Hands-On Review:Korg D16 Digital Recorder
Consider yourself lucky.
When the Beatles were at the height of their powers, and Paul McCartney’s chemically-propelled imagination was spewing out ideas faster than he could keep track of by pen and paper alone, his Fabness decided that he needed to shorten the distance between his creativity and its realization on tape. His solution? He bought a house around the corner from EMI’s Abbey Road studios!
Aren’t you lucky then, dear reader, to live in a day and age when you don’t have to invest in real estate in order to lay tracks? With the click of a mouse, Musician’s Friend will mail you Korg’s amazing new 16-track digital recorder, the D16, and you can start down the road towards your place in pop history without ever leaving the house.
Choices, choices, choices
Of course, you have other options. You could invest in a simple cassette multi-tracker. Cassette machines were the breakthrough product in the home recording revolution. They’re still with us today (you’ll find plenty of them on this website, in fact) and for good reason: they’re user-friendly, quite portable, and very affordable.
Cassette multitracks may cost less than a D16, but you get what you pay for. The first problem with them is that no one makes a cassette machine with more than eight tracks, meaning that you’re going to be doing a lot of bouncing of tracks. Bouncing in analog adds noise and degrades the fidelity of tracks that you’ve mic’d and EQ’d so carefully. Worse, once you’ve bounced, you’re stuck with the final product, whether you like it or not. If you decide later you’d like to change your mind about a bounce you made earlier, tough luck-there’s no Undo feature on a cassette-based machine. Neither can you cut and paste your recordings without breaking out a razor and literally splicing the cassette tape.
What about Pro Tools?
Sure, buying a digital, computer-based system is a step in the right direction, but have you seen what these things cost? First, you’ll need to spring for a high-end computer with a super-fast hard-drive, a blazing CPU, and tons of memory. Then you’ll need to buy some pretty expensive software and a Bible (the latter to pray over when your system crashes in the middle of an inspired vocal take).
And why shell out for a race car when you only need something to get you around the block? There’s nothing like a top-of-the-line PC-based system with all the bells and whistles, but paying for performance features that you’ll never use is like throwing your money down a hole. And if you’re like me, you’d prefer to spend your precious spare time with a musical instrument in your hands, not a user’s manual the size of War and Peace. Chances are, you also need something portable you can take from home to rehearsal space to gigs. This simply isn’t practical with a PC-based system.
The best of both worlds.
A Korg D16 is the perfect solution. By switching to the D16’s uncompressed digital technology, you solve every problem associated with cassette tape. You get twice the number of tracks as your standard cassette machine. Bouncing causes no loss of fidelity. Non-destructive editing makes it possible for you to change your mind about your last 99 edits. Switching the order of your verses, choruses, bridges, and solos is as easy as cutting and pasting text in a word-processing program.
You also get an abundance of features that no cassette machine will ever be able to offer. You’ll be surprised what Korg was able to pack into the D16’s all-in-one architecture weighing a scant 4.4 lbs., namely, a 4.3 GB hard-drive; an automated mixing section; a top-quality, multi-effects unit; and a built-in drum module for assembling rhythm tracks.
With a large 5" x 1.5" touchscreen, the D-16 is one of the most visually-driven standalone multitrackers available. In short, the Korg D16 is one powerful, affordable, and portable machine.
Let’s get busy
This is almost too easy. With no cables to hook up, nothing to configure, no software to load, I simply plug in, give my new track a tentative name, decide whether I want 16- or 24-bit recording and hit the record button.
I’m primarily a guitarist, and Korg was obviously thinking of me when they designed this puppy because the D-16 includes a smoking little drum machine. Nothing beats the feel of a living, breathing drummer, but this may be the next best thing. Scrolling through the 200 plus rhythm patterns available, I pair up a jazzy little verse that’s heavy on the ride cymbal with a stomping hard rock chorus. (Unfortunately, the factory pre-set drum samples can’t be edited, but you can’t have everything.)
Next, I plug into the D16’s guitar-dedicated input jack to start jamming with my drum tracks (two XLR and six 1/4" balanced inputs are available, as well), and get my first taste of one of the D-16’s most innovative features, the Trigger record mode. With the Trigger turned on, the D16 commences recording upon receiving the signal from my very first note, allowing me to keep both hands on the guitar. No more juggling guitar and the record button. Thanks, Korg!
I only own two guitars and a single amp. I have to admit, though I’m quite fond of my gear, I get tired of working with the same old sounds day after day. That’s why I really appreciate the D16’s built-in digital modeling abilities. Designed specifically to provide accurate simulation of different makes and models of amps and cabinets, Korg’s Resonant structure and Electronic circuit Modeling System (REMS) provide me with a showroom’s worth of simulated gear. The way I look at it, this thing is saving me money and heartache. No matter how much I’ve lusted after them, I’ve never had enough dough saved to be able to run out and pick up a Marshall Plexi, Fender Twin Reverb and Vox AC30 in one fell swoop. Now that I have a D16-I don’t have to! Traditionalists are going to grumble that REMS can’t perfectly reproduce the awesome tone that made these amps the classics they are, and they’d be right, but I was very surprised just how close Korg has come.
The D16’s firepower starts with REMS, but hardly ends there. You also get a well-stocked studio’s worth of sound processing gear: compressor, overdrive, parametric four-band EQ, phaser, chorus, ring modulator, pitch-shift and a bunch of others. The D16 will allow you to use up to eight insertion effects, two master effects and a "final" effect simultaneously - way more than you’re likely to want to pile up on a single track, but this kind of processing power is vital when it comes time to get your final mix going. And there’s no other recorder available today with anywhere near this amount of mixing tools - it’s a virtual studio rack full of gear.
My first takes are inspired, but a little thin musically in some places and bit rough performance-wise in others. Using the Scrub function, I locate precise places for punch-ins, set punch points and start dropping in fills and re-recording over mistakes. Couldn’t be simpler.
For the guitar solo, I turn on the Loop function and throw down multiple takes of single-string runs.
I don’t have 99 takes in me this particular day, but it’s comforting to know that that’s how many attempts the D16 will store, allowing me to come back later to pick a keeper.
We’ll fix it in the mix (no joke).
A couple of days after tracking (it’s good to let the ears dry off a bit, you know), I come back to check out the D16’s mixer section.
I like my music pretty straightforward and its going to be rare that I’ll need more than 16 tracks. But when I do, the power of the D16’s mixer reassures me that I’ll never run out of track space. By simply filing my first eight tracks as virtual tracks (in case I change my mind later) and mixing them down to a stereo pair I free up another bank of eight tracks. If I’m in a Phil Spector-ish mood, I could repeat this process four times, and fill up the remaining eight mono tracks for a grand total of 40 tracks. Gotta love it!
Once I’ve made my bounces, it’s time to put on the producer’s hat and get busy shaping my raw tracks into something worth crowing about. Using what Korg calls "scene automation," I ask the D16 to memorize individual mixing "scenes" for my intro, verses, choruses, guitar solo, and outro, each scene comprising everything from effects settings to EQ definitions, fader levels, pans, balances - that is all the most important parameters needed (and the D16 can remember and replicate a staggering 100 scenes per song). Finally, I chose to add a fade-out of all 16 of my tracks for a final, radio-ready touch.
Then I punch "Play," sit back, and listen as the D16 precisely reproduces every move I’ve asked it to make. Very slick.
I’ve had this thing less than a week and haven’t come anywhere near to running out of hard-drive space, but I will eventually, and when I do, Korg has made it possible for me back up all my data directly to a CD-R drive, external hard disk, or removable hard-drives, such as a Jaz or Orb for storage.
At day’s end, a little frazzled from my labors, I make what could be a fatal error and accidently turn the D16 off without first remembering to save all my changes. What a relief to find out that the D16 automatically saves all work whenever you press the power button or move from one song to the next in the middle of a recording session. Disaster, and much re-recording, averted.
That’s not all folks!
I hope I’ve helped you to see just what an amazing machine the D16 is. We’re nearly out of space and yet we’ve only scratched the surface of what the Korg D16 can do for anyone interested in accessing the far reaches of their imagination. Imagine the stuff you could do with up to eight virtual tracks per channel (for a total of 128 available tracks), eight simultaneous inputs, onscreen waveform editing, time stretching, up to 4 locator points and 100 marker points per song, a SCSI port supporting connection to up to seven SCSI devices totaling 1,000GB of storage. Paul McCartney, are you listening?
The Korg D16 is an amazing machine for any technologic age. A portable, affordable, and very powerful tool for realizing your wildest musical dreams. You might be tempted in your quest for bliss to buy another guitar, amp, or rack unit, but you owe it to yourself to find out what this 16-track digital multitracker can do for you and your band. Call now to get your hands on one at a Musician’s Friend price.
Korg’s D16 Features:
- 24- and 16-bit uncompressed digital @ 44.1kHz
- 16 tracks with 8 virtual tracks per = 128 tracks
- Up to 8 track simultaneous recording
- Up to 16 track simultaneous playback
- Multi-effects processor (106 distinct effects)
- Built-in PCM drum patterns with 200 factory-loaded patterns
- REMS digital modeling for amplifier/cabinet/microphone/pedal effects simulations
- 4.3 GB internal hard drive
- SCSI port to CD-R, external hard drive or removable drive
- 100 song capability
- 4 locate points and 100 mark points per song
- Cut, paste, erase, swap, fade reverse, time-expansion editing capabilities
- 24-channel, 8-bus automated mixer
- 5 by 1.5" touchscreen
- 10Hz-20Hz frequency response
- MIDI in/out
- 4.4 lbs.