Test Drive: Pacific Recorders & Engineering ADX Ensemble Digital Audio Workstation

AUTOMATED MIXING

The Ensemble's editing power is quite impressive, but when you combine it with automated mixing, the total power of this package reveals itself. The Ensemble's mixer controls are to the left of the scrub wheel and track ball. The eight faders are motorized and record even the slightest touch. The MANUAL button on the control panel turns the automation on and off. The system defaults to the automatic mode, so, upon power up and when loading projects, the faders instantly move to the respective positions. It's a treat to see for the first few times.

This has got to be one of the easiest automated mixers to use. When playing back a project, the faders are active. Any adjustments made are recorded. Soundfiles are all recorded at a default level, so, when the TimeLine gets to a particular cue on a track, the fader instantly jumps to the default position. To change the level of the Cue, move the fader. Of course, there's another way to adjust levels. If you want to raise or lower the level of an entire Cue, just click on the Cue while pressing the Command key on the keyboard. The Cue starts playing, and a "fader" pops up on the screen. Use the trackball to adjust the level. That's it. No need to adjust faders. Fade ins and fade outs? Yes, you could use the faders to record fades, but pressing the FADE IN and FADE OUT buttons on the control panel performs perfect fades. Just set the TimeLine at the point on the Cue where you want it to begin fading out. Press FADE OUT and a line is drawn on the Cue to indicate the fade. Upon playback, when the TimeLine meets this fade line, the faders automatically move and fade the audio out. Same with fade ins.

Level adjustments are referred to as "dynamic" functions of the mixer. "Static" functions of the mixer include the EQ, pans, sends and returns. To the left of the faders is a control panel with all the static mixer functions. At the top are level controls for Returns 1 and 2 and Sends 1 and 2. Below these is the EQ section. You get high and low frequency shelving EQ with a frequency and gain control for each, and a mid-range EQ with controls for Frequency, Q, and Gain. An EQ in/out button activates the EQ. At the bottom is the pan control.

All of these "static" functions--sends, returns, EQ, panning--are assignable to individual Cues. Let that sink in a minute.... That means if you have five separate Cues, of a voice track let's say, on track 5, each one of those Cues on that same track can have different send and return levels, EQ settings, and pan settings! This enables performing some very nice panning effects. For example, say you've recorded a short Cue with the call letters "KXYZ." Select the Cue, enter Edit Mode, and use the Separate function to separate each letter into four separate Cues. Select the Cue with the "K" and set its pan to the left. Set the pan on the "X" to the right, "Y" to the left, "Z" to the right. Even though you've "separated" these letters, no space has been put between them. They still play back like one Cue, only now, the panning bounces from left to right. It's instant panning and it's perfect.

What's more, you can copy and paste this static mixer information from one Cue to another or several! Say you've recorded a voice track for a promo without any EQ effects applied during recording. Every time you say your call letters, you want to switch to a filtered effect. Go through the voice track, using the Separate function to isolate each occurrence of the call letters. Then, go to the first Cue with the calls and set the EQ like you want it. Now, use the Copy Static function from the pull-down menu to copy this EQ information into the clipboard. Now, select all the other Cues with call letters, then use the Paste Static function. Bingo! All EQ settings copied to the other Cues! This works for any outboard effects as well by using the sends and returns. Needless to say, this is one workstation that can turn anyone into a mad tweak-a-holic!

SUMMARY

The ADX Ensemble is a bit intimidating at first, but a few hours with the manual and a few days playing around quickly gets one up to speed on this powerful workstation. As more time is spent on it, you begin to discover even more things that it can do. For software that was originally designed for A/V work, it has been nicely adapted to broadcast by the folks at PR&E. It's a great combination of a multitude of features with a friendly user interface.

The Mac based filing system is especially helpful. Different folders can be set up for different producers. A folder can be set up just for sound effects, another for music beds. Then, using the Transfer Window, sounds and music beds can be transferred into your current project. I also like being able to name Cues. This is helpful when recalling projects to update them. A glance at the screen quickly tells you where things are.

The system seemed a bit sluggish at times, especially when moving quickly from one area of a project to another and immediately using the scrub wheel. There is about a one to two second delay before the system loads the audio into the RAM buffer, ready for instant playback. This is typical of many disk-based systems and presents no problems once you get the feel for the timing of the system.

SPECIFICS

The ADX Ensemble is not cheap, nor does it feel that way, look that way, or perform that way. List price for the ADX Ensemble with a 2.4 gigabyte drive is just under $30,000, and this reflects a recent price reduction of around $5,000. Add the optional optical backup drive and get the whole package for $32,785. The optical backup is a great option because it allows you to read and write directly to the optical drive without having to load projects onto the hard drive first. This basically means you can have a library of removable optical disks for all your projects, each disk holding about one track-hour of audio. Each producer could have their own set of disks, one for promos, one for spots, etc..

You get AES/EBU stereo digital in and out and an AES/EBU stereo send and stereo return. All digital I/O can be software configured for S/PDIF. Of course, there are XLR balanced analog sends, returns, and stereo ins and outs. Multiple sampling frequencies are available, 32kHz, 44.1kHz, and 48kHz, but they cannot be mixed within a project. Pick a sample rate and stick with it. At 44.1kHz, the 2.4 GByte drive provides six track hours of recording time. Of course, the system is expandable. Up to four SCSI devices can be added, and the system can be configured with up to 32 internal tracks.

Other specs include Delta-sigma 18-bit linear A/D conversion with 64x oversampling and 8x oversampling on the D/A conversion, 24-bit signal processing and digital mixing, frequency response at 20-20kHz, and THD and noise <0.02%. The frequency range on the EQ section is 30Hz to 500Hz on the low band, 300Hz to 5kHz on the mid-range, and 1kHz to 6kHz on the high band. Gain range is ±15dB in 1dB steps.

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