As a multimedia storyteller, I live and breathe field audio recording. Recorders are essential tools of my daily life. From magnetic tape to MiniDiscs to flash media, I have plowed through a 30-year-plus time line of audio formats. Though I have used and owned dozens of recording devices over the decades, I am always on a quest for that perfect machine. “Surely,” I keep telling myself, “audio nirvana is just around the corner.”
During the long, long wait for the Fostex FR-2LE stereo field recorder to wind its way to market, I was enamored by descriptions of a smaller, scaled-down version of the well-regarded (but bulky) Fostex FR-2. If Fostex could bring the best features of the FR-2 to a baby brother costing about $500, it would be a sure winner.
Weighing about a pound and a half at the size of a small cigar box, the FR-2LE can be used with a pair of internal mics, with outboard balanced XLR mics (with 48-volt phantom power) or unbalanced line level feeds from TS phone jacks. The recorder handles the Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) and MPEG-3 Layer 3 (192 kbps stereo).
There’s a choice of 44.1-, 48-, 88.2- and 96-kHz sampling, and 16- or 24-bit quantization. On a single 8 GB CompactFlash card, the recorder can store up to 755 minutes of stereo in the uncompressed 16-bit, 44.1-kHz mode, and up to 5,549 minutes in MP3.
Field recording and broadcast
44.1-, 48-, 88.2- and 96-kHz sampling; 16- or 24-bit quantization; Broadcast Wave (BWF) and MPEG Layer-3 (192 kbps stereo) formats; Auto File Closing; USB audio transfer; small size
Fostex | 973-394-0015 | www.fostex.comOther features include mic trim pots, a switchable limiter, AGC, high-low internal mic setting, a high-pass filter and an error tone that can be generated to warn when the battery voltage drops below a specific level or when the recording time gets short.
As a measure of protection, the FR-2LE has an Auto File Closing feature that saves files at one-minute intervals, thus preserving the data in the event of a power failure. Audio can be transferred to a personal computer through the device’s USB 2.0 port or by removing the flash card and transferring its data through a reader.
For the most part, Fostex’s designers got the new CompactFlash-based machine just right. The recording and playback at all settings was excellent. The FR-2LE has the essential features and even passed my most important test: whether its bright, clear, easy-to-read software interface is so intuitive I could operate the device out of the box without opening the owner’s manual. If you desire a lightweight, compact audio recorder that can be powered on AC, then the FR-2LE might be just perfect for your application. But since this machine is primarily designed for portable audio field production, it must also run on batteries.
For a field audio recorder with a battery operating time ranging from four to eight hours — depending on the cell type used (alkaline or Ni-MH) — Fostex has created an inelegant and potentially problem-prone battery compartment. First of all, to reach the battery compartment the user must remove a stiff plastic door from the rear of the recorder. Then, the plastic cylinder that holds four AA cells must be disconnected and removed. Instead of having the battery cartridge easily snap out for quick replacement, Fostex has attached a wired lead with a plastic plug that must be fitted to another wired connector sticking out the bottom of the compartment.
The recorder has no internal charging capability. Even if the user avoids cell-by-cell replacement and chooses for the optional Tamiya RC3600HV Ni-MH battery for eight hours of operating time, the pack still must be disconnected and removed for charging. That little wire and connector, regardless of battery choice, is going to get quite a workout.
At a street price, the Fostex FR-2LE sets a new low-cost quality standard in flash-based audio recorders. If you can live with the battery compartment, then the FR-2LE is a fine two-track recorder that is sold at a great price.