Fostex FD-4 Hard Disk Multitrack Recorder (part 2)
Since you have to source your own disk drive, or allow your dealer to assemble a suitable package, it is useful to know the alternatives. The Iomega Zip drive is compatible with the FD-4 in two of the three recording modes which allow according to Fostexs figures, respectively, 8.25 minutes of 32 kHz sampled data-compressed four track recording or 4.25 minutes of full 16-bit linear 44.1kHz four track digital audio (disk space is dynamically allocated so these figures can be increased proportionately if you use fewer than four tracks). If these maximum recording times seem rather short then you may prefer to use something like a 230 Megabyte Syquest Eziflyer would allow 10.5 minutes of full quality four track recording or a 1 Gigabyte Iomega Jaz drive which allows 50.25 minutes of full quality four track. Magneto-optical drives can be used too, although since they are slower than magnetic hard disks there is one restriction on performance that I shall mention later. Unlike many other hard disk recorders, the FD-4 can only be used with one disk at a time. The SCSI specification allows for up to seven connected devices plus the host, but the FD-4 can only recognise one, which isnt too much of a drawback for recording but unfortunately eliminates the possibility of backing up from one disk to another which some might have found useful. Although the FD-4 is marketed as a diskless unit, it is actually possible to have an internal IDE drive fitted by an authorised Fostex service agent. Suitable disks of up to 3 Gigabytes in capacity are available (hence around 150 minutes in full-quality 4-track duration) and having one fitted internally does make the unit self contained. Fostex and their UK distributor dont seem to be trumpeting this facility particularly loudly however so Ill say no more about it. One further alternative would be to use a fixed external SCSI hard disk.
The mixer section of the Fostex FD-4 isnt totally conventional, but it isnt so unusual that a reasonably experienced recordist couldnt get used to it in about five minutes. A novice would take a little longer and I have to say that I worry slightly that such a person would expect all mixers to work in a similar way and then find out at the threshold of the next stage of their career that they dont. More on this shortly. As you might expect in a low cost and fairly simple unit, there isnt a gain knob at the top of the channel, but since the levels of equipment used in a domestic setting are fairly predictable this shouldnt be a problem. Channels 3 and 4 do in fact have a gain switch with three positions for High, Medium and Low output devices. The M position is also suitable for the direct connection of an electric guitar. Each channel is routed to the main left-right stereo buss via the pan control, so if you want to record on tracks 1 or 3 pan left, or pan right to record on tracks 2 or 4. To record from channel 1 to track 4, for example, you would set the Input Select switch of channel 1 to Input and pan right. The monitoring arrangements of the FD-4s mixer are simple to use but just a little bit more difficult to explain, but let me have a go. The mixer is of the in-line variety meaning that there are two signal paths in each channel, one for the input and one for the signal from the corresponding track of the recorder. During recording and overdubbing you would route an input signal through the channel fader via the master fader to the recorder. You can monitor any tracks already recorded via the monitor section in each channel which consists of level and pan controls. The outputs from these go only to the headphones and monitor outputs and not to the recorder. The net result is that you can record one track while listening to other tracks you have already recorded, which is exactly what you need to do! If you have used similar equipment before you will understand what I am saying. If you havent then its probably all a bit of a blur, but you can take my word that Fostex give you everything you need in the simplest way possible and youll soon get the hang of it. One peculiarity that I referred to earlier that sets the mixer section of the FD-4 apart from other mixers is in the monitor level controls. Rather than having a switch to select it between input signal and recorder track, the monitor level control has a zero position in the centre where it sends no signal. Turning it to the left increases the level of the input signal in the monitor, turning it to the right increases the level of the track signal. Its strange but it works.