Field Test: Digidesign Digi 002 Rack
Dec 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin
Digidesign's Digi 002 Rack is the latest in the series that started with the PCI-oriented Digi 001, followed by the USB-connected Mbox, both intended for home studio use. The landmark Digi 002 came next, offering higher audio quality, a nice hands-on interface and FireWire connectivity. Catering to the “pro-sumer” — not quite home studio, but not Hollywood either — the 002 has great-sounding mic pre's, good converters and an eight-fader control surface to help old-school engineers feel at home. Now, the company extends the studio-in-a-box concept with the 002 Rack, bringing 002 features to a 2U rackmountable unit.
WHY THE RACK?
Digidesign created the Digi 002 Rack specifically for people like me, who already have a control surface but want quality audio and the reduced latency of the fast FireWire connection. I was initially doubtful of a sufficient market to support this product: Why wouldn't someone simply go all out and purchase the original fader-laden version? The answer: price. The original unit, at $2,495, is a very good value, but the rack version, at $1,295, is a truly excellent deal. If you already have your control surface, then you save $1,200; the purchase of a Digi 002 Rack becomes a no-brainer. As for portability, FireWire connectivity turns your laptop into a remote studio with either solution.
With the addition of a large FireWire hard drive and an 002 Rack, a Titanium or Pentium 4 laptop becomes a very powerful studio, indeed. If you like to use the expensive mic pre's in your rig, then simply plug them in and run with it. The ability to take a Pro Tools system mobile for tracking and then return home for overdubs and mixing is very appealing, particularly for home recording enthusiasts. Even in the strictly pro domain, though, it's nice to have mobility and then come back to the studio and mix on a TDM system.
The 002 Rack features eight balanced (¼-inch TRS) analog ins and outs and eight channels of either ADAT or 2-channel S/PDIF via an optical I/O. The main (1 and 2) outputs are mirrored on two separate stereo outputs, balanced TRS ¼-inch (with a dedicated front-panel level control) or unbalanced RCA at a fixed level. The unit sports four high-quality mic pre's, which sounded excellent with my condenser mic. Phantom power is available but, unfortunately, it's on the back of the unit, switchable in pairs. There is also an alternate source input (stereo RCA) for 2-track monitoring and a headphone jack with a dedicated front panel level control.
A/D and D/A conversion happens at 16 or 24 bits, and at 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96 kHz. These are high-quality converters that sound very good. One disappointment is that the Core Audio driver does not allow the use of the Digi 002 Rack's digital outputs as the main system outputs for the Macintosh. It would be nice to be able to represent the Mac's system audio at the S/PDIF output.
RACK IT UP!
I loaded the 2U box in my rack and plugged it right into the available FireWire connection of my dual-processor 1GHz G4. The 002 Rack shipped with Pro Tools LE Version 6.0, and I upgraded to 6.1.2 via downloads from Digidesign's Website. My initial test drive comprised plugging a nice tube condenser mic into the 002 Rack and recording a cappella vocals. It was easy to set up a session with a nice reverb and a little compression on the vocals. After an hour or two, I had built up a nice little piece. My rough mix in the Pro Tools domain sounded fine, but I wanted to hear how my Tascam DM-24 would do. I connected the 002 Rack's ADAT optical output to the ADAT input of my mixer, and then re-assigned the individual tracks to individual inputs. It was then very easy to do a more traditional hands-on mix with the Tascam console. Just for fun, I also did synchronized transfers to and from DTRS, and it was swimmingly simple.
The 002 Rack's FireWire speed allows for a low-latency, multichannel, high-quality Pro Tools interface with four excellent mic pre's. The included MIDI (1-in, 2-out) functionality is another nice touch. If you don't need a built-in control surface, then the Digi 002 Rack will turn your computer into a high-powered portable studio-in-a-box.
Digidesign, 650/731-6300, www.digidesign.com.
John McJunkin is the chief cook and bottle-washer for Avalon Audio Services in Phoenix, and is currently pondering the idea of techno remixes of West Texas Swing music.
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