Test Drive: Fostex RD-8 Digital Multi-Track Recorder

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To the right of the record enable buttons is the GEN SET button which is the record enable button for the RD-8's built-in time code generator. Pressing this button then PLAY and RECORD begins recording time code onto the tape, but this doesn't use up one of the eight tracks. The time code is written in the sub-code area of the tape. The time code is also directed to the Time Code Output jack on the rear panel. The RD-8 supports many different synchronization configurations and is designed to fully accommodate a post-production facility that's doing audio for video. Since very few radio production rooms utilize these features, this review won't get into them any further than to say that the rear panel provides jacks for VIDEO/VITC INPUT, WORD IN/OUT, TIME CODE IN/OUT, and an RS-422 jack for use with an edit controller or video editor. The front panel also offers a few LEDs and buttons for control and status display of the various time code functions. Certainly, if you have the need to sync a digital multi-track recorder to video, the RD-8 has been designed especially for you.

Below the level display is the DIGITAL IN button. Pressing this button switches the RD-8's inputs from the analog inputs to the fiber optic digital input on the rear panel. (The button doesn't affect the digital output which is always active as are the analog outs.) The digital input will receive all eight tracks of another RD-8 or Alesis ADAT. This is how you make digital back-up tapes of your work, and this is the only way to back up your work. Of course, this requires another machine. But before you decide you have to have two RD-8s or none, think about how often you back up your analog multi-track reel. If you're like most, never. For the price, a second RD-8 makes more sense as a back-up machine, rather than a machine to make back-ups with.

The Digital Input can also be fed with the Digital Output of the same RD-8. When this is done, a form of internal "track bouncing" is possible. For example, audio can be moved from track 1 to track 3. But this also moves the audio from track 2 to track 4, and track 8 wraps around to track 2. This comes in real handy if you want to confuse somebody in the middle of some serious 8-track work who just stepped out the door for a minute, but otherwise this is probably a function you will use seldom in radio production. Since the DIGITAL IN button kills the analog inputs, it can also be used as a record mute button for all eight tracks when using the analog inputs.

Next to the DIGITAL IN button are the AUTO INPUT MONITOR and ALL INPUT MONITOR buttons. When the Auto Input Monitor function is off, all record enabled tracks monitor input, and all others monitor the tape. When the Auto Input Monitor function is on, all record enabled tracks monitor the tape when in play mode and switch to input when not in play mode. The tracks not record enabled monitor the tape. The ALL INPUT MONITOR button is used to monitor the input on all eight tracks regardless of the Auto Input status. LEDs next to each of these buttons light to indicate which function is active.

On the right side of the front panel is the cassette tape door. The RD-8 loads and ejects the S-VHS tapes just like your VCR loads and ejects 'em -- the feel is quite the same. Below the tape door are two displays, a large, red LED time display, and a smaller, 2-line by 16-character, LCD display. The time display offers several modes selected by pressing the DISP button. You get Absolute Time which is the tape time created when the tape is formatted, and Relative Time which is tape time relative to the point on the tape where the zero RESET button was last pressed. You also get several display modes to accommodate synchronization -- Tape Timecode, External Timecode, Absolute Offset, Relative Offset, and Generator. Time is displayed in hours, minutes, seconds, and frames in the Absolute Time and Relative Time modes. Sub-frames are added in other modes. Unless you're using the RD-8's synchronization capabilities, you'll only use Absolute Time and Relative Time modes. Absolute Time will always keep you abreast of how much tape you have left. When you start a session, it's convenient to switch to Relative Time (indicated by a small "r" on the left side of the display) then press the zero RESET button. This way you can keep an eye on the length of your piece as you're working. This also enables using the LOC 0 (locate zero) button to return to the beginning of your work. (The LOC 0 button will locate the beginning of the tape if the time display is in Absolute Time mode.)

The smaller LCD display is where the RD-8's software based functions are accessed. This includes setup functions and the RD-8's 100-point autolocator. The display provides menus and sub-menus. Navigation and editing are done with the aid of eight buttons below the display: DISP EDIT, HOME, NEXT, , , and three soft function buttons: F1, F2, and F3. A CURSOR button to the right of the front panel can also be used to navigate the cursor in the display. Several functions are performed from the Main Function Menu. Set the sampling frequency to 44.1kHz or 48kHz, perform MIDI System Exclusive dumps, load and save TOC data, adjust crossfade time, set the system's date and time, select tape length (120 or 160 minutes), adjust the display contrast, and edit time code related parameters. (The crossfade time is the time it takes the RD-8 to fade out the audio on the tape and bring in the audio at the inputs when recording. This is adjustable from 11ms to 46ms.)

The RD-8's TOC (Table Of Contents) function is quite handy. A portion of tape at the beginning of each cassette is reserved for that tape's TOC. This space is used to record the RD-8's memory to tape and saves a long list of parameters. Some of these parameters include the current settings of many of the front panel buttons such as the ALL INPUT and AUTO INPUT MONITOR buttons, all 100 autolocate points, sampling frequency, vari-speed setting, display mode, and much more. Actually, there isn't much of anything that is NOT saved to the TOC. The RD-8 retains all these settings in memory when it's shut off. When you turn it back on, the settings are restored. So, if you're the only user, and you only use one tape, it's not necessary to save the TOC to tape. But, if you use more than one tape, or more than one person uses the RD-8 and has their own tape(s), then saving the TOC to tape is nearly a must. Otherwise, when you plug in your tape after someone else is through with theirs, all the settings on the RD-8 will reflect what they've been doing on their tape.

It's very simple to plug in a tape, go to the TOC function on the main menu, and load all the settings for your tape. A big plus in radio production is that you can save the locate points, up to 100 of them. If you keep a log of your work on an analog reel, you probably search your work using tape time. With the RD-8's locate points and TOC function, each piece of production can simply be assigned a locate point from zero to 99, much like using Start IDs with DAT for locate purposes. The RD-8's MIDI Exclusive Dump function backs up all these settings to an external MIDI System-Exclusive storage device if so desired.

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