Hands-On Review:True pro recording power in one low-priced unit
By Raul Chin
Until now I’ve been pretty uninterested in the single-unit digital mixer/recorders on the market. While most of them are fine for your average songsmith out to get his or her ideas down and make a passable demo, they fall short for the pro studio jock who needs a portable unit or just a low-cost compact studio setup for the spare room. Akai clearly had my problem in mind when they designed the DPS24. Because its design replicates a standard component studio setup, I was able to apply my studio skills immediately without having to learn one of those proprietary operating systems that are easy for the beginner but limiting for the pro.
The standard component studio setup comprises a big, powerful mixer; a rack of high-end effects; a large multitrack recorder; and a two-track mastering deck with patchbays to connect all these together. The DPS24 has all this built in, organized just like a component system. You have precision control over the routing and you don’t have to plunge through layers of menus to get that control. Most setup functions are possible without even looking at the 320 x 240, multi-angle LCD.
This truly professional flexibility is the DSP24’s greatest strength but far from its only strength. It offers almost 5-1/2 hours of 24-track, 24-bit, 48kHz, linear, noncompressed recording time (more time if you use lower sample rates); both dynamic and scene automation; nondestructive sample-accurate waveform editing; a 46-channel/20-bus/eight-group/eight FX/AUX digital mixer; a 56-bit, four-bus (stereo at 96kHz) multi-effects processor; a built-in mastering two-track; and more intuitive and useful design features than I’ve ever seen in a single box.
By far the slickest feature of the DSP24’s mixer is the Q-strip. In a brilliant use of space, the 12 continuous rotary encoders above the faders are multitasked in a way that’s incredibly easy to use and immensely powerful. By punching one button these encoders become a horizontal channel strip for the channel of your choice with pan, low-shelf EQ frequency, LF gain, sweep EQ frequency, sweep EQ gain, sweep EQ "Q," high-shelf EQ frequency, HF gain, and FX/AUX send levels 1-4.
These same encoders, also with the punch of a button, act as pan pots and FX/AUX send levels 1-4. The dozen 100mm active faders are multitasked in five one-button-access banks. Bank 1 provides control of the input levels from the main inputs--a bank of 12 XLR combos and a bank of 12 - 1/2" TRS jacks (two RCA tape ins and two AUX ins bring the total to 28). Bank 2 gives you control of tracks 1-12. Bank 3 delivers control of tracks 13-24. Bank 4 controls the Group/FX levels (faders 1-8 control the group outs while faders 9-12 control the stereo FX returns). Bank 5 is a user bank that allows you to assign each fader however you wish. Combined with the Q strip feature, it’s like having a massive board of huge channel strips, and it’s almost as easy to use.
Balanced inserts on inputs 1-4 provide a high-quality, low-noise signal path for insert effects while insert returns (ADC In) allow out-board mic-pre’s to be inserted directly before the A/D converter to bypass the DPS24’s internal gain stage, thus saving a bunch of clumsy repatching.
And you don’t need to go outside the DPS24 to add super high-end 56-bit effects. The four-bus effects processor offers an arsenal of reverb, delay, chorus, flange, and phaser effects that rival dedicated rack units. I was really astounded by their quality and the intuitive precision interface for controlling them. There’s even a realtime vocal pitch corrector for fixing vocal problems during recording or at mixdown.
A comprehensive automation mode provides dynamic automation of level, pan, aux send, and channel mute, with logical record and drop-out modes, and automation parameters can be enabled or disabled during automation recording. To correct previous automation screwups, you can just grab the fader, make an adjustment, and the original control movement will be overwritten. There’s also a record safe mode that allows you to protect individual channels from being accidentally overwritten. You can save your patching choices too and store them in the Patch Library, so you only have to set the patch manually once.
When you’re moving bits and pieces around in the EDIT mode you can include any automation data associated with the signal chunk you’ve specified. Any fades, mutes, or whatever you’ve done to the sound bite will be copied as well. Is that cool or what?
The DPS24 gives you nondestructive copy, cut, erase, insert, paste, and move functions using an edit "clipboard" like a normal computer-based application with plenty of undo and redo capability. You can copy bits within or between projects and you can see up to two tracks in the waveform screen at once, so it’s easy to edit stereo tracks. I found it almost as easy to use as my computer app. And you can connect this baby directly to your computer with its USB port for a realtime track view display via the ak.Sys software running on a PC or Mac.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incredible machine here. We could talk about the ADAT lightpipe digital outs, the onboard CD recorder, powerful mastering tools, the talkback mic, lots of monitoring options, and on and on and on. But you get the picture--with the DPS24, genuine studio-quality digital recording has finally been made available to the working sound engineer. You couldn’t buy a used analog tape-based recording system (component or otherwise) with this much punch for anywhere near the price of this unit. I give it an A+.
If you’ve been saving to get into a pro digital studio rig, your wait is over. For far less than ever before, the Akai DPS24 is the real thing. Order yours from Musician’s Friend today and get the best deal you’ll find anywhere, guaranteed.