing, cross-fading and some wild modulation capabilities. For instance, the modulation wheel can control panning speed while pitch bend selects different samples. In short, everything is capable of modulating everything else.

But you can't judge a sampler by its features. You have to be thrilled with its sampling. Once again, the Dynacord ADS excels. Besides good levels and a great sample to start with, the quality of the sampling is dependent on looping. Dynacord's auto-looping makes that a breeze by finding the nearest zero cross point. The loop smoothing function eliminates any clicks and allows for special effects. The ADS is equally impressive in its ability to perform resampling, or "fusion." It allows you to take the main stereo mix and resample it as a new waveform. The ADS uses one other different sampling technique: soft, medium and hard samples are activated by the way you strike the key. It's the technique used to capture the true subtleties of a piano.

The other critical area for samplers is the sample time available. This is a function of memory chips. The standard memory configuration on the Dynacord is 2 megabytes. That translates to 12 seconds of stereo full-bandwidth (44.1 KHz) sampling. Mono is 24 seconds. For many voicers or effects, half-bandwidth sampling (22.05 KHz) is satisfactory. That doubles the time for 48 seconds of mono. You can thus store commonly used tags digitally in the Dynacord and recall them when needed for dubbing. Likewise you can use its expandable memory as a stack of digital cart machines. When you're inserting lasers and other effects into spots, there's no need to use up tracks of your multi-track or lose fidelity with analog. Just assign a host of effects to different keys and trigger them when needed in mixdown. You can even reverse them at the touch of a button.

The Dynacord ADS is expandable to 8 megabytes of RAM by simply adding memory boards to the unit (suggested price is $1,295 for each 2 meg). An 8 meg unit is capable of 47 seconds of full bandwidth stereo sampling and would allow you to mix most station promos down to the Dynacord ADS if you wanted to.

More big-league expansion of the system is possible through the SCSI port in the back of the unit. This allows you to add a hard drive, which loads sounds much quicker and backs up your 3 1/2 inch high-density floppy disks. Rack-mounted removable cartridge hard disk drives are now coming out for the unit. This means you have unlimited hard disk storage via 44 meg cartridges. A computer will also control the ADS, and the sample dump standard is fully supported. With advanced sample editing programs, such as the futuristic new Avalon from Steinberg/Jones, you can draw waveforms, meld samples and do virtually everything else a Synclavier is capable of.

The utterly unbelievable part of the Dynacord is that it can do it for roughly the sales tax on a Synclavier with no loss in audio quality. Dynacord is aggressively pursuing one other advantage held by its high-priced competitors -- world-class sounds. It has contracted with the pre-eminent creator of samples, Prosonus, to provide a staggering basic library of sounds. They have been compiled by synth/sampling wizard Mark Hiskey. Every nuance of a grand piano, all the power of a Marshall stack of amps, even a disc that provides test tones are available. An interesting feature of the Dynacord ADS is that it will play disks created on the Akai S-900 sampler.

Is it all just too good to be true? Does this unit have any flaws? In an extensive review of the ADS by Keyboard Magazine, they could find only two flaws: no lowpass filtering and no sample splicing per se. For radio, lowpass filtering is not something users are likely to need. If they do, it's available in the Avalon software. Sample splicing may be easily accomplished on the ADS by assigning different samples to different keys and triggering them in succession.

Dynacord is about to release the keyboard version of the ADS at a list price of $5,495. The neat aspect here is weighted keys, which distinguishes it from the other sampling keyboards in its class.

The best American designers have teamed with Germany's rigorous manufacturing standards. Years of research and an equally lengthy VLSI design of the main chip have made the ADS a remarkable machine at a remarkable price. But maybe most importantly to broadcasters, the company, unlike other sampler manufacturers, is committed to the radio/broadcast market. Led by its U.S. distributor, Drum Workshop, the ADS has been on loan to several top stations while other stations are receiving special demonstrations. Dynacord's DRP-20 digital reverb/delay unit is another example of world-class performance at rock-bottom prices. For complete information, contact Drum Workshop toll-free at (800) 453-7867.

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