Digidesign''s sleek Digi 002 can be used as a control surface and interface for Pro Tools LE or as a standalone digital mixer.
For years, Digidesign has dominated professional music and post-production with its TDM-based Pro Tools hardware and software. The company has also made strong inroads into the lower-end, project-studio market with products such as the Digi 001 digital audio interface and the Mbox USB audio interface.
With the introduction of the Digi 002, Digidesign aims squarely for the middle ground. The Digi 002 is a high-resolution, portable, host-based Pro Tools system that has robust, flexible I/O and a comprehensive integrated control surface. With four built-in microphone preamps, a terrific suite of bundled plug-ins, and a standalone mode that allows the unit to perform double duty as a digital mixer, the Digi 002 sets a new high standard in terms of bang for the buck.
INS AND OUTS
The rear panel of the Digi 002 has a comprehensive array of inputs and outputs (see Fig. 1). The system is fixed: there are no I/O ports for optional cards to fit your particular system. But the choices made by Digidesign are solid. Input channels 1 through 4 are configured as four mic inputs on XLR jacks, with 48V phantom power, as well as four ¼-inch line/instrument inputs. These are controlled by front-panel selector switches and input gain knobs. Defeatable 75 Hz highpass filters are thrown in for good measure. There are four additional ¼-inch line-level analog inputs, each with individual +4 dBu/-10 dBV level switches.
For added flexibility, the Digi 002 has two Alt Source inputs on -10 dBV RCA jacks. They can be used to route a CD player or tape deck through the system and directly out to the monitors. Selection buttons on the front panel allow you to switch between the standard Digi 002 output and the Alt Source output going to the monitoring section. In addition, the Alt Source can be routed to Digi 002 inputs 7 and 8.
In my configuration, I routed the standard audio of my Mac into the Alt Source inputs. That way, I could switch back and forth quickly between Pro Tools and other audio applications such as SoundApp and Amadeus II, without having to concern myself with the software contention issues that crop up when you route non-Digidesign audio through Digidesign hardware using the sound control panel.
The Digi 002's 12 analog outputs consist of a pair of monitor outs, main outputs 1 through 8, and an alternate pair of main outs. All outputs are on ¼-inch jacks operating at +4 dBu, except for the Alt outs, which are -10 dBV RCA jacks designed to connect to a consumer-level device, such as a tape deck. Monitor level is controlled by a front-panel volume pot. There are also Mono and Mute buttons for the monitoring system, as well as a headphone jack with its own level knob. As a final touch, the Digi 002 boots up with the monitor Mute button engaged, which keeps any nasty pops or thumps from blowing your head off when you first boot up your rig. All in all, the output section is well conceived and well implemented.
Note that the Digi 002 is clearly designed for creating music in stereo. You could conceivably connect outputs 3 through 8 to a 5.1 system, but the lack of control within the hardware (and Pro Tools LE software) for that type of configuration makes such an approach less than optimal.
All analog ¼-inch inputs and outputs are on balanced TRS connections, although unbalanced TS cables may be used as well. The unit I received for review exhibited a marked difference in noise and hum when I switched from using balanced cabling to unbalanced; I recommend using balanced cabling wherever possible.
The Digi 002 supports two channels of S/PDIF I/O on unbalanced RCA jacks, at resolutions from 16-bit, 44.1 kHz to 24-bit, 96 kHz. There is also Lightpipe I/O, which can be configured to accept two channels of optical S/PDIF (running up to 24-bit, 96 kHz), or eight channels of ADAT data, also at 24 bits but limited to the ADAT standard of a 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rate.
The Digi 002 connects to your computer with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) cable and offers two FireWire ports, allowing you to daisy-chain other devices. In practice, I connected the computer to a FireWire hard drive and put the Digi 002 last in the chain, which worked well. As a bandwidth test, I tried recording and playing back 32 simultaneous channels at 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution to a single FireWire drive. The Digi 002 handled the job without a hitch, choking only when I threw edits and fades into the session. That's mighty impressive.
Rounding out the connections are one MIDI input and two discrete MIDI outputs. That allows the Digi 002 to act as a 16-channel-in, 32-channel-out MIDI interface. An IEC-standard power jack and a footswitch jack complete the scene.
One important connection is missing: a dedicated word-sync input on a BNC connection. While the Digi 002 can slave digitally to the S/PDIF or Lightpipe inputs, many studios have a master word clock that syncs all digital devices, using coaxial cables.
YOU'RE THE TOP
The Digi 002's control surface is organized into five primary areas: input control and monitoring, console/channel control, status and display control, channel faders, and transport/navigation control. The overall look and feel of the Digi 002 is reminiscent of Digidesign's Control|24 control surface, which is not surprising. The industrial design is clean and stylish, with lots of curves, ovals, and circles. Form follows function, though: the layout of the controls is intuitive, ergonomic, and oriented toward production.
Each of the eight channels has a 100 mm touch-sensitive fader, solo and mute buttons, a selection button, a rotary knob, a ring of LED position indicators, and a four-digit LED display. The faders are smooth and work well, but they function best when your finger is firmly touching the top surface; pushing the fader from the bottom, as I sometimes do, doesn't always register.
In the default mode the rotary knob acts as a pan pot for the track, and the ring of LEDs indicates position in the stereo space. The rotary knob can also be used to set send levels for five different sends by pressing the appropriate send-selection button. A Flip button reverses the functions of the faders and rotary knobs, allowing you to set such parameters as pan position using the touch-sensitive faders. The 4-character scribble strips default to displaying the name of the track, but they show other salient parameters when operating in other modes. Although there is no dedicated meter bridge, there is a meter button that allows the LED ring for each channel to act as mono or, in the case of stereo tracks, left or right level meters.
VIEWING AND EDITING
There are four selector buttons above the fader LED screens: EQ, Dynamics, Insert, and Pan/Send. Pressing any of these buttons takes you to channel view, which uses all eight channels to display and edit the chosen parameter of the currently selected track. For example, pressing the Select button for a particular track and then pressing the EQ channel-view selector brings up all the EQ parameters for an EQ plug-in assigned to that track. Those parameters, such as frequency or Q, are displayed in the scribble strips and can be adjusted using the rotary knob beneath it.
Page buttons allow you to scroll across multiple pages of parameters for a given plug-in. Pressing the Dynamics button will automatically bring up any dynamics-processing plug-ins assigned to a channel. Other types of plug-ins, such as delays or amplifier simulators, can also be edited by pressing the Insert channel-view button and selecting the name of the plug-in from the display windows. Finally, pressing the Pan/Send channel-view button allows you to control all five send levels for a given channel simultaneously.
TRANSPORT AND NAVIGATION
The transport controls consist of the standard six controls you find on most systems: Return to Zero, Rewind, Fast Forward, Stop, Play, and Record. Directly above are buttons to select Loop Play, Loop Record, and Quick Punch modes. Pre- and postroll selection buttons would have been nice here, as well. There are also buttons to show or hide the Mix, Edit, and current plug-in windows, which is great for systems with small screens.
Above the transport are the navigation controls, which consist of a big, friendly set of arrow keys inlaid in a large circle. Above the circle are buttons for the three navigation modes: Bank, Nudge, and Zoom. Bank and Nudge change the focus of the Digi 002's faders to different Pro Tools tracks in groups of eight or one at a time, respectively. In both modes, the up and down arrows act as selection in/out keys. Zoom mode allows you to zoom the horizontal and vertical views of the session in and out quickly. Each of these controls does what it's supposed to do and fits well under the hand.
There are three kinds of controls conspicuously absent from the Digi 002: a jog/shuttle wheel, a numeric keypad, and a dedicated Save button. Shuttle wheels are the best way to scrub digital audio back and forth. And a numeric keypad and dedicated Save button are particularly important if the Digi 002 is sitting directly in front of you, in place of a computer keyboard.
FOR LE ONLY
The Digi 002 runs Pro Tools LE software, which is similar to the TDM version of Pro Tools software but with a few useful features intentionally left out. These include single-key keyboard shortcuts for most editing functions, surround capabilities, the time-code ruler, and an advanced audio-quantization tool called Beat Detective. While the lack of SMPTE rules out using the Digi 002 for any film or video work, the software is fine for music production and non-SMPTE-based sound production.
FIG. 1: The Digi 002 offers a nice array of options for connectivity, including two FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports and I/O for S/PDIF, ADAT Lightpipe, and MIDI.
However, Digidesign is bundling a variety of RTAS and AudioSuite plug-ins with the Digi 002. The ones I received include the Waves Renaissance compressor, EQ, and reverb; IK Multimedia's SampleTank software sampler and AmpliTube speaker simulator; Native Instruments' Pro-52 synthesizer; and Digidesign's D-FX chorus, flanger, and delay. Digidesign says that the contents of the bundle and the number of plug-ins included are subject to change at any time.
As soon as the Digi 002 arrived, I put it to the acid test of high-resolution acoustic recording. It took less than 15 minutes to set up the Digi 002 and install Pro Tools LE 5.3.2. From there, I plugged pairs of Neumann KM 184 and Earthworks QTC-1 microphones directly in to the Digi 002's mic preamps using Blue Kiwi cables. I recorded musician Jory Prum singing folk songs while playing his steel-string guitar in a quiet, acoustically treated studio, at a resolution of 24-bit, 96 kHz. The results were clean, clear, and smooth, with a detailed top end. The highs sounded neither harsh nor hyped but were instead extended and well integrated into the sound. The Digi 002's mic preamps are quiet, neutral, and colorless. They are solid in their performance and well suited to the rigorous demands of high-resolution audio.
I continued to throw the most difficult audio tasks that I could think of at the Digi 002: jingling keys, tambourines, shakers, metallic hits, and big low-frequency thumps — all at 24-bit, 96 kHz. In each case, the Digi 002 held its own, recording everything faithfully, with a minimum of the harshness and high-end distortion that is so often characteristic of 44.1 kHz recording.
CRACKING THE WHIP
Just after receiving the Digi 002 for review, I got the call to do sound design for LucasArts Entertainment Company's new game Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. Time was short, and I needed to set up an office on-site and get rolling right away. I decided to subject the Digi 002 to a grueling real-world project. So I set it up with my Apple 600 MHz iBook, a Maxtor 120 GB external FireWire drive, a pair of Mackie HR824 powered monitors, and an Akai Z8 sampler.
For the most part, the Digi 002 did its job admirably, helping me quickly create the whip cracks, pistol fire, zeppelin motors, and magical energy zaps that are a signature part of the Raiders of the Lost Ark universe. I worked back and forth between Pro Tools and other audio apps constantly, all the while checking email, using the Internet, and transferring files using FTP. Outright crashes were fairly rare, although a bug in the Pro Tools software (which I'll describe in a moment) left me reaching for the aspirin from time to time. All in all, though, the Digi 002/Pro Tools LE system was a very good choice for video-game audio production, and it's the one I intend to use in future projects with LucasArts Entertainment.
The Digi 002's control surface had its chance to really shine during the mixing process. I had one week to design and create final mixes for 30 cineractives (short, linear movies that appear throughout the game to move the story along). Because of the short timeline, I was editing sound effects and ambiences and recording Foley directly into the same sessions that held the music and dialog stems. The Digi 002 performed like a champ, allowing me to track, process, and mix almost simultaneously.
After I had worked with it for a while, I refined my mixing style to best take advantage of the control surface: I would rough in a mix by moving the faders until everything sat fairly well, then write an automation pass. Next, I played through the mix, finding any area that needed refinement. Finally, I would select that region and move the faders during playback to overwrite the previous automation for that section. At no time did I pay any attention to levels or meters, other than to make sure that the master fader's levels were hot without clipping. The resulting mixes breathed with life and had a wonderful dynamic quality not usually present in breakpoint-automation-style mixes. I never needed compression, relying instead on fader moves to make everything audible.
ALL ROSES HAVE THORNS
While the Digi 002 performed its duties admirably, there was one nagging bug that caused frustration and impeded my progress. The Digi 002 occasionally emitted a loud click at the end of playback. Far less frequently, the bug manifested itself as a high-pitched whine or even full-scale white noise blasting out of my monitors. Quitting and restarting Pro Tools always solved the problem.
Eventually, I determined that the problem had to do with moving virtual or physical faders during playback, in sessions that had a master fader. I was then able to replicate the problem on an Mbox and a Digi 001, all on different computers. The bug is in Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools Free software, versions 5.x and up. The bug is not present on Pro Tools TDM systems. After I went back and forth with Digidesign for several weeks about the bug, the company was able to replicate it. Shortly before I finished this review, Digidesign released a patch (DAE 5.3.2cs2) to fix the bug. Preliminary results are encouraging, but I did not have sufficient time to work with the update to guarantee that all problems with this bug have been solved.
At this stage of digital audio development, latency is still the bugaboo of all host-based systems. The Digi 002 is no exception, but it offers a Low Latency Monitoring mode to negate the problem during the overdubbing process.
Enabling Low Latency Monitoring defeats any plug-ins or sends assigned to Record-enabled tracks and requires that the tracks be routed to audio outputs 1 and 2. In addition, these tracks won't register their levels to the master faders during playback. These limitations are small, though, and the improvement in timing due to lower latency is well worth it.
MIX AND MATCH
The Digi 002 has one more trick up its sleeve: it can function as a standalone 8×4×2 digital mixer. So when you are done recording, you can take the Digi 002 out to the coffeehouse and use it as a perfectly serviceable mixer for small gigs.
In mixer mode, the Digi 002 can receive input from the eight analog inputs or the optical or coaxial S/PDIF inputs, but not the eight channels of ADAT Lightpipe. It is limited to 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rates, but it has enough internal DSP to offer 3-band EQ on all eight channels, dynamics processing on channels 1 through 4, and reverb and delay effects. All effects are editable from the rotary knobs and faders and, while not spectacular, are certainly good enough for a live situation. Snapshots of settings can be stored, and input/output channels 7 and 8 can be used to connect external effects processors.
The Digi 002 is undoubtedly the coolest portable studio I have ever seen. It offers robust inputs and outputs; nice-sounding mic preamps; excellent sound quality; 24-bit, 96 kHz capabilities; a full-featured and well-designed physical interface; standalone mixer mode with built-in processing; and a generous plug-in bundle. And you get all of that for just over two grand.
If you are primarily a Pro Tools user and you don't want to take the expensive step into TDM-based systems, the Digi 002 is the box for you. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Digi 002 Specifications
Analog Inputs (4) XLR mic inputs, +4 dBu; (4) TRS line inputs, +4 dBu/-10 dBV switchable; (4) TRS line inputs, +4 dBu; (2) RCA alt-source inputs, -10 dBV Analog Outputs (2) ¼" TRS monitor outputs, +4 dBu; (8) ¼" TRS line outputs, +4 dBu; (2) RCA alt-main outputs, -10 dBV Digital I/O (8) channels ADAT Lightpipe optical; (2) channels S/PDIF (RCA or optical) MIDI I/O (1) In, (2) Out Additional I/O (2) FireWire ports; (1) footswitch port Number of Channel Strips 8 Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (+0.15/-0.5 dB) Sampling Rates 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz Bit Depths 16, 24 Audio Tracks 32 MIDI Tracks 32 Dimensions 18.9" (W) × 6.1" (H) × 17.1" (D) Weight 15.2 lb. A/D ConvertersDynamic Range Inputs 1-4: >101 dBA, 98 dB (unweighted); inputs 5-8: >108 dBA, 105 dB (unweighted); alt-source inputs: >99 dBA, 97 dB (unweighted) Total Harmonic Distortion Mic inputs: 0.004% @ 62 dB gain; + Noise line inputs: •0.004% @ +17 dBu input level D/A ConvertersDynamic Range Main/monitor outputs: Ž112 dBA, 110 dB (unweighted); alt outputs: 98 dBA, 95 dB (unweighted) Total Harmonic Distortion Main/monitor outputs: <0.0016% (-60 dBFS @ 1 kHz); + Noise outputs 3-8 and Alt outputs: <0.0023% (-60 dBFS @ 1 kHz)
digital audio interface/control surface
FEATURES 4.0 EASE OF USE 4.5 AUDIO QUALITY 4.0 VALUE 5.0 RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent sound quality. Capable of 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution. Comprehensive control surface. Tight integration between hardware and software. Standalone mixer mode. Generous plug-in bundle. A lot of bang for the buck.
CONS: No BNC word-clock input. No scrub/shuttle wheel. No numeric keypad. No dedicated Save button. Intermittent audible click/noise bug.