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Doremi Laboratories DAWN II Digital Audio Workstation Nucleus (part 1)


Right now, the world of hard disk recorders and editors is split into two camps:
those that use dedicated controllers and those that have a standard personal
computer interface. I suspect that many of us have ingrained prejudices that
cause us to favour one or the other, but sometimes prejudices have to be set
aside so that the true worth of a product can be assessed. I used to have a
leaning toward dedicated hardware systems like the DAR SoundStation II and SSL
ScreenSound (which is almost dedicated with its custom operating system and
pen and tablet input). They are both very well designed for the particular task
in hand but SoundStation II, I would say, is rather more suited to music editing
and dialogue manipulation while ScreenSound offers advantages for searching
a sound effects library and spotting to picture. The benefit of a hardware orientated
system combined with a specialised display and sound file handling routine is
that the user interface can be matched to the nature of the work being done.
if a button needs to be just there, it can be. If a file needs to be accessed
in a particular way, it can be. ScreenSound’s sound file retrieval system,
in particular, is a model of efficiency. The drawback to hardware controllers
and one-off operating systems is cost. It takes a good deal of research and
development effort to design the system in the first place, and that R&D
has somehow to be paid for.

The alternative route to hard disk recording and editing is to use a standard
computer interface. The Apple Macintosh has proved particularly suitable for
this and simply bolting it on to the disk recording hardware saves an awful
lot of design and manufacturing time and expense, which naturally results in
a system of lower cost. But certain questions have to be asked, such as: Is
a mouse and computer keyboard the best way to navigate the complexities of music
and dialogue editing? Can a computer’s standard file handling procedure
offer the most efficient access to your sound library? Will my staff be keen
to be transformed into computer operators? I can’t offer any opinions on
the last one, but I have attempted to throw some light on the other two points
in a separate panel.

Feel the Quality

One particular advantage of DAWN II’s Mac interface is that it allows
you to choose from many screen display options. According to the manual, DAWN
II will even run with a 9” screen MacPlus – one of the forerunners of the
Mac Classic, which apparently isn’t quite so adaptable. Obviously, no-one
is going to run a system costing over ten thousand pounds with a computer that
can be bought for about £200 from an ad in the local free sheet (and I
would have to see it to believe it anyway). But you do also have the choice
of any of the LC, Mac II and Quadra versions and any mono or colour screen that
will suit. Sensible screen choices would range from 14” diagonal right
up to 20”. If you are not familiar with Mac screens then I should point
out that the different sized screens don’t show the same picture at different
magnifications, they all show approximately the same size image but the larger
screens show more of it. (Of course, the software that you use may have zoom
in and zoom out functions in addition). Since the Mac is perfectly comfortable
with multiple open windows, the larger the monitor, the more information you
can see at the same time. DAWN II was demonstrated to me with a 20” screen,
and I have to say that it seemed about the right size. The colour Mac display,
whether on an Apple-badged monitor or not, is very elegant and classy looking.
I certainly find it more impressive than computer monitors that project harsh
saturated colours onto my retina. I also find a decent monitor easier to look
at than SoundStation II’s glowing touch screen, although I can quite understand
why some people appreciate the latter.

DAWN II consists of the ‘cleverly’ named Digital Audio Workstation
Nucleus, which is a box bristling with connectors that you need handle only
once then leave in a dark cupboard to get on with its work (you can leave the
computer’s main unit in the cupboard too, with only occasional access needed
to insert a floppy disk of edit decisions). The standard nucleus comes with
eight AES/EBU inputs and outputs and eight XLR balanced analogue inputs and
outputs, and the whole system is expandable to forty-eight ins and outs. The
system includes a MIDI interface (they don’t shout about it in case someone
thinks that DAWN is only useful as a component in a MIDI system) and a SMPTE/EBU
timecode generator and reader. If you want to interface with a video editor,
the familiar 9-pin connector is ready and waiting. The recording medium may
be a Mac compatible hard disk or removable optical disk and backup is to a Mac
compatible tape storage medium. As has proved to be the case with other systems,
some disks are bound to be more compatible than others and I suspect that anyone
purchasing a DAWN system would do well to question their supplier carefully
and follow the advice given, rather than buy a disk drive that hasn’t been
tested with DAWN II at a low price from an ad in ‘Computer Shopper’.
To complete the system, you might want to have a printer connected to the computer.
“A printer in the studio?”, you cry. Yes – if you want hard copy of
your edits in familiar film cue sheet format.

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David Mellor



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David Mellor