Fostex FD-4 Hard Disk Multitrack Recorder (part 1)
What? A hard disk multitracker without a hard disk? Yes indeed, the Fostex FD-4 is such a thing. If you can sacrifice the convenience of an all-in-one unit, you might find that you can be as much at ease with hard disk as you would be with a cassette multitracker. And there are bonus features of tricks only a disk can do, such as editing without cutting tape or copying from one medium to another, and the provision of virtual tracks where extra non-playback tracks are available for alternative takes and other purposes. As we shall see, the FD-4 isnt weighed down with features (some hard disk recorders are) and Fostex seem to have struck a happy balance between features and usability. They have remembered that most potential purchasers will probably be complete novices in the recording arts. Lets dive in
The FD-4 is a fairly compact unit and fairly light in weight at just 4kg. It is neatly divided into a mixer section and a recorder section. The mixer is pure analogue which makes it easy to learn and operate, but rules out any form of automation or programmability. The recorder section is fitted with the usual transport, record ready buttons and suchlike, and additionally has editing functions that take a little bit of learning but work fine once you have made the effort. There is also a jog/shuttle wheel that I shall comment on later. On the front are four inputs on quarter inch jack sockets and a headphone output. Round the back we find separate pairs of stereo and monitor output phono sockets, two auxiliary sends and two stereo auxiliary returns. I might only have expected a single auxiliary on a unit of this price so I am pleased at this. Another surprise is the provision of two balanced XLR mic inputs which feed channels 3 and 4 via insert points where a compressor, equaliser or noise gate could be connected. Very nice, but if they had 48 volt phantom power for capacitor mics they would have been perfect. Capacitor mics are now affordable and manufacturers should remember that. Also on the rear panel are two additional phono sockets for direct access to the recorder, bypassing the mixer section, and a quarter inch jack for the obligatory punch-in footswitch.
As well as analogue audio connectors, the rear panel also sports a pair of MIDI sockets, IN and OUT. No THRU Im afraid. I suppose THRU boxes are cheap enough but I cant see that a full set of MIDI connections would have been too much of a problem to provide. A pair of digital optical connectors offer digital input to the recorder section and digital output of individual tracks or the entire mix. A backup function is also available. There are no S/PDIF phonos Im afraid, although the Fostex COP-1 optical/coaxial convertor is a relatively inexpensive accessory. Last but not least is the computer-style SCSI socket with which the necessary external hard is connected. I do dislike SCSI cables since they are bulky, heavy and stiff, and it often seems that you have to situate equipment where the SCSI cable would like it to be rather than where you would like it! Until a suitable replacement for SCSI comes along, we will have to make do.