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FRONTIER DESIGN GROUP

April 1, 2003
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Even as the VHS tape format begins its descent into history, ADAT Lightpipe is alive and well and has become de facto standard on much of our digital gear. The format's success is hardly surprising: it offers eight channels of audio over a thin fiber-optic cable, as well as terminals small and inexpensive enough for several to fit on a computer card.

For all its advantages, though, the linguini of Lightpipe comes with its own set of routing and management issues. Frontier Design Group, a small but influential company that has long advanced the use of Lightpipe in its products, has created the Apache Lightpipe patch bay ($799) to address those issues.

Hook 'Em Up

Generally speaking, patch bays and other connectivity tools don't have the glamour of other gear. But if you've ever had trouble with one, you know how essential they are. The Apache is a 12 I/O Lightpipe patch bay housed in a single rackspace, capable of providing routing and connectivity for up to 96 channels of 24-bit, 48 kHz audio or 48 channels of 24-bit, 96 kHz audio. It's aimed squarely at DAW users and is ideal for interconnecting multichannel systems employing computers, digital mixers, hard-disk recorders, and MDMs. It's as simple as you'd expect a patch bay to be but has some nice programmable extras as well.

The Apache's front panel is simple and uncluttered. Twenty-four small buttons and associated LEDs correspond to the unit's 12 inputs and outputs. Store and Recall buttons directly access as many as 12 user-defined presets; unlimited additional presets can be addressed using MIDI. Also on the front panel are a MIDI button for configuring the Apache's extensive programming capabilities and a Patch button for front-panel setup. A Status button toggles between Activity status, a mode in which the Apache's LEDs indicate which inputs and outputs have active signals, and Scanning status, in which the Apache continuously scans all 12 inputs in succession, giving a visual indication of the currently active routes.

The rear panel houses 24 Lightpipe inputs and outputs as well as MIDI I/O for saving and recalling snapshots using SysEx and for cascading multiple units. In multiple setups, each unit can be assigned a unique device ID number and fully controlled using SysEx messages. The rear panel also contains a standard IEC power connector.

Setting up routing on the Apache is simple and straightforward. First press the Patch button to bring up Patch mode; then select an input and any number of outputs. Once you've created a routing scheme, you can capture it as an internal preset for later recall and even save it to an external device.

In order to avoid clocking issues when using multiple units, each input and output reclocks the signal with its own phase-locked loop (PLL). That is particularly nice because it makes selecting a clock master unnecessary, and routing changes are fast and clean.

Each of the Apache's 12 inputs and outputs can handle ADAT optical signals. Mixing multiple 2-channel inputs to ADAT format is not possible, nor is breaking out ADAT multitrack signals into Toslink pairs. It would be nice to see Frontier expand this product line to include versions that incorporate channel splitting and combining.

That said, the Apache is the ideal device for the majority of Lightpipe-based setups and an obvious choice. It's a great time-saver and a worthy addition to your digital world.


Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4

Frontier Design Group; tel. (800) 928-3236 or (603) 448-6283; e-mail apache@frontierdesign.com; Web www.frontierdesign.com

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