Derek Johnson looks at Glyph's new SCSI and FireWire drives, and investigates the advantages of dedicated audio storage.
It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that's the case then Digidesign must be feeling pretty pleased about Glyph's X‑Project hard drives. Anyone familiar with the look of the recent (and very successful) Digi 001 digital recording interface will be able to see where Glyph got their inspiration for the cosmetics of the X‑Project series. And it's hardly surprising that the 1U, rackmountable X‑Projects match the Digi 001, because Glyph see the drives as ideal adjuncts to the 001 system. However, they also see them as being suited to anyone else who needs a fast, reliable, high‑capacity solution for direct audio recording.
The X‑Project family comes in two variants, each with a range of disk capacities. One line of the family is equipped with a SCSI interface (the large Ultra Wide connector is specified), and the other comes with a FireWire connector. In the case of the former, three capacities are available: a single 9Gb or 18Gb drive, or a dual‑18Gb model yielding 36Gb total disk space. There are only two sizes for the FireWire model: 30Gb and dual‑30Gb (total 60Gb). All X‑Project units feature 7200rpm drives.
In the case of the SCSI devices, I'm told that the drives are Seagate Barracudas modified by Glyph to improve access times by up to 23 percent — sustained data transfer rates can be up to 23Mb/second. On the other hand, IBM IDE drives, again customised by Glyph, are specified for the FireWire X‑Projects, and these are capable of a sustained throughput of around 15Mb/second. If you're wondering about the reason for the different mechanisms, it seems that Glyph see the SCSI X‑Projects as the more professional proposition, hence the 5‑year warranty, whereas the FireWire drives, which are cheaper on a £/Mb basis, are aimed at semi‑pro users, hence the 3‑year warranty. Note that I reviewed these drives attached to a 450MHz single‑processor Apple G4 (384Mb RAM), but that they can also be used with PCs.
X‑Project drives come bundled with all power and connection leads (including terminators with the SCSI drives), driver software on CD, rack ears, and stick‑on rubber feet for those who prefer free‑standing use. The drives themselves are even ready‑formatted. What the SCSI drives may need, if you're an owner of a recent Apple computer, is a SCSI card of some kind, since this connector has been banished from the latest Apple generation. And since the Glyph SCSI drives use Ultra Wide SCSI, with its larger 68‑pin connector, the card will be slightly more expensive than a standard SCSI card. Luckily, Glyph offer packages based around a modified Advansys card that adds only a modest premium to the overall price.
Which X‑Project drive you choose depends on you. FireWire saves you the need to install a controller card and is hot‑swappable, plus the FireWire‑equipped units in this range come with larger hard drives and are cheaper than the SCSI models. Though the SCSI X‑Project drives out‑perform the FireWire options in terms of data transfer, in practice both drives work perfectly with Digi 001/Pro Tools LE. Those working with this system and any drive in the X‑Project range will easily manage this system's 24‑track recording/playback, even with edits and fades. Either drive should also be compatible with software capable of more than 24‑track simultaneous playback, and there are reports of 32 tracks being no problem with Logic Audio Platinum, Digi 001 hardware and the X‑Project FireWire. However, the advantages of the SCSI X‑Projects' greater data throughput may be evident on larger sessions. Other strengths of Glyph's SCSI options may only show over time: for one thing, SCSI drives are generally thought of as more robust than IDE drives of the type specified for the FireWire X‑Projects.
The SCSI drive I had for review was the 9Gb model. It was supplied with the optional Advansys Ultra Wide SCSI PCI card, plus a chunky, good‑quality SCSI cable and active terminator. There are no controls to concern yourself with beyond an illuminated power switch and a SCSI ID selector. An LED flashes with drive accesses. At the rear are two SCSI connectors — one of which serves for a through lead or terminator — and the power socket.
Anyone who doesn't already have a SCSI host card in their computer will have to install one before the drive can be connected. The software needed to allow the computer to talk to a SCSI device will depend on which card is chosen; in the case of the Advansys supplied by Glyph, it consists of a system extension and a little utility.
Once everything was installed, the first thing I noticed was the drive's low level of fan noise — Glyph have chosen one of the quietest I've encountered. The drive itself is well‑damped, and the access noises produced during recording and playback of audio are refreshingly unobtrusive. The 9Gb model such as the one I had for review is capable of recording 43 minutes of continuous 24‑track audio at 24‑bit/48kHz resolution, and these figures increase for 16‑bit/44.1kHz audio. I had no trouble getting full 24‑track performance with the Digi 001.
Physically, the FireWire X‑Project is identical to the SCSI model, save for the FireWire logo near the power switch. It also has an access LED on the front panel and at the rear, two FireWire connectors take the place of the other unit's dual SCSI sockets. Obviously, a FireWire cable is provided, and the user doesn't need to install any additional hardware. A specific driver isn't required, though you'll need the latest FireWire drivers for your OS, and Glyph supply a handy utility/extension combo, El Gato's Disk Control, which prepares FireWire hard disks for use on the Macintosh — this can format, partition and test attached drives.
Once this is installed, following a reboot, everything is ready to go: one hot‑swappable FireWire drive appears on your Mac's desktop.
The FireWire drive I had for testing was a 30Gb model, which can accommodate up to 144 minutes of continuous 24‑track audio at 24‑bit/48kHz. Again, operation was trouble‑free and I easily achieved 24‑track playback. Self‑generated mechanical noise was at a similar level as for the SCSI model.
What can I say? Thankfully, not a lot, because both drives installed painlessly, were running in minutes and worked flawlessly, easily providing the speed and access performance required by the Digi 001/ProTools LE system. Personally, I would gravitate towards the FireWire drive, for the elegance of the controller card‑free operation, but if I had an older, SCSI‑equipped Mac, or wanted the extra robustness of a SCSI mechanism and the five‑year warranty, the SCSI option would be ideal. Moreover, I hear that a further X‑Project variation is on the way, combining one SCSI and one FireWire drive in the same package — it's expected that a 9Gb SCSI/30Gb FireWire combination will retail for under £600.
Glyph are great evangelists for the practice of keeping dedicated audio drives outside the host computer, and this makes good sense when you consider that the insides of a computer are an electro‑magnetic minefield, and that stacking record drives next to system drives can introduce mechanical interference, as well as causing internal busses to become overworked. On a more practical note, if you tend to move between studios or recording setups and need to take your audio data with you, it's obviously much more convenient to drag around an easily portable drive such as the X‑Project than a whole computer!
On the subject of price, you can certainly buy extra drives — even external ones — for less than the X‑Project family. However, we're not talking differences of hundreds of pounds, and you wouldn't be benefitting from Glyph's optimisation of hardware and driver software for audio recording and playback, nor would you be able to take advantage of the three‑ and five‑year warranties from a company dedicated to producing drives for digital audio. The bottom line is that if you're shopping for an external drive for audio recording, the X‑Project models are a very good bet. They offer approachable pricing and Glyph reliability for all — not to mention aesthetic harmony for owners of Digi 001 hardware!
The following list of X‑Project 'manufacturer authorised prices' should give you an idea of what you'll pay, including VAT, at your local hi‑tech emporium.
X‑PROJECT SCSI DRIVES
- 9Gb: £410.
- 9Gb plus SCSI card: £499.
- 18Gb: £493.
- 18Gb plus SCSI card: £586.
- Dual 18Gb: £805.
- Dual 18Gb plus SCSI card: £922.
X‑PROJECT FIREWIRE DRIVES
- 30Gb: £382.
- Dual 30Gb: £617.
- Both SCSI and FireWire models available.
- Quiet, unobtrusive operation.
- Generous warranties.
- Nice match for Digi 001 system.
- More expensive than generic equivalents.
If you're serious about computer‑based audio recording, it makes sense to buy an external drive optimised for the job, from a company that understands the requirements of the studio musician. Once you've made this decision, the Glyph X‑Project range is highly recommended.