Test Drive: The Roland DM-80 Multi-Track Disk Recorder


by Jerry Vigil

Trying to find the right digital workstation these days is like trying to find the right breakfast cereal. There are fifteen bazillion brands to choose from, and they're all "exactly what you need." The vast majority of digital multi-track systems available are disk based. Basically, what makes them different from each other is software. Most systems run on an IBM or MacIntosh platform and provide a computer keyboard, monitor, and a mouse for the user interface. Many of these systems range in price from the low to upper four figures and meet the demands of many who are looking for digital recording/editing at a low price. Then there are a few systems that go the extra mile and provide a dedicated controller, bringing many "keyboard" and "mouse" functions, and even a mixer, to an easy to use control panel. This, of course, comes at a price. But the advantages in the broadcast field are worth it. This next level of disk based systems is where the DM-80 resides. Just barely into the five figure price range, the DM-80, with its remote controller and optional fader unit, serve up a digital 8-track workstation that's very hard to beat, both in price and features. Add to this a short learning curve, and you've got the right recipe for a digital workstation that will work in the production room.

The photo below shows, from left to right, the DM-80-F Fader Unit, the DM-80 Multi-Track Disk Recorder, and the DM-80-R Remote Controller. The recorder unit houses the hardware, software, and disk drives. The front panel features an LED meter display for each of the eight tracks as well as the stereo master. There are clip indicators for each track; track "status" indicators to show play, mute or record modes; hard disk indicators that flash to show disk activity; and sampling rate indicators. The rear panel is where all audio connections are made. There are eight analog balanced or unbalanced TRS inputs and eight analog TRS outputs. The DM-80 features an internal, digital mixer and sends the stereo output to two more TRS jacks on the rear panel for an analog mix and to a digital out as well. The digital connections are switchable between coaxial and AES/EBU standard XLR. Other rear panel jacks include connections for SMPTE and video sync, MIDI IN, OUT, and THRU, and SCSI connectors for adding additional drives and for tape backup. As with other disk based systems, it is this rack-mount unit, housing the drives and a motorized fan, that can create considerable noise. However, the DM-80 is by far one of the quietest systems we've played with. In fact, the fan and drives are quiet enough to permanently place the unit near a mike with no more noise than the soft whir of a reel-to-reel deck in stand-by mode.

The DM-80's remote controller is actually an option. The DM-80 can be run using a Macintosh computer and the Roland Track Manager software, thereby eliminating both the remote controller and fader unit. However, this review will examine the DM-80 using the DM-80-R remote controller, which we found extremely easy to use. The remote controller is where all the work is done. The only reason to access the record unit itself is to turn the DM-80 on and off and to get a glance at levels and clip indicators. The DM-80 records "takes" which remain, in their entirety, on the hard drives until you delete them. These takes are used in your session or "project" and are referred to as "phrases" in the project. A phrase may consist of the entire take or just a portion of it. In other words, a project is a collection of phrases, and phrases are edited portions of takes (or entire takes). Because these takes remain on disk in their entirety until deleted, any editing you do is non-destructive.