Music by Scott Martin

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CALIbrAt: An ADAT odyssey (part 1)

The beginning of a long evening

I still have a few Alesis ADAT recorders lying around.  In the mid-1990s we used these things relentlessly to record demos, album tracks, jams, and other random noises which shall go undescribed.

As a result of that use, I have a number of demos of old songs still on ADAT tapes.  Since I’ve recently lit a fire under myself to complete some of these songs and put them together in album form, I decided to try to dig up a few old demo tracks and transfer them to Pro Tools.

Why go through the hassle? Well, there are a few performances on those old recordings that I’d like to save and build on if I can.  It is unlikely to make things easy (I can already feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead as I try to match a new session tempo to an old ADAT track with no click), but the tracks I am thinking of have become so lodged in my mind that the songs wouldn’t be done without them.

So I hooked up the old ADAT and connected it to my Pro Tools rig. Apparently that was my first mistake.

I hadn’t used this particular unit for a long time.  Years, maybe.  It’s been here in my temperature-controlled, smoke-free studio, and I try to keep the cat hair out of it as much as possible.  So when I fired it up and saw a few funky messages flash across the display, I figured I would soldier on and see how things went.

Not so good, really.

I put a tape in and tried to play it.  I got a fun message: no good tc – the ADAT didn’t like the time code on the tape.  Sure, maybe the tape is all old and nasty.  I put in another and got the same message.  I fast forwarded and rewound the tape a bit and some time code magically showed up.  When I pressed ‘play’, though, the display read “ERROR 07“.

Thank goodness for the Inter Nets, man. I found the error codes in a forum post here, and realized I’d have to pop the top on the machine and give it a good cleaning. Even though I hadn’t used it for a while. Years, I think I said.

So: I popped the top and gave everything a good cleaning.  In the course of my searching, I had found an article here that explained the message I was seeing on power-up: “CAL brAC. Apparently the machine wanted its brakes checked, too.

Clean ADAT guts. The head is the big silver cylinder on the top left.

Fortunately the procedure for calibrating the brakes is outlined pretty well on the page.  I went through the steps with one tape, only to be stymied when the tape jumped its own internal reel and got tangled. I may have screamed “GODDAMMIT!” out loud.  Sorry about that.

I tried a second tape.  The routine went on for a few minutes, then just stopped.  The frozen display of the ADAT mocked me with its unceasing declaration: “CALIbrAt“.

To get it to stop I had to pull the plug (this is an ADAT XT-20, which has a soft rubber power switch, and which powers on as soon as the plug is inserted). When I reinserted the plug, a new message appeared after the “CAL brAC” message: “CAL P9“.

Oh, you SOB.

I ignored the second message and went through the calibration routine again.  Once again, the routine stopped in the middle and the black retina of the display continued to taunt me.  I gave it a good ten minutes to see if the calibration would start again.  I got more and more annoyed during that time that it wasn’t continuing. So I jammed my hand into the thing and mashed the tape around inside.

Amazingly the calibration routine chugged sluggishly back into motion. This is on a par with my friend Mike’s amazing engineering skill of being able to fix something by hurling it onto the floor.

A few minutes later, brake calibration was done and the machine insolently showed me “PASS” for a brief moment. Then it reminded me to “CAL P9” (which in ADAT parlance is actually “CAL PG“).

Another search later and I found the wacky procedure for calibrating the “pulse generator” (PG) that aligns timing between the head stack and the control track head.  Allegedly.  The only issue was that I couldn’t see any sticker on the inside back panel of the ADAT when I followed the instructions from that post.

So I popped the top again.  Apparently at some point Alesis stopped putting the sticker on the back panel and instead put it on the inside of the top cover.  Having found my special PG number, I went through the calibration steps and got it corrected.

There you are, you... *shakes fist*

The display still showed “CAL brAC” on startup, but I ignored it. The test tape played with no problems – no more “ERROR 7” and no more sunburst in the display that indicates error correction.  So I hooked up my optical cables and set up a PT session to transfer the audio.

When I started the session and hit play on the ADAT, I was greeted with massive digital noise with just a hint of audio.  I think my optical cables are fried.  I have new ones around here somewhere, but can’t seem to find them (of course).  So until I can determine if that’s the problem, this story will have to wait to be continued…