After many rumours, Digidesign recently announced the replacements for their popular and R interfaces. The new models are called, perhaps unsurprisingly, the and R. Like the , the combines a multi-channel audio and MIDI interface with an eight-fader control surface, while its rackmount sibling includes the interface without the control surface. Most of the enhancements that have been made thus relate to the , as the had more features than the R to start with!
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In recent years, Digidesign have done their best to bring the essence of the Pro Tools environment to the project and home studio market — and one aim of the strategy has presumably been to get users started with a basic Pro Tools setup with the hope that they will upgrade to one of the more sophisticated Digidesign systems. Therefore, over the last few years, users have seen Pro Tools Free a cut-down software-only introduction for no cost!
More recently, Digidesign have added the Digi Enter, stage left, the latest addition to the Digidesign product line: the Digi Rack. As the name suggests, it is housed in a very sturdy 2U rack case, making it easily portable. In fact, as described below, I used two PC systems, a P4 desktop and a relatively new Dell laptop — the latter obviously of interest if the Rack is to be used as part of a mobile Pro Tools system. Pro Tools software is based around two main windows: this is the Edit window.
However, if you compare the photographs of the Digi from the December review with those of the Rack here, the parentage of the Rack hardware is easy to see. With the exception of a slight repositioning of the power supply, the rear-panel connectivity of the Rack would appear to be identical to that of the Digi , in terms of both specification and layout.
To the right are inputs , on both XLRs and quarter-inch balanced jacks. The upper left of the rear panel features all the analogue outputs: the Monitor Output pair, eight analogue outputs and an Alt Mon RCA pair for sending the main output to a cassette deck, for example. As the supplied Pro Tools LE does not support surround sound mixing which is a great shame , perhaps the most obvious application of the multiple outputs is as sends for integrating external hardware processors into a session.
The Getting Started manual is perhaps a little vague about the best sequence of daisy-chaining the Rack with other Firewire devices for data pass-through — but the hint is that any Firewire drive used for audio ought to be connected directly to the host computer, so presumably the Rack might have to be at the end of a chain on computers with only one Firewire port.
The layout of the controls on the front panel of the Rack is very similar to those found along the top strip of the Digi To the left, this features four large Gain knobs used for inputs The right-hand side is dominated by output level controls for the main outputs and a headphone output — the only jack socket on the front panel.
Usefully, there are also Mute and Mono switches for the outputs. The Mono switch is an excellent touch, given how important mono compatibility still is in audio for broadcast. A summary of the hardware specifications of the Digi Rack make for good reading: Firewire connectivity. Eight analogue inputs and eight analogue outputs, all balanced.
Inputs have mic preamps with 48V phantom power, switchable in pairs. A-D and D-A: bit at Input dynamic range: dB A-weighted on inputs ; dB A-weighted on inputs Simon Price reviewed version 6 of Pro Tools in both its full and LE incarnations in the SOS May issue, so there is little point in revisiting that ground in too much detail here.
Usefully, version 6 now allows up to audio tracks to be opened in an LE session, using a voicing system for selecting which 32 tracks are actually audible. Other key features that appeared with v6 include some of the Digibase functions, providing improved project management facilities, and Groove Quantise for MIDI. As Simon mentioned in his review, Rewire support was promised and, for music production, is perhaps the most significant addition to v6. While LE retains all the elegance of the Pro Tools user interface it does, of course, have some limitations when compared to a top-of-the-range Pro Tools system.
Aside from reduced audio track counts, one obvious limitation is the lack of surround sound support. Given that the likes of Logic and Cubase SX both now include good software support for surround sound mixing, I do wonder how much longer Digidesign will be able to leave this out of LE. It would certainly make the multiple outputs of both the Digi and Rack desirable to a wider group of potential users. While LE installed and ran first time, it was soon pretty clear that something was not as it should be.
I received a regular supply of errors with both the supplied demo Sessions and new Sessions created from scratch. I tried moving the card to a different PCI slot but this did not seem to improve matters. Fortunately, I happened to have available a relatively new, Firewire-equipped Dell laptop. This specific model the Inspiron , while not as well-specified as my desktop PC in terms of pure hardware grunt, did happen to be a model that Digidesign had tested and approved for use with the Rack.
Repeating the install process with the Dell gave instant and trouble-free operation. Even the busiest of the demo Sessions containing some 20 audio tracks, a few MIDI tracks and a dozen or so plug-ins played back without the machine breaking into a sweat. Unfortunately, I was not able to get hold of an alternative PCI Firewire card for the desktop PC, to confirm if this was the actual source of the problem.
I did all further testing on the laptop. In Use Potential purchasers of the Rack will probably be most interested in four key areas of performance. In looking at the first of these issues, I can only reinforce the views of Derek Johnson and Debbie Poyser when they looked at the Digi in December Within this area of the market, I cannot see why anyone would have serious complaints about the audio quality of the Rack. In one sense, the lack of clutter in terms of MIDI functionality contributes to this feeling.
With almost all editing and mixing jobs being done in either the Edit or Mix windows, the workflow never seems to get obstructed. This is useful if, for example, a particular pair is being used as a send to an external effects processor. Routing audio into or out of a particular Pro Tools track is most easily achieved via the Input and Output buttons above the Pan control in each channel of the Mixer window.
My only qualifier to that would be that the PC plug-in bundle supplied with the review unit was not as extensive as that described by Derek and Debbie for the more expensive Digi Essentially, Pro Tools now includes a Rewire plug-in that can be inserted into a suitable audio track.
Pro Tools automatically detects any Rewire-compatible application on the host system, and displays it by name within the plug-in list. Selecting this automatically opens the application, and this worked first time with Reason. Throughout, the system stayed very responsive and the connectivity between LE and Reason seemed very solid.
In testing with Cubase SX version 1. In contrast, running Reason as a stand-alone application was absolutely fine — I was able to use the lowest sample buffer size, and real-time playing of devices in Reason was very responsive. To be fair to Digidesign, this limitation is very clearly stated in the documentation but it is a shame — perhaps a future driver update could solve this? A more comprehensive list of compatible computer hardware is provided on the Digidesign web site.
However, the following list summarises the recommended systems for using the Digi Rack. Mac OS
Digidesign Digi 003
Digidesign Digi 002 Rack