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PC Notes

Brian Heywood looks at a UK-designed PC-based hard disk recorder.

I feel that I've seen the future (and it works!). This month I've had the opportunity to use a pre-release version of SADiE, a PC-based Disk Editor system from Studio Audio ((Contact Details)). SADiE is built around two expansion cards and a SCSI hard disk, and joins the growing number of hard-disk recording systems that have Windows 'front ends'. The basic 2-track system consists of the X-S DSP card, which handles the digital audio (SP/DIF or AES/EBU) and the SCSI port. The extended configuration adds another card (the X-ACT) with convertors that allow you to interface directly to analogue audio (two inputs, four outputs) as well as adding SMPTE/EBU timecode.

The SADiE system doesn't use the PC's internal hard disk; instead it has its own SCSI bus that connects to an independent device for storing the sound data — which means that the performance of your hard disk is not an issue when you use this system. SADiE optimises its own disk to give the best possible results when reading and writing its sound files. Like most such systems, it requires just over 10 megabytes of disk space for each minute of digital audio (stereo, 44.1 kHz sample rate). A fast hard disk is recommended, especially if you want to use all four channels.

One reason you need to have a fast hard disk is that all cross fades and edits are performed in real time, which means that you could have up to eight channels of digital audio being replayed simultaneously. The advantage of doing all the edits in real time is that the system responds very quickly to changes you make when editing. (When I tested Wave Lite, it drove me mad, since every time you made a change to a sample file it wrote the entire file out to disk.)


One of the things that impressed me about the SADiE editor was how quickly I could do useful work on the system. This is due, no doubt, partly to the fact that the editing application is a Windows program, but also to the use of familiar controls on the program's control surface. I must admit that before I used Windows I was sceptical about the value of a 'standard' user interface that brings a GUI (Graphical User Interface). However, after using Windows for a while, I've found that the ability to dive in and at least know how to use the controls on a new application is a tremendous advance in making programs more usable. It's like jumping into a car and knowing where the pedals are going to be, what the speedo does and so on, without having to read the owners manual.

The SADiE screen layout also helps by using familiar graphic representations of the various elements; tape transport controls for controlling playback, a 4-channel mixer with integral VU meters for controlling audio levels, a track sheet for organising the sound segments (called clips) and the familiar waveform display for editing the individual clips. The waveform that is displayed in the Edit window is actually a simplified representation of the sound clip's waveform, detailed enough for accurate editing, but simple enough to be displayed quickly when you call up a sound clip. The whole editing process is seamless, since the waveform envelope is created when you record the sound. SADiE doesn't actually modify the track physically once it's recorded. All the editing is applied to the track using 'pointers' that simply play back parts of the track, applying any fades as the sound clip is played.


The main 'real' task I performed on SADiE was the compilation of some DAT masters for an education project I'm currently involved in. This operation turned out to be very quick; the tracks were transferred from the DAT masters to SADiE using the digital interface, and each track was then simply dropped into the appropriate track sheet (or Edit Decision List — EDL), the beginning and end of each clip having a fade if necessary. The compiled masters were then copied back on to DAT to make production masters (and safety copies), the whole operation taking place in the digital domain. This kind of task is very simple using quarter-inch analogue tape and a razor blade, but normally isn't possible with a digital master unless you have access to some pretty expensive gear.

I also used the system as a mastering machine, recording a mixdown straight onto the PC using the analogue inputs. The track was one that had been damaged by a clumsy engineer, and I hoped to salvage something using the editing facilities built into SADiE. The first thing that I realised was that I wouldn't need to worry about muting the tracks at the start or fading the end of the track, since I could do this on the computer later. Having performed the mix to my satisfaction, I then cleaned up the start of the track and added a suitable fade at the end. I could now remove the damaged portion of the track, and also delete a solo that I decided I didn't like, thus turning a disaster into a usable, if somewhat shorter track.


The cheapest SADiE option is a 2-input, 2-output system with digital I/O, which costs just under £2,300. By the time you've bought a reasonable hard disk to use with it, the cost would be more like £3,000. For the top of the range, 2-input, 4-output — with analogue convertors and timecode — you're talking in the region of £4,000 including hard disk. All these prices exclude VAT, by the way, and you must add the cost of a PC if you don't already own one. Compared to, say, the Roland DM80-4 hard disk recorder, the SADiE is obviously much better value, even if you have to buy a PC to use it. The SADiE software is also Windows 3.1 compliant, so there is probably no reason that you couldn't run your favourite MPC sequencer on the PC at the same time. Certainly, if you're doing digital mastering and compiling master tapes, SADiE looks like a cost-effective solution to your digital headaches.


Users of the Voyetra V22 and V24 MIDI interfaces can now use these with multimedia software running under Windows, as Voyetra have released 3.1 drivers for these interfaces. Contact Julian at CMS ((Contact Details)) for more details, or download them from the route66/pcmusic area of CIX ((Contact Details) — modem).

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Oct 1992



Feature by Brian Heywood

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