Test Drive: Sony PCM-800 Digital Audio Recorder

Most of the PCM-800s features are controlled with eighteen keys above the transport controls. Press the VARI SPEED key to adjust the PCM-800's play or record speed ±6% in 0.1% increments. The DIGITAL IN key activates the digital I/O port. Pressing the REMOTE key disables the front panel controls and activates the remote control. Press the AUTO PLAY key for automatic playback at the end of each locate function without having to press PLAY.

As mentioned, when a track's REC FUNCTION key is pressed to put that track in Record Ready mode, that track's output switches from the tape to the input. Pressing the INSERT key lets you monitor tape playback even though the track is in Record Ready mode which is necessary when doing punch-ins. The AUTO INPUT key, when used with the INSERT key, sets the monitoring so that any tracks in Record Ready mode will monitor input whenever the unit is in rewind, fast-forward, shuttle, or stop mode. This enables conversation between talent and engineer (when in separate rooms) without having to make adjustments on the PCM-800 or your console. The ALL INPUT key sets monitoring on all channels to the input signals, regardless of the transport mode.

The PCM-800 has two autolocate points. Pressing either the MEMO 1 or MEMO 2 key stores the current tape time into that memory point. Pressing the LOC 1 or LOC 2 buttons locates the tape to whatever tape time is stored in MEMO 1 or MEMO 2. Press the REPEAT key to repeat playback between MEMO 1 and MEMO 2.

Perhaps one of the nicest features of the PCM-800 is its ability to perform perfect punch-ins and punch-outs. Press the RHSL key to activate the unit's rehearsal mode. Press the REC FUNCTION key for whatever tracks you want to record on. Press PLAY to begin playback and press RECORD at the point where you want to punch in. Since you're in Rehearsal mode, it won't actually go into Record mode, and the unit will continue to monitor playback on the selected track(s). When the punch-out point is reached, press PLAY. The unit will continue to play for three seconds of post-roll, then it will rewind to the pre-roll point, five seconds before the punch-in point, and stop. The default pre-roll time of five seconds is adjustable. To rehearse the punch-in/out, press PLAY. The monitor switches to input when the punch-in point is reached and back to tape when the punch-out point is reached. When you're ready to record, press the AUTO IN/OUT key then press PLAY. The unit will automatically go into Record at the punch-in point and exit Record mode at the punch-out point. Repeat the function as often as necessary, then press the CLEAR key to exit the Auto In/Out and Rehearsal modes.

Of course, manually punching in and out is possible as well, and it is much faster to do since you don't have to set up in and out points. But, let's say you've got a perfect sixty-second voice track recorded, and you realize after the fact that in the middle of that voice track, you mispronounce a name. In the analog world, you would punch-in at the beginning of the name and just continue to read the rest of the script because the chances of you being able to manually punch out at the exact point are a little slim. With the PCM-800, once punch-in and punch-out points have been set as described above, they can also be fine tuned. Use the Shuttle function to locate the exact in and out points and make note of those points. Then, press the DISPLAY key until the MEMO 1 indicator lights. The display will show the time of the punch-in point. Use the  and  keys to adjust the punch-in point to the exact frame. Do the same with the punch-out point. It works like a charm. And this isn't helpful only with mistakes in the middle of reads. Use this precise punch-in/out function to do updates, replacing "tomorrow" with "today" in very tight spots in the script.

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