Test Drive: The Digidesign Session 8

digidesign-session-8

USER REVIEW by Todd D. Boss

It's the age of digital audio workstations, or should I say the age of dreaming about using a digital audio workstation for those of us resigned to work in smaller markets or markets where the funds don't flow. We've seen all the big names and drooled over the glossy color photos of the big workstations in the trade magazines, only to lose the dream when we found a price tag of $25,000 to $35,000 attached. We headed back to our analog studios with the GM's laughter ringing in our ears.

Well, thanks be to the gods or a lucky twist of fate, a little over a year ago, my analog 8-track finally bit the dust at about the same time the station owner/GM was in the process of purchasing another AM/FM combo. We knew we had to get serious about our production capabilities. That's when I called John Francombe and Doug Dyer at Sound Thinking in Portland, Oregon and found the Session 8 by Digidesign. Session 8, in my opinion, is the most powerful personal digital recording system ever introduced for the home, project, or small market studio. Finally, a complete 8-track digital audio workstation is within the price range of the small market station.

A complete Session 8 system, featuring direct-to-disk multi-track recording and digital audio sequencers can be yours for under $10,000. It's PC or Mac based with 16-bit resolution, a sampling rate of 44.1 or 48 kHz, a signal to noise ratio >93dB, and an audio interface with twenty ¼-inch and four XLR analog inputs, eight ¼-inch analog outputs, four additional inserts and a 10x2 analog sub-mixer on the input side. The digital in and out is handled through an S/PDIF port and is processed with the Motorola 56001 digital signal processor. The program software is stored on the computer's "C" drive while all of the sound files are stored on the external SCSI drive. (The size of the SCSI determines how many minutes you can record before needing to archive or dump the disk. Digital audio uses five megs per mono minute at 44.1 kHz.) The session 8 can also be ordered with the optional Digidesign R1 remote controller, which provides hands-on control for your Session 8 system with transport controls, faders, autolocaters, and assignable function keys. This sophisticated controller is a powerful alternative to mouse control. Sounds like a lot of stuff, right? It is.

Is this system complex? No. When I called John and Doug at Sound Thinking and ordered my Session 8 -- a turn-key system including a 486 DX/33 PC and a 1.2 gigabyte SCSI drive -- they brought it to me at 8 p.m. on a Friday night. After setting it up quickly and showing me the basic controls, they headed off to the hotel to get some sleep before my "real" training session the following morning. When we met back at the station the next day, I had already produced four spots that I needed on the air that weekend. If you have a basic knowledge of Microsoft Windows, your learning curve is very shallow. In the year and a half I've been using the Session 8, it has yet to let me down. In retrospect, I don't know how I handled the outside agency work and my station's work load without it.

The first thing you have to do once you have the Session 8 is decide what setup you need. Two are available: Internal Mix mode and External Mix mode. With the External Mix mode active, you have an eight-in/eight-out system and must route all of your effects and processing equipment through your analog board (assuming you don't have a digital board). In this mode, the Session 8 handles just like an analog 8-track, with the exception of track slipping and non-destructive waveform editing. You still record direct to disk, but keep in mind you not only record your source's inherent analog noise (however slight that may be) but the analog board noise as well. Even with this in mind, you might still feel more comfortable with your old analog controls.

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