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Akai DPS16 Digital Personal Studio

The DPS16 is one of the world's first true 24-bit/96 kHz hard-disk recorder-mixers, and I'm happy to say that Akai did it right. The DPS16 ($2,795) sounds excellent, and is affordable and user friendly.

The DPS16 is one of the world’s first true 24-bit/96 kHz hard-disk recorder-mixers, and I’m happy to say that Akai did it right. The DPS16 ($2,795) sounds excellent, and is affordable and user friendly.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: 16-fader, 26-channel digital mixer; EIDE hard disk recorder with 16 tracks, 250 virtual tracks; up to 24-bit, 96 kHz operation; SCSI port for external storage devices

Price: $2,795

Contact: Akai at 800-433-5627 817-831-9203; Web Site

Built into one portable chassis are a 16-fader, 26-channel digital mixer and a 20 GB internal EIDE hard-drive multitrack recorder. This recorder/mixer combo provides 16 tracks and 250 virtual tracks, and 52 effects with a 56-bit wide path. Depending on the sample rate and resolution, the DPS16 records up to 10 tracks simultaneously, and plays up to 16 tracks simultaneously. Any input can be patched to any track. During mixdown, you can mix 16 hard-disk tracks with up to 10 “live” inputs from external MIDI sound modules.

Recording formats are uncompressed 16-bit or 24-bit, at 32, 44.1, 48 or 96 kHz sampling rates. Recording time is 1 hour, 44 minutes with 24-bit/96 kHz on six tracks, and 2 hours, 2 minutes with a 44.1 kHz 16-track recording. Six SCSI devices can be connected for more recording or backup time.

The 56-bit EQ in the DSP16 is three-band sweepable, up to +/-12 dB range. (If you need +/-18 dB range, use the built-in digital EQ effect.) Midband EQ has adjustable bandwidth.

The DPS16 will sync to external MIDI devices using MIDI Clock with Song Position Pointer (SPP) as a master, or MIDI Time Code (MTC) as master or slave. The MIDI Machine Control (MMC) feature controls the transport and record-track selection from an external device.

Akai offers a companion product, the DPS16 MESA, which is remote control software for PC. With it, you can control all the parameters of recording, playback, system setup and mixing from a computer. DPS16 MESA also records mixer automation and saves the automation files on your computer’s hard drive. DPS16 MESA also allows you to graphically edit your automation data.

The DPS16 has eight inputs for balanced/unbalanced signals, micro-phone or line level. Input connectors 1 and 2 are stereo phone/XLR combo jacks with switchable phantom power. Inputs 3-8 are stereo phone jacks. Input 8 can be switched to high Z for guitars or low Z for microphones.

As for outputs, stereo monitor out and stereo main out use unbalanced RCA jacks. There are S/PDIF connectors for digital I/O, as well as MIDI in/out/thru. A SCSI port and four phone-jack aux sends round out the package.

In use

When I opened the shipping carton, I was impressed with the solidity and heft of the DPS16. Its faders and switches have a smooth, sure feel and the control layout is clean.

Upon powering up, I was greeted by a photo of the DPS16 on the large, bright LCD screen that can be tilted to your angle of vision and has adjustable contrast. To become familiar with the unit, I first played with the included 16-track demo recording.

When I was ready to record something, Akai’s Quick Start notes were a big help. First I set up the project, giving it a name, sampling rate and bit depth.

I wanted to record a song starting with an electric guitar. I plugged in the guitar, set its level, enabled Track 8 Record Select and hit Record. It worked the first time.

By pressing Go To and Rewind I could jump instantly to the start of the recording. The DPS16 also includes 100 locate points you can reach at the touch of a button.

Time to overdub a bass guitar. I wanted to patch input 8 to track 7. Looking over the mixer, I found a button called Patch. Onscreen instructions told me how to connect any input to any track – a great user interface.

I set the bass trim level, unselected track 8 and selected track 7 Record. When I pressed Record, I heard the track-8 guitar playing along with my live bass. After several more passes, I had a song recorded on disk and was ready for mixdown.

Each track needed some EQ, and that was easy to find as well. Next to the LCD screen are six Q-Link knobs. When you turn them, they adjust onscreen virtual knobs. I selected a track and turned the Q-link knobs to get the EQ I desired on that track, in real time. The feel was a lot like adjusting an analog mixer. The Q-link knobs are also used to set aux send levels and effect parameters. The EQ sounded excellent.

I was now ready to add effects. I selected a track and pressed the Effects button. Four effects are available simultaneously. With a little more button pushing and jog-wheel turning, I accessed all 52 effects, including reverb, delay, chorus, flanging, distortion, enhancer, rotary speaker, compression/limiting and autopan. There is also real-time vocal pitch correction – a feature not usually found in similar products. Each effect is adjustable, and each can be customized and saved. Another screen sets the four send levels.

The effects sounded good; some better than others. Effects can be pre-fader, post-fader or inserted. Fine-tuning the reverb parameters made a big difference in the quality of the reverb.

You can use up to four external effects with the DPS16. Connect the auxiliary sends to the processors and return the processed output to channel inputs.

The Akai DPS16 is intuitive and easy to use. I was able to complete a mix with balances, panning, EQ and effects in less than hour after opening the box – and without opening the manual!

To go beyond these basic functions, you do need to crack open the manual. For the most part, it is clearly written, and if you follow the procedures you can do almost anything imaginable. You can, for example, save snapshots or scenes of mixer settings. You cannot recall these scenes as a mix is playing, so it does not work for automation; a MIDI sequencer, or DPS16 MESA is needed for that.

The DPS16 will back up to external SCSI hard disk, CD-R, CD-RW, DAT, MO, Jaz or Zip Drives. Backing up and restoring take several steps to set up everything properly. You can master your mixes directly to CD-R.

How easily does the DPS16 do editing? Suppose you want to remove the count-off from a song. Go to the beginning of the song and press Memory, In. Play the recording to the end of the count-off, then press Memory, Out. You’ve just selected a region to edit. Then press the Edit button. Choose which edit mode you want, such as copy and insert, cut and discard, or cut and move. In this case, choose the latter. When you hit Play, the count-off will be gone. You can see the waveform of the audio onscreen and zoom in for tight edits. If you don’t like the edit, simply press Undo.

Up to 250 virtual tracks are available for alternate takes. Some fancy button pushing lets you select the best takes for mixdown.

The V2.0 Operating System upgrade for the DPS16 adds many new features: stereo four-band compressor/expander for mastering, normalize function, track-level change, disk-at-once CD burning, WAV file import/export, realtime vocal pitch corrector enhancements, and more.


The Akai DPS16 is an outstanding value. It sounds great and is intuitive to use. I give it a standing ovation.