A U D I O... P A P E R

I hate consumer grade digital!
Warning - some strong language.

Jan 2009
by Steve Deckert

Some things don't deserve to live.  Surprising is how many of these things fall into the category of consumer grade digital products. Later in this rant, I'm going to show you how to permanently fix a Panasonic DVD recorder.

What does a guy like me who works to perfect the reproduction of music by inventing audio gear do for fun?  I like to make music and I like to record it.   So to that end, I gathered together my buddies and created a studio in what was my old wood shop and the Thursday night jam was born.

img1.gifIt became a semi-private open jam that revolved around myself (drummer) and my friend Paul (bass) and whoever we could get to show up. A slow night would be 4 or 5 of us, a busy night could be 20 people. It was all about spontaneity.  We didn't miss a single Thursday in 10 straight years.  I say semi-private because of incidents like the 48 year old paper boy who liked to play only Klingon music (Startrek) and the young lad who discovered Fabreze fabric freshener and started spraying himself with it every day instead of taking a bath.

Being the host, I got to entertain some ulterior motives that included recording every session. Most of the time I did a live 2 track recording that in later years included video. And of course it became imperative that we get a modest multi-track set up so everyone could have their own microphone. That way when some bone head starts choking the crap out of song, I can simply delete him when I mix it down.

To make this happen I had to step up to the plate and purchase an 8 channel digital tape recorder and feed it with expensive hi-grade VCR/ADAT tapes. We would go through 2 or 3 a night.

This worked out fine, except that on playback it always sounded wrong, the timing and pace were always off. Yea, this digital stuff is pretty impressive alright. Nevertheless I used it for exactly 1 year, kept it in pristine condition and accumulated about 150 tapes. I rarely had the time during the weekends to sit out there for hours and mix the stuff down, but that's suppose to be the beauty of it right... you can wait until you DO have the time and then mix away.

Well on the 366th day of ownership, the device decided to display an error code instead of reading the tape. I looked up the error code from a list of 12 possible codes. It said tape read error. Well no shit. Then it said under recommended action to return it to Alessis for service. I then noticed the action for the other 11 codes said the same thing! So why have the codes?  Wouldn't it be easier to just display the code: F. U. for every error?

So that's been 8 or 9 years ago, and I still have the digital 8 track ADAT in pristine condition and still can't use it to mix any of these recordings down, or even hear them!

After this device decided (logic) to fail, we went back to live 2 track on SVHS tape using a hi-fi VCR.  An older analog device with the advantage of being able to put video with the recordings.  Eventually a new digital mixer was purchased along with a lap top to take the place of the ADAT.  This worked much better, however being a device that operates under Microsoft Windows, it's only a matter of time before the software to operate the device will fail and the manufacture of the device will stop supporting it so the end result is likely to be the same... Tons of 16 track data disks of our recordings waiting to be mixed down, and can't be.  Score another one for consumer grade digital, what a wonderful thing it is.

After accumulating more SVHS tapes of the live 2 track over the years than I could find a place to store, I decided to replace the VCR with a 24bit 96kHz DVD recorder! So I shopped around and bought the heaviest one.  It wasn't cheap.  It worked well, except for a few common digital traits that compromise it's likeability.  A) the device won't operate without a remote and on-screen menus... a brilliant development in the digital story.  B) The disks have to be "closed" after your done recording to make them somewhat compatible with at least a few other regular DVD players.... oh, and the rub is that it took another 10 to 15 minutes for it to go through this tedious processes of closing disks.  C) There are at least 64 different types of plastic disks that all look like blank DVD's but secretly all have their own agenda.  D) It takes it what seems like 64 minutes for the damn thing to read a disk while it tries to figure out what kind it is.  E) When you're tired of waiting and hit stop, it simply continues to torture you until it's damn good an ready to stop.  F) After it has finally stopped and you press the OPEN button to get the CD out, it doesn't open... until it's damn good and ready to open seemingly coping an attitude because you dared ask it to do two things, kind of like kids.

Using this device was a real pain in the ass and I believe it perfectly and completely encapsulates everything that is wrong with consumer grade digital logic controlled devices. So it's no wonder after accumulating almost 200 DVD's that I decide it's time to finalize them and the device contracts brain cancer and won't read any of the disks that IT created!  

Desperate to save this music, I spent two days feeding it disks and waiting for up to 12 minutes for it to NOT READ the disk, and then another 3.6 minutes for it to open the damn drawer so I could try another one. Of course it read the very first two I put in it, and that was it. After spending several more hours taking the unit apart and carefully checking for problems, ie, weak laser, misalignment, power supply noise, etc., I could find nothing wrong with the player. I suspect it is the media, but frankly I don't know for sure.  

At this point, I'm starting to vibrate and walk around in tight little circles trying really hard to talk myself out of shooting it. The last thing that brought me to this point was a GPS unit that I shot in my office a few years ago. In my haste to put it out of it's misery I forgot to wear ear plugs and simply tossed it out my office window and shot it. My ears didn't like that very much. So, this time I just took a more hands on approach and fixed it the prehistoric way as shown below.



So if you've ever been frustrated by the low level of functionality, reliability and ergonomics of this great technological age and wanted to break the crap out of some digital device and couldn't... may this bring you some small bit of pleasure.

 -Steve Deckert



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