Test Drive: Roland DM-800 Digital Audio Workstation

roland-dm800

by Jerry Vigil

Over the years, I've had the wonderful opportunity to Test Drive a number of workstations. Some were big and bulky, others more compact. Some required fairly complex installation procedures, others were a piece of cake to hook up. After a day of using the DM-800 in the studio, I decided to take the unit home to play some more. As I walked out to the car, it hit me. I was carrying a totally complete 8-track digital workstation under one arm like I might carry a CD player or cassette deck. No monitor, no external drives, no remote control, no long cables. There was a sense of having stepped into a new generation of workstations. The DM-800 weighs only twelve pounds, and if it were battery operated, you could do some serious multi-track digital production on your lap, in a car, on a plane, in the park....

So, I took the DM-800 home. I had some record spots to produce -lots of song hooks, lots of edits. I had all the hooks and voice tracks already recorded to the internal drives. At home, I actually sat on the couch, placed the DM-800 on my lap, and finished producing these spots with a pair of headphones on. The headphones and the AC power cord were the only connections necessary. There is much more to say about the DM-800 than its stunning portability, but it's indeed remarkable how much power is packed into such a small and portable box.

The DM-800 uses a lot of the technology applied to the DM-80. So, if you're familiar with the DM-80, your pretty familiar with the DM-800, though there are some differences. The rear panel provides both digital and analog I/O. There are four balanced analog inputs and four balanced outputs (¼-inch TRS). The digital I/O connectors are RCA type. There's one RCA input and two stereo digital RCA outs. The format is S/PDIF. There's also a 30-pin RMDB connector, an 8-channel I/O, for interfacing the DM-800 with other digital recorders such as the ADAT and DA-88. An internal, digital patch-bay enables a wide variety of input and output configurations. The patch-bay can also assign tracks to an internal mixdown buss enabling six tracks to be mixed to the other two tracks. A typical analog installation would use outputs 1 and 2 as the L/R master outs. Outputs 3 and 4 could be used as effect sends with inputs 3 and 4 as the stereo return.

There are SMPTE I/O ports as well as MIDI in and out. There's a connector for a standard AT ASCII keyboard. The keyboard is helpful for naming projects and recordings, although it is not necessary. Almost all functions on the top panel of the DM-800 are duplicated on the keyboard. A big surprise on the back panel are the three video connectors. You get standard RCA composite video, S-video, and digital RGB video outs enabling you to hook the unit up to a computer monitor or even your television set! Hook up a monitor! The LCD display on the top panel is duplicated on the monitor, but you also get an overview display that lets you see the entire project and all eight tracks at once. The LCD only displays tracks 1 through 4, or tracks 5 through 8.

There's a footswitch input which can be used to trigger the record mode or for entering tempo in the Tap Tempo mode. Next to this output is the headphone out. Two SCSI ports used for external drives and the power on/off button above the AC power input complete the rear panel.

The top panel provides the large 5-inch by 1½-inch LCD display. At the top left of the panel are four input gains for the analog inputs (+20dB gain). To the right is the headphone level control. The mixer section is at the bottom left portion of the panel. There is a fader, Status Select key, and pan pot for each of the eight tracks. A multi-colored LED above each Status Select key indicates which mode is active: red for Record, green for Play, orange for Trigger mode, and off for Mute. There are two stereo faders for analog inputs next to the master stereo output fader. The DM-800 also provides automated mixing by pressing the COMPU/MANUAL button. Got a tough mix? Go to COMPU Mix mode and record the fader, pan, and EQ movements. Then go back and fine tune individual settings on individual tracks until it's perfect. Upon playback, the internal digital mixer takes over and performs all the mixer functions. Take a "snapshot" of mixer settings at any point in time. Several channels can be "grouped" together in the digital mixer for easier level control, like the two channels of a music bed, for example.

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