Test Drive: Roland DM-800 Digital Audio Workstation

The Edit function lets you edit the name of the phrase, the in and out times, and fade in and out times (up to one second). You can even adjust the level of the phrase (downward only). The Copy function lets you copy a phrase to another location on the same track or to another track as long as you don't cross the border between tracks 4 and 5.

The New Phrase function lets you make new phrases from existing phrases. Take Change replaces the take currently in use by the selected phrase. Insert Time is like adding leader tape. You can use the Insert Time on a single track or all of them simultaneously. Cut/Erase lets you mark an in point and an out point. Cut deletes the audio between the two points and joins the two points together. Erase deletes the audio between the points but does not bring them together. The Split function splits a single phrase at any point to make two phrases. If you're recording five drops, you might just roll "tape" and record all five as one phrase. Use the Split function to make them each a separate phrase which can then be moved around and edited without affecting the other phrases. This is splitting phrases "time-wise." The Split function can also split stereo phrases "track-wise." Say you want to put a little delay on the left channel of a voice track to give it a stereo spread effect. Record the voice track on two tracks, then split them track-wise and move one track slightly to create the delay. (You could also use the Copy function on a mono recording to do the same thing.)

You can overlap phrases on the same track(s), but the DM-800 will not "mix" the phrases where they overlap. It will play only one of them. You can choose which one gets priority with the Overlap function. This function is also handy if you're recording several takes of, let's say, voice-over in a donut jingle. If you like a take, but want to do another one, just record right over the first. You can literally stack three hundred takes on top of each other. Then, use the Overlap function to go through the various takes and determine which one you want to use. You can do all this on one track. That's something impossible in the analog world. In effect, this is like having three-hundred tracks. This is a big plus for situations where a donut jingle needs three different scripts applied, or a spot needs ten different tags attached. Using the same track lets you deal with just one fader, one EQ setting, etc. as opposed to having to set levels and such on several tracks. And, obviously, you have more tracks left over to play with.

The Phrase Delete function does just that, and you get the option to listen to it before deleting. Remember, deleting the phrase does NOT delete the take that it is derived from. The Group function performs group functions on phrases. You get Group Move, Group Delete, and Group Copy. The Stretch function is the DM-800's time stretch/squeeze function. Since pitch-shifting is involved in digital time stretch/squeeze, the DM-800 also offers digital pitch shifting over a one-octave range. The options are Time Stretch (squeeze or stretch), Time Stretch With Pitch Change, and Pitch Change. In the digital world, these functions required bit by bit analysis of the audio file, then the entire file has to be rewritten. The bottom line is, it is a very time consuming function. The Pitch Change function took almost eleven minutes to shift a thirty second mono voice track down 500 cents in the "medium quality" mode. The Time Stretch function took almost three minutes to shrink the same phrase from thirty seconds down to twenty-nine seconds. The larger the file, the more time it takes to process. If you have the time, if it's a "must do" situation--the voice talent is gone on vacation and the voice track HAS to be shrunk to fit in the donut jingle--the Time Stretch function is there; but in the fast paced radio production room, it might be quicker to recut or edit the VO. The last function available in the Playlist mode is the X-Fade function, used to alter the transition from one phrase to another when the two phrases are joined together (as with an edit for example). The crossfade can be set up to one second in length and there are four options for how the phrases will overlap at the point where they meet.

Press the Mixer mode key to access the DM-800's internal, digital, 8x2 mixer. As mentioned, the DM-800 offers automated mixing. There are four Mixer Control Pages that display levels, pan settings, EQ settings, and Auxiliary Input and Master Output levels. An In/Out Assign function brings up the DM-800's versatile digital patch bay. The EQ in the DM-800 is a 2-band parametric. Get to it from the Mixer mode or by pressing the EQ key on the panel above the master faders. Above this key are the cut/boost and frequency controls for each band. To add EQ to a track, press the EQ key, then use the cursor keys to select the track you wish to EQ. Use the large Value/Time data wheel at the top right to make adjustments, or use the four EQ controls on the panel.

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