Small Is Beautiful
New DAC 128MB Optical and CD-ROM Drives
128 MB on a 3.5" Disk? Mike Collins investigates.
Fancy storing 128MB on a 3.5" disk? Need a CD-ROM drive with digital audio outputs? Mike Collins looks at two new drives aimed at the samplist from data storage specialists DAC.
If, like me, you are a musician who uses a sampler such as the Akai S1100, and maybe has a Macintosh computer with Sound Tools also, then you will probably be thinking about how to organise your sample libraries, and CDs for your sampler, and how to do the same for your Sound Tools files, and Macintosh files.
DAC, a company who specialise in data storage products (and other computer/music related products) specifically aimed at the music and recording industry, have just brought out two new 2U rackmounted units to cater for such needs — a 128MB read/write optical disk drive, and a rack-mounted Toshiba CD-ROM drive. The amazing thing about the 128MB optical unit is that the disks are just 3.5" square — the same size as the floppy disks that your ST/Mac/S900 uses, although they are about twice as thick, and when you open the shutter, you see an optical disk (like a CD) rather than a magnetic one. The retail price of these discs is about the same as the popular Syquest 45MB removable cartridges (£82 plus VAT), which are much larger, and much less rugged and reliable in use! So, for the same price per disk, you get three times as much data on the more conveniently-sized optical disk than on the Syquest! A good measure of the value of this is the availability of a disk holding the whole of the currently-available Akai 'factory' library samples for the S1000/S1100 samplers!
Both drives are available as members of DAC's R4000 Professional Series, with DAC's DMS SCSI switching controls fitted to the front panel of each rack as an optional extra. (These drives can also be supplied in a smaller case to suit the Macintosh 'footprint'.) Of course, both products will also work equally well with IBM and Atari computers, as well as with some other samplers which have SCSI interfaces, such as the Emulator III. The 128MB optical will not currently work with Roland S750/770 samplers, unfortunately, as these are optimized for use with Sony optical drives.
The 128MB drive (the DAC unit is the first targeted primarily at sampler users in the music market) is relatively cheap, and the cost per megabyte is very low. You can stick the disks in your shirt pocket, put them in the post, or take them through X-ray machines at airports with confidence. In terms of speed, the 128MB Optical is about the same speed as a Syquest 45MB removable drive, a little faster than the Sony 650MB rewritable optical drives, although about 20% slower than the 1GB Maxoptix rewritable optical drive, and it is just a little slower than a typical fast hard disk drive.
So how about the CD-ROM unit? I must admit to having a hand in the creation of this. There are already quite a number of CD-ROM drives available from Apple, Hitachi, Sony, NEC and others, but the Toshiba drives have the fastest access time (around 300ms compared with about 450ms for most of the others). I asked DAC to put a Toshiba drive in a rack for my programming room recently, and also asked if they could add a digital audio output, so that I could also use the unit for sampling digitally from normal audio CDs (I had reviewed the original Toshiba drive a couple of years ago for MacUser magazine, and had noticed a pencilled reference to a digital output in the technical documentation).
DAC got together with Toshiba and worked out how to add a proper digital interface to the Toshiba unit. DAC actually went further than this, adding features such as the ability to play standard CDs from the front panel controls on the rack. (These front panel controls are primarily used for SCSI switching, using DAC's DMS system, but by selecting SCSI ID7 on Port B, and pressing Reset and Store together, you can start an audio CD playing. To skip tracks, you just touch the Eject button on the drive unit momentarily.) You can always use the Apple CD Remote desk accessory from your Macintosh for more sophisticated control of the CD Audio, but there could be occasions when you prefer to use direct manual control from the front panel. The DAC drive is the only one of its kind which has these features, potentially valuable for recording studio users. An added bonus is that this unit has fairly high-quality D-to-A convertors on the analogue outputs, which sound distinctly better than those of the Sony and Hitachi units, for instance.
When the drives arrived for review, I had to completely re-arrange my MIDI setup to make room in my rack. The first thing I noticed was that there was much more fan noise from the equipment, most of which had been piled up on the floor below a table previously. I went round the back and listened to each piece of equipment, and discovered that the main offender was actually a PLI 45MB removable drive, followed by the Mac II and a DAC 780MB drive. The new DAC units were much, much quieter in operation; looks like I'll have to have the PLI and the older DAC unit fitted with the quieter fans.
Once I'd got hold of both drives, I wanted the system set up so that I could have both the CD-ROM and the 128MB optical drives connected via SCSI to the S1100 to provide access to sample libraries, and to provide storage space for new samples. This was just a matter of connecting the SCSI cable from the S1100 to the Port B SCSI socket on the CD-ROM drive, then connecting a SCSI 'through' cable from the CD-ROM drive to the Port B SCSI socket on the 128MB drive. I chose suitable SCSI ID numbers on the Port B sockets for both drives for the S1100, and found that it was then a very easy matter to select which drive to access samples from using the S1100 controls.
But I also wanted to hook in my Mac — I have CD-ROM discs containing samples and sound effects in Sound Designer II format for my Sound Tools system, as well as several Macintosh CD-ROMs containing dictionaries, encyclopaedias, pieces of animation, and Macintosh programming code, and it is very useful to have access to a 128MB optical removable drive for storing large files such as Sound Tools audio files, or big graphics and animation files. I took a cable from the Port A SCSI socket on the CD-ROM drive to link to my Mac SCSI chain, and set suitable SCSI ID numbers on the two DAC drives for the Mac. Using the DMS front-panel controls on the DAC units, it was then an easy matter to re-configure the system to provide access to both drives from the Macintosh.
Overall, both drives are highly recommended for sampler and Macintosh data storage.
DAC CD-ROM Drive £910.63 Inc VAT.
DMS Switching Unit for CD-ROM drive £135.13 inc VAT.
DAC 128MB Removable Optical Disk Drive £1797.75 inc VAT.
DMS Switching Unit £151.58 inc VAT.
Digital Audio Concepts, (Contact Details).
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Review by Mike Collins
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