Test Drive: The Digi 001 from Digidesign

By Steve Cunningham

It’s the non-linear editing giant. It’s the eight-hundred-pound gorilla of digital audio. Yup, it’s Pro Tools from Digidesign, and until recently, it was expensive. A full-blown Pro Tools system was a year-worth-of-mortgage-payments expensive. But that’s all changed with the introduction of the Digi 001 recording and editing system. Today, if you have a fast computer and a little less than a kilobuck, you can run with the big dogs.

Building on the tradition of Pro Tools software, the 001 system is designed to have all the connectivity and audio power required to turn your Pentium or Power Macintosh computer into a complete studio that can record, edit, mix, and process digital audio. Just add a microphone, maybe a CD player, and a pair of powered studio monitors, and you have a rig that will produce commercials, promos, and IDs all day long. Digi 001 session files are compatible with full Pro Tools sessions, so you can even collaborate with the likes of Eric Chase!

However, you should be prepared to upgrade or replace your computer if it’s much over a year old. The reason for this is that the 001 is a “native” system — that is, it uses the computer’s CPU for everything, including reading and writing audio data to hard disk, changing volumes, pans, and EQ, adding reverb or other effects, drawing the screens, and responding to the keyboard and mouse.

The computer requirements for the 001 are stiff — for the PC, Digidesign demands at minimum a Pentium II at 300 MHz or better, and recommends a 500 MHz Pentium III machine, running Windows 98 (the K6 processor is specifically not supported). For the Mac, Digidesign supports a Power Mac 8600 or 9600 at 200 MHz or better, and it strongly recommends a B&W G3 or a G4, all with System 8.6 or better. The 001 also needs a minimum of 128 MB of RAM and prefers 192 MB on either platform. Finally, Digidesign recommends that you have a separate and fast SCSI or IDE hard disk for storing digital audio. That probably means investing in another hard disk and perhaps a separate SCSI accelerator card.

Figure-1---Front-Rear-PanelsTHE HARDWARE

The 001 hardware consists of a PCI card, a rack-mountable I/O interface box, and a cable to connect the two. The PCI card has a multi-pin connector to attach it to the interface box, as well as optical in and out connectors. The optical ports can carry either eight-channel ADAT lightpipe or stereo optical S/PDIF format digital audio.

The front panel of the interface box features two channels of analog audio input on combo connectors that will accept either XLR or 1/4" inputs. The inputs can accept line or mic level signals, and a 26 dB pad is provided, as is switchable phantom power and a gain knob. The software allows you to apply a 60 Hz highpass filter to these inputs. The right side of the front panel sports the headphone jack and its associated volume control. Next to the headphone section is the Monitor Mode switch, which allows a stereo audio signal to be routed through the interface box even when the computer is turned off — a nice touch. Rounding out the monitor section is a volume knob and a power-on LED.

Speaking of power, the 001 interface box has no power cord or wall-wart. It draws its power from the PCI card through the multi-pin connector. That means one less cable to deal with and one less outlet to find on a crowded power strip.

The rear panel is chock-full of gozintas and gozoutas. Inputs include another six analog ins on balanced 1/4" TRS jacks, which combined with the two on the front give a total of eight analog inputs. There are also eight analog outputs on the same balanced 1/4" TRS jacks, and two separate “monitor outputs” with like connectors. The monitor outputs play the audio that is routed to analog outputs 1 and 2, and their volume level is controlled by the monitor volume knob on the front panel.

All input and output converters on the 001 are 24-bit. Analog inputs and outputs are factory calibrated at a -14 dB nominal level, referenced to a full code signal. This means at the nominal reference input level (+4 dBu or -10 dBV) you can have up to 14 dB of headroom before input or output clipping occurs. You can adjust the input sensitivity in software. There are no hardware meters or clip indicators on the interface box, but that’s not a big deal since the software provides level meters.

The rear panel also provides S/PDIF digital in and out, on RCA connectors. The S/PDIF outputs can mirror the main analog outputs for recording to DAT, or can operate independently for use with external digital effects. Rounding out the rear panel is a footswitch jack for controlling punch-in and -out, the multi-pin connector for attaching the interface box to the PCI card, and MIDI In and Out connectors.

The hardware of the 001 is handsome and well-designed, but not without compromise. One such compromise is that the interface cable is only six feet long, which means that the interface box will need to be located fairly close to the computer. This may or may not be convenient when you consider fan noise and hard disk noise. Another complaint is that the ADAT optical I/O is on the PCI card, which means that the ADAT connectors aren’t in the same place as the analog and S/PDIF connectors. While annoying, I didn’t find either of these issues impossible to deal with.

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