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

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Some of the buttons on the front panel are white, and others are gray. When the DATA EDIT button is pressed, you can then press any of the gray function buttons to edit that function's parameters. For example, pressing DATA EDIT then VARI SPEED switches the LCD display to the vari-speed screen where the RD-8's vari-speed can be quickly set, plus or minus 6%. Pressing DATA EDIT and the FORMAT button accesses the unit's "end of format" search, helpful when formatting a partially formatted tape as mentioned earlier.

The AUTO RECord button activates the RD-8's automatic punch-in/out function. Use the MARK IN and MARK OUT buttons to set in and out points. Then press AUTO RECord to activate the function. Rewind the tape, then press PLAY and RECORD. The unit will begin recording on all armed tracks at the MARK IN point and go out of the record mode at the MARK OUT point. Marking the in and out points on the fly is very quick, and this auto punch-in/out function works like a charm. In the analog world, you can get fairly accurate with your punch-in and punch-out points, but it is tough to get it right every time. With the RD-8, it is possible to change even one single word of a voice track by performing precise punch-ins and punch-outs repeatedly until you get it perfect, and you don't have to worry about accidentally recording over the next word or punching in too soon. A scrub wheel would have been a nice feature for fine-tuning punch-in/out points. However, setting punch-in/out points on the fly is pretty accurate, and the results are still better than what you get with an analog reel-to-reel deck without time code and auto punch-in/out functions.

Pressing the DATA EDIT button first, then the AUTO RECord button accesses the RD-8's Auto Play and Auto Return functions. Either of these functions can be turned on or off. When Auto Play is on, the RD-8 will automatically enter the play mode after rewinding to the preset start point. When an end point is also set, the Auto Return function can be engaged to automatically rewind the tape to the start point. These functions are used to create a loop, useful for rehearsing mixdowns or making multiple dubs of a mix. Used with the Auto Record function, the Auto Return and Auto Play functions let you rehearse punch-ins forever without having to touch the transport controls. LEDs light to indicate whether Auto Record and/or Auto Play is enabled.

Pressing the DATA EDIT button followed by the LOCate button switches the LCD screen to the RD-8's locate functions. There are three functions on this screen. The first sets a locate point by entering an actual tape time (using the up and down arrows). The second function selects the locate point that's being edited (LOC00 to LOC99). The third function is the "XFER" function. Pressing the F3 button under the "XFER" in the screen transfers the current tape time to the locate point selected. Locate points (as well as MARK IN and MARK OUT points) can be selected on the fly. If the LOCate button is pressed without first pressing the DATA EDIT button, the RD-8 goes into fast-forward or rewind mode to locate whatever point is selected.

The transport controls for the RD-8 are at the bottom right of the front panel. You get RECORD, STOP, PLAY, REWIND, FFWD, and EJECT. Each transport control button has a green LED to indicate which function is active. Pressing PLAY and REWIND, or PLAY and FFWD simultaneously provides a cue/review mode at three times normal speed. The LED on the STOP button will flash if the tape is "disengaged" and will remain lit if the tape is "engaged." If there is no transport activity for more than four minutes, the RD-8 will disengage the tape from the heads to reduce tape and head wear. In this mode, faster rewind and fast-forward speeds are available, but you lose the cue/review mode. It also takes longer for the unit to go into the play or record mode, about four seconds, because it has to somewhat "reload" the tape. You can disengage a tape at any time when the unit is not playing or recording by pressing the STOP button.

Aside from the time code, video sync, and MIDI jacks mentioned earlier, the rear panel offers balanced and unbalanced ins and outs. The unbalanced ins and outs are accessed via sixteen RCA jacks on the rear panel -- eight inputs and eight outputs. The unbalanced inputs accept nominal levels of -10dBV. The +4 dBu balanced ins and outs utilize two 25-pin connectors. There are two 9-pin SYNC IN/OUT ports for synchronizing other RD-8s or ADATs. There's a 9-pin METER BRIDGE connector for hooking up an optional meter bridge, and a fiber-optical digital in and out.

You also get a PUNCH-IN/OUT ¼-jack and a LOCATE/PLAY 8312 ¼-inch jack. The PUNCH-IN/OUT jack accepts a standard single-pole/single-throw footswitch. Pressing the footswitch during playback engages the record mode on all record enabled tracks. Pressing the footswitch again "punches out" of the record mode and back into play.

The LOCATE/PLAY 8312 jack has two functions. It can accept a footswitch to utilize the LOCATE/PLAY function, or it can accept the Fostex 8312 Remote Control. If a footswitch is used and the RD-8 is playing or recording, pressing the footswitch engages the locate function and the unit will search for the selected locate point. If the unit is in the Stop mode, pressing the footswitch puts it in the Play mode. The 8312 remote control comes with the RD-8. It's small (3.5" by 5.5"), yet it offers a little more than just basic transport control. Aside from RECORD, STOP, PLAY, REW, and FFWD, you also get remote control of AUTO INPUT MONITOR, ALL INPUT MONITOR, MARK IN, MARK OUT, AUTO-PLAY, AUTO-RETURN, AUTO-RECORD, and LOCATE.

The RD-8 lists for $4,999 and can be found priced closer to four thousand if you shop. Up to sixteen RD-8s can be synchronized with each other to provide up to 128 tracks of digital recording. Specs include frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, dynamic range 92dB, THD at 0.009%, A/D conversion 16-bit with 64x oversampling, and 18-bit D/A conversion.

The manual stresses that you use S-VHS tape and not VHS tape. Fostex recommends using only Ampex and Maxell S-VHS tape. I tried Supertape S-VHS tape from Radio Shack (hey, they were just around the corner) and experienced some audio drop-out problems. Fostex tech support told us this problem had been reported by several people using Radio Shack tape. Get the best. It's still a fraction of the cost of a reel of ½-inch analog tape.

The transport mechanism, being much like the transport in your VCR, is a bit sluggish compared to your old analog machine. You don't get into the record mode the instant you press RECORD and PLAY. It takes about three seconds for the unit to "lock" and for the audio to begin recording, much like it takes your VCR a few seconds after you press PLAY for the video to appear on your screen. Playback occurs much sooner after pressing PLAY, but this is still not a machine that offers "quick start" playback and record. Unless you're dubbing from your 8-track to cart, this doesn't present any obstacle. You simply get used to waiting a few extra seconds before sending audio to the unit when recording.

The attractive 3 rack-space RD-8 is just another one of the remarkable tools of the new technology all around us. There it is, taking up a fraction of the space of its analog counterpart, costing less than a cart machine, yet delivering eight tracks of crystal clear, digital audio. With machines like this available at such a low price, it's easy to justify replacing an analog multi-track deck with the RD-8. If your station plans on spending more for a workstation, more power to you. But if it looks like the expensive toys are still a ways away, a machine like the RD-8 can do a lot to improve the quality of work from your studio today. And if you get a workstation down the road, having an RD-8 around can come in handy. The RD-8 can accommodate multi-track production of a 53-minute program. Some workstations don't provide that many track minutes (424).

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