Test Drive: The TimeLine DAW-80 Studioframe Digital Audio Workstation from Computer Concepts Corporation

Moving an Event from one point on the track to another is a simple click and drag function. Same goes for moving it from one track to another. An event can be Split to create two separate events and Split again and again to chop a single soundfile into several Events. Press the CTRL key on the keyboard or the remote controller then click and drag an event to copy it to another place on the Track Window. This is as fast as any copy function I've seen.

Use the keyboard, the remote controller or the mouse to set Mark In and Mark Out edit points to perform standard cut and paste editing. Press the JOG button on the remote controller to fine tune your edit points using the large scrub wheel. The scrub function is excellent--as good as any RAM-based scrub function I've used. Press the JOG button again to engage the Shuttle mode. UNDO and REDO buttons on the remote controller or icons on the screen provide up to 256 levels of Undo and Redo. Wow!

Below the tracks display is an elaborate level display with input and playback level bar-graphs for each track. There's also a numeric level display at the top of each bargraph. When in Stop mode with no tracks armed for recording, the numeric displays read "96.00" to indicate 96dB below zero VU. Input a signal to the track and the bargraph illuminates and the numeric display rapidly changes to show the level of the incoming signal. What is especially cute is when you arm a track and read the numeric display. It changes from 96 to whatever the noise floor of the source device is. The level is so low you can't see it on the bargraphs, but the numeric indicators fluctuate to show the noise floor for that device--a nice indicator to point to when you think you have a noisy console or CD player and your engineer says it's your imagination.

Below the level indicators are two sets of ten autolocate buttons. The set on the left are there for the Auxiliary Track(s) (if this function is being used), otherwise, all twenty locate buttons are available for the current Track Window. The number keys on the keyboard can be used to instantly locate to the stored locations, or click on the button with the mouse. The buttons turn yellow to show a location is stored. The autolocate points aren't stored with each individual Reel. They are saved with the "layout" of the Track Window. This is much like the autolocate buttons on an analog tape deck's remote controller; it doesn't matter what reel of tape you have loaded, the locate points remain the same.

Finally, below these autolocate buttons are the transport controls and two large time displays, one for the Auxiliary Track Window and the other for the main tracks. The transport controls are duplicated on the keyboard and on the remote controller, so there's really no need to use the control buttons on the screen unless you prefer using a mouse.

The Auxiliary Track function creates another window (on the same screen) of unlimited virtual tracks, Elements from the main Track Window and the Auxiliary Track Window can be moved from one to the other with a simple click and drag. The Auxiliary Track Window is a good place to do editing and experimenting on a pair of tracks. Then, the final edited Event can be moved to the main Track Window.

It's just as easy to add an unlimited number of tracks to the Main Track Window using the Add Tracks function. However, unless you have additional I/O cards installed, only eight channels of I/O are available, meaning you can only playback or record up to eight tracks at once (depending upon the configuration). Still, I found it handy to add a couple of extra tracks to handle such things as copy updates. Seven tracks could be filled with music and sound effects. Track 8 could have the "coming this Saturday" voice track. Track 9 says, "coming tomorrow," and track 10 says, "today." Since only one voice track needs to play at a time, the other two tracks can be disabled, leaving eight tracks of output, but with ten tracks of audio.

The DSC-100 remote controller is a bit intimidating at first because it has buttons to accommodate a 24-track system and doubles for a standard computer keyboard. Several of the buttons you can simply ignore. Many of the buttons on the DSC-100 are duplicated on the keyboard. The keyboard itself is also customized for the Studioframe. The F5 key is bright red and labeled "Track Arm." The F6 key is labeled "Input," the F7 key is labeled "Solo," and the F8 key "Mute." The zero key on the numeric keypad to the right is a bright green and labeled "Play." The space bar can be used to set Mark In and Mark Out points. Other keys are specially labeled for the Studioframe. And all of these functions are accessible from the DSC-100 or by using the mouse/trackball. I found it most advantageous to use all three input devices, the trackball, the keyboard, and the DSC-100. This is the type of system that offers a number of ways to do the same thing. Some people feel more comfortable using a trackball; others prefer keyboard entry. The Studioframe lets you pick a way that best suits you. A large, bright LCD display on the DSC-100 also duplicates information on the screen. I found myself relying mostly on the 17-inch monitor for information.

The Studioframe provides an elaborate Library filing system for cataloguing sounds. Create any number of libraries--one for sound effects, one for music beds, etc.. Sounds can be quickly located, previewed and loaded onto a track. The system also lets you build seamless loops pretty easily. Simply mark an area and select the Audition Loop function from one of the pull-down menus. When the points are set to your satisfaction, select the Loop function to create and store the loop. If you have a 5-second piece of music that you've looped and want it to become a sixty-second bed, set Mark In and Out points on the track to block out sixty seconds of track space, then use the Fill function to "fill" that marked area with the looped music.

If you choose to configure the system as a two-input, two-output system, you'll need to use the Studioframe's internal mixer. Like most everything about the Studioframe, the mixer is user definable and each user-defined mixer can be saved as a file. You can build your own mixer from scratch, selecting and placing faders, EQs, filters, pans, trim pots, meters, etc. and wiring them yourself with internal, virtual MIDI cables. Understand, however, that this is definitely a task for the hard core hacker. Fortunately, the Studioframe comes with several mixers already built for you. The mixer setup used for this review features faders, mutes, solos, two sends, low shelving, high shelving, and parametric EQ, EQ defeat, phase invert, input trims and an overload indicator for each channel. Channels 9 and 10 handle the digital I/O. There are a pair of VU meters for the main stereo mix and the auxiliary sends, and a few other indicators and controls. The EQ is real-time as are all other controls. Even on a 17-inch monitor, some of the mixer controls are a little small, and their labels even smaller. That's why there's a Zoom function for the mixer (as well as for the Track Window). All mixer settings are adjusted by using the mouse/trackball. Working with a mouse-driven mixer is not as fast as the real thing, but the mixer is there if you don't set the system up with an outboard mixer.

The Studioframe is one of those machines that slowly unveils itself as you continue to use it. After several weeks with it, I feel I only scratched the surface. The learning curve is a little longer than some machines', but the bells and whistles department is fully stocked. This is a workstation for the "power user," the person that's willing to spend a little more time to get a lot more out of the machine. It's the kind of workstation that at first feels like a rough idling car just started on a cold winter morning, but once the engine warms up, look out. The only sluggishness I noticed with the system was when the waveform drawing option was enabled. Other than this, the entire system is very fast, from editing and locating within a production to saving and loading new productions.

The price tag on the Studioframe will vary depending upon your configuration. A basic 8-track version starts at $13,600. If you're in the market for a workstation, the Studioframe is definitely worth taking a look at. Get an in-station demo if you can. It's not the kind of system that reveals itself in a 30-minute demo.

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