Test Drive: SADiE RADiA from Studio Audio & Video Ltd.

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SADiE-RADiAby Steve Cunningham

UK-based Studio Audio and Video Ltd. is best known for its SADiE (Studio Audio Disk Editor) line of workstations. The company claims to have over 600 SADiE systems in use at the BBC in England, and an equal number in other radio stations worldwide, so they definitely have some radio experience on which to draw. This month we’ll take a look at the company’s RADiA system, a four in, four out, 24 track workstation specifically designed for the radio market.

The core of the RADiA system consists of a PCI audio card, to which one or more SCSI drives are connected directly, and the SADIE software. The software is now at version 4, having been in use for several years and undergone many revisions. And SADiE’s policy of no-charge upgrades for the life of the product ensures that users get the benefit of future additions and improvements. The system records and plays uncompressed linear digital audio at either 16 or 24 bits, with sample rates up to 48kHz.

CONFIGURATIONS

The RADiA system is available in three different configurations. The first is the RADiA Card Set at $4495 retail, and it includes the PCI processing card, the software and manual, and a balanced breakout snake. (The ever-English SADiE folks insist on calling the snake a “loom.” Hey, we’re cutting audio here, not weaving a rug! Just kidding, those Brits are a hoot, aren’t they?) The card set is for those of you who prefer to save some money by rolling your own, since you’ll have to supply the Pentium III PC, extra memory and drives, plus the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You don’t get the fancy controller, but the software is identical to the more expensive configurations.

The next step up is the RADiA Turnkey system at $7495 retail. This gets you everything in the card set, plus a rackmount 733MHz Pentium PC with 128MB of PC133 RAM, a 20GB internal hard drive, Windows 2000, an 8MB AGP video card (which contributes significantly to the snappiness of the system) a 17" monitor, a keyboard and mouse, and a 9GB removeable SCSI drive in a Kingston pull-out carrier. It also gets you a computer that is pre-configured for SADiE, and that you know will work properly right out of the box with no worries.

At the top end is the RADiA Platinum system. At $11,595 retail, this system includes everything in the Turnkey system, plus the Master Control Panel, a CAT card and cable to connect the Master Control Panel to the PC, a 15" LCD monitor, and a PCI 10/100 Ethernet card to connect the RADiA to a network or to the Internet.

The analog inputs and outputs are electronically balanced at +4dBu, and SADiE claims a peak output level of +18dBu. The A/D and D/A converters are 24-bit, and their claimed frequency response is 20Hz - 20kHz, +/- 0.5dB. The digital I/O is capable of communicating in either AES or S/PDIF format, selectable in software. Note that since the digital fan-out cable uses XLR connectors, you’ll need to provide adapters and perhaps a transformer to correctly utilize S/PDIF format digital audio.

SADiE USA in Nashville kindly lent me a Platinum system for review, so I had all the goodies at my disposal. The rackmount PC featured a floppy drive, a 50x CD reader, and a Plextor CD-RW drive, the latter of which is connected to the SCSI bus along with the removable hard disk. Nearly all the PCI slots in the rackmount PC were full. Besides the video and Ethernet cards, there was a PCI card for connecting additional external SCSI drives to RADiA’s internal SCSI bus, a card for analog I/O and another for digital I/O, both of which use DB-15 connectors, and a CAT card for connecting the Master Control Panel.


GETTING STARTED

Setting up the system was simple. I connected the video monitor, keyboard, and mouse to the PC, and plugged in AC. Next I attached the included four-channel AES fan-out snake to the DB-15 connector on the DIO card, and connected the XLRs carrying the AES in and out signals to the appropriate connectors on my console. I then connected the Master Control Panel to the CAT card and to its inline power supply, and I fired up the PC.

After going through its diagnostic routines, the PC plops you in front of the familiar Windows desktop interface. Double-clicking the SADiE4 icon at the left fires up the program. You’re first presented with a choice of opening the last project you worked on, starting a new one, or browsing for another. When you’ve picked one, you’ll find yourself looking at the main windows — the Playlist window across the top, and the Mixer, Transport, Clipstore and Project windows organized along the bottom. Each of these (with the exception of the Clipstore and Project windows) has a toolbar of icon-buttons running across the top, and these do most of the work.

The windows are all self-explanatory, although SADiE uses some home-brewed nomenclature to describe things. While a track in SADiE is what you’d expect, a whole, original audio recording, when placed in SADiE’s Edit Decision List it becomes a “stream.” A stereo track uses two adjacent streams, while a mono track uses only one. The RADiA system can playback a total of 24 streams, which is the equivalent of 24 mono tracks, or 12 stereo tracks.

The graphical interface for the RADiA is highly customizable, and this is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that you can set up the SADiE desktop to display only those windows and icon-buttons you really need. The bad news is that you’re initially forced to spend time doing this, or you’ll end up searching everywhere for buttons and controls that aren’t apparent on the screen; more on that later.

Setting up to record requires a trip to the Settings window, where you’ll find all the options you’ll ever need and a few that you may never need. Since the SADiE software used in RADiA is identical to that used in the company’s high-end post workstations, you’ll see settings for machine control, synchronization, 9-pin, and so on. Just ignore all that stuff. You’re interested in settings labeled General and Audio and Mixer to specify your physical inputs and outputs, bit- and sample rates, and exactly where you want things stored on disk. Once set, you can store all these settings in Templates, and with these you can have RADiA create new projects with everything done just so.

Now arm a couple of tracks and hit Record. If you’ve enabled the Waveform display in the Playlist window, you’ll get a visual indication of your audio as you record it. Note that the tracks default to mono, although you can merge adjacent mono tracks into a single stereo track by right-clicking on the first track and selecting the Merge Into Stereo option.

GET YER TOOLBARS HERE

While most editors have toolbars with buttons and also have corresponding menu items, the SADiE software eliminates the menu items altogether, with the exception of the customary Cut, Copy, Paste, and Undo (up to 25 steps can be Undone). As a result, it is important that you take the time to explore the Toolbar menu under the Views menu and set things up so they work for you.

The Toolbar options work like the toolbars in Microsoft Word. The initial setup has a minimal number of icon-buttons in each of the toolbars, and you’ll want to add more. For example, if you want to make a cut and have the remaining audio ripple to close the gap, you’ll need to select the Slip option for the Playlist Toolbar. When you do, the three icon-buttons that control Slip will appear in their own little windoid. You can then use them as they sit, or drag them as a group to the main Playlist toolbar, where they’ll stay forever after. There are several more must-have buttons that you’ll want on your Toolbars, and you’ll discover them as you go along.

Incidentally, the necessity of turning the Slip function on and off is not particularly unusual in several audio editing programs. Case in point, in ProTools you must select an Edit Mode that will control the behavior of your cuts. In Shuffle Mode, regions within a track always snap end-to-end so the gap will close by itself, while in Slip Mode the regions will stay put after a cut, leaving an empty hole. Neither approach is elegant, but we’ve become accustomed to working this way.

801-RADiA-screenshot

MIXING AND EFFECTS

The Mixer window has all the functions you’d expect, and includes segment-based automation for faders, pans, and mutes. Each channel strip also has four Process Slots for inserting EQ, dynamics (compression, expansion, and gating), aux sends and returns, and even an MS decoder. The EQ is versatile, with lowpass, highpass, shelving, and bandpass versions available. All these come standard with the software.

In addition to the standard plug-ins, you can also buy third party plugs (including Direct X plugs) to extend RADiA’s capabilities. SADiE will sell you plugs that include a de-esser, graphic EQ, and a mastering limiter, as well as high-end items like Apogee’s UV22 dithering CD encoder, SyncroArt’s VocAlign, and the entire suite of Cedar Audio noise reduction software including DeNoise, DeCrackle, DeClick and DeThump. Mind you, a full Cedar set costs nearly as much as does the RADiA Turnkey system, but it’s there and available.


CD BURNING AND MORE

One of the best features of RADiA is its ability to burn CDs, from within the SADiE application, on a SCSI CD-R. SADiE has long been popular as a music mastering workstation, and the RADiA shows these roots. Once your project is complete, just select Bounce to reorder your EDL and fool around with PQ subcodes to your heart’s content. Most of us will be happy to skip all that and just burn an audio CD without leaving the SADiE software program.

But CDs are not the only option for handing off your finished work. You can bounce your project back to the hard disk in any one of several file formats, including AIFF, WAV, BWF (Broadcast Wave Format), and Cart Chunk. The latter is especially exciting, since many station automation systems like Enco and Scott Systems can accept audio in the Cart Chunk format directly via a network, and some will even insert Cart Chunk-formatted spots into a station’s Master Playlist automatically.

The SADiE software also seems to get along well with Internet Explorer and Outlook also residing on the system. So you can edit your audio and send it off via CD, network, or the Internet, all from within the RADiA system.

THE MASTER CONTROL PANEL

One of the attractions of the RADiA is its tightly integrated Master Control Panel, which for me separates the RADiA from the rest of the software-only editors available for radio. The Master Control Panel is not large at about 12 by 9 inches, but it provides nice lighted hardware buttons for nearly every important function, and a smooth jog wheel that is a pleasure to use. There’s also a single moving fader, which can be used to automate mixing, albeit one mixer channel at a time. At the top are two large, green LED counters that indicate the source running time and the current position in the EDL.

The button array includes transport buttons and editing buttons like cut, copy, and paste. It also includes buttons for trim and crossfade functions. A Window button steps through the various windows onscreen, so tapping it a few times will de-select the Playlist window and take you to the Mixer window. Buttons labeled Previous and Next let you step sequentially through audio segments for editing, or through mixer channels for making adjustments there.

The jog wheel’s function is controlled by the Scrub button, which switches it between jog mode, shuttle mode, and cursor mode (which just moves the Now Line onscreen without playing sound). The jog wheel also performs data entry in some cases — with the Zoom button pressed, the jog wheel causes the waveform display to zoom in and out. That’s handy.

The single 100mm moving fader is accompanied by buttons for selecting and muting a mix channel, and while it’s not as nice as having a whole surface of moving faders, it does feel smooth and definitely does the job.

Editing on the RADiA with the Master Control Panel is really slick. The quality of the audio scrubbing is superb, and the system responds to the buttons and wheel instantly. Most editing operations are dead easy. For example, to cut a word in Region Edit mode, you jog to the beginning, hit the In button, jog to the end, hit the Out button, and hit Cut. It’s done and done instantly, and the edit has been crossfaded to eliminate any thumps. The Master Control Panel lets you perform that edit much faster than you could do with a mouse.

Having said that, the button layout leaves something to be desired. While the transport buttons are grouped in the lower left corner and that’s fine, some of the vital navigation buttons are scattered about in the upper right and center sections. It took me awhile to figure out where the Window button was without searching for it. The entire button layout could use a re-think. Perhaps if they were laid out at angles around the wheel instead of in a rectangular grid they’d be easier to sort out. Nevertheless, with practice I found that I became significantly faster on the Panel.

WHADDYA REALLY THINK?

First things first: I really enjoyed using the RADiA. There’s no question that RADiA will do everything you need done, as it’s a complete and competent workstation. The Master Control Panel is a joy, and makes the system fun to use. I have just begun to get quick on it, but now I’ve had to stop playing around and write the freakin’ review! The audio quality is excellent, and I love the fact that you can burn a CD or ship tracks over the Internet without having to futz around with the computer.

RADiA does have a significant learning curve, and you’ll need the manual nearby as you learn your way around it. I’m glad that the 200-some page manual is in a 3-ring binder so it can sit flat while I consult it.

But the software updates won’t cost you a dime for as long as you own the machine, and SADiE’s Nashville-based tech support folks are available pretty much 24/7/365. If you connect RADiA to the Internet, they can even walk you through your troubles remotely. Once you’re up to speed on it, I suspect you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. This is another one I’d rather not send back.

The SADiE RADiA system starts at a suggested list price of $4495 US. For more information in the US contact SADiE, Inc., at 2218 Metro Center Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228 or call (615) 327-1140. For more information worldwide, visit www.sadie.com.

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