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Gear Review

Alesis Masterlink ML-9600 Master Disk Recorder

4 out of 5 mics

This unit has been invaluable to me for the past year and a half or so. I've recorded many live performances on it, which have been used as podcasts. My live to 2-track rig consists of the Trident S20 preamp, a Focusrite MixMaster, and the Alesis Masterlink. I've mastered these live performances along with many studio produced songs using the Masterlink. I must say that the Masterlink is one hell of a tool.

The Masterlink can record at sample rates of 44.1k, 48k, 88.2k, and 96k. Further, it can record at Word Lengths of 16-bit, 20-bit, and 24-bit.

With settings of 88.2k or 96k, at 24-bit word length, this unit captures virtually every nuance of every performance.

The Masterlink can create cd's in two formats: Red Book Standard and CD24. Red Book is the industry standard for commercial audio cd's and the audio on the cd is at a resolution of 44.1k, 16-bit. CD24 cd's can contain audio data at resolutions up to 96k, 24-bit. CD-24 cd's can be read by Mac, Windows, and Unix operating systems, but cannot be read by standalone or consumer cd players.

Some of the Masterlink's features are: - 24-bit A/D and D/A converters - Balanced XLR and RCA analog connectors - Balanced XLR and Coaxial digital connections - Track Fade In/Out - Track Level/Gain adjustment - Compression - Parametric EQ - Peak Limiter - Normalizer

The Compression is single-band, with controls for Threshold, Ratio, Make-Up Gain, Attack, Release, Soft/Hard Knee, and RMS or Peak Detect. Threshold range is from 0dBFS to -65dbFS. Ratio range is 1:1 to 20:1. Make-up Gain range is 0dB to +65dB.

The Parametric EQ in the Masterlink is a three-band equalizer - Each frequency band can be adjust from 20.22Hz to 22.22kHz - Each band can be adjusted from -18dB to +18dB in.25dB steps - The Q parameter determines the width of the filter

The Peak Limiter is a "look-ahead" limiter. It can look ahead in the digital information to see audio level peaks. The Look-Ahead Peak Limiter applies make-up gain automatically. Also, the limiter's final output level can be fixed as a function of full-scale. - Threshold is adjustable from 0dBFS to -65dBFS - Output Level is is adjustable from 0dBFS to -65dBFS in 0.1dBFS increments

The Normalizer scans the track for the highest Peak, adjusts that peak so that it is equal to full-scale, and brings the entire track level up at that same ratio.

The DSP in thie Masterlink is top-notch. I've never noticed any artifacts added by processing. All parameters are easily dialed up on the well labelled face-panel.

I do have one major gripe with the ML-9600. It is not possible to process Left and Right channels seperately. All gain change, compression, EQ, etc. are applied to both channels. I feel this is a shortcoming that should not have been overlooked. It is extremely common ((indeed almost necessary)) to process Left and Right channels in a two-track mastering situation.

A lesser complaint is in regards to the compression. I feel that single-band compression in a mastering unit is insufficient much of the time. Three-band compression would make this unit virtually unbeatable.

But overall, at this price point, the Masterlink is a terrific peice of gear. It's a rugged box, with an attractive, simple design. The LCD display is easy to read and not annoying. The headphone jack is an indispensable feature, for live recording in particular.

The Masterlink has been an industry standard for quite a few years now, and deservedly so.