Test Drive: 360 Systems Instant Replay Hard Disk Audio Player

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Finally, in the MENU key sub-menus, we come to the File Transfer menu. Individual sound files or entire drives can be copied to other Instant Replays or 360 Systems DigiCarts (if the DigiCart has the file transfer option installed). This is where DAT backup and restore functions are also accessed. The file transfer rate is 8 to 1, and the backup/restore rate is 5.33 to 1. The entire contents of an 8-hour drive can be stored on a single 120-minute DAT.

The last stop of the top panel tour are the bar-graph level indicators and input level controls at the far right. The rear panel offers the headphone jack, balanced XLR analog ins and outs, a 0dB/-10dB output attenuator, AES/EBU XLR digital I/O, IEC-958 Type II digital I/O on RCA jacks, the printer output port, A/C input, and Power On/Off switch. New models with the GPI interface include a 1/8-inch phone jack. The Instant Replay features a built-in sample rate converter which lets the unit accept sample rates anywhere from 24kHz to 56kHz. All digital input signals are converted to 48kHz. The standard parallel printer port will work with many printers. A Hewlett Packard Laser Jet was used for this review with no problems.

As with any disk-based digital audio system, disk fragmentation can become a problem. The Instant Replay offers a defrag function along with a Format Disk function accessed by turning the unit off, pressing and holding the STOP key, then turning the unit back on.

Other specs on the Instant Replay include a frequency response of 20-20kHz, Dynamic Range >90dB, and Sigma Delta, oversampled A/D and D/A converters. The unit weighs just under ten pounds and has a 15" x 9" footprint. The advantages of Instant Replay in the on-air studio are obvious. Not only morning shows, but any "produced" show would benefit greatly with this box at hand. Each air personality could have his or her own bank of sounds which could be anything from personalized drops and jingles to sound effects, music beds, and more. The audition side of the on-air console could be fed to the unit so each jock could record whatever into his or her bank from the on-air studio. This would eliminate having to have a second unit in the production room, connected to the unit in the on-air studio. However, having at least two is the best setup because the production studio would then have its own Instant Replay!

What can you do with an Instant Replay in production? Save time. Granted, it doesn't take much time to take a CD out of its case, open the CD drawer, load the CD, and cue to the desired cut. If you know what cut you want, maybe that takes ten to fifteen seconds. Add ten to fifteen seconds to unload the CD and put it back when you're done, and now you're at thirty seconds. If you do that twenty times a day, there's ten minutes. In a week, it's a full hour of time spent loading and unloading CDs! Hard to believe, but it's true. The Instant Replay can shave those fifteen seconds down to one, maybe two, and it'll completely eliminate the other fifteen seconds spent putting that CD away because there's nothing to put away.

And what about those sound effects? You need a car crash for another ambulance-chasing lawyer spot. You open the sound effect catalog and spend maybe thirty seconds locating the CD and track number, if your fast. Then you have to load and unload the CD player and put the CD back...another thirty seconds. How many times do you search for sound effects every day? Three? Five? At five times a day, that's another half-hour a week added to your other hour of time spent handling CDs.

As you need sound effects and music beds, record them into the Instant Replay. For clients that use the same music bed, record that to the Instant Replay. Promo beds for ongoing promotions--Instant Replay. Next time you pull out the Bar Background sound effect, record it to the Instant Replay. Use bank 1 for commercial beds, bank 2 for promo beds, bank 3 for sound effects, bank 4 for jingles/drops, etc.. Eventually, you'll get a large percentage of your most used audio onto the Instant Replay, you'll begin to remember where everything is without looking at a list or overlay, and you will eliminate HOURS of time spent every month doing nothing more than loading sounds into CD players, cart machines, DAT decks, etc.. Think of the Instant Replay as a sampler with five hundred trigger keys and eight hours of sampling time!

And there's more! The Instant Replay is also a nifty, digital, 2-track recorder! It's ideal for grabbing voice tracks quickly. Next time someone waltzes into your studio needing to lay a voice track, and you're in the middle of something else, just hit the RECORD button on the Instant Replay. Set a level and hit PLAY, then send the announcer away. No need to unload a current project from another machine and load blank tape. No need to unload the fresh voice track and re-load your other project. No time wasted. When it's time to use the voice track, it's there, ready for "instant replay."

Yes, this is all wonderful, and the icing on the cake is the affordable price, $2,995 for the model with the "small" 4-hour drive! The Instant Replay is one heck of a tool for the on-air studio, but it also helps put the production room into turbo mode. This is as close to "instant" as digital gets!

Thanks to Steve Cunningham at 360 Systems for his assistance with this month's Test Drive.

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