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

The Erase A-B function erases audio between LOC A and LOC B if these two points have been previously set. The two "ends" are brought together, so this acts more like a "splice" function. The Insert A-B function removes the audio between marked LOC A and LOC B points from its original location and moves it to a new location on any track. The destination edit points create new track numbers and all other tracks are renumbered. If you're using the Insert A-B function to build a single track with several pieces from other tracks, you'll end up with a production consisting of several tracks. The Combine function is handy at this point to create a single track from several edited pieces. When making edits, the MD-801R goes into a Rehearsal mode and plays back the new edit repeatedly. You are given the option to accept the edit or abort it.

Other functions in the Edit mode include the Restore function. This function restores previously erased audio. If you've erased several pieces of audio, this function restores them all, as long as they haven't been recorded over. You cannot select individual tracks to restore. The manual states that restored stereo tracks can sometimes come back as mono tracks and vice versa. The Track Attribute function corrects this. The Erase Disc function wipes the slate clean. The Title function lets you title discs and tracks with up to 99 characters. This is more than can be displayed at one time on the LED display, so long titles are scrolled across the display. It looks pretty neat. It seems unusual, but there is no Copy function on the MD-801R.

Like computer discs have FATs or File Allocation Tables to tell the computer where everything resides on the disc, recordable CDs have a TOC or Table Of Contents. The MD-801R refers to this as a UTOC or User Table Of Contents. When an edit is made, a red LED lights next to the TOC WRITE key. This lets you know that edits have been made that have not been recorded to the disc. To record the edit information, press the TOC WRITE key. The display reads "TOC Writing" for a few seconds then returns to the previous screen and the red LED goes out. What if you made an edit you don't want to keep? Don't press the TOC WRITE key. Instead, eject then reinsert the disc or turn the power off then back on. It's not the prettiest undo, but it works.

I didn't have access to a PS/2 keyboard to use with the MD-801R, but there are several features added when one is used. Programmed play of up to 25 tracks is possible. When the BU-801 RAM buffer is installed, the twelve function keys on the keyboard become "Flash Start" keys for tracks 1 through 12. Autolocation to specific time addresses is possible as well as remote control of the transport controls and editing functions. And obviously, entering track titles is much faster with the keyboard.

The MD-801R has a short learning curve, is very easy to operate, and is a great addition to any production studio. It's ideal for capturing voice tracks quickly and storing them for later upload to a workstation or multitrack reel. Edit voice tracks. Store often used sound effects and music beds. Build complex music beds for concert and record spots. Use it as a mastering deck. And its uses are certainly not confined to production. The MD-801R is a great mini-workstation for your news department with its versatile editing functions and mono recording mode providing 148 minutes per disc. Of course, there are uses in the on-air studio as well. Promos, IDs and other programming elements can be dedicated to MD. An entire hour-long stereo program can be assembled and edited on a single disc, complete with commercials and IDs, or put a 2-hour talk show on one disc. Each air personality could have their own collection of sound effects, beds and IDs on their own MiniDisc. Just think of things you now do with a 2-track reel, a cassette, a recordable CD, or a cart machine. The MD-801R can handle many of these tasks and then some.

With so many choices these days when it comes to digital recording and playback media, it's difficult to decide upon a format that will satisfy everyone's needs. Do you get MiniDisc machines for all the studios to replace the cart machines? Or do you look for that perfect hard disk system and dump everything to SCSI drives? What about all the DAT machines you now have? Perhaps the answer is to decide on several formats instead of one. Let's not forget that before there ever was digital, we were using three record/playback formats: reel-to-reel, cassettes, and carts. Make that four if you used a 2-track and a multitrack reel-to-reel. Perhaps, when the last analog deck leaves your station, there will be three or four digital formats remaining. With machines like the MD-801R available, the MiniDisc could easily be one of them.

Specs on the MD-801R include a sampling frequency of 44.1kHz, frequency response at 20-20kHz, signal to noise ratio >92dB. THD is less than 0.008%. The MD-801R lists for $2,499. The playback only version, the MD-801P, lists for $2,399. MiniDiscs cost about $10 each, give or take a dollar or two depending upon the length (typically 60 and 74 minutes) and where you buy.

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