Test Drive: D-160 Digital Multitrack Recorder from Fostex

Editing

Thinking back to the Test Drive on the D-80 last year, I recall that editing on the D-80 was limited and sluggish. While the D-160 still doesn’t offer a full array of editing capabilities, it is faster than the D-80, thanks probably to the speed of technology—faster and better drives and CPUs. The D-160 offers four editing functions: Copy, Move, Paste, and Erase. The Copy and Move functions use the clipboard to store the audio to be pasted with the Paste key. Pressing the Stop and Play keys together at any time plays the audio in the clipboard--a good way to check and make sure your clipboard audio is what you think it is. To copy, let’s say, a segment of tracks 1 and 2 to tracks 3 and 4, first select tracks 1 and 2 with the Record Track keys. Then use the Jog/Shuttle wheel to scrub the audio to find the in and out points. The Jog/Shuttle wheel is very responsive when scrubbing audio and makes it possible to mark exact edit points. When the in point is found, press Store then Clipboard In. Find the out point then press Store then Clipboard Out. Press the Copy key to copy the audio to the clipboard. Now, locate to the point on tracks 3 and 4 where you want to paste the audio. Press Store and Auto Punch/Rtn In to store the destination point. Deselect tracks 1 and 2 and select tracks 3 and 4 as the paste destination by pressing their Record Track keys. Then press the Paste key. You are given the option to select the number of repeats up to 99—a good way to loop beds and sound effects. Depending upon how much audio is involved in the Paste function, the process can take a few seconds, or it can take minutes. The D-160 is rewriting the file, and keeping an undo file as well. For most short editing tasks, such as moving a car horn sound effect or copying a sixty second voice track, the time spent writing the file is just a few seconds. But if you ask it to copy and paste sixteen tracks of a sixty-second commercial, the process takes about a minute. Ask for repeats, and it’s longer.

The Move function is much the same as the Copy function except that the audio at the source tracks is removed once the Paste function is performed. Audio further down the source tracks remains at its original location. The Erase function simply erases audio between two points on any or all tracks. It can also erase audio from any point to the Absolute End of the program. Or it can erase all audio within a program.

It may seem that the common Cut function is missing from the selection, the type of edit where audio between two points is removed and the two ends are spliced together. Actually, with just about any digital editing system, this is a combination of two or three functions rolled into one. On the D-160, rather than mark an area to be cut, you mark the area to move and paste it at what would normally be the start point of a typical cut/splice function. For example, to edit the phrase “big red dog” to just “big dog,” you would use the Move function on “dog” then use the Paste function at the start of “red.” Compared to other digital editors, this can take several more keystrokes on the D-160, but the function is there. Still, it would be nice to have a key that combines some of these editing steps into one.

Summary

The D-160 is a great replacement for your analog or digital tape-based multitrack recorder. (Of course, if you have an ADAT system, the D-160 is the perfect compliment, too, considering the synchronization and digital audio transfer capabilities.) The 8-input configuration requires at least a 4-buss console, and an 8-buss is ideal. Since radio production rarely requires recording more than two channels at the same time, it would be nice to see an option in the D-160’s Setup menu that shuts inputs 3-8 off, leaving only inputs 1 and 2 active and feeding all sixteen tracks in an odd/even configuration. This would allow installation on a console as small as 16x2, like Yamaha’s ProMix 01. But with 8-buss consoles as good and as inexpensive as they are, this is not a big issue.

 What I like a lot about a box like the D-160 is that it gets you back at the console for your mix, for your EQ, pans, and effects. Too many of the DAWs out there are trying very hard to do it all, with internal mixers, effects, etc.. Sometimes they fall short. The D-160 gives you the quality of digital and gives you sixteen tracks of it. Plug it into a good console with a decent selection of outboard effects, and you have a very powerful studio. And with the D-160’s removable disk format and SCSI port, storage space is unlimited. Because of the D-160’s limited editing capabilities, the ideal setup would be to have a software-based editing program like Sound Forge in the same room. Even multitrack programs such as SAWplus and Samplitude can inexpensively and effectively compliment the D-160 with their editing capabilities without forcing you to use their internal mixers and effects. Just do your intensive editing elsewhere, then dump it into the D-160.

There’s nothing difficult about the D-160. The learning curve is very short, and once you understand the basic editing steps, the manual will begin to collect dust. It may be difficult for some of you to believe, but there are still quite a few analog multitrack radio production rooms out there. For the price of a cart machine, or even less, a resourceful GM can unleash a ton of quality and provide a lot of creative room by replacing that old 4-track or 8-track with the D-160. And since it works like a tape-based recorder, everyone will be up and running on the unit within minutes.

If your console is balanced, don’t fret. The model D-160B is available with balanced I/O for about $500 more. Those into producing audio for video will want to check out the model D-160TC with the optional Timecode Function installed for $4890 complete. The D-160TCB gives you both for $5435.

Specs on the D-160 include a frequency response at 20Hz-20kHz. The crossfade time is 10ms. A/D converters are 18-bit delta sigma 64x oversampling, and the D/A converters are 20-bit delta sigma 128x oversampling. Quantization is 16-bit linear with sampling rates, as mentioned, at 44.1kHz and 48kHz.

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