Takasaki Chiba interview - Engineer's eye

This is the first interview for our ‘Engineer's Eye' section where we will be looking at DDP from the point of view of the user and engineer. In this interview, Seigen Ono (SO) talks to Takaaki Chiba (TC) from ROCK ON PRO a DDP reseller, about his experience of DDP.

Please tell me about how you got to know about DDP. 

Takaaki Chiba(TC): I think it was right after DDP was introduced in Japan and Mr. Elvin Jasarevic came to ROCK ON PRO to make a presentation about DDP. I think it was 2010. 

At that presentation he showed me how to do punch in and out with 96kHz/96Tracks on Pro Tools and how to save projects and media directly to the DDP. Of course there were other SAN systems around at that time but there were no stable system like DDP using the LAN cable.

Seigen Ono(SO):At that time, and even now, engineers would generally use external FireWire drives which are very limited regarding the seek time, right? How many tracks can be played with 24bit/96kHz at that time?

TC:I think Digidesign (now Avid) supported only 16 tracks for 24bit/96kHz on Pro Tools 8 with 1 external FireWire drive!
However, what I was always thinking about was that there isn't any risk hedge. I always believed that there should be more attention paid to breaking disks used in recording in studios. Actually, sometimes I had some broken disks brought to ROCK ON PRO. While there were SAN systems around at that time, they were too expensive to be introduced. DDP was revolutionary because the price made it easier to be introduced and it is especially easy to operate. DDP is not as difficult as traditional SAN systems that can only be operated by professionals. All operations can be easily achieved by DDP's simple Graphical User Interface - GUI.

SO:I realized that because it is so easy and user-friendly, DPP can be handled in the same way as an external hard disk.

TC:Yes, once it's mounted, it works in the same way as a normal external hard disk, as real local drive. It took only 30 minutes for me to understand it and setting it up is not that difficult either. Since it's configured in RAID 5 it wouldn't be that critical even if one of the drives did fail and you don't have to worry about backing up all the time.

SO:It means that the data wouldn't be gone, thanks to RAID 5, and could be backed up slowly in the background. When working on an external drive, there is always a possibility that a hard disk can fail, which means there is no guarantee you won't lose data. Also, when working on 96kHz without considering the risk there is a limitation, such as 96kHz/16tracks with a single disk. However, I can't go with 48kHz even though it is convenient, since quality of the sound is extremely important for me. DDP solves these issues perfectly because I can keep working without worrying that there could be a problem on hard disk or system.

TC:Actually there are some people who tried this(with external drives for 96kHz). It would work sometimes but not always.
SO:That is the hardest part. It's just not acceptable for professionals when something usually works but all of the sudden it fails.
TC:That's right, that can't be happening in business use!

SO:Then DDP came out and solved the situation immediately with a more appropriate introduction price.
TC:It was very revolutionary. While making a budget for Pro Tools HD 3 system, the cost for the stable system (which is about same price for HD 3 system) was very reasonable.
SO:So, when you were looking for something stable Elvin introduced a DDP and in 30min you were able to operate. That's why you thought you should be a dealer for DDP?
TC:Yes. I was like “Wow! It's working. Amazing.

Chiba's Background
SO:Tell us a bit about your background?
TC:When I was young I used to be a guitar kid. Later on I became a guitar teacher at a college.
SO:What was your major?
TC:Engineering, and since it was mechanical engineering I didn't study computers or electricity.
SO:Why didn't you get a job in your mechanical engineering area? What made you become a guitar instructor?
TC:I even entered in a master course in the major... I studied mechanical engineering but I stopped studying after a year because I just wanted to play music. I was only into playing in a heavy metal band, copying Dream Theater.
SO:I guess your knowledge about materials and mechanical engineering helps when you work on materials, chassis or screws.
TC:It really helps. When you try to make something you have to think about design but also about strength. I can naturally understand what is the tensile strength of aluminum and steel.
SO:How about Vibration control?
TC:First of all you have to understand what is Laplace transform, which is taught in master courses. As you will have often heard, Fourier transform is the last thing to study when it comes to transform and Laplace transform is the one before Fourier. To study about Vibration control, you have to be able to use Laplace transform as a tool. I stopped studying there!

SO:Didn't you want to be a professional musician?
TC:Since my band broke up, I didn't think about becoming a professional musician. I just started making music by myself. I was just working part-time, and when I met a college teacher I became a guitar instructor at the college just by chance.
When I was teaching music arrangement, I taught about musical grammar and harmony.
SO:So you were also teaching composing and getting into sound and timbre?

TC:Yes. I wanted to help make an album for students and was using Digidesign 24MixPlus system. I was into recording and analogs and then I became a teacher of engineering. The college had proper facilities and we could try out many different things but I just wasn't satisfied with the recorded sound. I wasn't really happy about recordings of high hats or cymbals. Even though I put so much effort into microphone settings, the sound from the monitor speaker is very different from the sound in booth. Therefore I started making a microphone amplifier by myself.

SO:Did you use anything to learn from, as a reference?
TC:I referred to the series of articles written by Mr. Hatano in Sound Recording Magazine.
SO:Wow! This magazine had contributed so much, even a talented engineer like Mr. Chiba has been inspired by it. I would say Heavy Metal is another one which inspired you as well. This is a very rare case, even someone who graduated with a science major and got into some major listed companies doesn't get the chance to design this type of professional equipment. It's a great story that Sound Record magazine led you to begin making such an amazing amplifier.
TC:Yes. I studied by book and so on since then. I was more into making equipment at that time and then I quit teaching. When I was checking the Internet I found a job opportunity at a distribution company of API, the major manufacturer of studio consoles.
SO:An API reseller? Recently top recording studios abroad have been installing Vision and Euphonix, even though they have same outboard gears and speakers.
TC:There is very small demand in Japan.
SO:What were you doing at that time?
TC:I spent 5 years working there and I enjoyed taking on repair work for any kind of vintage equipment. For example there was a tube microphone pre-amp from Telefunken V series, the shape looked like 414 but the logo was Philips. I even was fixing Neve 1073 all by myself!

SO : And of course API too. What else were you dealing with?

TC : Yes, I was also dealing with ULTRASONE and Lake Technology (Dolby Lake). The performance of the channel divider was great.

SO:Were you making microphone pre-amps at the time?

TC:Yes. At that time it was gradually starting to sell. Since the company stopped importing API, ROCK ON PRO asked me to join and I decided to; it was a great opportunity to join ROCK ON PRO because they were the dealer for Apple and Digidesign, and I could visit clients as well.
SO:So you're working as a support engineer at ROCK ON PRO?

TC:I would make an on-site visit when anything happened as ROCK ON PRO has a product support plan. It's like outsourcing the maintenance and tech department.
SO:It's getting hard for studios themselves to manage tech departments. Technicians are really necessary for the studios, but those studios who can't keep hiring technicians as full time employees (and even as executives) are closing.
TC:Yes. As a result, ROCK ON PRO has been chosen as an outsourcing company. We have good reputation.
SO:I am sure it does, because ROCK ON PRO have an API engineer!
TC:If it's necessary, I could fix analogs... almost anything, including microphones.
SO:I know that ROCK ON PRO has been working with SONA too.
TC:Yes, I am enjoying my current work visiting outside clients and I am so excited today because of visiting your studio!
SO:Why don't you explain about today's main theme;Sym・Proceed Microphone preamplifier SP-MP4?
TC:There was a plan for selling my pre-amplifier when I joined to ROCK ON PRO.
SO:You thought you could have your own brand in a different line-up.
TC:Yes. I always wanted to make an AD converter. This microphone pre-amplifier has that feature. While dealing with Genex and DSD I wanted to achieve 192kHz in a single AES connection and this microphone pre-amp has the all features implemented. The mic pre itself is the same as I originally made before and the circuit of the mic pre is 100% original. I checked the sound with different components while listening carefully to the low pass filter of the AD.

SO:How about low cutting?
TC:It's a little bit too low. I set up 80. Generally it would be much higher, but it can reduce the painful part. Also, I've never heard any negative comments if it's set too low.
SO:It's a 4-channel unit.

TC:Yes, but the 1U 2channel unit is in a plan. Also, there will be no difference between 2 and 4-channel units and the power unit can be fitted into both of the models.
SO:Do you have any competition for the unit?
TC:I don't think there are any which use 4-channel analog preamplifiers with AD and DSD which can reproduce the original sound so accurately. It might be Millennia when comparing analog parts.
SO:What are you aiming for?
TC: I wanted to reproduce the sound just as it's played so that even cymbals or high hat sound as if they are played right in front of you. I am very satisfied with that part. Those use components that are very expensive which no other manufactures are using. This microphone pre-amp can reproduce the sound in the exact same way as musicians are feeling it and it means that the mic pre has very high transient character and realism. Since it can apply to DSD and AES5 etc. the specification will help innovation in real work scenarios.
SO:What will be the next step?

TC:I can't talk details but at Inter BEE we might be able to introduce a product that could apply to your expectations. It might be introduced without lowering specification of MP4 but have internal 2-channel power supply unit and an inexpensive price. Please come and see at Inter Bee Media Integration Booth.

What is the advantage of DDP?

SO:Tell me about the advantage of DDP from your point of view.

TC:The most important thing is that DDP can be easily introduced to any facility. It can be accommodated realistically, independent of the budget, because of the many variations of the product lineup.

It can also be selected with different numbers of hard disks inside of a chassis. For example, a chassis for 24 hard disks can be populated with 16 hard disks inside at the beginning and later on 8 more disks can be added. More over there is a expand chassis called DDP16EX which can be connected to main chassis when even more disk access speed is required. This is very flexible way for a wide variety of businesses.

The great thing about DDP is that customers can set it up and operate it by themselves. I am saying that it works perfectly in major audio, video and broadcast.

One of our clients, POLYGON PICTURES Inc., which is the largest CG (Computer Graphic) production company in Japan, had been using a standalone DDP without any trouble for almost 2 years and recently they expanded the system with DDP16EX and the system has been operating normally.

I thought it was really challenging when another client asked to record a live concert of Keisuke Kuwata's band at Yokohama arena for New Years Eve with 96kHz/96tracks. This was the first time ever for someone to do this in Japan and Tamco wanted to have a system that can handle it.

On the day of the live show a DDP24SSD was brought and set in a mobile relay van and the two day's live recordings were successfully completed. In addition to the live recording, what was great about it was that the user could copy previously recorded data while recording the live show at the same time. The data can be more than 300GB for one live show and normally this data had to be copied to a FireWire drive after the show. Since it can be copied while recording with the system, it can minimize working hours significantly. Of course, the system doesn't stop while recording with 96kHz/96tracks.

SO:What you are saying is that it can copy data from DDP to separate Firewire drives one after another while recording on to DDP at the same time!?

TC:Yes. The story will be introduced in the next ProSound magazine. Since the case was successfully completed and the customer and the artist were really satisfied they will use the system for the whole Japan tour this year. 

SO:That means the system is very stable.
TC:Yes. The client and the artist are really happy with the system.

Since this is the first interview I would really like to mention how the advance verification is important. It is very important to know the workflow of the client as much as possible and to try to use demo machines in advance because there could be issues that are nothing to do with DDP, which could be related to network problem etc.

SO:I think that should be known; this is a high quality product.
TC:Yes. I really think so too. The thing is that servers are known in broadcasting or film industries so numbers of installations are growing gradually. I think in the music industry servers might be considered as being in a different league but it's just a matter of time.
SO:Some people might think the sound is worse because of digitalization. People have started to dig into hard disk, but some people assume that network is not audio. I think there is a kind of logic, but people are some are not good at the word ‘digital'.
TC:Some people could still think that way but I can just show them playback data from internal drive and DDP, invert phase from one of them, and then sound would completely disappear. This way, everyone would understand they are the same. I think some people are still too tolerant for risk hedging. I hope more clients will come to our seminars. We will keep on educating them, including with our  ROCK ON Proceed magazine.
SO:That's it. While switching ABX, of course since delta is zero it should be perfectly the same as the original sound. By the way I think the ROCK ON Proceed magazine and seminars are great.
TC:I think it is great when top professionals from the audio industry come to our seminars.

SO:Last word please?
TC: I recommend that it's best to try my pre-amps and DDP at first. The important thing is to consider the risk, because we are working as professionals! If you think that way you can't even consider working without server systems these days. I never recommend anything which wouldn't work because I'm just not interested in it.

Again, it's very important that when you install the enterprise system you know that it will have to improve your future business very quickly. DDP is not just a simple server storage, but the main hub for workflow in many various solutions.

SO:We have to keep our eye on this great product!