Recently I found myself thinking about my old gear. I fondly recalled my Audio-Technica ATRMX-64 cassette-based four-track. Four tracks, six inputs and about 70 lb! Never mind the price tag of about $1,200 - in 1987 dollars! The cause of my reminiscing was a Fostex FD-8 multitrack hard disk recorder patiently awaiting my attention.
Product PointsApplications: Recording studio; project studio Key
Features: Three recording modes; built-in eight-channel mixer; 1/4" jacks
Contact: Fostex at 562-921-1112
+ Sounds good
+ Works with a variety of storage mediums
+ Flexible mixer
+ Compatible with ADAT and S/PDIF digital transfer protocol
- No phantom power
- Mastering mode uses those megabytes very quickly
The Score: Great all-in-one, easy-to-use recorder/mixer with a good sound to cost ratio.
The FD-8 combines an eight-channel analog mixer with an eight-track digital recorder. The standard FD-8 does not include an onboard hard drive, though it can be ordered with an internal 2.5" IDE drive. This is actually an advantage, since the user can decide what type and size storage medium to use. My review unit came with a SyQuest EZ Flyer removable hard drive unit.
Although SyQuest is no longer in business, it does not affect the functionality of the FD-8, which can work with a variety of storage formats, including: 250 MB Zip drives, magneto-optical (MO) drives or an external SCSI hard drive. The name of the game here is choice.
Another choice the FD-8 provides has to do with recording modes, two of which are available. Normal mode uses a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, but applies a form of data compression called ADAC to reduce the size of the stored files. Mastering mode is the alternative and it also samples at 44.1 kHz but uses traditional 16-bit linear coding without any data compression (same as CD format). A third mode is available for backup purposes.
The big difference in terms of the functionality of the two modes has to do with the amount of recording time available on any given storage device. The manual quotes available recording time as being 67 minutes per 100 MB in normal mode. The figure drops to 17 minutes per 100 MB in mastering mode. This amount of time is spread across the total amount of tracks used.
In both recording modes, a maximum of eight tracks can be recorded simultaneously, but this requires the use of the ADAT digital input. This means that an ADAT (or any ADAT-compatible soundcard or device) must be used as an analog front end. The FD-8 can record two tracks simultaneously using its onboard analog inputs. Another two tracks can be accessed simultaneously via the optical S/PDIF inputs, so that one could use a DAT machine (or any other device that has an optical S/PDIF output) to get another two tracks into the FD-8.
The FD-8 can also be used to transfer up to eight tracks of material to or from an ADAT. This feature makes it convenient for band members to work on their parts out of the studio. As an added bonus, if a great track were to be recorded while they were working on the FD-8, it could be digitally transferred back to the ADAT. Nice!
The FD-8 offers both MTC and ADAT sync modes, to keep everything locked up. While there are eight discrete tracks, there are another 16 virtual tracks that are actually available for alternate takes. A total of eight tracks can be accessed at any one time, but they can be any eight of the 24 available recordable tracks. There is also an onboard metronome that can be output on track eight.
The eight-channel mixer built into the Fostex is nice and quiet (105 dB dynamic range according to the spec sheet) and offers a pretty complete complement of controls. All channels offer a 55mm fader, a pan control, two auxiliary sends, an input selector switch and a three-band - high- (12 kHz) and low- (80 Hz) shelving with a sweepable (200 to 5,000 Hz) midrange - equalizer.
Channels 7 and 8 offer XLR inputs (sorry, no phantom power) with a three-position sensitivity switch that lets you use high-impedance sources as well. The mixer section also includes a fairly beefy headphone amp that let me get pretty good output from my high impedance AKG 240M headphones.
The mixer section has its inputs and outputs on 1/4" jacks, which makes interfacing to the rest of the world much easier than it would with RCA jacks. Separate stereo left/right monitor and output jacks are provided. In addition, one can also obtain digital output of a mix on the optical S/PDIF output.
The master section offers controls for the various functions of the transport and track enabling functions. It is also home to an adjustable contrast LCD that provides metering functions, time-related information, display of track arming, sampling rate, punch-in mode status and other general housekeeping functions.
Since the FD-8 has many capabilities for different track assignments and operations, as well as global parameters (such as variable pitch operation), the area under the LCD is ripe with multifunctional buttons.
Many of the operations of the FD-8 involve multiple button-pushing sequences that include holding down the shift key. I found that I needed the manual to access some of the more esoteric functions (naming songs, enabling the metronome and cutting-and-pasting tracks). The bright side is, once these sequences are learned it is fairly quick to work with the FD-8. The analog-style mixer is much easier to navigate than some of the FD-8's all-digital competition.
I used the FD-8 over the period of a few months and really found it to be a great box to have around. The mixer section sounds good with a variety of equipment ranging from synths to mics to guitars. Don't tell Fostex, but I found that I could get some really great raspy distorto-guitars and vocals by using either Channel 7 or 8 and setting the input gain for use on low-output devices and then overdriving the preamp stage.
The EQ can be used subtly to enhance a track or, more radically, to really suck out the mids (great for that death metal or industrial sound) or to get a squawky telephone-type sound by using extreme settings, rolling off all the low end and dialing in a peaky midrange.
The only real deficiency I found concerning the mixer section was no phantom power available on the XLR inputs. With the abundance of inexpensive, yet good-sounding condenser mics around today, I think that phantom power would have been a worthwhile addition. Still, it's nice to be able to just plug in something like a Shure 57 and not have to mess around with any adapters.
I bounced some tracks from a variety of sources (both analog and digital) and found that the FD-8 didn't do anything objectionable to the sound. This was using the unit in normal mode, as the majority of users will, I suspect, operate it. Mastering mode seemed to provide some additional clarity and resolution.
The FD-8 is really handy for working on remote tracks. Just for kicks, I recorded a couple of tracks in my studio, and then took the FD-8 to a large empty room at a local college and recorded a couple of passes of some really ambient backing vocals. Try that with a 2" 24-track! While I don't own any ADATs, the recorder's eight-track transfer capability makes it a natural for those people with partners or band members who do.
The Fostex FD-8 is one of the new breed of digital portable mixer/multitracks that has brought about the demise of the analog cassette-based units. The FD-8 may be the unit that hammers the last nail in the proverbial coffin! At a (street) price point of about $900, including a removable media hard drive, the hard disk recorder presents a compelling argument in favor of the all-in-one approach, combining good sonics and flexibility without the noise of analog-based units or the complexity and nonportability of computer-based systems.
With a careful reading (or two) of the manual, many options are available that put the FD-8 nearly on par with more expensive offerings. The FD-8 is an excellent tool for songwriters and musicians awho want a good sounding, easy-to-use recording solution.