Digidesign Digi 002

Digidesign Digi 002 Digital Audio Workstation

Published in SOS December 2002
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Reviews : Computer Recording System

Photos: Mark Ewing
FireWire audio and MIDI interfaces are gaining in popularity, as are fader surfaces designed for hands-on control of computer recording packages. Now Digidesign have combined the two.


Derek Johnson & Debbie Poyser

When the Digi 001 recording system was launched in 1999, Digidesign had a considerable success on their hands. This appealing combination of good-quality audio I/O, MIDI interfacing, and a 'Light Edition' of Digi's Pro Tools industry-standard recording and editing software formed a reliable total solution for the digital project studio. At least, it was almost a total solution. Expectations and possibilities change rapidly in the hi-tech music world, and what few in the project studio arena were seeking in 1999 was the kind of dedicated, hands-on controllability, optimised for the user's recording software, that's now becoming so popular. Steinberg's Houston and Emagic's Logic Control hardware units, obviously very attractive when combined with Cubase or Logic, come readily to mind. Digidesign already have background in control-surface design — their pro users have the lavish Pro Control and the slightly less expensive Control 24 to choose from — and arguably it was time to extend it to their LE project level.

What Digi have actually done, though, is slightly different from simply launching a hardware controller for their existing LE Pro Tools setups, the Digi 001 and M Box. Instead, they've created a new, self-contained mini-studio system integrating updated Pro Tools LE software with a neat hardware unit combining all necessary audio/MIDI interfacing, via FireWire, and a control surface set up to exploit the power of LE. The Digi 002, as it's called, is not a 001 replacement: it costs significantly more, and 001 will continue to be manufactured. The new system, rather, provides a welcome extra tier in the Digi hierarchy, between the extremely affordable M Box and 001 and the multi-thousand-pound HD systems, as well as adding the option of dedicated hands-on controllability to the project end of Digi's range. Where the 001 allowed 16- and 24-bit recording at 44.1 or 48 kHz, the 002 adds 88.2 and 96 kHz operation, bringing the system up to date with current trends. On top comes a plug-in bundle said to be worth £1400.

Even more appeal is added to 002 by the fact that its hardware unit also works in stand-alone mode, without a computer connection, as a digital mixer. This is an attractive bonus if you ever do non-computer recording and/or play live. Indeed, it probably more than makes up for the fact that the control surface can't be configured to work as a generic controller with other software or hardware, as some of its MIDI controller competitors can.

Soft Sell

The version of Pro Tools LE supplied with the 002 system at the time of writing was v5.3.2. For anyone not familiar with LE, it's a cut-down version of Digidesign's flagship Pro Tools audio and MIDI recording and editing software, with host-based (rather than hardware DSP-based) processing. Thus, some of what the software is capable of will be down to the abilities of your computer. For a detailed look at LE's facilities, see the review of the Digi 001 in SOS December 1999. We'll provide a quick overview here.

Digidesign Digi 002 £2109
pros
Generous line-up of quality, balanced audio I/O, with great mic amps.
Comfortable and well-designed control surface.
Completely self-contained system from one manufacturer.
Unique feature set.
24/96 capable.
Doubles as 8:2 digital mixer.
Good value for money.
cons
Limit of 32 audio tracks and no surround support in LE software.
Would be nice if a few more software features were accessible from the hardware.
No jog/shuttle wheel.
summary
Digi have done it again on the 'completeness' front, as they did with the 001, and those surveying the field for a total setup can't help but be drawn by this simple, one-box solution to top-quality digital music production.

PTLE is a well-specified, elegant application presented in two main screens: the Edit screen, where MIDI and audio tracks are shown as, respectively, piano-roll events and graphic waveforms; and the Mixer screen. Track editing, including pretty comprehensive audio editing, is available within the Editor window, and the Mixer is a flexible, customisable and fully automatable affair. A plug-in architecture supports two formats: AudioSuite, for off-line processing, and RTAS (Real Time AudioSuite) for real-time effects and processing. A standard set of Digi plug-ins provides dynamics, reverb, delays and modulation effects, plus EQs. Third-party developers support the RTAS format very well.

MIDI recording, with up to 128 tracks, only came of age in Pro Tools in v5, just three years ago, and the MIDI side of the program is rather simpler than the other big MIDI + Audio sequencers, though we find it perfectly usable. On the audio side, the track-count limit was 24 until a recent update pushed it up to 32. LE is missing some of the sync options of the full Pro Tools software, amongst other omissions; some features it doesn't have are of particular relevance to those who work to picture.

Look and feel for the new version are identical to earlier versions, but there are operational enhancements. Aside from the increased number of audio tracks, these include a 'trim' plug-in (for extra gain when it's needed), a second set of delay effects with tempo sync, and a MIDI event editor, LE's only MIDI editor apart from the piano-roll display in the Edit window. The event editor is a simple, clear list of MIDI events — notes, controllers, program changes and so on. It's utilitarian in appearance, but allows those who like the numerical approach to work with MIDI in that way. It's also nice to see multiple (16) Undos — only one level was available when PTLE was first launched. The main thing 'missing' now is a score editor, which may be on the cards for a future update.

Some critics have wondered why Digi still limit the number of tracks available in PTLE, when most other audio sequencers offer practically unlimited MIDI and audio tracks — the practical limitation being your computer, of course. Digi say that they limit tracks because they like to guarantee systems to run properly on all 'qualified' computers, and they feel that 32 tracks is perfect for LE. This is a fair response, and we probably wouldn't use more than 32 at the moment, but if you're recording a band with a drummer, for example, you can eat up lots of tracks just recording main parts and a couple of overdubs each. It might well be useful to have the freedom, especially during early stages of a project, of as many audio tracks as your computer can deliver.

Another general observation on the present state of PTLE when compared to other recording packages is that LE still offers no support for surround, where Logic Audio, Digital Performer and Cubase SX, for example, do. Of course, surround is supported by the full professional version of Pro Tools that comes with TDM systems.

Bundle Of Joy

Aside from the standard Digi plug-ins mentioned above, 002 comes with extra plug-ins you'd normally have to buy separately. These include additional Digi ones, namely the very good RTAS Maxim loudness maximiser and D-Fi sound-munging suite, and the D-FX AudioSuite chorus/flange/delay processors. A set of third-party plug-ins is headed up by Waves' Renaissance EQ (in two-, four- and six-band variations), Renaissance Compressor, and Renaissance Reverberator. These Waves devices are great, with the reverb especially being most welcome.

From IK Multimedia comes Sampletank SE, a 'special edition' of the multitimbral sample playback/synthesis engine, complete with 64 Sampletank instruments (it's 'special' presumably because those 64 instruments are all you can use, and you can't do an awful lot of editing on them either!). There's also a full version of the fabulous IK Amplitube guitar amp/effect simulator. Native Instruments contribute the excellent, authentic Pro 52 virtual analogue synth. (If you want more, there are upgrade paths for all the supplied plug-ins, in some cases to full third-party bundles such as the Waves Gold bundle of audio tools.) The only one we were a little disappointed with was Sampletank SE, which sounds good but is limited. Still, it provides a handful of useful drum kits and other instruments.

  It Stands Alone: Digital Mixer Mode  
  Switching the 002 into stand-alone mode turns it into an assignable 8:2 desk with a useful feature set. Each of the eight inputs is equipped with a fader, pan pot, mute and solo buttons, onboard three-band EQ (with swept mid), a send each to the built-in reverb and delay effects processors, two further sends (routed to outputs 7 and 8) for external effects or basic submixing (for alternative headphone mixes, for example), and an onboard compressor for each of the four mic-amp-equipped inputs. Should you use the two extra sends for effects processing, returns would occupy some of the eight inputs.

A basic snapshot memory has 24 slots for storing stand-alone settings, but these cannot be accessed via MIDI. They're really only for saving particular setups, for manual recall, and can't be chained to produce an automated mix. The onboard effects are basic but good quality; the delay maxes out at 500ms, and the reverb is limited to three basic algorithms and a compact parameter set. Compressors offer control over ratio, attack and release, with soft- and hard-knee options, and they work rather well. We wish they could be used within Pro Tools!

Although it's a pity that the ADAT inputs cannot be used alongside the analogue inputs in stand-alone mode (it's one or the other in this mode), the ADAT outs can be used. Any audio routed through the inputs can be automatically passed to the ADAT output, on a track-to-track basis, pre-fader and pre-effects. Thus the desk could be used in a basic live situation with an ADAT-equipped tape or hard-disk multitrack.

 

Making Some Connections

The 002's hardware resembles a compact digital mixer, featuring the familiar faders, knobs and buttons, plus a set of displays, which make the necessary assignability of the controls much easier to deal with. On the rear panel are the connections that in other digital recording systems (including the 001) would reside on a rackmount recording interface or breakout box and possibly on a card inside the computer. Aside from the control surface aspect, the big departure for the 002's hardware side is that there is no longer any need for an interface card inside the computer, as the FireWire connection is used for high-speed, bi-directional MIDI, audio and control data transfer. This is Digi's first FireWire product, though they ventured outside the traditional 'PCI card plus breakout box' paradigm with the recent USB M Box interface.

The version of Pro Tools LE bundled with Digi 002 has been upgraded to support 32 audio tracks, and also includes an impressive plug-in package — shown is IK's Sampletank SE software sound module.

The 002's I/O capability is broadly similar to that of the 001 in terms of numbers, though it does offer two extra mic amps, allowing up to four mics to be recorded simultaneously. The 002's mic amps, which are apparently the same as those on Digidesign's recent pro eight-way preamp, the Pre, sound even better than the pretty decent ones on the 001. The other I/O difference is that all the 002's connections are balanced, which fits in with the higher market positioning of the system.

First up are eight analogue ins, the first four of which have both phantom-powered XLR mic sockets and balanced jack connections at mic/line/instrument level. Guitars can be plugged into these inputs, which each have a gain control and switchable low-pass filter, without the need for a preamp. The remaining four analogue ins are on balanced jacks, switchable between +4dBu (professional level) and -10dBv (consumer and semi-pro level) operation. In addition to those eight inputs, there's a useful pair of Alt Source phono inputs, which take the place of inputs 7 and 8 if used, and allow audio inputs from CD players or cassette decks, for example, to be brought into a Session.

Moving on to digital inputs, we have a co-axial S/PDIF input and an optical digital input that can function either as an alternative S/PDIF input or as eight channels of ADAT interfacing. (The two S/PDIF options can't be used at the same time.) The 002 hardware is thus basically an 18-input desk that will potentially allow you to record up to 18 tracks at once. If you don't have a use for the ADAT I/O, you could use external A-D/D-A converters to effectively add futher analogue I/O.

On the output front, aside from the obvious matching eight analogue outs (a pair of which routes the main stereo mix out of the system), eight ADAT outs and S/PDIF out, there's an analogue stereo monitor output on balanced jacks, and an Alt Main analogue stereo out on phonos which mirrors the main stereo mix, for recording to a cassette deck, for example.

  Installation  
  Installing PTLE on our Mac was easy. All the necessary FireWire drivers and the core Digidesign extensions were put where required automatically. All that was needed was to make the FireWire connection, power up the hardware and boot the software. Technically, there should be an authorisation routine, but it seems that if the software finds a valid authorisation on your computer for another version of PTLE (we're 001 users), it's happy. The bundled plug-ins do need to be authorised. Note that PTLE v5.3.2, as supplied with 002, won't boot if 001 hardware is installed in your computer.  
Remaining connections comprise a MIDI In and two Outs, a front-panel headphone socket, a footswitch jack (for activating punch-in/out), and an auto-sensing mains power socket, meaning that the 002 should work anywhere in the world with no power hassles. There are also two FireWire ports, and though you may read suggestions to the contrary, neither can be used for the connection of a FireWire hard drive. If your computer has just a single FireWire port, and you want to use a FireWire hard drive, the best solution is to connect the drive to your computer and the 002 hardware to the drive's 'pass through' port. Like the 001, the 002 has no word clock I/O.

Overall, it's a well thought-out and sensible set of I/O. The codecs on the analogue ins and outs operate at sample rates up to 96kHz and bit depths of up to 24-bit, and the S/PDIF connection also allows up to 24/96 operation (the ADAT I/O only supports 44.1 and 48 kHz sample rates). Perhaps the main potential inconvenience for some is the fact that all the analogue outs operate at the +4dBu professional level, so if you connect semi-pro recording gear, such as a multi-effects device operating at -10dBv, you may find that the 002 output is too hot; reducing its level should help. It's also worth mentioning that because there are no hardware insert points on the inputs, anyone who wants to insert outboard compressors and the like will have to use up main input/output pairs to do it. Plug-in dynamics are alternatively available if the controller is being used with LE and there are onboard dynamics on inputs 1-4 in stand-alone mode — very useful.

Monitoring is simply implemented, though quite well thought-out. There are separate controls for the main stereo monitor output and the headphone socket, with a Mono switch for checking mono compatibility of the stereo mix. The main monitor can also be muted, leaving the headphones operational. Curiously, the Alt Source stereo phono input can also be routed to the monitor (and headphone) output. This could be useful in a live situation, with the 002 in stand-alone mode (to route pre-set music over the house PA, for example). In the studio, with a simple external mixer you could create a separate monitor mix for overdubbing musicians and feed it back into the Alt Source inputs, leaving the main mix untouched.

Another new feature in Pro Tools LE is the MIDI event editor.

The 002 system doesn't offer a 'monitor at source' option, to get around the latency inherent in computer-based audio systems. Luckily, PTLE has settings that can help. The hardware buffer parameter offers five levels, between 64 samples (virtually undetectable latency) and 1024 samples (a handy slapback echo). The level you can achieve depends on CPU speed, how many simultaneous tracks you want to record and how many plug-ins you're using.

An alternative to adjusting the hardware buffer is enabling Low Latency Monitoring from the Operations menu. This makes latency almost undetectable, even when recording many 002 inputs at once. However, no effects can be applied to tracks being recorded with Low Latency Monitoring, and it only works with inputs routed directly to audio tracks: audio can't pass through an Aux track first (as you would to add processing during recording).

The current situation regarding the addressing of 002 hardware by other software is as yet unclear. It can be set up to be the audio output for Apple's Sound Manager, making it compatible with any app that has Sound Manager support, and Digidesign's WaveDriver allows a similar option for Windows. Currently, there seems to be no ASIO support; the ASIO DirectConnect driver we use for our Digi 001 system doesn't work properly with 002. It's worth noting, too, that the 002's MIDI I/O is accessible to software other than PTLE, in stand-by mode, but that you won't always be able to get Sound Manager output simultaneously (Propellerhead Reason works fine, for example). The hardware's MIDI I/O is not available, however, if the 002 is in stand-alone mode, which is a shame.

On The Surface

The 002 controller links to the host computer solely via FireWire, sending even MIDI data over the FireWire link (in contrast to other controllers, which simply connect via MIDI). The main feature of the front panel is the bank of eight motorised faders, which are quiet, smooth, 10-inch touch-sensitive units made by ALPS. Their space-age, silvery moulded caps initially look a bit on the plasticky side, but they're actually very pleasing to the fingertip. As you would expect, the faders are easily assignable, on a bank system, to control the 32 audio tracks of PTLE, plus as many MIDI and Aux tracks as you have, eight at a time.

  Alternatives  
  It's hard to match 002 facilities precisely at a comparable price. You can team software from other manufacturers with their own dedicated MIDI controllers, but you'd have to buy a 96kHz-capable FireWire audio interface elsewhere, and a MIDI interface. Or you can get the software and the audio interface from one manufacturer, but buy a MIDI controller elsewhere. We couldn't spec a comparable system for the same or less money than the 002, and the cost of alternatives tended to be several hundred pounds higher. The closest price-wise was a part-Steinberg/ part-MOTU system, for around £100 higher (the Steinberg Houston was recently reduced in price). We don't guarantee that all the bits are compatible!  
Also in this main central section above the faders are corresponding Mute and Solo buttons, each with built-in status lamp (like all the buttons). On the review unit, a couple of these were duller than the rest. A bit higher again are eight 'Sel' buttons, used to select channels for editing, arm them for recording, and so on, and eight rotary encoders, each with a green LED ring above as a value readout. The LED rings can also be switched to provide channel output metering, so although it initially looks as though you don't get level metering, in fact you can choose to have it. It's pretty effective and responsive too, though there is no three-colour system — only the last LED in the ring flashes red if an overload is occurring. A slight niggle is that, depending on where you're sitting in relation to the 002, the rotaries can obscure parts of the LED rings. Lining up exactly with the channel 'strips' are eight very clear LCD 'scribble-strips', one per channel, offering labels abbreviated from LE track names.

The rotary encoders can be assigned to control a variety of parameters, including pan, aux send levels for PTLE's five sends per channel (A-E), and the parameters of plug-ins, via named assignment buttons. Values for these parameters show in the scribble-strip displays momentarily as the parameter is altered, and can also be 'fixed' there with a key-press combination if you need to examine them more closely. Parameters that might be more suited to fader control than rotary control, such as send levels, can even be assigned to the faders instead, via a 'Flip' button.

Take In The Views

Several different parameter 'Views' help you keep tabs on your mix. The Views are divided into two types: Console Views show the status of one parameter (pan, send or insert) for all eight channels in a bank and assigns each rotary encoder and channel select button to their own mixer channel, while Channel Views give you access to the status of several parameters for a single selected channel. For example, to see the status of eight channels of pan positions, you select the Pan Console View. The LED rings now show pan position for these channels. Choosing the Insert Console View makes the scribble strips display the abbreviated name of any processors assigned to insert A of each of the current eight channels. To see what's assigned to inserts B to D, you use the lettered buttons to the left. Pressing any channel select button then makes the parameters of the assigned insert processor currently showing for that channel appear in the displays, where they're available for editing with the rotaries.

  Computer Requirements  
  Mac: Digidesign-qualified Power Mac (preferably G4), Mac OS 9.2.2, 256MB RAM, QuickTime 5.0.2 (included with PTLE), OMS 2.3.8 (included with PTLE), qualified hard drive for recording.
PC: Digidesign-qualified single-processor Windows-compatible PC, Windows XP Home Edition (Windows Me and Windows 98 not supported), 256MB RAM, qualified hard drive for recording.
 
Channel Views are accessed by named buttons: EQ, Dynamics, Insert and Pan/Send. Pressing, for example, the Insert button, followed by Channel 1's select button, causes the names of all the insert processors (inserts A-E) currently assigned to Channel 1 to be shown across the first five scribble strips. Again, you can get to them for editing by pressing the channel Sel button that lines up with the desired processor. You can see from this that it's possible to get the same end result via two different routes, but the types of overview given are different and both useful, and the method of assignability used is clear and easy to comprehend. Any time there are too many labels or parameters for the eight scribble-strips, page left and right keys can scroll through the spillover. The two displays in the top-right corner of the unit help by identifying what is being shown in the scribble-strips — showing, for example, 'LR Pan' if you're in Pan View.

Getting About

The other main section of the front panel is the transport area, featuring Play, Stop, Record, Rewind and Fast Forward keys, plus an RTZ (Return to Zero) key. You can get straight to the end of a Song by using the Shift 'modifier' key (more later) plus Fast Forward. We've seen one or two mentions on Digi forums of people finding the transport keys 'sticky', but the review unit showed no evidence of this.

Dedicated controls above the transport activate loop playback and loop recording modes, and access QuickPunch punch-in mode. There are no special buttons for setting loop points, but the down/up cursor buttons discussed in a moment can be used on the fly for selecting start and end points, for looping or editing, with surprising accuracy, especially in rhythmic music. Once a selection is made, you press Stop and Play again to hear it loop. Three Windows buttons bring the Mix or Edit window to the front and show/hide the window for whichever plug-in is currrently being edited.

  001 Compatibility  
  Digi 002 Sessions can be saved in a format that opens in 001, and 001 Sessions can be opened by 002. When we tried the latter, the new version of PTLE didn't convert the earlier PTLE's Long Delay plug-in into the equivalent in the new software, but other plug-in settings came across just fine. The situation with older RTAS plug-ins (which 001 owners might have) isn't straightforward: some will have to be updated, some reauthorised, and some will move to the new version OK.

Incidentally, an option for 001 owners who would like to stick with the 001 but get some dedicated hands-on control would be to add the CM Labs Motormix. This compact moving-fader controller costs over £900 but is optimised for Pro Tools and is really nice to use.

 
Above the transport, where there would ideally be a Jog/Shuttle wheel, is the circular Navigation cursor-button array (up, down, left, right). As well as switching fader banks when the Bank button above this array is active, the left-right buttons can move through the channels one at a time when the neighbouring Nudge button has been pressed. Nudge is a useful facility: imagine that the first 10 tracks of your Session comprise a guitar part, a lead vocal, then eight parts of backing vocals. If you could only switch faders in banks of eight, you couldn't balance the eight tracks of BVs at the same time using the 002's faders — the first bank of eight would control guitar, lead vocal and six tracks of BVs, while the next bank would access two tracks of BVs and six tracks of whatever else you'd recorded. However, Nudging along two tracks while in the first fader bank puts all eight BV tracks on the faders. Thus you can usually have your preferred section of the LE mixer projected onto the 002 hardware. Alternatively, you could use the Memory Locators (of which there are 200) to hide/show tracks in the mixer; you could create 'memories' which hide everything except the BVs you'd like to work on, or everything except MIDI tracks, for example. The hidden tracks still operate as normal in the background, but you're presented with a focussed section of the mixer.

The cursor buttons also have functions within the PTLE Mix and Edit windows, in that they will step through mixer channels or the track-name column one channel/track at a time. Activating the Zoom button above the Navigation array makes the cursor keys operate as horizontal and vertical zoom controls for the software, and when you have the desired track selected and are at the required zoom level in the Edit window, you can move the cursor (in Grid mode) in bar-length steps to approximately where you may want to start making an edit, via the transport winding keys. That's as far as the 002 controller will take you 'into' your actual tracks, though, and the mouse has to come back into play for all editing operations. It's a shame there's no Jog/Shuttle wheel, given that some dedicated MIDI controllers have one. Digi say that they preferred to spend the money on better-quality faders.

To the right of the Navigation array is a column of five function keys, F1-F5. You might expect these to be customisable, but at present they are not. Other controllers have function keys that users can assign to common operations. Digi say the ones on the 002 might become assignable in the future, and we hope they do. At the moment they each have a fixed function, three relating only to stand-alone mode. Of the other two, one accesses Fader Mute mode, where the 002 operates as normal but its faders don't move, in case even their discreet swish is distracting to you during careful listening; the other switches the edit 'Focus' of the 002 from whatever it is currently showing to displaying the parameters of the currently active/selected plug-in. All that remains in this area are the Flip button discussed earlier and a Master Fader button. This gives instant access to all the Master faders in your Pro Tools mixer, saving you paging through banks just to get to the mix fader or other Master faders.

Bags Of Buttons

We've now touched upon much of the 002's control-surface furniture, with the notable exception of the group of buttons and indicators in its top right-hand corner. The Enter button can be clicked to 'OK', or close, any on-screen dialogue (and the 002 tells you whenever such a dialogue is waiting for a response, showing the message "Pro Tools has a dialogue on screen" across its displays!). This button also enables memory locations (markers) to be entered on the fly during playback; unfortunately, you can't jump to markers from the 002 hardware. The Escape button in some instances moves up a level of OS, such as returning to a Console from a Channel View, and also selects Cancel in on-screen dialogues.

An updated version of the Mod Delay plug-in now offers tempo sync options.

The Undo button undoes the last operation, in software, though 'undo' doesn't always behave as you'd expect; while it will undo an unwanted take, for example, the button (and the software's Undo function in general) won't undo a bad fader move or misguided automation drawing. The Standalone button puts the 002 into stand-alone digital mixer mode (see It Stands Alone box). There's also a Rec button that turns the channel Sel buttons into record-arming buttons, and an L R Meter button, which switches the LED-ring metering between four different states: pan metering, level metering, and pan or level metering for the left or right inputs of a stereo track. The Display button changes the final pair of displays into a song-position readout (not a SMPTE display) mirroring the position and calibration of the on-screen one (bars and beats, minutes and seconds, or samples). The display itself is rather sluggish, and usually about a beat behind the current position of a Session. Finally, a set of LED indicators shows whether the current Session is at 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96 kHz, whether the FireWire connection is working, and whether MIDI is active.

The only thing remaining to be mentioned is a collection of keys to the left of the solo/mute buttons. These four 'keyboard modifier' switches duplicate the function of the Shift, Option, Control and Command keys on your computer keyboard, and offer useful ways to expand the number of functions available from other 002 hardware controls. For example, tapping a fader cap once while holding down Option sends the fader position to 0dB. The manual is not very good at telling you about these nice little touches, so when you discover one it's doubly pleasing. We thought it very neat that double-clicking a channel Select button opens the track-naming dialogue in PTLE, so you can name the track from your computer keyboard; you can move to preceding or subsequent tracks, to name them too, using the Command button plus the 002's left or right cursor button. However, we were disappointed to find no way to open the New Track dialogue from the hardware, for creating new tracks. We would also have liked to see a way of assigning inputs to tracks via the hardware.

002 In Session

The 002's I/O hardware functioned perfectly during our test recordings. We achieved excellent, clean, quiet results from the mic preamps with our AKG, Rode and CAD condenser mics, and it's good that the line inputs are switchable between -10dBv and +4dBu, for flexibility in connecting both pro and semi-pro gear. We were not able to test the ADAT interfacing, but the optical I/O worked fine in S/PDIF mode.

There's no doubt that the control-surface aspect of the 002 makes recording and mixing with Pro Tools LE much more comfortable, quick and intuitive, after you've gained a certain amount of familiarity with it, and saves much wear and tear on the mouse arm. Of course, one has to become used to a certain amount of doubling up of the eight faders and eight encoders. It would be great if the 002 was expandable with extra fader banks, like the Emagic Logic Control. Not all on-screen functions can be accessed from the hardware unit, but the majority of basic tracking operations can be performed without recourse to the mouse. Mixing, too, is straightforward, with all automation moves easily performed and recorded via the 002 hardware. However, screen and mouse work are necessary when setting automation modes and enabling tracks for automation, as there are no dedicated automation controls. We missed a Save button, as in the midst of recording with the hardware and using it as our interface with the software we kept wanting to Save from it. Some MIDI controller units do offer this facility. The Digidesign response to this point was that they don't provide a Save function because their expensive controllers have it. Digi understandably have a hierarchy to maintain, with such a strong professional business, but as their project systems become more sophisticated it may become increasingly difficult for them to avoid treading on their own toes. In fairness, you can set up LE to auto-save at intervals, and if those Function keys become assignable, it may be possible to create your own Save button.

It does take a while to wean yourself off editing plug-in parameters with the mouse. You have to get used to the parameter arrangement in the 002's scribble strips, and the often cryptic abbreviations used for each parameter. Then there's the scrolling between pages of parameters when a plug-in is particularly complex. We found Digi's own plug-ins the most logical, and with these it was a pleasure to be able to edit from the hardware. Third-party plug-ins can be more problematic: for example, Amplitube is a complex plug-in, and all its parameters are available for editing via the 002 hardware, but they're not arranged in a particularly logical order (not Digi's fault, presumably), and furrowed brows ensue when hunting for parameters on 002 pages that correspond to three pages of parameters in Amplitube. It's easier to grab the mouse! Bar the odd 'enable' button, the instrument plug-ins we tried could not be edited from the 002.

The 002 boasts four high-quality mic preamps of the same type used in Digi's high-end Pre preamp, and offers a good range of analogue and digital I/O. Although there are two FireWire ports, the 002 cannot be used in a chain between a computer and a FireWire hard drive.

On the whole, the control surface bits of the 002 functioned just as advertised, though we initially had some problems with the faders. When the 002 was first delivered, it had a habit of randomly marching its faders up and down in small steps, emitting a tick on each step. A firmware update fixed this, but we then began noticing a different problem. In stand-alone mode, fader positions weren't remembered from stored Snapshots (though actual playback levels were right), and in Pro Tools mode the faders occasionally wouldn't move or would return to their bottom position when switching banks. Switching banks a few times more, or using the Nudge facility, usually cured the problem temporarily. Suspecting a faulty unit, Digi delivered a replacement, but the faders on this one also often wouldn't jump to the correct Session levels until prodded and tweaked. Digidesign tracked the problem down to a faulty internal power harness, and the third unit we received functioned perfectly. Digi say that the two problematic units we received were pre-production models.

On our 450MHz G4 Mac with 896MB RAM, audio recording and playback was generally problem-free: we managed simultaneous recording through 10 inputs, the most we were able to try. We also created and played back a 32-track Session, with around 20 effects plug-ins running. As with our 001, the 002 setup was stable and smooth in operation. We only encountered hiccups when we began using the supplied Sampletank and Pro 52 virtual instruments. On that particular 44.1kHz Session, though we had only six audio tracks running with six processing plug-ins, plus two parts from Sampletank and one from Pro 52, we repeatedly encountered arrested playback, with a couple of different error messages displayed on the computer screen. When the virtual instrument tracks were converted to audio, we could play back the Session OK. Virtual instruments are known, of course, for being demanding of computer power.

Conclusions

The Digi 002 system has to be considered very good value for money, offering, as it does, excellent recording/editing software, a decent set of good plug-ins, quality 24/96 audio I/O, MIDI interfacing, and a moving-fader control surface that doubles as a digital mixer. Because it uses external FireWire interfacing, the 002 system is suitable for use with a modern FireWire-equipped laptop, a consideration for many these days.

The LE software is as efficient and usable as ever, has been given some welcome enhancements, and is generally a pleasure to use — though, as mentioned earlier, we think one or two facilities could be beefed up. The hardware controller is smart, sleek and ergonomic. It looks professional, and its interaction with the software has been well implemented, but we did sometimes feel that it doesn't go quite as far as it could.

Comparing the 002 directly with the competition is not straightforward, given that its spec is probably unique. Any comparable system (see Alternatives box) could not come from just one manufacturer. Components from different places may not always work perfectly together, and one big advantage for 002 is that all of it comes from Digidesign.

A wide range of studio musicians and audio professionals will find the 002 system very attractive, and it should find a home not only in project studios, but also in pre-production facilities and in smaller recording rooms within larger studio complexes. As with 001 Sessions, 002 Sessions can be easily imported into TDM systems, making it equally useful for project studio owners going elsewhere to mix and for studio complexes with 'big' Pro Tools in a main studio. Digi should also find a ready supply of buyers not only in Pro Tools newcomers, but in existing 001 owners who will see the 002, with its hands-on controller and other enhancements, as a tempting prospect. It's certainly tempting these two 001 owners!

  Test Spec  
  Apple G4, 450MHz, 896MB RAM.  

 information
£2109 including VAT.
Digidesign +44 (0)1753 658999.
+44 (0)1753 658501.
www.digidesign.com

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