Test Drive: The Orban DSE-7000: Four Years Later

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Recording and editing on the DSE-7000 is surprisingly easy, and once you become familiar with the layout of the control panel, editing and moving audio can be done with extraordinary speed.

So, you kind of get the idea of what it is and how it works. But how far has the DSE come in the past four years? Let's go down the list starting with new hardware options. In 1990, you could only get 16 meg RAM cards for the DSE; now there are 64 meg RAM cards. Four years ago, maximum recording time was 17 minutes; now it's 70 minutes with the maximum of four cards installed. The 1990 version offered a 676 megabyte hard drive for storage of productions and library sounds; now you can get a 2 gigabyte drive that can store up to eight hours of audio. The new optional Intelligent Digital I/O Module lets you edit and mix multiple analog and digital formats easily. Mix and edit 44.1 kHz CDs with 48kHz DAT audio and 32kHz audio files on the hard drive, all within the digital domain. The optional DAT back-up system offers back-up of library sounds and complete productions, including all the individual tracks, mixer settings, production notes, and even the last Undo. Dozens of productions or hundreds of library sounds can be saved on a single data DAT, and a built-in reminder lets you know when it's time to clean the DAT heads! A 17-inch color monitor is now available.

The many new hardware options are wonderful, but so are the many improvements made to the software. To preview a library sound, you used to have to load it into RAM before playing it back. Now, the DSE reads the audio from the disk and lets you preview sounds immediately -- a nice union of a RAM-based system with a typical disk-based system function. Now, all mixer settings including faders, pan, effects sends, track enables and more are saved and restored with each production. Peak overload warning indicators have been added to the level meters. A new Skip Silence feature lets you move through a production more quickly by skipping silent sections and cuing to the beginning of audio an any enabled track. Three-point editing is now available making it a breeze to "hit posts" and back-time perfectly. When you retrieve a sound from the sound library, the new Dub In function inserts the audio at the edit point and slides everything after it down, without over-writing it. Of course, if you want to over-write audio at that point on the track, the Dub Over function will do that. A new Move function lets you move audio from one place to another, on the same track or to another track, and eliminates a lot of keystrokes previously needed to perform the same task. The DSE now has Auto Punch-in and Punch-out! There's ±20% vari-speed, too!

About the only thing that is not "instant" on the DSE-7000 is the time it takes to load a production into RAM, but improvements have been made to speed up this process. There are a number of other changes that have been made to the software. Some of them simply enhance the display in little ways, making it easier to read information on the screen. Other changes utilize new multi-key strokes on the control panel to activate new functions of the editor. All in all, the software programmers are doing a good job of keeping in touch with DSE users, constantly asking and listening to the needs of the users, and implementing the suggestions when possible. One nice aspect of the software upgrades is that they're free. AKG has never charged for upgrades which have come around about once a year. The current version number is 4.0.

Four years have brought many new improvements to the DSE-7000, but it's interesting to note that with the addition of the many new functions and features, the DSE remains as easy to learn and use today as it was four years ago. It's obvious, this is not an accident. For a production studio that is going to be used by a lot of people within the station, the short learning curve of the DSE is hard to beat.

Over the past four years, I've heard a lot of pros and cons about the DSE-7000, both from users and people considering buying one. One of the negatives that has always popped up (usually from people shopping for a DAW) is that because the system is RAM-based, if you lose power, you lose all your work. This simply is not true. Never has been. The DSE is constantly "shadowing" your work to the hard drive, and your entire project is there, intact, on the hard drive, ready for you to load back into RAM when the power comes back on. Another criticism I hear often is that the unit doesn't have EQ. Granted, in the old world of analog multi-trackin', the EQ is nice to have, but, for me, it was simply a matter of learning to apply EQ when recording rather than during the mix. And the few times where I needed more EQ after the fact, I simply re-recorded that track into the DSE with more EQ. Yes, EQ would be nice, but the sacrifice is small in comparison to the whole package.

One other complaint heard more than once is the limited recording time on the DSE versus the hours of recording time available on disk-based systems. This is certainly something to think about if you're considering the DSE. If you produce a lot of 30 minute or one hour programs, complete with sound effects, music, and voice, the DSE is not for you, at least not yet. If and when 128 meg or 256 meg RAM cards are available, then the DSE will handle such large projects (though your pocketbook might not handle the tag on a 256 megabyte RAM card). On the other hand, I produced at least a hundred commercials and promos on the DSE-7000, and the most complex one of them all used only a little over seven minutes of RAM. Most productions averaged around four minutes of RAM, and, of course, a simple voice over music sixty used up three minutes. The 17-minute system is plenty for the average radio production demand -- two 64 meg RAM cards make an ideal system.

By far, I have heard more good things about the DSE than bad. Many will say the DSE cuts production time by one-half or even two-thirds. Depending upon the project, this is entirely true. Editing voice tracks and music beds is extremely fast on the DSE, and this is due not only to the fact that it's being done in RAM, but because you're working with a control panel instead of a mouse. No matter how fast you are with a mouse, pushing a button is still faster than navigating a mouse on a screen then "clicking" the mouse, sometimes twice.

RAM-based editing on the DSE is faster than editing on a disk-based system for a number of reasons. One has to do with how the systems draw the waveform on the screen. On the DSE, when you move from one point in the project to another, the screen updates instantly because the information is in RAM, and the DSE doesn't draw highly detailed waveforms. With many disk-based systems (particularly those that don't use much RAM), when you move to another part of the project, that information has to be read from disk before the screen can be updated, and if the system is drawing a very detailed waveform, that takes even more time. A second here, and a second there -- it adds up.

For radio production, it's tough to go wrong with the DSE-7000. And now that its price tag is competitive with many of the disk-based systems, and even cheaper than some, this workstation that was four years ago a dream for many, can now be a reality. The basic system for $19,950 comes with 17 minutes of RAM and a 1 gigabyte drive. With the 2 gig drive the cost is $21,150. Get the 2 gig drive; you'll use it all! Additional 64 meg RAM cards (providing 17.6 minutes of recording time at 32kHz sampling, less at 44.1kHz) are $5,950 each. The digital I/O is $1,950 and syncs to external sources such as word clock. The DAT data tape backup drive is $2,750, and the larger 17-inch monitor is $850.

For more information on the Orban DSE-7000, call Orban in San Leandro, California at (510) 351-3500 or fax (510) 351-0500.

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