The next wave in recording is undoubtedly hard disk recording. I am sure that tape will be with us for a long time to come, in both its analogue and digital varieties, but eventually for the majority, disk recording will become a major part of our working lives. The Akai DR8 is one of the first stand alone hard disk recorders. You don't need a computer to operate it and it works pretty much as you would want a multitrack recorder to work. There are no windows, icons, mice or pull-down menus, and a lot of people will say that when you are recording, who needs them? Recording is a painstaking business and your full attention has to be on the music and the sound, not on the visual and operational demands of a computer. Akai have made a bold decision not even to provide LCD graphics. The only information this machine will give you is timecode and the occasional couple of words in its fluorescent display. Anyone who criticises this machine for not having a 'better' display has probably missed the point.
First of all I should recap on the basic advantage of hard disk recording over tape, because this is vastly more important than however many detailed features an individual piece of equipment provides. Hard disk recording offers virtually instant access to any of the audio on the disk. There is no forward or rewind time. The value of this simple thing cannot be underestimated. So much time is wasted in the studio simply locating from one point of the audio to another. If this time could be bundled up and sold at a hourly rate it would be a resource of considerable value. Hard disk recording gives you this time for free. The other advantage of hard disk recording is that it can be non-destructive. In other words, you don't have to erase something to record something else, to do an edit or drop in for example. You can always go back and change your mind. In some systems, this 'infinite undo' capability is actually counter productive because you end up putting off all the major decisions until some unspecified later time, and the disk quickly gets full of takes that are no good, but you haven't been able to bring yourself to throw them away. Sorting them all out later will of course be a nightmare. Akai have arrived at a very reasonable compromise on this as we shall see shortly. But before I go on, let me stress that these advantages are huge, and everything else is just icing on the cake.
The DR8 may be supplied with or without a hard disk. Of course you'll need one, but you may want to source your own rather than buying it from your audio retailer. The unit I tested had a Micropolis 1 gigabyte AV drive fitted internally. To date, Micropolis are still the only hard disk manufacturer who can be seen to be making efforts to satisfy the needs of the audio and video community, although other drives may happen to be suitable. The usual equation of roughly 10 megabytes per stereo minute applies, so a 1 gigabyte drive will give around 200 track minutes, or 25 minutes of 8-track operation. Some of the rated capacity is taken up by the formatting so you should anticipate a little less. Since the DR8 can handle drives all the way up to 4 gigabytes, then duration of recording for most purposes should be reasonably adequate. The DR8 is a normal SCSI device so you can connect up to six disks, and six more with the optional additional SCSI bus – if you can afford it! As yet, 'overflow' recording is not possible, so when a disk is full, you must select another disk and recommence recording.