Test Drive: Darwin Digital Audio Disk Recorder from E-mu Systems, Inc.

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System and Routing

The System selection from the main menu accesses various system parameters.  Here you can setup the disk drive configuration, format drives, set undo levels and crossfade times, set the system date, set the ASSIGNABLE KEY functions, perform system tests, and set the digital I/O format (S/PDIF or AES/EBU), to mention a few things.  The Darwin’s backup function is in this section.  Darwin allows backup to DDS data DAT, but you can only back up the entire drive, not individual projects.

The Routing selection accesses the Darwin’s internal digital patchbay.  Use the patch bay to set up the I/O in a variety of configurations.  With the optional Input Expander card, you can set up eight individual inputs and eight outs.  A typical broadcast production setup might be to route input 1 to tracks 1, 3, 5, and 7; and route input 2 to tracks 2, 4, 6, and 8.  Then take all eight outputs to your console.  The patchbay is also where the routing can be set to bounce tracks in the digital domain by taking the digital outputs and routing them to one or two tracks.  A maximum of six tracks can be bounced down to two.

There is also an internal digital mixer in the Darwin.  Press the Mixer function key from the Routing sub-menu to gain access to level controls and pans for each of the eight tracks.  The output of this mix is fed to the headphone jack and to the digital output.  The mixer does not affect the analog outs.  Since there are no EQ options or effect sends on the mixer, its use is more dedicated to bouncing tracks rather than performing digital mixdowns.  It also serves as a submix when needed.

Summary

I found the Darwin extremely quick to learn and easy to use.  With a five minute lesson, anyone with analog or digital multitrack experience can be recording and mixing in no time.  Another five minute lesson, and editing can be added to the repertoire.  The Darwin doesn’t offer “unlimited virtual tracks” or a massive array of internal digital effects.  This is partly what keeps the Darwin uncomplicated.  Instead, you get an 8-track digital recorder with some extensive editing capabilities.  If you’re looking for something more than an ADAT or DA-88, something that gives you random access editing capabilities, but you still want to bring your tracks to the console for EQ, effects, and the mixdown, the Darwin fits the bill very nicely.  For broadcast production, 32kHz sampling would have been a nice option, but with the price of hard drives going down, and the size going up, this can almost be overlooked.

The Darwin is being distributed exclusively by Guitar Center and Sweetwater Sound with street prices under $2,000.  Options and their prices include the Analog Input Expander ($249), the ADAT Digital I/O ($149), the ADAT Sync Card ($379), the DSP Card ($699), and the Jaz upgrade ($849).  Additional specs on the Darwin include frequency response at 20-20kHz, THD+N at <0.05%, and S/N >100dB.  Data encoding on the input is 16-bit and 18-bit on the output.  The software version in the unit used for this review is version 2.01 dated April 21, 1997.  This is major upgrade from the previous software, and it ran crash and error-free for the few weeks we had the unit.

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