- by George Petersen
in Road Tests
Once upon a time, live recording was a real pain. In the old days, it involved dragging a recorder or rack of ADATs/DA-88s to the FOH position and connecting them via console direct outs. I can even recall shows where large reel-to-reel digital machines (typically a Sony PCM-24 or PCM-48) would be lugged up to sit next to the house console. The alternative was to call a remote recording truck/van, determine the pecking order of analog splitting and then let that crew handle the details.
These days, more often than not, there’s a digital feed (MADI, FireWire, etc.) patched into a laptop or routed to a pro disk-based recorder — such as a JoeCo BlackBox. And that method works great. But if you’re dealing with a small-format analog board and are on a really tight budget, you’re options were few indeed.
Enter the Cymatic Audio LR-16
With that in mind, Cymatic Audio offers the LR-16, a 16-track digital recording interface that connects to your mixer’s analog insert points, converts that to 16 WAV files to be stored on external USB media — either hard disk or flash drive. Operation is easy and by reducing the interface and feature set to an absolute minimum, the LR-16 also comes in an a rock-bottom street pricing of $499.
To create a complete recording solution, you just need to add a USB hard drive of your choice and some 1/4-inch TRS cables to connect from your console’s insert jacks. The LR-16 can be set to operate with 16- or 24-bit resolution and either a 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rate. (Used as a direct-to-DAW or iPad interface, 16-channel 96 kHz recording is supported.) In the simple menu, the only other available recording adjustments are in/out -10dB input sensitivity pads that can be set individually on any track or globally with a couple keystrokes.
There are no input trims (these would come from your console preamps) and no record-track arming. When you press the single -button record key, all 16 of the tracks are enabled, even if you’re only recording from eight or 12 inputs. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this. First, it’s a capture recorder, not a full-on multi-track having overdubbing punch in/out capability. You can leave those functions to your DAW, once you’ve transferred the WAV files after the gig. Secondly, disk space is cheap and plentiful. At the LR-16’s maximum resolution (24-bit/48kHz), each GB of disk space gives you about eight minutes of recording, so a relatively compact 200 GB USB pocket drive yields some 1,600 minutes — more than 26 hours — of 16-track record time. And a 1 TB drive would provide five times that amount. And as you’re dealing with an external drive, there’s no load on/off time at the gig. Just grab the drive and you’re off to the races — or studio.
In The Field
Earlier, when I said operation was easy, I wasn’t kidding. Just plug it in, connect your hard drive (many are even bus-powerable) and hit the record button. The unit retains the last record settings it was used at, so if it was 24-bit/48 kHz at your last gig, it presets to that the next time you use it. The few settings come up on a small (approximately 3 by 1.5 inch) alphanumeric amber display, which gets the job done but is far from slick. If you were looking for a holographic 3-D color touch screen, this ain’t it. In the record window, there are also 16 small 3-segment (0/-3/-30 dB) signal present/peak indicators, that again, aren’t slick, but will offer an indication as to whether your console gain controls are set correctly. The display brightness/contrast can also be adjusted to taste and/or ambient lighting conditions.
The unit recorded without a glitch to a variety of USB hard disks, but was fairly spotty in terms of using flash drives, so I’d avoid these if at all possible. There is no track/session naming, or metadata storage of notes. Each recording you make is automatically placed in consecutive folders called “Take_01, Take_02, etc.,” with the 16 individual tracks in each called “chan_01.wav, chan_02.wav, etc.” No frills, but it works.
An onboard mix function is also provided, with control of volume/mute/solo/panning of each track and routed to the onboard headphone amp and/or rear panel stereo TRS output. The real function on this is provide a way to monitor/check recordings in the field, rather than do any mixing. The unit can also be used as a stereo playback unit, by copying WAV files (your walk music, for example) into a special “music” folder that’s created on your disk.
Ups and Downs
Given the simple nature of the LR-16, there are some drawbacks. There’s no digital I/O. Interfacing with console channels where the inserts are being used would require making a few simple adapters. The unit’s line inputs are unbalanced. And I’d definitely avoid using flash drives.
The construction is sturdy; popping the cover revealed a clean layout and individual A/D converters for each channel, which keeps crosstalk to a minimum. The sound quality was good overall, especially considering the price and the LR-16 interfaced perfectly with an Allen & Heath Zed 24 and a Mackie 1604 VLZ Pro.
Is this the ideal production recorder for everyone? No, yet neither is a full-on Pro Tools rig. On many smaller club/corporate/ H.O.W. gigs, I’d be a lot more comfortable leaving this set up than having my laptop sit unattended. As for the learning curve, any assistant or volunteer can learn its operation in a matter of seconds. For someone working with a small-format analog desk, the LR-16 is a simple, affordable solution that does the job and does it well. I like that.
At a Glance:
Cymatic Audio LR-16
An affordable, simple to use 16-channel recording interface that stores 16 WAV files directly to your USB hard disk, connecting via TRS insert points, adding live record capturing to most small format analog consoles.
Pros & Cons
PROS: Reasonably priced; easy to use; simple interfacing; doubles as a USB interface to DAWs.
CONS: Unbalanced analog inputs; no digital I/O; storage to flash drives is spotty.
PRICE: LR-16: $499/street