Test Drive: Ensoniq PARIS - Professional Audio Recording Integrated System

By Jerry Vigil

ensoniq-paris-logoEnsoniq, long known for high quality digital gear for musicians, has made its debut into the realm of digital audio workstations. Having waited so long to do so has given Ensoniq the benefit of watching the development of DAWs over the years. As a result, the PARIS, Professional Audio Recording Integrated System, makes its debut as a very strong contender in the DAW market.

PARIS ships as a cross-platform system that can be installed on a  Windows 95/98 PC or PowerPC Mac OS System 7 or 8,  and comes in a variety of configurations. Bundle 1 lists for $2,895 and comes with the EDS-1000 PCI card, Interface-2 two-channel audio interface or break-out box, Control-16 hardware mixing control surface, the PARIS software, and a set of bonus software including Steinberg’s WaveLab Lite for PC, BIAS Peak LE for Mac, and Prosoniq’s sonicWORK Essential for Mac. The PARIS Bundle 2, the one used for this Test Drive, lists for $3,395 and comes with the EDS-1000 PCI card, Interface 422 four channel audio interface, Control-16 hardware mixing control surface, PARIS software, and the bonus software. The PARIS Bundle 3 lists for $3,895 and comes with the EDS-1000 PCI card, Interface MEC (Modular Expansion Chassis) audio interface (offering 4 inputs, S/PDIF I/O, and Word Clock sync I/O), and the Control-16 hardware mixing control surface. The additional software programs mentioned above are also included.

And if you need more choices, there’s the PARIS Concept for $1,299 which provides the EDS-500 PCI card and is expandable to an EDS-1000/Concept-FX system by installing the EDS-FX daughter board (sold separately). You get the Interface-2 two channel audio interface, PARIS software, and the other bonus applications. The PARIS Concept FX at $1,799 comes with the EDS-1000 PCI card, Interface-2 two channel audio interface, and all software mentioned above.

The 442 Interface in Bundle 2 used for this Test Drive is ideal for radio production and provides four analog ins and outs on 1/4-inch TRS balanced ports, S/PDIF digital I/O on RCA connectors, and external clock I/O. An internal digital patch bay permits configuring the I/O in a variety of ways. The PARIS system was installed on a 300MHz PC with 64MB of RAM powered by an AMD K6 chip running the new Windows 98 platform. Cybermax Computer in Somerset, New Jersey provided the system exclusively for this review. Since the computer was shipped separate from the PARIS hardware and software, installation of the PARIS card and software was the first step, and surprisingly, this was done within a few minutes and without any difficulty whatsoever. 

If you’re expecting a DAW that you can plug in and do your day’s work on with just an hour or so of “get-acquainted” time, forget it. PARIS is for “power users.” Remember, this is a system designed first for recording musicians, people who will spend days, weeks, maybe months on ONE PROJECT! These are people who will need to tweak their work in every imaginable way, and they want a system that will allow them to do that with the greatest of ease and without limitations. That’s what PARIS has aimed for, and if I were a recording musician, I’d say they hit the target. The benefit to radio producers is a system that “does it all,” but you can’t fly this Stealth Fighter without some time in the simulator. In this case, the simulator is a weekend of intimate, hands-on time with PARIS and its manuals. It’s not that PARIS is difficult to learn; it’s that there’s a lot to learn.

PARIS is a 16-track system (mono tracks), but a Free Form recording mode adds virtual tracks to provide up to 999 tracks. This mode is well suited to recording several takes of the same track, especially when it’s desirable to cut and paste pieces from several takes to comprise the final take. For the most part, recording in Constrained Mode is sufficient for most radio production projects.

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The Control 16

This surprisingly heavy control panel is approximately 10 x 20 inches and brings a ton of PARIS functions to your fingertips. It doesn’t eliminate the mouse, but it quickly gets one to the point where you feel like you’re working more with hardware than software.

There are sixteen 100mm faders for each channel and an L/R master fader. Green up/down LED arrows above each fader light and flash to indicate where the faders are in relation to the faders on the Mixer Window. Since these are not motorized faders, moving the faders on the Mixer Window does not move the faders on the Control 16. The LEDs provide an indication of which faders are in sync with the Mixer Window and which ones need to be adjusted to represent the true setting. Above each channel fader are Select buttons and Mute/Solo buttons as well as Record Enable and Input LEDs.

Transport controls are found at the bottom right next to the large data/jog wheel. You get Play, Rewind, Fast-forward, Stop, Record, and Play Selection. The data/jog wheel can be used to move through a project, although there is no audio scrub function. The wheel can also be placed in the Edit Object mode. In this mode, the wheel is used to adjust the position of an object on the "Playing Field," as well as its start and end points. Marker controls make it easy to set and locate to markers in a project. There are loop and punch-in controls, a numeric keypad, undo/redo buttons, a monitor level pot, and numerous other buttons. At the top right are controls that affect the selected channel. Press the Select button above fader 3 and the EQ Level, Freq, and Bandwidth controls adjust EQ for that channel. The EQ Band button toggles through the four available bands. The Aux Send button toggles through the eight available sends where the Amount and Pan pots bring quick adjustments to your fingertips.