The first sentence in the introduction of the Zaxcom Fusion 12 owner’s manual clearly states that this is a high-resolution audio mixer and recorder for reality television surround recording and ENG.
And, with a price tag over $8,000, it’s not for those on a tight budget. It’s a lightweight, all-digital, 24-bit/192 kHz-capable, 16-channel/12-track powerhouse. Based upon Zaxcom’s proven Deva recorder series, it truly offers new benefits for industry field-recording professionals.
Measuring 3.2-inches x 10.6-inches x 7.7-inches and weighing in at only 5 lbs. (without the battery), Fusion 12’s layout is tight but efficient. Due in part to the bright, high-resolution color LCD touch screen (with access to over 200 parameters), getting around basics of the unit is fairly simple. Given its size, the I/O capability is extensive; it offers four AES pairs of digital and six balanced 0 dBu analog outputs (via DB25), eight transformerless XLR mic/line-level (with 48V phantom), and eight digital inputs on four AES pairs (on DB15 mini) with sample rate conversion. There are eight analog input limiters available to prevent A/D clipping. There is a 1/4-inch stereo headphone out; battery ejection pin and NP-1 type battery compartment; standard 10-pin Hirose ENG-type camera connector; a standard 5-pin Lemo time code connector; Word Clock output; an IEEE 1394 FireWire 400 connector (for hard drive, CD and DVDRAM drives); a USB port for Zaxcom-approved keyboards, and REF 1 connector.
Recording is done simultaneously using two Compact Flash cards slotted on the side of the unit. The main card records in Mobile Audio Recording Format (MARF), and the backup records to the common FAT32, which can easily be read by both Mac and PCs. It can handle from 32-192 kHz with an overall dynamic range of 124 dB, and it can output four types of AES-31 Broadcast Wave files. Color-coded metering of all input channels and output busses is provided on the LED screen.
As for all-important power, the Fusion can be used with an optional external A/C power supply or the internal NP-1 style battery (which is not included). You can also use an external battery via a four-pin XLR on the left side of the unit. The design wisely accommodates an automatic switchover to external power when running on the internal battery (for those extra-long field takes). Battery source and power levels are displayed on the Home screen.
For the first test, I used it on a HD nature footage capture in New York State. Using only a stereo Audio-Technica field mic, I plugged the splitter cable into Channels 1 and 2. Running on battery power, I fired up the Fusion, watching the Green Power LED glow and the unit startup, which took under 10 seconds. Next, on the touch-sensitive Setup page, I chose the sample rate (48 kHz). Then I pressed the Input button on the front to select Analog 1 and Analog 2 for the first two channels, further choosing Mic level for each and raising the Trim to get some more level. I then set the HPF (High Pass Filter) for each channel to 80 Hz, using the numeric keys on the top/front of the unit. Then I set the builtin mic to handle the Slate Source and armed the first two channels on the Record Track Select page.
Hitting the REC key, then pressing the SLATE button for a take number, we were rolling right in the middle of some woods with nothing but ambient birds. I was very impressed with the clarity of the preamps, and the ability to quickly dial up more gain with each of the dedicated hardware faders was appreciated. The unit automatically advances after each take, and is ready to roll immediately. To hear the previous take, you simply hit the Play button. Even better, by hitting Shift>Cue, the Main Playback page offers the ability to review all your tracks and takes, with FF, REV, CUE, and Next Seg (segment) soft keys.
On the next session — a short on-location interview — I had to feed timecode out. By pressing Shift>Timecode, I then set it to 01:00:00:00 and selected Generator, so it came from the internal generator. I then chose the frame-rate of 29.97 NDF. I set it to Record Run, which starts and stops timecode as I started and stopped the unit. Two lavalier mics were fed to me via XLRs, so I set the level using the Faders and tracked with no problems. Checking my takes with the Cue page, all went well and the sound, once again, was excellent. It also shined on another live music-based ambient recording (with no video) using a Holophone PortaMic 5.1, from which I fed the recorder a Dolby PLII encoded stereo signal, which I later decoded in Pro Tools. [See Rich’s full PortaMic review in an upcoming issue of PAR — Ed.]
It’s a nice touch that, if you ever get confused about Fusion 12’s menu pages, just hit the Menu button until you get back to the Home Page. This will display most everything you need to see — from TimeCode to basic levels (of up to 10 channels at once), battery info, drive space available, etc. The large, well-lit REC, PLAY and STOP keys make life easy when you are looking down, and even in the bright light of day I could clearly see them lit up, as well as the screen.
Next, I let 20-plus-year veteran location sound engineer Billy Hickey check out the unit. Hickey — who has worked around the world on shows ranging from 60 Minutes to Dateline NBC to 20/20 and numerous PBS specials — liked what he saw. “I’m usually forced to knock everything down to two channels for the camera feeds, so this would be great to use,” he said. “To be able to record that many independent channels with this small a unit is also nice. While it’s more complex than what I’m used to using, I wouldn’t have to worry about wildly varying levels [if using the Fusion 12], as they’ll take care of that in post. Also, this would be great for a reality show where everyone is screaming and fighting. After all, that’s exactly what you want them to do!”
Aside from all the built-in options (far too many to list here), the Fusion 12 also offers a real-time effects package featuring EQ, compressor and expander. The EQ is phase-accurate and features six filters per channel. The compressor is a soft-knee type, and is optional on every input channel but standard on each bus output, and features the usual Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Release, and Makeup gain. The Expander can be used to lower the noise floor of noisy recordings.
Overall, the Fusion 12 is a solid, robust piece of gear that would shine in any heavy-duty location-recording situation. While you’ll need to read the manual to get a handle on all its capabilities, you can get up and running in a few minutes. However, it can go very deep if need be. Speaking of the manual, it’s extremely well written, and the PDF version has a great “clickthrough” index, allowing you to jump to a long list of important features. The combination of an informative color touch-screen LED, mirror recording, ultra-quiet mic pres, a wide variety of analog and digital I/O and multiple power options make Fusion 12 a winner. For high-end post applications where reliability is critical, this seems like money well spent.
Rich Tozzoli is a composer, engineer/mixer, and the software editor for PAR. richtozzoli.com