Some devices have a front panel that demands attention. Such is the Kowa PX-10 flash memory audio player. This box simply belongs in the studio; but is the PX-10 more than just eye candy for the control room?
You will immediately notice a lack of whirring from this machine; but there is more to this design than the absence of a hard drive and its accompanying noise. Flash-type media is arguably the optimal method for non-linear-based storage. Here, it dramatically increases the PX-10's flexibility and power by allowing completely independent media setups and off-site redundancy. Each user can tailor media and set up parameters to meet his own needs. Afternoon drive can have some independence from the morning show. How much is that worth?
Performance at a glance
USB and Compact Flash media
Six pages of 50 quick keys for direct playback
On the back panel are the ac input, power switch, outputs and secondary USB port. It is not independently selectable over the front panel USB, which will automatically take priority when valid media is inserted. Outputs include analog balanced output via XLR (pin 2 hot) and AES-3 digital output via XLR, and S/PDIF IEC958 Type II digital output via RCA. A headphone output is also available. The Compact Flash (CF) slot is located on the right side of the device.
The slanted front panel of the PX-10 is where all the magic is. There are five rows of 10 backlit buttons labeled one through 50 for direct audio playback. Users of other instant playback devices will find the layout somewhat familiar. To the right of that are the transport, page and editing controls, including a small jog wheel and headphone volume control. Above is a 320×32 FLD display and recessed USB slot.
While setting up the flash drives is almost as easy as dragging and dropping, it does require the included PX-10 SW software to accomplish the task. It is not possible to create or prepare the media through conventional means or other software utilities. Nor is it possible to prepare or load media via the unit itself. Still the PX-10 can playback both lossless 16-bit WAV and MP3 files. The sample rate can be either 44.1kHz or 48kHz; however, differing format types cannot be assigned on the same page.
The work begins
After installing the Windows-only software, you are ready to drag and drop files onto a window that represents the PX-10 and its playback buttons. Complete setups can be stored either locally or to external media. The setup information includes all playlist, media and settings needed. Transferring setups to USB or CF media is done by selecting “store” from the menu.
Once the media is prepared, playback operations are simple and intuitive. The user can select between USB or CF media. The PX-10 will take approximately 15-30 seconds to read prepared media when it is first inserted. Switching from USB to CF is about the same. Jumping between pages requires about 5-10 seconds, so the layout of the media on each of the six pages should factor this delay.
There are a few items that can be edited on the PX-10 itself. These include the playback head, tail, fade-in, fade-out and level. The fluorescent display contains a good amount of useful information (especially for its size) and is very instinctive. During playback, the display provides all of the following: L/R metering, lapsed or remaining time, graphic timeline (indicating file length, head, tail and fade in/out), and playback/standby cut title.
A few odds and ends on the PX-10: GPI start is available through a single connection on the back panel. This feature functions as a remote play switch and is not mappable to other hotkeys. Using playlists, a user can place the PX-10 in an endless playback state. Loop mode is available for direct cuts as well. Standby versus playback is indicated by the green and red bi-color state of the 50 hotkeys (frustrating color-blind users).The loop mode does not crossfade the beginning over the ending, so fade in and out points must be removed and the loop point set precisely to prevent typical audible looping artifacts. The PX-10 SW can provide very useful (though somewhat dot-matrix like) printouts of the setups and cut location.
At this time, both USB and CF media is limited to 2GB capacity. But the ability to have six pages of 50 directly accessible cuts is probably more than a user can remember anyway. And though this limitation may someday increase (through design change or firmware upgrade), it doesn't seem likely to be much of an issue.
One note to keep in mind is the PX-10 is a player only — recording is not possible with this device. Also, there are no Ethernet or networking capabilities in the PX-10. However, the lack of hard drive or internal storage all but negates this need.
During my testing of the PX-10, I experienced a couple issues. First, the PX-10 SW can provide some cryptic dialog boxes when attempting to load incompatible formats.
I also experienced an issue with certain MP3 cuts not playing properly. After contacting Kowa, it was determined to be an issue with the PX-10's (firmware v1.02) interpretation of certain ID3 tags. I received a firmware update (v1.03) from the design team at Kowa. It took less than 15 minutes and fully resolved the issue.
The Kowa PX-10 is an excellent advancement in the world of quick-key playback. It is a solid machine whose form and function belong in the studio. The flexibility, redundancy, and noise free ambience provided by common inexpensive USB and Compact Flash media give the PX-10 a significant advantage over its competition.
Israel is president and CEO of Short Circuit Electronics,producer/engineer of First Run Productions, and executive producer of the Chiefs Radio Network,Kansas City, MO.
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