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Akai DPS12

Digital Personal Studio By David Mellor
Published March 1998

Akai DPS12

Akai build on their years of expertise in stand‑alone digital recorders with a truly portable personal multitracker offering a digital mixer and 12 tracks of audio on a removable‑media drive. David Mellor takes it away.

It's cute and I want one! That was my reaction when I first saw the pre‑release information on the DPS12 Digital Personal Studio from Akai, who have a long history of manufacturing digital recorders. It's an all‑in‑one hard disk recorder/mixer that's capable of 12 tracks rather than the more usual eight tracks (though Roland have just announced their VS1680, which provides 16 tracks) and those 12 tracks can be recorded directly onto an internal Iomega Jaz drive (pre‑installed and included in the price), which uses removable cartridges.

In addition to its recording features, the DPS12 has a 20‑channel mixer, of which 12 channels have physical faders and pan controls. EQ comes as standard, and an effects board will be available as an optional extra later on. Let's jump straight in and see what this little baby can do...

All That JAZ

Akai DPS12

The Akai DPS12 comes with an internally mounted Iomega Jaz drive. This is great, firstly because you don't have a separate drive to connect, and secondly because the Jaz drive takes removable 1Gb cartridges, which cost around £60‑£70 apiece. Jaz cartridges come pre‑formatted for Mac or PC, but the DPS12 uses its own format — naturally enough, since 12‑track recording is rather different to the word processor and graphics files that most Jaz users will want to store. Rumour has it that removable hard disk cartridges are not the most permanent form of storage in the world, unless treated with great care, and Akai do recommend backing up, preferably to a magneto‑optical drive via the external SCSI connector. You can also record to external drives, apparently up to 14 terabytes (enough for two and a half years of stereo recording — if you can afford the disks)!

Recordings are organised on disk in the form of Projects. A Project comprises audio, mixer data and locate points. The manual doesn't say how many Projects can be stored on a single disk, but I got up to 20 before I decided that I'd had more than enough value for my gigabyte. A single 12‑track Project at a 44.1kHz sampling rate (48kHz and 32kHz are also available) would allow just over 16 minutes of recording time. Since disk space is dynamically allocated, if not all the tracks were used for their full duration the total start‑to‑end recording time could be more. If you use the virtual tracks feature, where up to 250 additional tracks can be stored on disk (but not played until allocated to a 'real' track), as alternative takes, perhaps, you might expect the disk to fill up more quickly.

Naturally, the question arises as to whether the DPS12 can actually record 12 tracks reliably. With a tape recorder you never have to worry about this, since each track is given its own space on the tape, but in any disk recording system there is always a compromise between how many tracks can be obtained reliably and how widely the data is scattered on the disk — primarily because of editing, but also due to the order in which different sections of each track are recorded. Needless to say, Akai have done their homework, and I couldn't fault the DPS12 in normal use.

The performance of the digital mixer is excellent, particularly the EQ.


Akai DPS12

The mixer section of the DPS12 has six analogue inputs on balanced jacks (no phantom power for mics, unfortunately), a stereo optical digital input, two analogue auxiliary outputs, two analogue master outputs and an optical digital output which copies the analogue master outputs. It's interesting to note that the mixer lacks auxiliary return inputs and is not provided with a proper monitor output, although there's a headphone output on the front panel that could be used for this purpose.

Although many users will have no need to record more than two tracks at a time, the DPS12 can in fact record up to eight tracks simultaneously. This would obviously be useful for live recordings, but would also come in handy where a composition is built up using a sequencer and MIDI system and is then transferred in bulk to disk. Bear in mind that two of the eight inputs are optical digital, so if you want to record the full eight tracks simultaneously you'll need an outboard convertor.

Once you've created an empty Project, all you have to do to start recording is plug a mic or instrument into Input 1, select record‑ready on Track 1, and start recording. Recording starts absolutely the instant you hit the buttons, with no time spent getting up to speed, as happens with tape. I have to say that the Jaz drive makes a bit of a racket, but this is hard disk recording and seems to be what you have to expect. I love removable media, but its very removability makes it impossible to soundproof against the clicking of the disk, or even attenuate it, so ideally the mic and the DPS12 should be in separate rooms.

Unlike conventional mixing consoles, the mixer on the DPS12 does not have any grouping system, other than the master outputs, so it's tricky to mix two or more signals onto the same track (this difficulty also applies to track bouncing). It can be done, however, by routing to the masters and then routing the masters internally to tracks. If, in addition, you need to monitor tracks already recorded, while mixing more than one signal to a track, you'll have to go via the auxiliary sends. It's possible and reasonably easy, but you'll need the manual.

I mentioned earlier that there are no dedicated auxiliary return inputs on the DPS12. Most people would use aux returns for the output of their reverb unit, both for mixing and for a little 'sweetening' during the recording process, and their omission might seem to be a problem. However, it's not, because you can easily configure two of the inputs as 'thru mix' channels and use your reverb, without difficulty, all the way through the recording and mixing process. The auxiliary sends work as you would expect, and are individually switchable pre‑ and post‑fader.

Punch‑ins are an important part of recording technique. The DPS12 supports both manual and automated punch‑in, though unfortunately it's not as reliable as it should be — I found that sometimes clicks could be created at the in and out points. Also, when you punch out, the monitor doesn't switch immediately back to playback, as it should. This really needs some attention from Akai. All is not lost, however, as you could quite easily achieve the same effect as a punch‑in with a little editing.


Akai DPS12

Editing with the DPS12 is firstly a matter of selecting the In point and Out point of the section you want to work with. You might want to delete it, for instance, using a Cut and Discard edit, where the offending material is simply silenced. Alternatively, you could Cut and Move, where subsequent material is moved in time. Edits can be on a single track, or across anything up to all 12 tracks.

I expect the DPS12 to be a great seller for Akai.

More sophisticated are the Cut and Copy edits. You can Cut and Paste, or Cut and Insert, or Copy and Paste, or Copy and Insert. Cut means that the material is excised and moved elsewhere, while Copy means that a copy of the material is left behind exactly where it was. Paste means that the editing operation obliterates currently existing material at the edit point, and Insert means that a gap is created for the new material. An Insert Silence command completes the set of simple and very logical editing functions.

To explain the editing operation in more detail, suppose I wanted to copy the material on tracks 1‑4 from timecode 00:01:00:00 to 00:02:00:00 (one minute's worth) to tracks 5‑8 at timecode 00:03:00:00, erasing the existing material at that point. I'd play to the In point and store it (two button presses), play to the Out point and store it (another two), then play to the point in time at which I wanted to perform the paste. I would then press the Edit button, select tracks 1‑4 as my source with the Track Select buttons, select tracks 5‑8 as my destination with the Record Ready buttons (which are doing an extra job here), and hit the Do It soft key. Done. And if I made a mistake I could always Undo (see 'Control Panel' box for more on the multiple levels of Undo).

In and Out points can also be located in other ways — using the jog/shuttle wheel, which allows tracks to be scrubbed, one at a time, or by entering time values directly. Paste and Insert operations can, by the way, be copied up to 99 times for instant loops.

If I have one quibble with the editing features, it is that Akai haven't provided the Copy and Append function that would butt a section of audio exactly at the end of another section, without making you find the insertion point manually. This would vastly increase the flexibility of a system such as the DPS12.


Akai DPS12

A digital mixer isn't as easy to operate as the analogue equivalent, but it can give you more features for the price. As standard, the DPS12 has digital EQ, which can be globally configured as 2‑band high and low, or 3‑band parametric. If you choose 2‑band EQ, all 12 channels can use it. If you select 3‑band, only six channels can be so blessed. With 48kHz sampling, these figures are reduced to 10 and five respectively. I think Akai should find a way to allocate the different types of EQ on an individual channel basis, but despite these limitations, the facilities on offer are wonderful.

The 2‑band EQ offers LF and HF sections with both level and frequency controls — note that you don't usually get a frequency control on the low and high sections of analogue console EQs unless you pay a high price. Akai's 3‑band EQ also has a mid section with level, frequency and Q, which is great to see. Although operating the EQ via the cursor keys and jog wheel is a little fiddly, the results are worth it.

The two auxiliary sends are both pre‑/post‑fader switchable, as I mentioned earlier, and can function as individual mono sends or as a stereo pair. When these are used with the 'thru mix' facility, the inputs can be used as auxiliary returns to add effects to the mix, or even to bring in other signals — perhaps controlled by an MTC‑synchronised sequencer.

The DPS12's mixer section doesn't have insert points, so compressing or gating is going to be a little tricky. You may be able to do it while recording, if you have a voice channel or similar processor, but if you leave it until the mix you're going to have to use the auxiliary sends and 'thru mix' inputs. Personally, I might be tempted to re‑record the compressed signal to another track before mixing. The original could always be retained as a virtual track.

Since the DPS12 doesn't have a separate monitor output, the master fader is your level control for both the monitor speakers and master recorder. Akai suggest that you can connect to a master recorder, and monitor via that, which I could live with, but it's not ideal.

One of the bonus features of digital mixers is that they can often be automated. The DPS12 allows mixer states to be captured as Scenes. Unfortunately, Scenes can only be changed while the DPS12 is stopped, so you can't use them directly to automate a mix. All is not lost, however, since any changes you make during a mix can be sent to a sequencer as control change data. The DPS12 will respond to this as though you were making the changes yourself. Although this is useful and reasonably effective, I would have preferred the DPS12 also to allow access to internally stored Scenes via program change commands, or perhaps to have some internal form of automation that didn't rely on a sequencer at all.


Akai DPS12

Despite a few problem areas, the Akai DPS12 is still cute and I still want one. Having 12 tracks opens up new possibilities, and the internal removable‑media Jaz drive is a blessing. Sound quality is as you would expect from a well‑designed digital system (that is, there's nothing at all wrong with it) and while the 32kHz sampling rate is certainly not as crisp as the 44.1 and 48kHz rates, it's usable at a push, if you really have to squeeze the maximum recording time out of a Jaz cartridge. The performance of the digital mixer is excellent, particularly the EQ. Editing features are to the point and appropriate for a stand‑alone disk recorder. I'd like to see a proper buss structure with groups you can mix into in the normal way, and the problem with occasional clicks at punch‑in points also needs attention, but nevertheless I expect the DPS12 to be a great seller for Akai. Anyone needing a compact, portable studio for home or pro use should give this unit a good close look.

Compact But Well‑Muscled

Akai DPS12

The Akai DPS12 is smaller in real life than I imagined from early photos. It's small and light enough to be easily portable, and it's so cute you'll want to give it a cuddle! The six main analogue inputs, on balanced quarter‑inch jacks, are on the top surface near the back, which is convenient, but puts ugly cables on display, particularly since the sockets are angled forward slightly. The remaining inputs and outputs are on the rear: master analogue out left and right (phono); auxiliary sends A and B (phono); digital optical stereo in and out; MIDI In and Out/Thru; SCSI (half‑pitch connector); footswitch (quarter‑inch jack).

The control surface is quite sparsely populated, since the mixer is digital and most operations are carried out through the cursor keys and jog/shuttle wheel. There are, however, six gain controls with peak LEDs for the analogue inputs, 12 each Record Ready and Channel select buttons and, of course, 12 physical faders and pan controls, plus the stereo master fader. Individual channels, or groups of channels, can be solo'd.

On the right of the unit, the display is large enough and bright enough to do the job, aided by six soft keys underneath, whose function varies according to context. The transport controls are large and chunky, as they should be. Just above these is a button panel which offers easy access to most functions of the machine. Almost all the buttons have a dual function, for entering names for Projects, Tracks, and so on. It's not quite as straightforward as a QWERTY keyboard, but it's certainly adequate. On the front of the unit there's a headphone socket with level control and, of course, the Jaz drive.

Control Panel

Akai DPS12

Central to the operation of the DPS12 is the Control Panel — it's so important that there are four soft keys on the main screen that take you straight to it! Here you can call up a variety of functions, which are as follows:

  • AUTO PUNCH: In and out points are set for the punch‑in, which may be rehearsed without committing to disk. A repeat function continuously cycles between the In and Out points. There is no pre‑roll facility so you have to locate manually to before the In point, so that there is a 'run up' to the punch‑in.
  • VARI PITCH: used to vary the speed of recording or playback over a range of 68% to 113% of normal speed. This is a wider range than usually found on multitrack recorders, but it would have been nice if the lower end of the range was extended to 50%, to allow for double‑speed effects with a pitch shift of an octave.
  • TIME DISPLAY: The time can be displayed in terms of hours:minutes:seconds:frames:subframes, or as bars and beats if preferred. Time positions can relate to an absolute zero point, or can be relative to a zero point set by the user. The frame rate, which is particularly relevant when synchronising with other equipment, can be set to any of the five popular rates.
  • TIME OFFSET: Used to define the offset amount of relative time.
  • TO/FROM TIME: The To and From keys are used to play up to or from the current 'now' position. This screen allows the number of seconds of To or From time to be adjusted between 1 and 10 seconds.
  • PLAY MONITOR: For tracks in record‑ready mode, the monitor source on playback can be switched between the output of the track (normal) and the input signal to the track, for rehearsal without recording.
  • SYNC: Akai's hard disk products traditionally offer excellent sync facilities and the DPS12 is no exception. SMPTE/EBU timecode is not catered for, but MTC certainly is (SMPTE‑to‑MTC convertors are widely available). The DPS12 can work as either a master or a slave. You wouldn't expect synchronisation as an MTC slave to be absolutely perfect but I found, syncing to a Fostex RD8 with a direct MTC output, that it was usable, and I believe that it would be possible to shuttle tracks back and forth between a DPS12 at home and a commercial studio, providing you could accept an accuracy of a couple of tens of milliseconds either way.
  • SAMPLING RATE: The DPS12 offers three sampling rates: 48kHz, 44.1kHz and 32kHz. Obviously, the higher the sampling rate the faster disk space is eaten up, although the highest rate offers a high‑frequency response extending up to 22kHz, rather than the 20kHz offered by the 44.1kHz sampling rate. Obviously the digital mixer only has so much horsepower and you will find that EQ facilities are limited at 48kHz. Digital sync, which should be selected when recording from a digital source, is also available from this screen.
  • BEAT MAP AND TEMPO MAP: If you're using the bars and beats option rather than timecode clock, you'll need to set a tempo map, and perhaps a beat map too. Changes in tempo are allowed, and tempo can range between 30 and 300bpm (I suppose the latter is for thrash jungle!). The meter can range between 1/4 and 32/32.
  • FOOTSWITCH: All multitrack recorders should have a punch‑in footswitch socket and the DPS12 does. It can also be used for just about every other control surface function, including the soft key operations.
  • MIDI: The DPS12 has few MIDI functions, so it's perhaps justifiable that there are only two MIDI sockets. The operation of the In/Thru socket is set on this page.
  • LCD CONTRAST: This is adjustable, as you might expect. Incidentally, the DPS12's LCD is wonderfully bright compared to most others I have seen.
  • OTHER: The remaining functions are Meter* Pre/Post fader and the number of Undo steps possible. You can have up to 250 if you really want to, and can afford the disk space.

Through The Rectangular Window...

Akai DPS12


The track display shows recorded segments in a moving display across the screen — very useful for finding your way around.


The DPS12 has an excellent jog/shuttle feature which allows individual tracks to be 'scrubbed' to find edit points precisely.


On the left are bargraph meters showing the levels of recorded tracks. On the right the fader positions are shown. Alternatively, this display can show the eight 'thru mix' channels, where live signals can be added to the mix.


The DPS12 offers excellent digital EQ, either 2‑band or 3‑band. Bear in mind, though, that if you require 3‑band EQ, it can only be applied to six tracks (at 44.1kHz).


The DPS12 has two auxiliary sends, which can act as individual mono sends or a stereo pair. They are individually switchable pre‑ or post‑fader. Although there are no auxiliary returns, 'thru mix' channels can easily be used to achieve the same results.

Akai DPS12


  • 12 tracks.
  • Removable media.
  • Lovely digital EQ.
  • Good jog and shuttle facility.
  • Nice bright display.


  • No insert points.
  • No grouping system.
  • No dedicated auxiliary returns.
  • No proper monitor output.
  • Clicky punch‑in.


Despite a few niggly problems, all of which can be worked around, the DPS12 is stable in operation, easy to use, and has some very nice features. It also has 12 tracks and you can record directly onto a removable Jaz cartridge. Bearing all that in mind, I'll happily ignore any small imperfections!