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Alesis Masterlink 2

CD Mastering Processor By Paul White
Published October 2000

Alesis Masterlink 2

Paul White checks out the new features offered by the recent software update for Alesis' unique CD mastering processor.

I reviewed the original MasterLink in SOS April 2000, and at that time it was already a very effective, simple‑to‑use, CD recorder and audio editor, capable of working at any combination of standard sample rates and bit depths up to 24‑bit and 96kHz. In addition to recording CDs fully in accordance with the commercial Red Book standard, Alesis also allowed the unit to archive and play back 24‑bit/96kHz audio to CD‑ROMs in a proprietary new CD24 data format, a godsend for studios needing to back up high‑resolution work to cheap media. The uncluttered rear panel allowed analogue and digital connection of both professional and consumer devices, with excellent 24‑bit conversion where required.

Because it recorded digital or analogue audio directly, it could replace both a DAT recorder and a CD burner within project studios for little more than the price of a serious CD recorder. On top of that, it offered the kind of editing facilities needed to compile ready‑mixed tracks into a CD playlist. To round things off, essential DSP for audio processing was also included, which meant that it appealed to many studio owners by not relying on the presence of a computer in order to function.

Now, however, Alesis have released a new version of the MasterLink's operating software in order to expand its feature set. The update is available free of charge, either as a CD‑ROM from their UK distributors Sound Technology, or as an Internet download which must be burned to CD‑ROM prior to use. All the new functions are accessed via the existing front panel controls by means of extended menu options that appear once the software has been updated.

Track Editing

Powerful though the MasterLink was in April, one obvious omission from its functionality was the inability to split soundfiles into regions, an essential feature if you need to rearrange sections of an otherwise finished mix. That shortcoming has been remedied and audio files can now be split. You can audition the edit point using the scrub function, and adjust it accordingly, before you carry out the split, but there is still no undo function supported by the system. A wrong split may be rejoined, however, but it's still always a good idea to create backup files before editing. Once split, region boundaries can't be nudged like they can be in most editing software, so if the timing of the split is wrong then you'll need to rejoin the sections and try again.

Something that might cause some people problems it that there's currently no crossfade facility available for smoothing edits — I don't know whether the hardware will make this possible in future versions. I did test a number of straight butt joins and they were generally glitch‑free, even when editing dialogue in the middle of words, so hopefully this won't often cause a problem. If you do get any clicks between regions, the manual suggests that you can program a short fade (over a period of, say, 10mS) either at the end of the first region or at the beginning of the second, and in many cases this will hide the problem. However, flexible crossfading is sometimes the only way to smooth out awkward transitions, so not having the facility is somewhat limiting if you plan to undertake a lot of editing work. One other thing to remember with the new editing facilities is that, even though playlists can combine tracks of different sample rates (converted to 44.1kHz automatically when you select Red Book mode), you can't edit together audio sections made at different sample rates.

DSP Tweaks

While the main attraction of the MasterLink's new software is undoubtedly the ability to split and rearrange sections of audio, there are improvements in the DSP implementation as well. While the DSP functions in version 2 offer exactly the same gain, compression, EQ, normalize, fade and limiter parameters as before (with the exception of an increased resolution of 0.1dB for the limiter threshold), the settings may now be copied between different tracks or even between different playlists — this is achieved via a fairly intuitive copy‑and‑paste procedure. You can now also initialise the DSP settings for a specific track, if you wish. Furthermore the DSP functions can be permanently rendered onto individual regions within a finished song, which allows different degrees and types of processing to be applied to different sections as appropriate. However, this is a destructive process, so if you feel you may need access to the original unprocessed file then it's best to make a backup before going ahead with it.

The MasterLink's elegant selection of analogue and digital I/O.The MasterLink's elegant selection of analogue and digital I/O.A very welcome update for many users will be the ability to create seamless track transitions — previously, there was a minimum gap of around half a second between consecutive audio regions, but now gapless butt edits are possible. One caveat here is that, for gapless transitions to work, there must be no real‑time DSP applied. If DSP is needed on one or more sections of a file, it should be rendered to disc before the sections are compiled.

Equally useful is a new playlist backup function which allows playlist audio to be backed up to a CD‑R without any DSP processes being rendered to it — previously, only the rendered files were saved. This is a much better way of saving work in progress, as you don't have to commit to any permanent DSP processes prior to backing up. If you wish to audition a final playlist complete with rendered DSP processes, but you don't want to risk creating another coffee‑cup coaster, you can render to the hard drive instead and audition the result from there. Then, when you're sure the project sounds OK, you can burn a Red Book CD.

In addition to these more important upgrades, there are a number of smaller tweaks which ought to make life easier. A few operational basics have been tidied up, for a start: new tracks can be marked during the recording process, track start and end points can be set more quickly because boundary markers can now be automatically repositioned to time locations where playback has been paused, and it is now possible to create individual backups of specific audio files. A further improvement is that audio files currently used in one or more playlists can now be deleted by deliberately overriding the 'Audio File In Use' warning and selecting 'Delete Anyway'.

Some of the CD playback facilities have been upgraded too, in order to include track or CD repeat play. Moreover, entire Audio CDs can now be copied to the internal hard disk in one operation, where previously they had to be done one track at a time. Finally, the system information display has also benefitted from an upgrade, and now contains more pages, showing version numbers for the software, file system and EPROM, as well as information relating to the CD and hard drives.


The new additions in version 2 don't allow MasterLink to rival the capabilities of computer‑based audio editors, but to make that comparison is, in many ways, missing the point of what the product is really about. MasterLink is designed to be a one‑box solution for those who need a really high‑quality master recorder that can work up to 24‑bit, 96kHz, along with the mastering DSP functions and dithering required to prepare their mixes for burning to a Red Book CD master.

As with the previous version, operation is surprisingly intuitive, and the new 'chop and move' features are fine for shortening solos, moving verses around and that kind of thing — though if you want to completely rebuild a song, apply long crossfades or remove short clicks, then you'll still need access to a computer editor. However, as a high‑resolution mastering processor and Red Book CD burner with integral easy‑to‑use playlist editing, the MasterLink v2 makes a lot of sense, both functionally and financially.

Track ID Response Time

Not all consumer CD players are able to achieve the same response time once a track ID is recognised, even when reading CDs complying fully to the Red Book standard. Therefore, in order to prevent track starts being clipped, many commercial CDs are manufactured with a short silence after each track ID, giving the more sluggish of CD players sufficient time to start to play. The new MasterLink operating software now allows the user to enter such offsets, both at track starts and ends. The offsets are measured in CD frames — a CD frame equates to 1/75th of a second — and the MasterLink allows up to 30 frames of offset to be programmed, which is enough for a maximum silence of 400mS.


  • Cut‑and‑paste editing of sections of tracks is now possible.
  • Audio CD copying is faster and simpler.
  • Playlist edits can now be gapless.


  • No undo function, so you have to back up manually.
  • No facility for handling crossfades.


MasterLink v2 includes a number of very worthwhile improvements, the most important of which is its ability to handle cut and paste editing. The machine integrates the functions of mastering recorder, DSP and CD burner very cleverly, with just enough editing capability to get most jobs done quickly.


Alesis MasterLink v2 £1499 including VAT. Upgrade CD‑ROM available free of charge to owners of the original MasterLink.