Test Drive: The Alesis Masterlink ML-9600 High-resolution Master Disk Recorder

ADVANCED EDITING — USING DSP

The MasterLink has four built-in DSP functions that are very powerful: there’s a Compressor, a Parametric EQ, a Peak Limiter, and a Normalizer. All DSP functions are applied in real-time, and don’t change the original audio. You can apply any or all of them and hear the results as you make adjustments. The DSP functions don’t become permanent until you create a CD. And you can use any of the DSP functions on a track-by-track basis.

The Compressor is a single-band type, with controls for Threshold, Ratio, Make-Up Gain, Attack, Release, Knee (5 preset choices), Detect (Peak or RMS) and Key. The Key control determines whether the Compressor will use the left channel, the right channel, or both to control the compression.

The Parametric EQ is a three-band equalizer. Each band of EQ can be adjusted from 20Hz to 22kHz, with up to 18dB of boost or cut and Q values between 0.10 to 18. Each can also be configured as a high-pass or low-pass filter.

The Peak Limiter is different from most limiters in that it can look-ahead and smoothly begin reducing gain before a peak actually hits. Make-up gain is automatically applied according to the Threshold setting, and there are adjustments for Release Time and Output Level.

Finally, the Normalizer scans your Track and finds the loudest point. It then adjusts the gain of the entire track so that point is equal to full-scale.

The DSP functions are fast and flexible, and they sound good. However, stepping through all the options and values using the cursor keys was awkward, and made me wish for a data wheel that I could spin quickly.

BURN ME ONE, TOO

Now that you’ve recorded your tracks, assembled the Playlist, topped and tailed, and tweaked things a bit with the editing and DSP tools in the MasterLink, it’s time to burn a CD. Here’s how to do it:

Press the button labeled CREATE CD. Insert a blank CD and close the tray. Yer done.

No, really, you’re finished. Go get a coffee or use the rest room or whatever, because while you’re doing that, the MasterLink will take care of the rest. If you’ve applied any DSP to your tracks, it will “render” the Playlist to the hard disk at near real-time. If you haven’t used any DSP functions, then it will skip that step and immediately begin to burn and finalize a Red Book audio CD at 4x.

A full 74 minute CD will take about 19 minutes to burn and finalize. If you’ve used DSP then you have to add the render time to the total. But rendering only needs to be done once, so if you want to burn a second copy, the MasterLink will use the previously-rendered source file again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention MasterLink’s CD24 capability. CD24 is Alesis’ proprietary format that burns 24-bit audio as AIFF files to CD using the ISO-9660 CD-ROM disc format. This allows you to store full 24-bit recordings to CDs that can be read by Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX operating systems. The MasterLink will also playback CD24 discs as if they were regular CDs.

I didn’t use MasterLink’s CD24 feature. Instead, I usually chose to record everything at 24-bits, and let MasterLink do the conversion and dithering to 16-bits when it burned the Red Book audio CD. I did compare CDs recorded at 24-bits and converted, with CDs recorded at 16-bits, and there is a slight audible difference. The 24-bit recordings sound a bit more open than the 16-bit recordings, but for voice work the 16-bit audio is just fine, and takes up less space on the hard disk.

ARE WE HAVING FUN?

You bet we’re having fun. I used MasterLink as a 24-bit replacement for DAT in several VO sessions, some of which had multiple tags. I created new tracks while recording for each of the tags, and got pretty good at hitting the NEW TRACK button at just the right moment, so I didn’t have to adjust the Start points later.

After the first couple of sessions, I was just as fast with MasterLink as I am with the old Panasonic DAT machine. The converters sound good, and in the end, I had a finished Red Book audio CD to send to my clients. My only quibble is with the tiny remote, but I don’t use those silly things anyway.

I cannot imagine why anyone would buy a DAT recorder, new or used, when they could have a MasterLink, and probably for less money. If you’re looking to add or replace a DAT, you need to audition Alesis’ MasterLink.

The MasterLink has a suggested retail price of $1699. For more information, call Alesis at 800-525-3747, or visit their website at www.alesis.com.

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