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Sound Advice

The Word on MDMs by Ron Skinner

Modular Digital Multitrack (MDM) recorders have brought the digital world a bit closer to home. MDMs have been introduced to the marketplace over the past few years, and this technology is starting to make recording industry professionals rethink the current use of multitrack recording. MDMs are relatively inexpensive, rackmounted eight-track recording devices. They can be easily expanded to as many as 128 tracks of digital recording simply by purchasing additional units. The average price of an eight-track system is under $5,000. MDMs are currently being marketed by three manufacturers (Alesis, Tascam and Fostex). While each manufacturer offers its own unique features and operating standards, the basic premise behind the designs of these units is the same — providing eight tracks of digital recording in a small, inexpensive and expandable unit.

The initial market for Modular Digital Multitrack recorders was the project or home studio. This is the first time digital recording has been taken out of the professional recording studio and put in the home. Over thirty thousand MDMs have been sold in North America since their introduction almost two years ago. This success has created a large network of users who can share ideas and work on each others’ projects. Musicians can now record music in their home recording studios and then send the tape to other musicians to add finishing touches and overdubs (the tape format for these recorders is either S-VHS or 8mm video tape).

The possibilities of this format and its vast popularity has most recently caught the attention of the professional recording and broadcast industries. This type of recording is still not as reliable as professional open reel recorders like the Sony PCM-3348. However, it is being used for jingle and promo production, non-crucial music recording and in the pre-production stages of album projects. Broadcasters are also beginning to use MDMs for complex documentary productions that require mixes that may be too difficult to achieve with multi-machine mixing. In many cases, eight tracks are enough to accommodate a fairly large radio production.

The development of this technology has brought the price of digital multitrack recording down substantially; and it gives musicians and broadcasters the ability to create high quality recording projects at a relatively low cost. MDM recording is an example of how digital technology is starting to touch every aspect of our professional lives. It is this digital technology that provides us with greater flexibility and enhanced creativity. MDM recording is yet another tool within the digital domain that can be used in various types of audio production, from simple home recording projects to more advanced radio and professional recording applications.

Ron Skinner, Radio Technician, CBC Broadcast Centre; independent engineer/producer.

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