WHAT IT IZ - The RADAR 24 System Review
By Scott Colburn
Assisted by Julian Martlew and David Miles Huber
News Flash: Twenty-four bit recording is here, and now it nearly approaches the beauty of analog!
I recently had the pleasure of test driving the newly improved RADAR 24 System by IZ Technology. The basic system (24-track, 24-bit hard disc recorder) lists at $4,995, and features a Celeron 667 with 132 Megs of RAM running BeOS, 18 gig removable hard drive, 24 channels of TDIF I/O, and two channels of AES/EBU and S/PDIF I/O. It also reads SMPTE, MTC, Word clock, AES, S/PDIF and Video Sync (which is helpful), and offers sample rates of 32 kHz to 48 kHz, and either 16- or 24-bit resolution.
The system we tested had a few upgrades: A Nyquist analog I/O ($2,995), which is necessary for analog interfacing up to 96 kHz (but there are cheaper options available, like the Classic I/O ($1,695), which only goes up to 48 kHz). Our system also came with a Panasonic 2x DVD drive ($695), which allows for backup of the hard drive so you can put something tangible on the shelf and open the machine up to another project. The Session Controller ($1,195) with Meter Bridge ($495) are also available accessories, which are not necessary to the operation of the unit but certainly make life easier. The Session Controller also removes one's reliance on an external monitor for basic recording functions, but you may still want a monitor (or switchbox for your current monitor) if you plan on doing any editing on the RADAR 24.
Our first test was to pit the RADAR 24 against my 1" 16-track recorder. We recorded several instruments simultaneously to both the analog recorder and the RADAR 24 using the same mics, mic pres, lengths of wire, signal patches, etc. Honestly, the results made it hard for us to determine which system resulted in better sound quality. Overall, the RADAR 24 sounded every bit as "analog like" as IZ boasts it will, and although there were slight differences in the sound between analog tape and the RADAR 24, the differences were negligible: The drum kit, in general, sounded the same on both machines, the acoustic guitar sounded a bit fuller on the analog machine (but certainly did not sound thin on the RADAR 24), and the piano sounded great on both machines. The only remarkable difference in our comparison of the two systems was in the human voice - singing sounded better on the RADAR 24, and speaking sounded better on the analog tape. Hmm... Overall, this test left us impressed with RADAR 24. I may have finally found a digital machine with performance close enough to that of my beloved analog deck but without all that tape hiss, cross talk, and other problems associated with analog that I've learned to ignore just because the rest of it sounds so damn good.
On to our next test, but first a disclaimer: We used Steely Dan's "Aja" for our second test, but this by no means indicates that I feel Steely Dan made good music. We used "Aja" only because it is considered a superbly engineered record, and, although I agree that it represents a wide range of frequencies and is somewhat pleasing to the ears, this record also showcases a complete lack of natural room sound which sucks the life right out the music, IMHO. -- "Aja" was sampled, as above, simultaneously to a 2 track 1/4" reel-to-reel and the RADAR 24 to amplify any existing differences. In theory, we felt that if the RADAR 24 was such hot shit it would capture the nuances of the recording and sound as good as the CD did. Indeed, it sounded as good as the CD did. The analog tape was more pleasing to our ears but added an extra bottom end that CD's just don't have, as well as an extra sparkle on the top end. So, ok - it appears RADAR 24's output will be identical to whatever is put in to it.
Test number three debunked that appearance. Designed to capture the oh-so-special changes analog tape makes to recordings, in this test we recorded the analog reel back on to the RADAR 24. Surprisingly, the RADAR 24 captured the analog changes but this time the results were not identical but close. This led us to believe that the optimum recording situation for RADAR 24 would be to track in the analog domain, dump it to the RADAR 24, perform any additional over-dubs, fixes and such, and then mix from the RADAR 24 system. This method would save countless hours on your analog machine's head life, and would also assure that the playback would not degrade with time.
Our final test aimed to answered the question, "Is the RADAR 24 worth the expense?" Using "Aja" again, we recorded the CD to the analog 1/4" tape machine, the RADAR 24, and also to Cool Edit Pro via Midiman's Delta 1010 (both of the digital machines are capable of recording 24/96). The result was that both of the digital machines sounded identical, but we still preferred the sound of the analog tape to the digital recordings. Both digital machines captured the analog sound within reason, but did not completely capture all its nuances. Hence, it appeared that the real difference between RADAR 24 and Cool Edit Pro would be in cost.
A PIII/1000 with a gig of RAM and an 18 gig hard drive (ie, a totally tweezed system) with three Delta 1010's and Cool Edit Pro would take you for about $6,000.
The RADAR 24 basic system with 18 gig hard drive, Nyquist Analog I/O cards, Session Controller and Meter Bridge would put you out about $10,000.
So, between the two, is the RADAR 24 worth the extra change? Quite possibly. Again, the RADAR 24 has 24-channel TDIF I/O, and two channels of AES/EBU and S/PDIF I/O. It reads SMPTE, MTC, Word Clock, AES, S/PDIF, & Video Sync, has a 10/100 Ethernet card, can output analog & digital audio simultaneously (!), and allows for any track input to be assigned digitally or analog. As a professional system, whether or not you feel the expense is warranted most likely depends on exactly what you're planning to do with your studio.
Personally, I found the RADAR 24's editing capabilities clumsy, and I'd much rather edit in a DAW, so it's a tough choice between the two digital machines. If you intend the RADAR 24 to replace (or upgrade) your 24-track system, then I'd say it's great for that purpose, not to mention comparably cheap to what a 24-track analog deck can cost. But if you're looking for an all-in-one recorder/ editor/ CD burner/ mixer/ kitchen elf, then I'd advise you to look at a computer.
Scott Colburn is secretly producing some of the best music Seattle has to offer. Taste the insane at www.gravelvoice.com.