OFF TO THE RACES
With all its dedicated controls, the FR-2 is easy to use right out of the box. Load some batteries and a memory card, set the recording format with the controls on top, connect a microphone, and hit REC.
Because the FR-2 always records into a memory buffer internally, when you stop recording (using the REC STBY button, remember) you have to wait about ten seconds while the machine writes the contents of the buffer to the memory card, and then sets up for the next recording. There’s no avoiding this delay, and it’s a minor annoyance.
Even with the trim controls set as high as possible, there were still acres of headroom left when using an RE-20 microphone. In fact, I found that I could get right on top of the mic and still not come close to peaking the preamps. In a live VO session using a couple of phantom-powered Sennheiser 416s, I did have to back the trim down a little. Inserting a separate mic preamp into the chain gave me plenty of gain at the recorder’s input, of course, but there was still more than enough headroom to avoid clipping.
But having said all that, these are really nice-sounding preamps, really nice. Very clean and quiet, even with the trim cranked. There’s just not as much gain there as the specs would have you believe, but there is all the headroom you’ll ever need to record sound effects at a construction site.
A separate issue is the constant use of the memory buffer, and what may or may not happen if power is lost while recording. During normal use with batteries, an audible warning will sound as battery power reaches a critically low level. Shortly after that, the display will show “battery empty!” at which point recording stops altogether, the contents of the buffer are written to the card, and only then does the FR-2 shut itself down. I experienced this several times during evaluation, and at no time did I lose any data when the batteries went dead normally. However, the manual warns against data loss if power is suddenly cut. Indeed, when recording on battery power only, if I popped a battery out then I lost the entire recording. Word to the wise — don’t open the battery compartment while recording (duh!).
Speaking of batteries, the FR-2 does eat ‘em. Fostex claims two and a half hours from a set of 2400mah NiMH rechargeables. I used 2000mah units, and couldn’t get past about 90 minutes continuous. But if you’re using rechargeables, it’s a good idea to take an extra charged set anyway, so just plan ahead. Note that the FR-2 will not charge any type of battery.
The manual is complete enough, although it could use some editing — it would appear to be translated from a Japanese document by a non-native speaker, and a few things are just plain wrong. In fairness, the blatant errors are listed in an addendum for software version 1.03 that was included with my unit. However, it would still be worthwhile for the company to pop for a better translation to clean up some of the grammar and spelling errors.
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
Transferring and editing from the memory card couldn’t have been easier or faster. I used a Compact Flash card and a USB reader to do the transfer, but you can just as easily connect the FR-2 directly to a PC (or Mac - OSX only) using the built-in USB port. In that case it’s not necessary to remove the memory card — you just press the data knob to get to the menus, and scroll to USB Mode. Another press of the knob and you’re ready to plug in. The memory card will show up as a separate volume on your desktop, allowing you to cut, copy, and paste as you wish. Or just import a recording directly into Pro Tools, Vegas, or your choice of editor. This I like a whole lot.
On the other hand, I was disappointed to see that file markers set during recording didn’t show up correctly in either Sound Forge or Adobe Audition. The markers I set were visible, but they were all logged at time 00:00:00. This bears further investigation, as I discovered it too close to deadline to follow with Fostex. More on that later.
The FR-2’s wide range of sample rates is good news on several fronts — the 22.050kHz rate is quite sufficient for recording interviews and speech in general, and saves space on the memory card or HD. Other memory recorders let you record in MP3 or MPEG-2 compressed format, which will yield smaller files and thus more recording time, but the price of compact flash cards have dropped in the past two years, making storage less of an issue. Besides, I’d rather compress the files myself later when I have a chance to audition the results before committing to a particular compression rate.
On the hi-fi side, the ability to record at 24 bits and up to 192kHz is a real advantage for sound effects acquisition — you can readily hear the difference between 16 and 24 bits, and the support for higher rates will be good news for Pro Tools HD users. In addition, the FR-2 conveniently supports 44.1kHz, while the Panasonic PMD690 memory recorder has a fixed sample rate of 48kHz, making it necessary to sample rate convert everything. Not so with the Fostex unit.
I also like the option of using PCMCIA hard drives. The prices of these have fallen, while the capacity has increased. As I write this, I’m looking at several websites that are selling 5 GB Toshiba PCMCIA hard drives for anywhere from $135 to $180. If you’re recording mono at CD quality, that’s over 15 hours of recording time. Should be plenty.
I like this recorder. It sounds good, it handles high sample rates, it’s rugged, the transfer time to computer is essentially zero, and at $1499 list it’s not out of line price-wise. If you do remote recording, you need to look at the FR-2.
The Fostex FR-2 Field Memory Recorder carries an MSRP of $1499, and a street price of under $1300. The optional AC adapter is $69.95. For more information worldwide, visit www.fostex.com.