Digital Multitracker Review
ã 1998 by Eddie Ciletti
|MANUFACTURER: Fostex Corporation of America; 15431
Blackburn Ave. Norwalk, CA 90650. USA vox: 562-921-1112 fax:
562-802-1964 web: http://www.fostex.com
APPLICATION: Personal Digital Multitrack Recorder/Mixer
SUMMARY: 4-tracks, two sends and two stereo returns. The DB-25
SCSI-II port supports various media. Review unit tested with SyQuest ezFlyerä
230 MB removable media.
STRENGTHS: MIDI I/O, two auxiliary tracks for bounces, digital
patch bay, optical S/PDIF port, 2 XLR mic preamps.
WEAKNESSES: Access to pitch could me more conventional. Manual
should be converted to an HTML document and supplied on a CD-rom.
LIST PRICE: $599 without drive (internal 2.5 IDE drive optional
– factory installed)
The Syquest ezFlyerä drive available
for $149.95 through the dealer with one cartridge ($30). 10 cartridges
If my web camera were online right now you’d see one very fried geek.
Why? ‘Cause I’ve been up till 4am two-nights-in-a-row recording my latest
hit, "Get a Life." This is what happens when I review gear that requires
"content." If you’ve never owned a personal cassette multitrack, skip that
path altogether and buy the Fostex FD-4 Digital Multitracker. As a writing
tool, the FD-4 delivers amazing sonics for less than a third of the price
of the best analog cassette system.
The FD-4 delivered above and beyond my expectations (at this
price) by overcoming one "obstacle" that has long plagued anyone who’s
ever "bounced" tracks. Fostex removes the stress of creating sonic real
estate by providing three alternatives before "making a commitment." Songs
can be organized into separate folders so that each can be individually
backed-up to DAT. You can also take advantage of the built-in digital patch
bay, which can route any pair of tracks to the optical SP/DIF port. At
minimum, those rare and elusive magical performances can be exported and
preserved on a DAT.
Once "saved," up to four tracks can be mixed to the two "virtual" tracks
(along with "live" material). The virtual tracks can be swapped with any
of the four tracks (you have to do this in order to hear playback) and
you can easily toggle back and forth until being satisfied with the bounce
mix. (Virtual tracks can also be included in the back-up process.)
The FD-4 has three recording modes: Normal (DAC), Mastering Mode-1 (16-bit)
and Mastering Mode-2 (16-bit). ("DAC" stands for Digital Acoustic Coding,
a data compression algorithm.) Both Normal (32 kHz) and Mode-1 (44.1kHz)
allow four Real tracks and two virtual tracks (sample rates in parenthesis).
Mode-2 (44.1kHz) is four tracks only.
The "luxury" afforded by the FD-4 is its ability to take advantage of
various recording media. Almost any SCSI-II device is fair game from the
"traditional" external Hard-disc, to removable media including Zipä
(33min/17min), ezFlyerä (78min/42min) and
Magneto-Optical (MO) drives. (Recording time at 32kHz / 44.1kkHz sample
rates.) As a factory-installed option, an internal hard IDE drive makes
the FD-4 that much more portable.
The manual is otherwise very thorough, but an addendum was included
to detail how each mode affects the total available recording time and
media performance. In a nutshell, DAC mode will run on "slower" media such
as the Zipä drive because the data compression
and lower sample rate reduce the throughput requirements. Mode-1 is the
most demanding (6 tracks at 44.1kHz) while Mode-2 reduces overhead by dropping
the two virtual tracks. There’s a lot of technology in this box!
SY’s QUEST: HOW I WON THE WAR
A song was taking shape in my head at the same time I was doing a favor
for Kasim Sulton, the multi-talented, multi-tasking manipulator of the
bass and treble clefs. I enlisted his services to create a rhythm track
after laying out the changes on a regular stereo cassette deck. Two days
later Kasim returned with the FD-4, a smile and four tracks: stereo drums,
guitars and bass on tracks 1 and 2, plus two individual guitars on tracks
3 and 4.
Kasim recorded in the default 32 kHz "DAC" mode. I dumped the raw tracks
into my Soundscape workstation — to convert up to 44.1kHz — locking via
MIDI Time Code (MTC). The tracks were then backed up to DAT and the drive
was reformatted to 44.1kHz. It takes under six minutes to format the 230MB
SyQuest media after which there were 43 available "track" minutes. (Divided
by 4 tracks, that’s 10.75 "song" minutes.)
After sample-rate conversion, I made some arrangement changes, then
digitally dumped a mono mix from Soundscape to the FD-4 locking via MTC.
Sure, a workstation precludes the need for a "personal and portable" system,
but at the very least, interfacing the two was a valid test of the FD-4’s
functionality. In addition, a "clipboard" feature allows the user to "paste"
a bounce later in time after the original recording (rather than the traditional
method). While I did not test this feature, it is possible to keep all
the pieces if desired.