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Digital Information Exchange 1987 (part 3)


What Jeff Baxter, ex-Steely Dan member, was doing speaking at the DIE seemed
to be a good question – before he took the rostrum. Apart from extolling the
virtues of low cost recording, as in the Akai 12-channel DR 1200, he certainly
stimulated the audience into a flurry of questions, which may have become a
heated debate but we were already running late and lunch had to be fitted in

The second of John Watkinson’s excellent presentations was on the subject
of hard disks – a topic of increasing interest. A hard disk is pretty much like
a floppy disk in concept, except it is totally enclosed, built to tighter tolerances,
and has several disks stacked up on one common spindle. Digital audio can be
recorded on the disk, with an access time to any part of the recording less
than 10 milliseconds. Compare that with tape.

A hard disk can be looked upon as a bucket for data representing digital audio.
The same hard disk could contain one long track, or several shorter tracks.
The only limit to the potential number of tracks is the rate at which data can
be read out.

To a hard disk recording system, it doesn’t matter where the data is located
on the disk. Editing, or crossfading two takes together, is only a matter of
reading out the data from the takes in a different way. The existing data doesn’t
have to be changed, only the instructions on what to do with it need be stored.
Limitations arise when you need to do more processing on the data than the system
can cope with. For example, a four track crossfade at .99x normal speed takes
a lot of computing power.

Day 2 also included Carl Schofield explaining the Audio Tablet hard disk based
editor, Karl Otto Bader on Studer’s DASH editor, and a weary looking Steve
Jagger with an informative description of the AMS/Calrec Logic 1 and the reasoning
behind it.

It seems that the most talked about presentations are the ones that generate
debate between the audience and the speaker. That point was obviously understood
by Cary Fisher, opening Day 3, who explained to us the key features of the new
Sony 3348 48- track recorder, and then pretended not to know of a sensible use
for one of them.

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The 3348 is the fulfillment of the promise of the multitrack DASH format, filling
in the spaces left on the tape by the 24- track 3324. Twenty-four tracks of
digital audio may be recorded on the 3324, and then the tape put on a 3348 and
tracks 25 to 48 recorded. Or looking at it the other way round, forty-eight
tracks can be recorded on the 3348, and then tracks 1 to 24 can be replayed
without difficulty on the 3324. Cary usefully explained that this was not clever
trickery, but simply the full exploitation of the DASH format as originally

Extra features include a twenty second RAM memory which can be used to relocate
audio on the tape (John Watkinson speculated during questions whether future
options might include a hard disk!). Also there is something known as ‘digital
ping pong’ whereby any combination of two tracks may be digitally copied,
with no processing delay, to any other combination of two tracks. Ideas from
the floor on what use this might be put to included making safety back ups before
drop-ins (but surely the autolocator provides a non destructive rehearse function?)
and making compilations of vocal takes in the digital domain (losing the level
matching abilities of going through the console). A third proposed use was reordering
tracks to make the track sheet neater. My guess is that the function is there
so that important tracks can be relocated to tracks 1 to 24 if necessary for
playback on a 3324. Any offers?

Alan Jubb of Neve gave us a history of MADI – the proposed standard format
for multichannel digital interface. MADI is the brainchild of engineers from
Mitsubishi, Neve, Sony and SSL. Alan explained how it was thought that the takeup
of digital multitrack was being slowed by the difficulty of transferring digital
audio from one format to another. The MADI standard had to meet several criteria:
A high probability of industry acceptance…Based on readily available components
and not based on proprietry designs of MADI group companies…A short development
time…Economic to implement…Transparency to the AES/EBU interface…Capable
of at least thirty-two channels.

Alan gave an informative and interesting explanation of this important topic.

Sam Toyoshima, well-known for his studio designs, followed, giving a report
on what is happening in digital audio in Japan. His presentation ended with
examples of the different types of music popular in Japan, together with photos
of some Tokyo studios.

John Stadius of Soundtracs and Dave Whittaker of Harman UK presented what they
called the ‘New Way’ of recording using a Direct to Disk recording
system and a low-cost mixing console such as the Soundtracs Eric.

Richard Salter of Sony Broadcast took the place of the indisposed Roger Lagadec
and explained the ‘Total Sony’ concept they use within the company.
Basically, the object is to have the ability to use all of the vast resources
of the Sony company in any division. For instance, expertise in the video or
domestic audio fields can be put to use in the professional audio division where

One product of this collaboration is the SDP 1000, a prototype digital equaliser
demonstrated by Andy Tait. It features comprehensive parametric EQ and filters,
together with a dynamics sections. Most important is the user interface consisting
of a workstation-type unit with a tracker ball, and a very useable video display.
You can see and hear the EQ and dynamics curves you are creating. Timecode based
automation is also a feature of this unit.

The final presentation was by Paul Lidbetter on Neve’s development tool,
Casper. With Casper, Paul demonstrated the effects of instantaneous switching
of gain and EQ, also the offensive nature of zipper noise in digital faders.
Of course, Neve’s solutions to these problems were demonstrated too.

Day 3 concluded with another demonstration of HDVS, for the benefit of the
many studio people who had missed out on Day 1.

If there are conclusions to be drawn from the three days of the Digital Information
Exchange, the most important might be that video may no longer be considered
as a poor relation to sound (or vice versa!). The developments in this parallel
field ARE going to make a difference to the way we handle audio. Advances in
technology are increasingly pushing forward the rate of change in sound engineering
practice. If many of these developments are first appearing as by-products of
video recording and processing techniques then we must be aware of them at their
earliest stages. With intelligent presentations and useful questioning from
the floor, the DIE will continue to be an important source of information.

David Mellor

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David Mellor



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