iZ Technology Corporation iZ RADAR Studio Frame w/o Touch or Transport by Arthur Stone
A few years ago I started remote projects with a RADAR-equipped studio and was impressed with the quality of the sound and workflow. RADAR was prohibitively expensive for my home studio but in 2014 iZ released the RADAR Studio and I could afford one...just.
iZ RADAR Studio is a standalone recording system: a custom-tuned computer with up to 24 channels of AD/DA or digital I/O (and digitally-linkable to external RADAR or 3rd party converters for more channels). Connect the I/O (via DSub) to a mixer or monitor controller and it's ready to record in tape-inspired RADAR mode or into your DAW.
RADAR Studio also integrates as part of an existing software or hardware studio; a range of I/O options, hardware options and accessories are available for specific applications and budgets.
RADAR (an acronym) stands for 'Random Access Digital Audio Recorder.' iZ conversion is amongst the very best available and RADAR's 'sound' has long been recognised and utilised in a range of professional applications. The 'Studio' differs from previous RADAR hardware recorders as it dual-boots to run DAW's (and other PC functions); also the 'Studio' is significantly quieter and more-affordable.
My review is based from the home-studio perspective; I purchased the entry level version of RADAR Studio around 8 months ago; I've also been making vlog about integrating RADAR Studio into my existing studio: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCky...yngdQwFnbAPzVQ
The 'Studio' came well-packaged: a rack-mountable 4u computer case. On the front: an LED power button, 2 removable disk bays (one populated with a solid-state drive) and 2 USB3 ports on front. The rear panel has the IEC (auto-set) power socket, computer I/O (USB3 and 2; keyboard; VGA; HDMI; DVI; ethernet; etc.) All parts and connectors are high-quality and the black case is aesthetically-pleasing with the iZ RADAR logo in white. This is the entry-level fascia; options include a touchscreen display and transport controls; another option is to populate all 4 removable drive bays.
Also included: a mains power cable, a RADAR-branded computer keyboard, a USB3 to SDD adapter, and documentation. I started with the 'budget' option: no front panel display or transport controls and just one 8-channel Classic 96 analogue IO card installed.
The power supply automatically adjusts to region, so I connected the rack unit to a display monitor, attached the computer keyboard, and connected the IO from the Classic 96 card to an RME XLR breakout box using DSub cables. Ready to roll. I powered up and was ready to work in RADAR mode; I connected to the internet using the ethernet port and downloaded/installed Reason and Harrison Mixbus. I could now operate DAW's through RADAR conversion.
Later I added a touchscreen monitor and another Classic 96 card for 16 analogue IO with room to add one more 8-channel card. It is possible to add more channels using digital cards and external converters (RADAR or 3rd -party); this is good for anyone wanting to integrate their existing converters into a RADAR system.
Currently I'm running latest versions of Propellerhead Reason and Harrison Mixbus in the DAW mode; this operates as a custom-tuned PC with direct I/O to the RADAR converters from the DAW software. Most of the major DAW's will work in the Studio.
In RADAR mode the channel count is dependent on the number of 8-channel cards installed. The cards are automatically recognised by the software. The workflow and controls for RADAR mode are similar to a tape machine; you have 8, 16 or 24 tracks and you can move, copy, edit, cut, etc. as one could with tape. Being digital it allows for deeper editing and manipulation than tape and it's possible to do all the utility tasks needed; plus 1-99 undos!
So part of the fun of RADAR mode is the slightly different mindset needed to get the best out of it; the perceived limitations of 24 tracks and basic editing are actually inspiring. So many of the great recordings were made using limited facilities by today's standards and this is the audio landscape that RADAR mode reveals. More creative Beatles than a stretched-out megamix.
If a megamix is needed it's easy enough to export the RADAR mode files as audio and open in a DAW for deeper editing, adding digital processing, etc. or into hardware via send-returns. Or, start the project in the DAW.
Sonically, RADAR mode does have a 'tape-like' quality...not in the sense of a harmonic effect (tape FX) but in reproducing sound with timbre and a sense of presence that adds plausibility to the mix soundstage.
RADAR Studio just sits under my desk; it is unobtrusive physically and it feels a layer of complexity has been removed from music-making. The sound is absolutely stunning: clear, warm, detailed, euphoric, great naturalistic soundstage and excellent definition and separation of sources.
The 4u case fits nicely in a studio rack; best located under a desk to minimise any noise. RADAR Studio also makes for a nice mobile rig: fit into a deep rack case; add a monitor controller/headphones, touchscreen display and mic/preamp/DI's = up to 24 channels of mobile recording. I also like the option of being able to add channels digitally via AES and TDIF; if required I can purchase more RADAR or 3rd-party converters.
The latency in RADAR mode is 1.7ms round trip (D/A to A/D) at 48kHz; in Propellerhead Reason it's 1-1.5ms and in Harrison Mixbus it's 13ms (with a 10ms buffer). These are covered in videos 17-18.
It's an incredibly fast time in both Reason and RADAR mode but I don't think I could replicate with just another powerful PC...IMO it has a lot to do with the iZ Adrenaline bespoke ASIO drivers and the internal components and wiring.
In terms of CPU the Studio is mighty; I've not scientifically benchmarked the system but in video 10 I have around 40 audio tracks running ITB with many plug-ins and no pops crackles, etc. and plenty of horsepower to spare.
The Studio functions as a regular computer too: surf the net, run other non-audio programmes, etc. without the bloatware which iZ have removed. The Studio powers up quickly: ready to record in 30 secs.
If I were being really super-critical, the potential downsides are: price and fan 'noise'. That's it.
The price definitely reflects the product and comparable to high-end converters and computer; the value equation improves with each card added, no need for extra cables, power supplies/plugs and rack units. The big plus of this approach is that all internal connections are optimised for audio quality; impedance matched and double-shielded.
To get the best out of RADAR Studio hardware will be needed (yes it's another cruel mistress). It's perfectly possible to work ITB in DAW mode with a simple monitor out but connecting to a mixer or summing amp will make the most of the goodness available. There is a cornucopia of possibility on offer: from a vintage console to the modest DAV Mix Amp I chose; ditto fx, mixbus and group outboard. RADAR mode does not currently run plug-ins so some gates might be useful; oh, you'll need some preamps too and a monitor controller. Many potential RADAR users will already own these items but honestly is 'having to buy a compressor, etc.' a problem for a Gearslut? Having to buy new gear is not the end-of-the-world and I'm really enjoying the hybrid ITB/OTB workflow and sonic results.
The fan noise isn't really an issue; more me being super-critical. I live in a very quiet environment and I can hear the Studio at night. Not loud but there. In practice it hasn't affected my recording or mixing...in fact it can only be heard when the room is totally silent. I've become used to the sound by now and it's no louder than my other (quiet) PC; I think I was just more aware of the noise when it was new. For me, it would be an issue with the unit racked at head-waist height within 4 foot distance.
In fairness to the Studio it is a vast improvement on previous models which needed to be kept in a machine room or distant. Anyway I'm being super-critical here and I've not had problems with recording so I can live with it given that it's a performance machine.
RADAR mode is quite fussy about what SSD or USB thumb drive is plugged in; (iZ do have recommended products which have been tested specifically for use).
So it's a first-class digital audio recorder that also runs DAW''s; it's solid, easy to use, and also has great support.
I'd recommend RADAR Studio to anyone who wants the best audio quality, or wanting to upgrade or incorporate existing conversion; or for a serious starter who wants to build up a first-class system gradually. I can see that this would be good for ProTools users with the integrated cards and the ability to use an Apple keyboard and key commands would make a switch to PC easier.
From my perspective it makes sense to adopt a system that is purpose-designed and built to last using the best materials. Another plus is the ongoing support and development from iZ; they have a 20 year history of great products and service – they've been fast, helpful and courteous in resolving any issues or questions I've had.
I rated the RADAR Studio as 5 in each category: superb audio quality in representation of sources in a soundstage; easy to use/great workflow; all features needed for music-making in one box; and, great value considering the above and the ongoing support of iZ.
The best compliment I can give RADAR Studio is that I forget it's there sitting under the desk; it's so well-designed that it disappears into the workflow, like a layer of complexity removed. Just great audio.
**DISCLAIMER: ** As an early-adopter of RADAR Studio I've been giving feedback and suggestions for the future of the product and I've also been beta-testing the software; I'm not employed by iZ and claim no credit for the Studio. Similarly the video series is completely my own initiative and independent of iZ. I just enjoy doing it.
The review is mostly positive and that's because it's been a positive experience. I've written a load of GS reviews and always given my honest opinion.