Test Drive: The Audicy Digital Audio Workstation from Orban

Built-in effects came to the Orban workstations with the introduction of the DSE-7000FX.  The Audicy makes using these effects much easier with the SELECT buttons and PARAMETER CONTROL knobs on the control panel.  Pick a track to apply an effect to, press that track’s SELECT button, and the Audicy’s Effects screen pops up.  Choose from Orban Equalizer, Optimod Compressor, Orban Mini Reverb, Lexicon Small Space Reverb, Lexicon Large Space Reverb, and +12dB gain (for quickly adding 12dB to any track).  The equalizer, compressor, and reverb programs come with several factory presets which can be modified and saved to a user “Custom” preset location which is stored with the production, but the custom preset cannot be recalled into another production.  It has to be recreated from scratch.  As the effect names suggest, the compressor and reverb programs utilize Optimod and Lexicon algorithms which deliver high quality effects.  The compressor parameters simulate those found on the Optimod transmitter audio processor and take some getting used to, but the results are excellent. 

When an effect is selected, the row of ten PARAMETER CONTROL knobs are duplicated on the screen and indicate what each knob controls.  Several of the effects have multiple pages of parameters accessed with the PAGE UP and PAGE DOWN buttons on the controller.  The effects on the Audicy are enough to eliminate using external compressors, EQ, and reverb/delay boxes, but you’ll still need the outboard gear for flanges, multichannel pitch shifting, distortion, and other sporadically used effects.

Summary

Finding things to do with the extra two channels was not a problem.  Before I knew it, I was using stereo sound effects where I would otherwise have used a mono version or not bothered with the effect at all.  Personally, I still think twelve is the magic number of tracks for radio production, but ten is a big step in the right direction.  Of course, one can always mix down ten tracks to two and free up eight more, but you must record the mix over two of the other tracks, thus somewhat destroying your original tracks.  Then again, you could get into the habit of using the Copy Self function before you do a mixdown to copy the entire production further down the tracks.  Then use that version for the bounce while keeping the original tracks intact.

I was also thrilled to see the Iomega Jaz drive as an option.  Now there is an infinite amount of storage space available using removable 1-gig Jaz discs.  Each producer can have his/her own disc(s) at around $100 per disc.  This can help keep the 2-gig hard drive relatively free for productions that will be used by more than one person or for storing Library sounds that everyone can access.  And the Jaz serves as a much faster backup than the data DAT system, though the DAT system is ideal for long term archiving.

Practically all other digital workstations are hard disk-based.  Being RAM-based gives the Audicy lots of pluses with a few sacrifices.  Because all editing and processing of the audio is done in RAM, things happen very quickly.  Cut and paste edits occur instantaneously.  Effects are real-time.  The scrub function has zero delay and is therefore as close to actually rocking reels as it gets.  The drawbacks to RAM based systems are 1) the size of the production is limited by the amount of RAM in the system, 2) the additional RAM is more expensive than hard disk space, and 3) while most disk-based systems load projects very quickly if not instantly, the Audicy takes anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes to load productions into RAM, depending upon the size of the production.  If you’re only doing spots and promos, you’ll find the standard 17.4 minutes of RAM plenty, and most productions will load in about 30 seconds or so. 

Not enough can be said for the ongoing effort Orban makes to create a workstation designed for the fast-paced environment of the radio production studio.  As digital worked its way into radio, the common cry from the trenches was that some systems were too hard for some staff members to get the hang of.  It wasn’t easy for many jocks to make the transition from broadcast consoles to computers and mouse-driven menus.  Orban has done a great job of taking the computer out of this system, and that is a comfort to those on staff who still haven’t found their computer comfort zone but still need to do production.  And on screen help with the touch of the HELP button does wonders to keep the manual out of sight.  At the same time, there are enough functions and features in the Audicy that the “power” user can crank out complex productions without feeling as though they are limited by the system’s effort to make it easy for others to use.  There are several functions and shortcuts that aren’t staring the average user in the face.  But they’re there, on a help screen or in the manual, waiting for the user that wants to go to the next level.

Have you heard stories about how some manufacturers will let their DAWs go completely into extinction when their “new model” comes out?  No so with Orban.  Current DSE-7000 users will be happy to know that their system can be upgraded to the Audicy by replacing the controller, software, and some hardware.  Prices will vary depending upon how old your system is.  Prices are due to be announced any day, and shipping of upgrades is tentatively slated for mid-October.  Furthermore, the Audicy and DSE are compatible with each other.  DSE productions and library sounds will load on the Audicy and vice versa; however, you will lose tracks beyond track 8 when loading an Audicy production into a DSE.  Still, Orban deserves a pat on the back for not deserting their DSE users. 

The Audicy is not cheap.  For $19,950 you get the basic system which consists of 17.4 minutes of recording time, a 2-gig internal drive, and 14-inch monitor.  Add a little more for the Jaz drive, tape backup, 17-inch monitor, and extra RAM if desired.  It’s certainly not like going to the boss and asking for $300 for a new multitrack software program you found in the Internet.  The Audicy is an investment, but you get a product that has already proven itself via the DSE.  It comes from a company that knows radio and has been around for a long time.  And the product was designed for the smaller broadcast production market rather than the huge “home recording musician” market thus putting radio production people, and their satisfaction, at the core of the product’s user base rather than on the fringe. 

Audicy specs include frequency response (analog I/O) 20Hz-15kHz at 32kHz sampling, 20Hz-20kHz at 44.1kHz sampling, S/N ratio >90dB, and total noise+distortion <0.005%.  The real-time internal digital effects utilize 24-bit processing.  Input D/A converters are 18-bit 64x oversampled delta sigma; output 16-bit, 8x oversampled.  Recording is 16-bit linear PCM at 32kHz for 44.1kHz.  The internal 2-gig SCSI drive stores eight hours of audio at 32kHz sampling.

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