See Issue #30 for my review of the Mbox as most of my comments there on small to mid-sized studios needing Pro Tools compatibility also apply here. You've probably seen the ads and know that the Digi 002 is like a Digi 001 (eight channels of analog I/O, eight channels of ADAT I/O, and two-channel SPDIF I/O for a total of 18 simultaneous inputs and outputs) with a control surface. Minus the control surface, the biggest difference between the 002 and 001-and the reason I bought the 002-is that the 002 is compatible with 96k Pro Tools | HD files. Also, the 002 is capable of playing back 32 tracks; the Mbox and 001 have a 24-track limit. Compared to the Mbox, overdubbing is much easier as well, with the standard Pro Tools low-latency monitoring mode. Initially, I was less concerned with the multiple ins and outs, as I usually use other DAWS and software for tracking and conversion. But that changed quickly when I got a call from producer/engineer J. Robbins, who wanted to book two weeks at The Hangar with San Francisco band Eleventeen; he wanted to mix from Pro Tools with at least eight discrete outputs.
The install process (except for the usual hassle of authorizing plug-ins) was exceptionally smooth: I was up and running in less than ten minutes sans any plug- ins. The plug-in install was much more involved. Many of my older plug-ins wouldn't work immediately with the 002, as it uses a different format than the Mbox and 001. The upshot is that only HD compatible RTAS plug-ins will work with the 002. Here's the score on my plug-ins: Kind Of Loud's Realverb will not work at all with the 002. Metric Halo's ChannelStrip needed the HD version but then worked fine. Audioease's Altiverb and the GRM Tools worked fine as did the Sony Oxford EQs. The Bomb Factory plugs worked perfectly after I downloaded their free upgrade. The Focusrite plug-ins actually worked better after the supplied update was installed. (They previously only worked as Audiosuite plug-ins on the 001 and Mbox, but now worked as RTAS plugs.) One big bonus when buying an 002: it ships with quite a few free Digidesign and third-party plug- ins-over $2000 worth-making it an even better value. Personally, had I not already owned them, I would have preferred the Focusrite plugs that Digi makes over the three plugs they did include: D-Fi, D-fx and Maxim. On the other hand, Digi did include (without any fanfare) a new POWr dithering (See last issue's interview with John LaGrou for more on POWr) plug-in. This is a great thing when you consider that not too long ago, Apogee's UV-22 dithering algoritm was the only game in town for high quality dithering and you paid a premium for it. The popular Waves Renaissance plugs (EQ, compressor, and reverb) are nice, as clients frequently request them (although I prefer some of the previously-mentioned plugs for these three functions). Native Instruments Pro-52 soft synth, a Prophet V emulation, is included, as is IK Multimedia's SampleTank sampler, with 64 included sound banks. Both of these virtual instruments work great with absolutely no detectable latency. (I'm using a Mac G4 Dual 867) Depending on the sample, SampleTank sounds great. At least half the samples fall into the very high quality, usable category although a few were inevitably cheesy and/or had some undesirable artifacts. I think my favorite free 002 plug-in however was IK's AmpliTube, a guitar amp and cabinet simulator which immediately came in handy on some bass tracks. (Postscript/whine session: The 002 worked great for several weeks and then I got a new M-Audio Midisport 8x8 MIDI interface and attempted to install it and configure it with OMS. This set off a system hard drive crash that took another week and several Disc Doctor and Disk Warrior sessions to fix. As far as I can tell, the cause was conflicts between OMS and some of the plug-ins PACE (copy protect software) installs. Now I don't want to infer that M-Audio or the plug-ins or even OMS was "buggy," just that all together, there was some kind of conflict. I ended up having to re-authorize almost all of the plug-ins-a huge hassle. The only plug-ins that smoothly survived all this were the Bomb Factory and Focusrite plug-ins, both of which use the Ilok protection scheme. In my opinion, Ilok is a much better (more robust as well as portable) way to implement copy protection than authorizing a single hard drive with a challenge and response. I would like to make a plea to all plug-in vendors to at least make Ilok an available option.)
On J.'s session, we transferred about five days of basic tracks from two-inch, 16-track tape into the 002 using the eight analog I/Os and the eight ADAT I/Os through a Swissonic AD 24 mk2 which was clocked by a Lucid GENx6-96 clock at 44.1. (See sidebar reviews of the Swissonic converter and Lucid clock.) The transfer went smoothly, as did the next five days of overdubbing. For mixing, we used the the same setup, but at this point the ADAT outputs went through a Swissonic DA 24 converter. Overall the whole session was super smooth, and the 002 handled everything we threw at it. However, it is important to note that the 002 has no external clocking facilities. To clock it from an external clock, you'll need to clock an external A/D converter and then choose ADAT or S/PDIF sync from Pro Tools. Digidesign also notes that "there are several clock master devices on the market that transmit S/PDIF black clock such as MOTU's MTP DTP and the Nanosync by Rosendahl which could be used to clock the 002."
On to the control surface. Again, this worked perfectly. The nice thing about a dedicated control surface as opposed to one that will work with any DAW, is that you also get dedicated hardware function keys. Each channel has a motorized fader and dedicated mute, solo, and pan controls. The 002 can quickly and easily move between banks of eight channels, zoom in and out, and move between edit and mix screens. And of course, there are transport controls too. All in all, a very well thought out control surface; not a huge surprise, as this is a second-generation product from a company with integrated hardware and software solutions. On our second session with the 002, producer, engineer, and Tape Op contributor Eric Stenman did a four-day tracking session at The Hangar with the OC/Sacto band The Tank directly into the 002. Eric (who owns an 001) commented that using the 002 made him realize that he really missed working with faders. "I'm trying to figure out how I can justify buying an 002, when in terms of IO, it doesn't really do anything the 001 can't do; but I love the faders, higher sampling rate, and eight extra tracks" The Tank tracking sessions did bring up a pretty major problem with the 002. Unlike the eight analog inputs, the eight ADAT inputs could not be monitored properly when recording. We had a similar problem with J's session in that inputs 1 and 2 would not monitor properly; but since it was only a transfer from tape, it was easy to bypass the problem. When J. was overdubbing, he had the same problem, but was able to bypass it by using an output that was different from the input (e.g., monitor the output of inputs 1 and 2 on outputs 3 and 4). On Eric's session, he ended up having to route anything he wanted to monitor to the 002's analog I/O-more than a minor hassle, but kept the session moving. Later, Eric brought in his Apogee Rosetta converter for overdubs and had a similar problem with the SPDIF inputs; he was unable to monitor the SPDIF input. I checked with Digidesign and they acknowledged that this was a bug. (Essentially, low-latency monitoring mode does not work with digital inputs.) The fix should be available for download on Digidesign's website by the time this is printed.
Overall, this box works great. It's a great addition to an established studio wanting to add Pro Tools, and it's also a great starting point for a new studio. As a project studio owner on a budget, this makes much more sense for me than a Pro Tools | HD system. The 002 street price is around $2200. Even factoring in the outboard conversion (I opted for the pricier Swissonic converters, but Frontier makes the eight-channel Tango A/D/A converter that's only $699 retail), you can put together a 16-channel 002 system for under $3000, depending on converters and clocking. For around $4500, you can even afford higher-end converters and clock. In contrast, an HD system with eight channels of 96k analog I/O and eight channels of ADAT digital I/O is almost $10,000 retail without a control surface. My only caveat on the 002 is that you'll only be able to get ten channels into or out of the box at 96k (providing you have the right outboard conversion). The ADAT mode doesn't work at 88.2/96k but the S/PDIF (either RCA or optical) does, which will get you two more channels of I/O at the higher sampling rates. My concern was to be able to overdub onto existing 96k tracks that clients brought into my studio, so this isn't an issue for me but might be for you. (Special thanks to audiomidi.com for supplying us with a review unit when Digidesign was unable to do so for these sessions and this issue's deadline.) (www.digidesign.com)