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Korg D1200

Digital Recording Studio
By John Walden

Having upgraded their D16 to the D1600, Korg have now revamped the 12-track D12 to the D1200. So where does Korg's latest offering stand in the competitive digital multitracker marketplace?

The D1200, the latest multitracker from Korg, is a revamp of the D12, which was first released some 18 months ago as a baby brother to the D1600, itself an upgrade to the earlier D16. All three units have been the subject of SOS reviews: the D16 in SOS February 2000, the D1600 in SOS May 2001 and the D12 in SOS July 2001.

Korg D1200 digital multi tracker.Photo: Mike CameronThe digital multitracker market continues to advance at quite a pace. However, probably the most significant change since the appearance of the original D12 has been the release of Yamaha's AW16G, reviewed in SOS October 2002. At £899 in the UK including the CD-RW drive, this product has brought 16-track digital recording that much closer to the masses. Is the transformation of the D12 to the D1200 enough to deal with such stiff competition?

More For Your Money

Essentially, the D1200 is still a 12-track 'studio in a box' and, like the D12, the user can chose between a 12-track, 16-bit mode or a six-track, 24-bit mode. In both modes, simultaneous recording of four tracks is possible. The D1200 retains the same virtual track system of the D12, giving extra flexibility for multiple takes and when track bouncing. In 12-track, 16-bit mode, the same arrangement of six mono tracks and three stereo pairs is present, along with the nine, 45mm, non-motorised channel faders (plus red Master fader).

The organisation of the effects processing appears almost identical to the D12: Insert, Master and Final effects all based upon Korg's REMS (Resonant structure and Electronic circuit Modelling System) processing, with a maximum of eleven effects available simultaneously and three-band EQ on each input and playback channel. Some 200 rhythm patterns are built in and can be chained to construct a basic drum part. Scene-based mix automation is provided and the comprehensive MIDI specification allows both dynamic mix automation of key parameters and MMC control via an external sequencer. Finally, with the optional CD-RW drive fitted, audio data can be backed up, burned as an audio CD, or moved to a computer.

Korg D1200 £799
pros
  • Excellent audio quality.
  • Significant new features compared to the original D12, including phantom power and 24-bit option.
  • Easy transfer of data to computer via USB.
cons
  • Some tracks only available as stereo pairs.
summary
The D1200, like it's predecessor the D12, is a very capable digital multitracker. There can be no doubt about its audio quality and impressive feature list, but it faces very stiff competition from the likes of Yamaha's AW16G.

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So, having identified what has stayed more or less the same, what (other than the '00' name tag) is new in the D1200? The physical layout of the unit has undergone quite a number of changes. Aside from the dedicated guitar input and the headphone output, all the D1200's analogue inputs are on the top surface rather than along the front edge. As a result, the LCD has been repositioned and the various buttons seem to have been shrunk slightly in size to fit within a smaller area. The LCD itself can now have its angle adjusted — a nice touch that can make it easier to find the best viewing position.

The other very obvious physical change is the addition of three large control knobs beneath the LCD. These are used in the Modelling mode, which provides a shortcut route to the recording process. Pressing the Modelling button brings up three icons on the LCD, allowing the user to select what type of signal source they wish to record — guitar, bass or microphone. Once the selection is made, two things occur. First, channels one and two are automatically put into record-ready mode (their status buttons turn red). Second, three new icons appear representing three parameters in a suitable effects chain for that signal source. For example, for guitar use, these are Drive, Tone and Cabinet. The three knobs can then be used to make rapid adjustments to these settings. Turning the Drive knob dials through ten different overdrive types (with names like Tube OD, Classic Dist, and so forth giving a hint of what to expect). The Tone knob dials in the degree of tube simulation, while the Cabinet control moves from 1x8 through to 4x12 types with most of the obvious combinations in between, including a 'full range' speaker option. Of course, behind the scenes, these knobs are adjusting a number of other REMS parameters used in the digital modelling process.

In my original review of the D12, although I was very impressed by the combination of features and audio quality achieved at the price, one concern I had was that no phantom power was available. However, individually switchable phantom power is now provided on the D1200, on two of the four analogue inputs. All A-D and D-A conversion is now also at 24-bit resolution (the D12's only 24-bit I/O was via the optical S/PDIF connections). This will certainly make the D1200's six-track, 24-bit mode a more attractive proposition for some musicians. Gone from the rear panel is the D12's SCSI port, but this is replaced by USB connectivity. As discussed more fully below, this is a decision that has some considerable advantages in use. Also gone is the D12's built-in microphone. The final major upgrade is in the hard drive capacity — the 40GB model included here (2GB of which is partitioned for USB use) provides plenty of capacity for even the most ambitious of concept albums.

Modus Operandi

When it comes to the actual operation of the D1200, the basic process of recording, overdubbing, editing, mixing and CD burning is essentially identical to both the D12 and the D1600 and very little needs to be added here to the descriptions given in the earlier reviews. Three of the new features are worth discussing further though. In operation, the new Modelling mode is a useful addition, making it easy to get an idea recorded with as few button pushes as possible. It is not without its limitations, however. Firstly, activating the Modelling mode automatically arms tracks one and two for recording, and some care is needed to avoid the possibility of recording over something vital already on those tracks. Second, while the three Modelling knobs do give instant, hands-on control over key elements of the REMS processing, if you want complete editing control, then you really have to enter the full-scale editing mode (as used on the D12) — at which point the three large knobs become redundant. It is a shame they are not integrated into other editing processes in some way (although maybe this is something that could be addressed in an OS update).

Korg are clearly marketing the D1200 as 'guitarist friendly' and the Modelling mode is one of the selling points in this regard. The quality of things like the amp or cabinet modelling is therefore quite a significant issue. Without having a D12 to hand, it was difficult to directly compare the various amp/cabinet simulations on the two units. As a guitarist however, my gut reaction was that the D1200 offered some good overdriven and clean sounds, but wasn't quite so good with the sort of 'just breaking up' sounds loved by many blues players. I also found myself tweaking the EQ settings to get rid of a little fizz in some of the overdrive/distortion presets — although this is also a matter of personal taste and the guitar being used. Given the choice, I'd go with a dedicated amp modeller (such as the Line 6 Pod, Digitech Genesis 3, and Behringer V‑Amp 2, amongst others), unless I was set on a one-box solution.

A comparison between acoustic recordings made in the 16-bit and 24-bit modes revealed a subtle, but perceptible, difference in audio quality. For example, acoustic guitars recorded using 24-bits tended to sound just a little brighter and clearer, with a little more presence. At this price point, 24-bit recording might not be the most important selling point for many musicians, particularly as it then restricts the user to six tracks. However, if you have the need to do the occasional location-based recording where 24-bit quality is required (for example, a stereo recording of a string or vocal ensemble using two phantom-powered mics), the D1200 would be a possibility.

Korg D1200 rear connections.Korg D1200 rear connections.Photo: Mike Cameron

The significance of one further feature didn't really strike me until I started to use it — the USB socket. The D1200's hard drive essentially has two partitions: the bulk of the 40GB space is used during the recording process, but data can then be moved from this partition to the 2GB USB partition. Any data held there can then be accessed from a USB-equipped computer. Both Mac (OS 9.0.4 or later) and PC are supported. For the latter, connectivity will work out of the box for Windows 2000, ME and XP, while there are drivers for Windows 98 SE available on Korg's web site. I tested the connection using Windows XP and, once the D1200 had been put into USB mode, the PC automatically identified it, with the D1200's USB partition appearing as another disk drive on the PC — files could simply be copied back and forth as required.

This has two obvious applications. First, audio can be copied to a computer for backup or further editing. Second, updates for the D1200's OS can be downloaded via the web and simply copied to the D1200's USB partition from where a few button pushes will get the new OS installed. Of course, both these tasks can also be achieved via the optional internal CD-RW drive. However, the sheer simplicity of making this connection, and the ease with which data can be moved between D1200 and computer, means that anyone who already has CD burning on their desktop computer could easily live without the D1200's CD-RW drive — and could therefore save themselves a good chunk on the purchase price. Well done Korg!

Competition Comparison

I'd be failing in my duty to the SOS readership if I didn't offer some thoughts on how the D1200 stacks up with its direct competition, and in this case the obvious competitor so far is the Yamaha AW16G. The two units have a considerable amount in common, both in features and in the way they operate, but there are also some key differences. For example, I prefer the guitar amp/speaker modelling offered by Korg but, as a guitarist, I'd still be budgeting for a Pod-a-like to go with either unit.

However, it is the specification differences that ought to give potential purchasers a steer in the appropriate direction. For example, the AW16G offers 16-tracks to the 12 of the D1200, but the AW has no 24-bit recording mode. The AW offers eight inputs and eight-track simultaneous recording in comparison to the D1200's four of both. The D1200 has three-band EQ, whereas the AW16G has four-band. You get a fixed selection of drum patterns with the D1200 but the Quick Loop Sampler in the AW16G. The D1200 offers a dedicated number of Insert, Master and Final effects that are simultaneously available while, on the AW, the available effects grunt has to be relocated on occasions — however, the channel dynamics of the AW16G could be seen to make up for this. And, of course, depending upon whether or not you need the D1200's internal CD-RW drive, there is a difference in the respective UK prices.

Perhaps answering three questions ought to help clarify matters for those with cash in hand. First, are 12 tracks enough, or do you need 16? Second, is 16-bit recording adequate or do you need a 24-bit option? Third, is four analogue inputs sufficient or do you need eight? My answers would be as follows: I've never got enough tracks, I record a lot of noisy guitar amps where the benefits of 24-bit recording are perhaps marginal, and I occasionally like to mike-up a full drum kit. On this basis, for my money I'd go with the Yamaha — but that would be because of my specific needs, and your needs may well be different. Both units offer excellent quality, an amazing range of facilities for the price, and are very easy to use.

Verdict

The Korg D1200 is an excellent digital multitrack recorder. It is well-specified, a breeze to use and capable of producing recordings I'd be happy to use in many commercial contexts — it is a worthy successor to the D12. This said, it faces very stiff competition, particularly from Yamaha's AW16G. The two units do, however, have enough differences in specification to make them distinct, and this ought to help potential purchasers decide where their money might be spent. You would win with either.

Test Spec

  • Korg D1600 OS v1.00
information
infop.gif D1200, £799; optional internal CD-RW drive, £199. Prices include VAT.
infot.gif Korg UK Brochure Line +44 (0)1908 857130.
infow.gif www.korg.co.uk
infow.gif www.korg.co.jp
Published January 2003