Test Drive: The TASCAM MD-801R 2-track MiniDisc Recorder

To the left of the input level controls is the PLAY MODE key. Playback mode can be set to Single which causes the unit to stop when a track is finished. In Continuous mode, the unit will play to the end of the last recording. In A-B mode, the unit plays back the area between two user-defined locate points. Press the REPEAT key to repeat playback of the disc, track, or segment between points A and B. To store a point in location A, simply press the MEMO IN key followed by the LOC A key. Cue to the place you wish to store as point B. Press MEMO IN and LOC B. Together with the JOG/SHUTTLE wheel, cuing to precise points and storing them in these locate points is very easy, which makes using the editing functions of the MD-801R a breeze, as we'll discuss in a moment. The MEMO IN, LOC A, and LOC B keys are also used to title tracks.

It's very easy to loop music on the MD-801R using the LOC A and LOC B edit points together with the REPEAT key. Many digital playback devices, like CD players, offer repeat play modes, but they don't offer a seamless loop. The MD-801R does so by using an optional RAM buffer, the BU-801 ($249). The buffer also provides "instant start." For radio applications, the buffer is a must.

Pressing the AUTO READY key causes the unit to enter the Play/Ready mode after a selection is through playing. There are several operating modes of this function dependent upon the setting of the Play mode and whether or not the Repeat function is active. The AUTO CUE key activates the unit's "cue to audio" function. When PLAY and RECORD are pressed to begin recording, a track ID gets written immediately. So, if you press PLAY and RECORD then input a signal a few seconds later, when you select that track, it cues to the point where PLAY and RECORD were pressed, not where the actual audio starts. The MD-801's Auto Cue feature fixes this. Press AUTO CUE to have the unit cue up to the first frame with audio on it. The threshold level can be set between -54dB and -72dB.

The MENU key accesses several system parameters. The JOG/SHUTTLE controls function as data wheels in this mode. The pitch control amount is set here. Once set, use the PITCH CONTROL key to turn the pitch control on and off. The amount of pitch is adjustable in .1% increments +/- 9.9%. Set the Auto Track Numbering level here. This is a threshold setting that causes the unit to record a new track ID every time the input level rises above the threshold. This is much like a DAT deck's Auto Start ID function, but, as mentioned, it does not record the initial track ID based on this threshold setting. Other Menu selections let you turn the frames portion of the time display on or off, set the length of the jog play loop, display the operating time of the spindle motor, or how many hours the laser pickup has been used for recording. Set Copy IDs to prevent digital copying of the MD and more.

A lot of the MD-801R's features are packed behind one small key labeled EDIT. The MD-801R doesn't present itself as a 2-track digital audio workstation in the sense that it is designed for complex digital editing, but there are plenty of functions that enable one to perform many of the tasks given to DAWs. The Divide function basically creates a track ID at any point on an existing track. If you have three tracks on the disc, cuing to the middle of track 2 and executing the Divide function will write a track ID at that point and give it ID number 3. The original track 3 is renumbered to track 4. Let's say you're using the MD-801R to record a series of five tags. Record them as one continuous track, then use the Divide function to separate them. The Combine function is basically the opposite of the Divide function. It combines two separate tracks into one, but they have to be consecutive tracks such as track 6 and 7. If these tracks were combined, the new track number would be 6 and track 8 would become 7, track 9 would become 8, etc..

The Erase Track function does just that. The Move function doesn't actually move audio on the disc but moves a track with regards to the sequence in which it is played. So if you wanted track 7 to play after track 2, Move it to position 3. All other tracks are renumbered accordingly.

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