Test Drive: Akai DR8 Digital Multi-track Recorder

To the left of the TRACK REC/INPUT SELECT keys is the ALL key which arms all tracks for recording when pressed. Below the TRACK REC/INPUT SELECT keys are eight CHANNEL ON keys, with accompanying green LEDs, used to select channels for monitoring. These keys also select the channels you want to adjust when in the Mix Mode, and they select tracks when in the Edit mode as well. To the left of these keys is the DIGI/D IN key, another dual-function key. When pressed, the digital inputs are selected for channels 1 and 2 and channels 1 and 2 analog inputs are disabled. When the SUB MENU key is pressed first, the DIGI/D IN key is used to select the digital input format.

At the bottom left of the front panel are the headphone jack and level control. To the right are eight rotary channel GAIN controls used to set the analog input levels. Above these is the SOLO key which mutes all channels and lets you select individual or multiple channels for isolated monitoring.

The MIX/MIXER key is another dual-function key. When in normal mode, the MIX/MIXER key accesses the unit's internal mixer, allowing channel levels, pans, and send levels to be set. When used with the SUB MENU key, the MIX/MIXER key provides access to various system parameters including metering functions, master output levels, and send parameters. The THRU MIX key turns the DR8s 8-channel mixer into a 16-channel digital mixer by mixing the eight input channels with eight tracks playing back from the hard disk. This 16-track mix is output at the analog stereo master outs.

The DR8 does not store "projects" or "productions" to the disk, thereby storing mixer settings with each individual project. So, whatever mixer settings you have on the last project, these mixer settings will be active on the next project unless they are changed. When the unit is shut down and turned back on, the settings at power off are recalled. To store individual mixer settings, use the SNAPSHOT/MAP key. Up to 99 "snapshots" of the mixer can be stored. So, if you want to store mixer settings for a particular project, you'll have to keep a log of where the project is on the disk (using Absolute Time) and what Mixer Snapshot goes with that project. When the SNAPSHOT/MAP key is used with the SUB MENU key, this dual function key access the DR8s Snapshot Mapping function. In effect, this is automated mixing, but it is not as smooth as that of a mixer that records real-time movements of faders and pan pots, etc.. However, if you just want to make an "instant" adjustment to level or pan at a specific time, the Mapping function will automate this for you.

This is a good time to examine why the DR8 doesn't store "projects" like most workstations. The DR8 basically combines the characteristics of random access digital workstations with those of linear, tape-based recorders. You get cut and paste, non-destructive editing and random access, and you also get a 24-hour "reel" of "tape" to work with. This gives the DR8 the feel of working with a multi-track "reel" while simultaneously providing cut and paste editing on individual tracks. Everything is referenced by Absolute Time, and the maximum Absolute Time on the DR8 is 24 hours. (How much actual recording time you have depends upon how many drives are connected.) For radio production, it's necessary to maintain a log of where, in Absolute Time, your various projects are. With a multi-track reel of tape, the first project would be at the beginning of the tape, with subsequent projects following one after the other. This is the way to treat the DR8 as well. More about this later.

To the right of the meter display is the bright blue fluorescent Time/Status display. The top half of this display shows the time, either Absolute Time or Relative Time. It can be switched to also show bars, beats and clocks (BBC time). The bottom half of the display is used to display error messages, system status, locate times, and more. At the very bottom of the display is a row of amber colored dots which illuminate to indicate activity on each of the eight tracks when data is on that track. Mode indicators light to indicate when the DR8 is in S-M (Sub Menu), Mix, Edit, or Song Mode. Below this display is the ABS/REL(OFFSET) key which switches the time display between Absolute Time and Relative Time. When used with the Sub-Menu function, this key also sets a Relative Time offset. The RESET key resets the Relative Time to zero. Once you've located to the beginning of a project or to the start time for a new project, pressing the RESET key switches the display to Relative Time (if in Absolute Time mode) and reads 00:00:00:00 for easy tracking of program length. This also enables convenient use of the ZERO RETURN key. Pressing the LOCATE key activates the numeric keypad to the right of the front panel and lets you punch in an Absolute Time or Relative Time to locate to. When the correct time is entered, pressing LOCATE again instantly locates to that point. To the right of the LOCATE key is the DR8's UNDO key. You get one level of undo, whether you're undoing your last edit or last recording.

The DR8's transport controls are in the middle of the front panel. You get the standard REW, FFWD, STOP, PLAY, and REC keys. The REC key is recessed and illuminates when in Record Mode. There are three transport keys that play segments of audio with reference to the current time. Pressing the TO key starts playback a preset number of seconds (up to 59) before the current time and plays up to the current time. Pressing the FROM key starts playback at the current time and plays for a preset number of seconds (up to 59) after the current time. Pressing the OVER key starts playback at the preset TO time before the current time, and plays beyond the current time the number of seconds set as the FROM time. TO and FROM times are preset using the SUB MENU key with the TO and FROM keys, and the times default to one second.

The IN->OUT(MEMO) key plays back the audio between the set In and Out points. If used with the SUB MENU key, the MEMO function lets you store up to nine different sets of In and Out points which are set using the IN and OUT keys just below the transport controls. To store IN and OUT points, first locate to the desired position. Then press the STORE/ENT key, followed by the IN or OUT key. This is how you mark edit points. Pressing the IN key by itself locates the DR8 to the stored IN point. Likewise with the OUT key.

To edit, press the EDIT key. This puts the DR8 in the Edit Mode where the JOG/SHUTTLE wheel and outer sleeve are used to select the type of edit desired. The choices are Copy, Copy+Insert, Move, Move+Insert, Insert, Erase, Delete, Slip, and Slip Track. The experienced workstation user won't have any difficulty using the DR8's edit functions, even without a waveform display. The CHANNEL ON keys are used to select the tracks you wish to copy or move audio from, and the TRACK REC/INPUT SELECT keys are used to select the tracks you wish to copy or move the audio to. The destination point is whatever the current time is. Pressing the JOG ON key activates the JOG/SHUTTLE wheel for cuing up to audio, and pressing the FINE key sets the Jog function in the Fine mode for more precise cuing. Scrubbing on the DR8 is as good as the scrub on any disk-based system I've played with, but it is still not as fast and accurate as scrubbing in RAM. And with the FINE key activated for more precise cuing, the unit tended to "miscue" slightly after several repeated "jogs" at the same point. Nevertheless, I had no difficulty making perfect edits on the first try.

The Copy function copies selected audio to the destination point/track(s) without removing the source audio, and it overwrites whatever audio is at the destination point. Copy+Insert is the same as Copy except audio at the destination point is not overwritten. It is moved behind the new audio. When you press the STORE/ENT key to perform either copy function, the DR8 asks how many times you wish to repeat the copy. The default is 1, but you may have up to 99 repeats. This is very handy for looping music. Say you've marked a ten-second segment of a bed you wish to extend to sixty seconds. Enter 6 repeats and press STORE/ENT. Bingo! It's done. If you want to do a little "stuttering," the Repeat function can be used for this, too.

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