Click here for a PDF of the specifications for the Korg D888
FIG. 1: Korg''s D888 is a capable digital mixer and recorder intended for live use. It combines eight XLR and eight balanced/unbalanced TRS inputs with 3-band EQ per channel strip and a 40 GB internal hard drive.
Korg's D888 Digital Recording Studio is an unassuming digital recorder designed to record eight tracks of audio from mics or line sources while feeding a front-of-house mixer. This eliminates the need for a splitter box — in fact, the D888 can even serve as your main mixer. I recently took one for a spin, and I was impressed.
The D888 doesn't look like your average DAW; it appears to be a basic 8-channel mixer (see Fig. 1). Although it has some of the features of a desktop studio — virtual tracks, minimal editing and mixing functions — it is really intended for live use. Eight XLR and eight balanced/unbalanced TRS inputs run along the top of the unit. You can switch phantom power; a fat red LED glows comfortingly to remind you of the status. Each channel strip consists of a trim (input-gain) knob, three fixed band EQs (10 kHz, 2.5 kHz, and 100 Hz), and a single effects send and pan pot — no confusing soft knobs here. The 60 mm nonmotorized faders are short but feel solid.
The D888 features a single effects engine with a rotary selector knob similar to those on inexpensive mixers. Reverb choices include hall, arena, cathedral, club, and the ever-popular garage, and you get a handful of echoes and delays. Although you can use the effects to sweeten your mixes, their main function is to add ambience in live applications.
The Parameter knob affords a modicum of control over reverb and delay times, and there's a button to turn the effects on or off globally. Effects sends are postfader — the effects feed the master bus. In other words, you cannot record a track with effects, even accidentally. You can always patch an effects unit in front of the input if needed. But most pros save effects for the mix, which is where they show up here.
The output matrix is where things get interesting. You can either send each individual channel to a direct out, which is handy for feeding your main front-of- house mixer (oddly, these are prefader but post-EQ), or send stereo main and monitor signals (see Fig. 2). Note that the monitor outs get exactly the same signal as the mains; a small rotary knob controls monitor volume. All outputs are unbalanced ¼-inch TS operating at -10 dBu. You also get two ¼-inch stereo headphone outs, each with its own volume pot. Nice.
A S/PDIF optical output taps the main bus; use this to feed a stereo recorder, for example. The D888 must be the master clock — 44.1 kHz is the only option. (The digital output sends 24-bit audio even though the files contain only 16 bits of information.) When the mixer is configured to send direct outs, the digital output draws from channels 3 and 4, while the phones monitor channels 1 and 2. I can't think of a situation where this would be useful; too bad you can't assign them as needed.
The D888 is a basic, easy-to-use little mixer suitable for small bands in small rooms. The only clue to its secret identity are transport buttons for standard recorder functions. A 40 GB hard drive is poised to handle eight tracks of simultaneous recording, each with up to eight virtual tracks. Files are written as mono WAV files for easy compatibility with DAWs. The only resolution supported is 16-bit, 44.1 kHz.
Recording time is approximately 124 hours, which translates to 15.5 hours using all eight tracks. The maximum is six hours per song, surely enough for even the most self-indulgent singer-songwriter.
FIG. 2: This figure illustrates the flexible audio signal flow of the D888.
Recording couldn't be easier: arm a track and press Record. It takes a long time to write data after you hit Stop; plan ahead when recording live, or you may miss an intro while the recorder is tied up.
None of the EQ, effects sends, or fader moves affect the recorded signal. This is what makes the D888 so great: use it to capture tracks before they go to the main house mix. My only quibble is that eight tracks are not enough to record drums without a submixer or seriously minimalist mic techniques.
The MIDI Out port sends MTC (30 fps, nondrop only) to an external sequencer or recorder. Too bad there isn't a MIDI In as well; I'd love to be able to slave a second D888 to increase the track count (see the sidebar “Freewheeling Frank's Low-Budget Sync Trick”).
Although the D888 is clearly designed for live use, a metronome keeps you on the beat when overdubbing. Basic repeat, rehearse, and autopunch functions are easy to use. Sadly, punch-ins are not crossfaded, so you'll hear an annoying glitch if you aren't dead on the mark.
Finding Your Way
If you've ever been confused by overly complex digital recorders, you'll love the D888. You handle most chores without ever entering a menu. And when you need to, it's simplicity itself: to set the metronome, press a button labeled Metronome; to return to the meters screen, press Level Meter. Easy. Ah, but where's the Track Edit button? Turns out editing functions are grouped under the Menu button, along with more generalized housekeeping tasks, such as setting the LCD contrast.
The level screen displays absolute or SMPTE time (though you cannot slave to another device) as well as time remaining on the drive. In addition, you can select duration for the meter's peak-hold function. The display is quite small but adequate. Dedicated meters would be welcome, particularly because the meters disappear when you select different screens.
You add fader moves, EQ, and effects in real time when bouncing to consolidate tracks or mixing down to a stereo master track. Incidentally, although effects, EQ, and fader levels are stored with your song, there is no way to reset the physical controls to match the virtual ones.
The D888 includes a handful of basic track operations, such as rename, copy, track swap, erase, and delete. You can't move regions around, so erasing a chunk of audio simply leaves a hole. Nor can you slice and dice multiple tracks, which makes whole-song edits tedious. Undo and redo are limited to the last action.
You can mix on the recorder, but here you are limited by the single effects engine and lack of essential tools such as compression and parametric EQ. You're better off using the USB 2.0 port to send tracks to your computer for serious editing and mixing. You can also send your edited tracks back to the D888, for example, for use as backing tracks, as long as you don't violate Korg's naming conventions.
Got Live …
If you can get by with only eight tracks, the D888 is great for capturing live recordings. It's a capable but basic live mixer that eliminates the need for costly mic splitter boxes and cables. The lack of higher sampling rates or bit depths really isn't an issue. After all, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz remains the CD standard.
Although Korg included some basic editing and mixing functions, the D888 really isn't intended as a desktop studio. So if that is what you need, look elsewhere. However, the D888 is so easy to use that it might just be the ticket if you are turned off by more complicated recorders. I applaud Korg for coming up with such a simple interface. Sure, you miss out on features like automated mixing, moving faders, and oodles of effects. But anyone who has used a club mixer or a cassette studio will have no trouble figuring out the D888.
My wish list is fairly short. I'd like some way to slave multiple units together to record bigger bands and drums. Balanced outputs and more flexible routing for the phones and digital out would be useful. It would be great to be able to solo individual recording tracks too. But these things would add to the cost and make it more complicated to use. Bottom line? If you have been looking for an inexpensive way to record your band live, check out the D888.
Acoustic musician Mark Nelson is the author of Getting Started in Computer Music (Thomson Course Technology, 2005). You can see what else he's up to atwww.mark-o.com.
FREEWHEELING FRANK'S LOW-BUDGET SYNC TRICK
Here's a way to record with two D888s using a variation on an old analog-recorder trick. In the days before reliable synchronization, enterprising engineers would occasionally let two recorders freewheel, or run independently, then combine the results by ear. The recorders ran at slightly different speeds, and the small variations often created a cool sound effect.
Here's a step-by-step guide to the technique using a digital audio editor.
- Plan the recording to duplicate one or more tracks on each recorder. Instruments with strong attacks are best; kick and snare drums are ideal. Vocals with count-offs are another good bet.
- Start recording well before the downbeat or count-off.
- After the session, load all of the tracks into your DAW. Be sure to keep those from each recorder together.
- Choose one set of tracks as the reference; these will stay put. Select all of the other tracks so you can move them simultaneously.
- Zoom down to the waveform level and slide the tracks around until the downbeats on the identical tracks line up. Be sure you have selected all the tracks that need to move; if one gets away from you, undo and start over.
portable digital studio
FEATURES3EASE OF USE4AUDIO QUALITY3VALUE3
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Easy to use. Fills a unique niche. Eliminates much of the hassle of remote recording.
CONS: Eight tracks are not enough for drums. No balanced TRS outs. No monitor send for individual channels. Insufficient editing functions.