Test Drive: The Alesis Masterlink ML-9600 High-resolution Master Disk Recorder

by Steve Cunningham

When Alesis first announced its MasterLink product in June 1999, they promised that it would change forever the way records are mastered. I don’t know about that, but having spent a few weeks with the MasterLink, I can tell you that they’ve probably made the DAT machine obsolete in radio production. For a street price of about $1500, the MasterLink gives you a stereo hard disk recorder and a CD burner in a package that’s as easy to use as a DAT recorder and far more flexible.

Alesis’ MasterLink, whose full moniker is the “ML-9600 High-Resolution Master Disk Recorder,” combines a standalone CD burner and a 2-track hard disk recorder with DSP and editing, all in a single 2U device. The MasterLink concept is that you record and edit on the hard disk, and then burn a CD from that recording.

MasterLink records digital audio at sample rates of 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz, and at word lengths of 16-, 20- or 24-bits. The internal hard disk is a 3.2 GB IDE drive, and the CD burner is a ATAPI CD-ROM that reads at 8x and writes at 4x.

On opening the carton you’ll find all the necessary accessories, including an infrared remote, rack ears, a power cord, the manual, and a blank CD-R. When you lift the unit itself from the box, you’ll be pleased at the “hefty” feel of the package. This feels like a solid unit that will stand up to the rigors of daily use.

Alesis-Masterlink-Front-Panel

THE FRONT SIDE

At first glance, one could easily mistake the MasterLink for a simple CD recorder. The CD tray is on the left, along with the power switch and buttons for selecting the input source, word length, and sample rate. There’s also a large oval button labeled CREATE CD — more on that later.

In the center, you’ll find a large blue-lit multifunction LCD display with stereo meters, a track number indicator, a track time counter, and a 2 x 16 alphanumeric display that shows information about the Tracks, the Playlists, and the CD.

Below the display is an array of up/down/left/right cursor buttons for navigating the various menus, and dedicated buttons for creating, selecting, editing, and deleting Tracks and Playlists. The transport buttons are arranged vertically on the right, and are reminiscent of the original Panasonic 3500 DAT machine.

The headphone jack and headphone volume control are also on the right, as is a button that toggles between HD (hard disk) and CD modes. HD mode is used when recording to or playing back from the internal hard disk, and when creating compact discs from audio recorded on the hard disk. CD mode is used when playing back pre-recorded compact discs, or when you want to copy tracks from a CD to the internal hard disk.

The MasterLink comes standard with an infrared remote, whose 31 buttons duplicate all the functions on the front panel. Unfortunately, the remote is small, the buttons are smaller, and the labels for the buttons are smaller still. I tried to use the remote, but found myself going back to the front panel. At least I can read the labels on the front panel buttons, and it’s not as cramped as is the remote.