(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Location, studio, studio
Key Features: Two-channel; battery powered; up to 24-bit, 192 kHz recording; phantom power; playback speaker; USB file transfer and optional SMPTE
Price: $1,299, $1,899 with timecode
Contact: Fostex at 310-329-2960, www.fostex.com.DAT was a transient format, right? Short of keeping one or two DAT machines around to handle what you already have on DAT, it's time to move on. There are a growing number of DAT replacements on the market. The Fostex FR-2 is one of them. Leveraging their experience and lessons learned with the PD2, PD4 and PD6, Fostex has advanced its line of stereo field recorders with the FR-2.
The FR-2 uses Type II CompactFlash cards and Flash ATA card micro drives; Toshiba MK5002MPL, Simpletech STI-HD1.8/5 and the Kingston DP-PCM2/5GB, to be specific. The FR-2 supports the FAT32 files system, using BWF files in interleave file mode. A maximum file size of 2 GB or 4 GB can be selected during setup.
The FR-2 is powered by eight AA cells, the optional AD12-1300 AC adapter or by an external 12 VDC supply. Alkaline, Ni-Cad and Ni-MH batteries are acceptable, but not manganese. Battery swapping must be done with the FR-2 powered down or data may be lost. The battery compartment is on the back of the FR-2. Not an ideal place if you have it in a bag.
The FR-2 indicates battery life on the main LCD panel and generates an error tone when the voltage level drops below threshold. Expect about an hour and a half using alkalines. Changing eight AA batteries every 90 minutes makes me think an external NP-1 is the way to go, but I'm not sure the FR-2 is smart enough to know the mA/hr capacity of an NP-1. Although the power supply plug is of right angle design with a small keeper flange under which the cord may be secured, I'd also like to see a slightly beefier DC jack on the FR-2 itself.
The power jack is on the FR-2's left side. That's also where you'll find the card slot for the optional SMPTE card that uses RCA jacks and has a green LED that blinks to indicate operation. If you want the SMPTE option, buy an FR-2 with the card already installed. At last word, installing the card has to be done by Fostex.
There are two USB ports; the "PC only" port (Yes, the FR-2 works with OS X Macs too.) is for transferring files. There's also a keyboard USB port that makes re-naming files a lot more convenient. Finally, there's a digital I/O comprised of a male and female XLR. In the menu, you can choose AES/EBU or S/PDIF.
Moving on to the top controls, the FR-2 supports a wide variety of sample and bit rates that are selectable by hardwired switches on the top of the unit. Sampling rates include: 22.05 kHz, 44.1, kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz. Bit rates are 16 and 24-bit.
Other top-mounted controls include: mono/stereo: prerecord; a six or 10 second pre-record; limiter; mic/line, input trim and 100Hz high-pass filters for each of the two inputs and a set of rewind, forward, play, stop buttons. There's also a small speaker mounted into the top, the volume of which is controlled by the Monitor/Headphone pot on the front panel. The headphone amp has plenty of guts to drive my Sony MDR 7506s.
The front panel has an amber back-lit LCD screen, seven buttons, a combination scroll and enter control, REC/STBY button and green LED, REC button and red LED, memory access LED, Peak LEDs and concentric independently adjustable input level controls. I don't care for the mounting of the LCD because it's countersunk about 1/4 inch into the face. As a result, depending on the available light, the edges of the display fall into the shadows and are difficult to read unless you use the FR-2's backlight and are at the correct angle. I'm not as interested in seeing the free running timecode display as I am seeing the file name, levels and maybe the start and stop timecode. Perhaps an LCD view option centralizing the important information would be helpful.
On its right side, are the FR-2 power switch, a pair of RCA audio output jacks, XLR input jacks, a phantom power switch and the memory card and microdrive slots.
The FR-2 has input trims followed by record level controls. A true PFL level indicator would be nice to maximize gain staging and S/N. The FR-2 only offers a peak light and an over "beep" signal. If you turn the trim pots up all the way, you can overload the input pretty easily as you begin to open the record levels. After hitting the wall, I backed the FR-2 input trims off to the 4 o' clock position and fed the FR-2 line level tone from my Sound Devices 442 mixer. With the FR-2 record level knobs set fully counterclockwise, the LCD meter on the FR-2 mixer registered below -60 dB. Raising the FR-2 record level knobs to nine o' clock gave me a -20 dB level and I started recording.
I first compared recordings with a Schoeps CMC 641 using the FR-2 preamps with those in my Sound Devices 442 mixer and found the 442 preamps were not as bright. The FR-2 preamps were certainly usable.
Using the USB port, I was able to transfer audio to and from the FR-2 by simply dragging and dropping files on the desktop. Although I was successful with Mac OS 9.2.2, Fostex says not to use a Macintosh computer below OS X. Under OS X 10.3.9, with Pro Tools LE 6.2.3, I had no problems. One 24-bit, 192 kHz file was 75 seconds long and 41.4 MB. It took about 50 seconds to convert and import into PTLE. The FR-2 also supports Windows ME, 2000 or XP for Microsoft systems.
While the record, cue, mark cue and card release buttons are on the face of the FR-2, the REW, FFWD, Play and Stop buttons are on the top. If you have the FR-2 in a bag on a shoot and need to get to playback, you may have some difficulty, depending on the construction of the bag.
Fostex delivers on its promise of a DAT replacement (I won't miss the tape stock). While certain aspects of the FR-2's operation make using it in a bag problematic, the basic recorder is a good value. Another $600 gets you timecode.