Test Drive: Roland DM-800 Digital Audio Workstation

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In the center of the top panel are four cursor keys used for moving the cursor to various parameters in the display. Below these keys are two Phrase Locate keys. The DM-800 records "Takes" which are then edited into "Phrases" which are placed within "Projects." The Phrase Locate Previous and Next keys enable instant location to the previous or next phrase on the selected track. Below these keys are eight Auto Locator Marker buttons. Pressing one of these stores the current "now" time and lights the LED on that button to indicate that a location is stored there. The DM-800 provides five Marker Groups for a total of 40 possible autolocate points. The five Marker Groups are accessed by pressing the Shift key along with the respective number (1-5) on the numeric keypad at the far right. Press the Delete key below the Marker keys along with an active Marker key to erase the stored locate point.

When used with the Shift key, the eight Marker keys have other functions. Shift plus Marker 1, 3 and 4 access time code functions. Shift plus Marker 2 is the Capture function which takes the current "now" time and transfers it to the selected time parameter in the display. Shift plus 5, 6, 7, and 8 set the Loop Start, Loop End, Punch In, and Punch Out times used in the Loop and Auto Punch modes. You can't beat punch ins and outs in the digital domain. Set Loop Start and End points if you want to rehearse the punch in several times without having to manually operate the transport controls. Otherwise, find the punch in point, press Shift plus 7. Then find the punch out point, press Shift plus 8, and you're ready to record with precise and consistent punch in/out points.

Transport controls are below the LCD display. You get Rewind, Play, Fast Forward, Stop, Record, and Zero which is simply a return-to-zero function. When pressed, Fast Forward and Rewind move through a project in set increments of time. This value can be adjusted, the equivalent of being able to adjust the "speed" of Fast Forward and Rewind.

The Mode Select keys are above the transport controls. There are seven operating modes of the DM-800. When a mode is selected, the display changes to provide various functions for that mode. There are five "soft keys" below the display labeled F1 through F5 which access various functions depending upon the mode selected. To record, first press the Record Mode key (not the Record transport key). The display changes to the record screen where you have options to set up the I/O configuration, set or adjust punch in/out points, set the record mode (Auto, Manual, or Loop), and other things. Once your I/O configuration is set up, press the Track Status keys for the tracks you want to record on. The Track Status LEDs will turn red and blink indicating the track is armed. Next, press Record and Play. As audio is being recorded, the display begins drawing a graphic representation of "tape" on the selected track(s); the longer the recording, the longer the graphic. Press Stop when through. A new screen comes up on the display that offers the option to accept the default name for this "take" or enter a new one. You also have the option to delete the take. If the take is kept, the display returns to the previous screen where the recording is represented on the track. As mentioned, the DM-800 records "takes" and these entire takes or portions of these takes are referred to as "phrases" in our project. So, you don't actually see the "take" on the display; what you see is the newly created "phrase" which just happens to be exactly identical to the take, until any edits are done to the phrase. Once edited, the take remains the same on the disk; it is the phrase that retains the edits. As a result, all editing is non-destructive.

When you're finished recording, press the Playlist key to enter the Playlist mode. Here is where all cut and paste editing is done. The lower part of the display shows five new functions for the five function keys, and the Function button to the left of the display scrolls through two more pages of additional functions. To edit a phrase, first select it with the Phrase Select keys. When selected, the phrase is highlighted on the display. The first function is Move which lets you move the phrase anywhere along the current track, or you can move it to another track. (The DM-800 uses two disk drives, one for tracks 1 through 4, and the other for tracks 5 through 8. You cannot move tracks from one drive to another.) When Move is pressed, you get the option to adjust the Trim In, Trim Out, and Offset points. This is where the DM-800's Scrub function comes in. The Scrub function was a welcome surprise because the DM-800's predecessor, the DM-80, did not have this function. It still doesn't, but will probably be a software upgrade in the future. Below the data wheel are three Scrub/Preview keys. The To key plays a few seconds of audio up to the edit point. The Thru key plays audio before and after the edit point. The From key plays audio starting at the edit point and for an adjustable amount of time after. Pressing one of these keys and moving the data wheel adjusts the edit point while continuously playing back a short segment of the audio. This is just like cuing to a precise point on a CD player only easier and more accurate, to one millisecond. The Scrub functions work like a charm. Another nice feature is the Wave Window. When in Playlist mode, pressing the Playlist mode key again brings up a small window on the display that has an audio waveform of the selected track. In this mode, keys on the numeric keypad double as zoom adjustments for the waveform; it can be zoomed vertically and horizontally.

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