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The Whizzer
by Gaylor Design

Studio Sound JPG

Review by George Shilling
Studio Sound magazine December 2001

The command to play mix automation data on an SSL E or G Series console is inextricably linked with location commands. And a successful location operation is dependent on the desk receiving tach pulses, timecode and direction information from a multitrack recorder. In recent years, more and more projects have dispensed with the reel-to-reel multitrack, so the situation has occurred where an SSL user will have a blank reel of tape striped with timecode acting as the master machine in order to run computer, hard disk or MDM audio in conjunction with the SSL computer. This ludicrous situation results in the loss of much of the benefit of a tapeless system – one finds oneself waiting for the (blank) multitrack to rewind, instead of getting on with the business of mixing. As far as I am aware, the Whizzer is the only unit currently available specifically designed to tackle this problem: the expensive Motionworker is no longer available. SSL introduced a virtual machine solution for J Series desks, however this will not varispeed. The earliest Whizzer was developed by Brian Gaylor in about 1996 during his tenure as Technical Manager at London's Roundhouse Studios for the benefit of Atari 1040ST users. With ProTools and RADAR becoming more prevalent, the need for such a device is greater than ever.

The Whizzer is described as a 'Virtual Tape Machine', as its chief task is to fool the SSL computer into thinking that a real machine is attached. It comes as a 1U box, although behind the front panel the actual case is significantly narrower than 1U and the front to back depth fairly shallow. The front includes a number of latching and momentary toggles, plus some status LEDs. A 25 pin D-connector is wired to connect directly to the SSL's S29E connector found underneath the patchbay on SSL desks. Communication between the Whizzer and the SSL is handled via this connection: the SSL receives tach pulses and direction information, issues switch commands and receives back 24V tallies to light the appropriate SSL transport buttons in the centre section of the desk. A 24V external power supply is provided; Gaylor's maintenance background has led to such features as an either-polarity power input, and a thermal-reset internal fuse. A gold-plated balanced jack socket supplies linear timecode at –10dBu which is connected to the SSL's reader input and any device that chases timecode. Alternatively, the MIDI Out socket outputs MTC exactly the same as the LTC output, with a processor delay of only 4 microseconds. Default mode sends MMC Record keystrokes only and MTC. Full MMC commands are also available. All front panel toggles are wired to a 9-pin D-connector allowing the wiring of any switch to appear as a button on the centre section of the desk. There is a BNC for external video sync: the format is auto-detected when activated by the front panel toggle. The Whizzer can also then be used as a frame rate converter, as it will output a different frame rate from the incoming signal. Via the toggles, 25fps, 30fps and 30fps dropframe can be chosen, all of which are very accurate, running from a microprocessor governed by a crystal.

Setting up the unit is very straightforward: all front panel toggle switches are in their default position when switched down. On the SSL computer a new Master Tape Machine must be created, and a recommended list of parameters entered from the Whizzer manual. Within a couple of minutes I was up and 'whizzing' on a G+ desk at Roundhouse Studios. When locating, the Tach LED on the front of the Whizzer flashes as the virtual tape speeds up within seconds to an incredibly fast wind speed –approximately 100 times play speed. This speed is not reached instantly, some speeding up and slowing down occurs if direction is changed, giving the feel of a tape machine with incredibly responsive ballistics. Alternatively, with the Fast/Slow toggle set to Slow, the unit behaves more like a conventional tape machine, winding at approximately 15 times play speed. This is roughly comparable to a Studer multitrack, and enables old-fashioned 'to-ing and fro-ing' with the buttons to locate a spot. Furthermore, this 'normal' wind speed is also achievable in Fast mode by holding down either fast wind button. SSL locates were initially not very accurate when using the recommended settings, but I soon achieved times within 10 frames by setting Autolocate Type '2' rather than the recommended '3' on the SSL menu (The manual has now been updated). Burst mode plays 6 frames of timecode after a locate for the benefit of MDMs.

Varispeed range is about +/-30%. There is no visual indication, however exact settings can be achieved in a repeatable manner by referring to the manual and flicking the momentary Up/Down toggles the required number of times. For coarse adjustment these can be held to rapidly change the speed setting. In tests running LTC to a MOTU Timepiece with ProTools I was able to achieve over +/-8% varispeed before lock was lost.

SSL operators will love this box: it does exactly what it is supposed to, transparently and reliably. Bottom line? All SSL owners need one of these. Now!


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