The DSE-7000 made its first home at WZOU in Boston where Dan McCoy, former Production Director there, spent nearly four months with the machine. Dan has since left WZOU and is now Production Director at WAAF. We called Dan to find out what he had to say about the DSE. "I think it is probably one of the most impressive things that has ever happened to radio production, and now I am the first Production Director to ever suffer from DSE withdrawal. Here at AAF, we're using a 4-track and we just bought a Studer 8-track. There's just no comparison. If you're doing a mixdown of a concert spot, let's say, and you're the kind of producer that likes to mix your bed down first then do the voice-over, to do a good spot you're talking probably an hour's worth of work. With the DSE, twenty minutes, twenty-five minutes max. It cuts production time at least in half."
Is Dan having any luck getting a DSE for his new home at WAAF? "The 8-track that this company just purchased and the accompanying board haven't been installed yet. I've been trying to talk them out of installing this stuff, sending it back, and buying a DSE, but they don't want to spend the money. I've used the approach that the money they'll save just in not buying tape will half pay for the machine in five years. I can't talk them into it and I'm really disappointed."
What about the staff at WZOU? How did they like it? "They were initially intimidated by it because it was a computer, but once they got on it and found that they could do an edit two minutes into learning it, we literally had people hanging around waiting to use it. That's how good it is." Dan continues, "I didn't touch a piece of tape for three and a half months unless it was a dub that I was transferring to the DSE. It's an amazing piece of equipment."
What is amazing is that it took so long for somebody to apply this technology strictly to radio production. The technology itself has been here for years! Programs have been written to utilize this technology, but they have all been designed primarily for places other than the radio production room.
Bryan Tyler replaced Dan McCoy at WZOU and has been on the machine for about a month. We called Bryan to get his comments. "It's remarkably like a normal 8-track. If you know how to work an 8-track, you can pick this machine up in just a matter of hours. You have to keep reminding yourself that it is a digital machine, otherwise, you won't take advantage of all the things it has to offer." How much faster is Bryan producing? "What used to take an hour takes twenty minutes, now. It's like the days before air conditioning. Before air conditioning, everybody thought life was wonderful, but once you experienced air conditioning you thought, 'God! I can't live without this ever again!' Before I worked on this thing, and I've worked with some good equipment, I thought everything was just wonderful. Now, the thought of losing this job and going to a station that doesn't have a DSE scares me to death."
Bryan mentioned that he had come across a couple of bugs in the software, but went on to highly praise AKG for the quick and effective technical support he received over the phone. The nice thing about software glitches is that, in most cases, they can be easily fixed; and the old program can be replaced with the new one in the time it takes to copy a file from floppy disk to hard disk.
The program behind the DSE-7000 is written to replace the analog 8-track machine. However, when you look at the machine as a whole, it not only replaces your 8-track tape recorder, but almost replaces your console as well. Remember, the mixing is done on the control panel! In fact, in a small production studio situation, you probably could replace your console and multi-track machine with the DSE. Simply use a patch bay, a routing switcher, or some other input switching device to change your inputs to the DSE. While the DSE will replace your 8-track, it won't if you often record more than two tracks at a time, as in the case of recording live music. The DSE only has two inputs, and the reason is, in radio production you seldom, if at all, record more than two tracks at a time. The DSE just isn't designed for that other type of production. Darn.
Let's get back to describing the DSE-7000 a little more. Being RAM based, you have to ask the question, "How much recording time is there? How much RAM is there?" As you probably know, the amount of digital recording time available depends upon the sampling frequency in use and the amount of memory available. The DSE is switchable between 44.1, 48, and 32kHz. At 32kHz, you get more recording time but a frequency response of only 20 to 15kHz. For radio, this is a mute issue; high frequencies above 15kHz won't get past the transmitter anyway. So, with the DSE set for 32kHz sampling rate, the "basic" system, which consists of one 16 meg memory board, gives you 4.4 minutes of "track time." (See Tips & Techniques page for more info on digital track time.) The track time is freely allocable to any or all eight tracks and is expand-able, with extra cards, to 17.6 minutes. 4.4 minutes might cramp some sixty second productions filled with music, zaps, voices, and other effects. Two of the 16 meg memory boards will give you a roomy 8.8 minutes. A maximum of 70 minutes of track time can be achieved with optional AKG 64M Memory Cards which will soon be available.
The hard disk drive that comes with the basic system is a 150 megabyte drive. As mentioned earlier, this drive is used to backup your work (automatically) and for storage of often used sounds, beds, jingles, etc.. There is an optional 676 megabyte drive which will more than quadruple your storage space for a mere $1,400 more. It's well worth it.
Oops! Did we mention money? Well, here's the bomb. The basic system (with only 4.4 minutes of track time and the 150 meg hard drive) costs $37,500. Add the second 16 meg memory card to get 8.8 minutes of track time and you're at $42,000. Add the 676 meg hard drive and you're at $43,400. Yes, these figures will raise eyebrows and get a few laughs from management. They'll say, "Wait a minute. Didn't you say last year that you wanted some top of the line 8-track tape recorder for $10,000. How did the top of the line jump to $40,000 for the same eight tracks?" Unless your boss knows production, trusts your judgment, or can translate production time cut in half into dollars saved or earned, you'll have a tough sell.
When you consider that, outside the software and the control panel, the system is basically an IBM compatible computer, the price may seem a little on the high side to say the least. Granted, the control panel is what makes the system so easy to use, but is it worth that other thirty plus thousand dollars? Oh yea, there is the software, the program itself. Well, okay. It is by far the best program available for what we do, but it'll fit on five dollars' worth of floppy disks! Well, okay. I suppose the programmers should get paid, and AKG did spend a lot of money to go out on a limb for the tiny market of radio producers. What the heck, it's the boss's money anyway.
At around $40,000, the system may not find a great many homes quickly, but just as stations will pay twice that for a Pacific Recorders console, they'll pay the price for the DSE. The key to any sales pitch on the DSE will not have anything to do with "digital quality." What good is digital quality when you transfer the end product to a cart full of analog tape running at 7.5 ips anyway? Granted, there will be a lot less tape hiss on that cart, but the digital quality will just be icing on the cake. The key won't be that the DSE is the best 8-track digital recorder on the market. A top of the line analog 8-track with Dolby SR on each track is just about as good as a digital 8-track for half the price. Of course, you won't get the speed and editing power of the DSE, but you'll have a nice 8-track. The key to selling the DSE to anyone, particularly management, will lie in the fact that this machine will literally cut production time in half or more. This saved time can then be turned into more time spent on a piece of production to make it even better that it ever would have been. You'll "undo" and redo edits until they're perfect because they're so easy to do. You'll try things you wouldn't normally try because it'll only take a second. The saved time will translate into more time for spec spots, too. It will translate into more time spent on copywriting, the heart of any great production. But above all this, because the DSE does to radio production what word processors have done to writing, creativeness can now be extended well beyond the limits of the envelope of analog production. Simply being able to do things you could never have done with tape recorders makes the DSE worth every penny of a competitive station's pocketbook; and finally, how can you put a price tag on something that so easily and drastically increases your creative and productive output?
Allied Broadcast Equipment, exclusive distributor for radio of the AKG DSE-7000, sent Mick McCabe to Radio And Production after they read a letter in a previous issue from a subscriber requesting a Test Drive on the unit. Mick has been a member of the RAP Family for some time, beginning back when he was Production Director at KLSX in Los Angeles. Mick is now a Product Specialist with Allied, totally devoting his time to spreading the "DSE gospel." He brought his "portable" DSE with him and left it with us for two days. In less than thirty minutes he had explained just about everything there was to know about using the machine. The learning curve is incredibly short considering the power of the machine. Mick is a subscriber and bona-fide new member of the RAP Network and invites any questions you might have regarding the DSE. He even welcomes your invitation to meet him and his little digital friend at your station. You can reach Mick at (317) 962-8596, that is unless he's out on the road using up that expense account to wine and dine some Production Director that has left his day's work with the midday jock who couldn't wait to "play" with the DSE-7000. ♦