COOL SCHOOL INTERACTUS CIRCLE OF DIGI VOLUME ONE CD-ROM
I have to admit that I was intrigued when I first saw Circle of Digi Vol 1 at a recent AES show, and the fact that the manufacturers were in the process of negotiating UK distribution gave me a good excuse to review a copy. Essentially, Circle of Digi Vol 1 is a dual-format Mac/PC interactive CD-ROM designed to provide product familiarisation for Digidesign's Pro Tools, Sound Designer, Sample Cell and a number of third-party developer options. It all seems like a very good idea -- if you need to find out about something, you can go straight to the topic of your choice, read a concise explanation and, in many instances, see a short movie clip.
Rather than present everything as boring menus and lists, Circle of Digi Vol 1 presents you with a virtual world that looks not unlike a cubist representation of an atom, where the coloured spheres are different modules. There's also the 'Circle of Digi' itself, where the eight major topic modules are arranged as icons on the circumference of a circle, and clicking on one of them takes you to the relevant topic. Of course, this being a multimedia presentation, it doesn't simply hop from module to module, but instead does a kind of hyperspatial 'whoosh' thing, complete with sound effects.
Level 1 of each module provides you with a short list of headers: Introduction, Concepts, Basics and Troubleshooting. Selecting one of these calls up Level 2, comprising two text windows and a third window, which may hold text or a video clip. All the while, the presentation runs commentary, music and sound effects to try to keep your attention -- it's all very slick. Level 3 gets you to full-screen flow charts and diagrams, as well as interactive examples. Subjects covered include the fundamentals of sound, computer basics, and MIDI and digital audio; there are also many photos and screenshots, some animated.
Finding your way around Circle of Digi Vol 1 is pretty easy, but my main gripe with any product of this type is that your progress is slowed by having to wait for the beautiful but gratuitous graphics to draw themselves every time you move to a different location. What's more, when you finally do arrive, it's often to find that your ultimate reward is just a few paragraphs of text that don't go into nearly as much detail as you'd hoped. Some of the movie clips are helpful, and there's no doubt that a lot of thought has gone into making this a polished learning aid, but after just an hour or so with it, I felt an overwhelming urge to go back to the faster and more thorough owner's manual supplied with the relevant Digidesign products. My PC also crashed a couple of times while using the CD-ROM.
Circle of Digi Vol 1 is an entertaining and useful introduction to Pro Tools, Sound Designer and Sample Cell, but it isn't a substitute for a user manual, and I don't think that it has a great deal to offer to anyone already using the products in question. A great idea, but in many ways it's a triumph of presentation over content, and even on a Pentium PC running a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, it feels slow. Paul White
£ £99 inc VAT.
A Turnkey Professional, 114-116 Charing Cross Road, London WC2 0DT.
T 0171 240 4036.
F 0171 497 0690.
NEUTRIK 48-WAY JACK PATCHBAY
Low-cost jack patchbays are available from a number of sources, but most tend to use the same type of budget jack socket to keep the price down. This is OK for a while, but in applications involving normalising, such as insert points, cheap jacks very quickly start to become intermittent, leaving you cursing as your signal comes and goes without warning.
Neutrik are manufacturers of high-quality connectors, so it's not surprising that the jack sockets used in this patchbay are far more elaborate, and somewhat more costly, than you'd find in a budget unit. Aside from having gold-plated contacts, the contacts themselves are largely enclosed by the plastic moulding, so there's less chance of dirt physically settling on them.
Whereas most jack bays seen in home studios are little deeper than the sockets they contain, this one is built into a fairly deep plated-steel chassis, the rear edge of which serves as a tie-down point to anchor cables. All the jacks are TRS stereo and terminate at the rear in spring-contact barrier strips, designed to accept bare wires without soldering. All you do is push back the little white lever above the appropriate orifice, poke in the wire and let go of the lever, and the wire is held fast. Similarly, the normalisation options are handled by small plastic 'jumpers' which plug into pairs of pin connectors on the main fibreglass motherboard. A separate link determines whether or not the socket grounds are connected to the chassis ground.
On the front of the patchbay, the sockets are surrounded by push-on plastic cosmetic trims; though black is pretty fashionable in studios, you can replace them with coloured trims if it helps you navigate. Furthermore, along the centre of the panel are two strips of card covered by clear acrylic strips for labelling the sockets.
This certainly isn't a cheap way to build a patchbay, and the cost comes to around three or four times what you'd pay for a budget model, but in critical applications, such as normalised insert points, I think that the peace of mind could well be worth the extra expense, especially if you own a serious project studio. It's also worth remembering that what you spend on the patchbay, you're going to save on not having to buy 48 jack plugs to go into the back end. You also save time by not having to solder, and, rather than having to buy a tie bar as an optional extra, you get one built into the basic product. Compared with a top-end studio bay, this one still works out relatively inexpensive,though it's a shame that there's nothing between the truly budget models and the cheapest high-quality units such as this one. But if you've already fallen foul of intermittent patchbay connections, you probably don't need me to persuade you of the advantages of a pedigree product. Paul White
£ £399.50 inc VAT.
A Neutrik (UK) Ltd, Columbia Business Park, Sherbourne Avenue, Ryde, Isle of Wight PO33 3QD.
T 01983 811441.
F 01983 811439.