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Since the FD-4 has only four tracks, inevitably the recording process will include bouncing so that a more complex arrangement can be made. On a cassette multitrack you can bounce three tracks onto the remaining one, releasing those three tracks for further use but sacrificing the individual recordings they contain. On the FD-4, when working in the Mastering 1 format (not available on Zip or magneto-optical drives), there are two additional tracks which can be used as destination tracks for bouncing, in mono or stereo. The additional tracks can be swapped for playback tracks whenever necessary. Although there is no dedicated bounce forward feature where mixing takes place to a point further along the timeline, this can be achieved through the editing functions and the original four tracks can be retained. A little bit long winded perhaps, but it works.
Of course the FD-4 outputs MTC (MIDI Timecode) during record and play to synchronise your sequencer of choice. In addition, the FD-4 will send and respond to MIDI Machine Control (MMC) data so that you can control the FD-4 from a sequencer, or you can control external equipment, in a basic way, from the FD-4. The FD-4 also features a tempo map (and internal metronome) so that a sequencer can be synchronised via MIDI Clock and Song Position Pointers in the old way.
Since in Normal mode the FD-4 operates at 32kHz, and in both of the Mastering modes at 44.1kHz, it follows that the sampling rate of any digital source should correspond to these, as appropriate. There is no provision for 48kHz recording, or for mixing or converting sampling rates.
Since the in-line mixer section of the FD-4 has two signal paths per channel, it is possible to use both on mixdown by using the monitor output as the main output, or by following the instructions in the manual on mixing eight channels into the digital output. Remember also that there are two additional stereo auxiliary inputs making a total of twelve channels possible on mixdown.
One advantage of having an external drive is that it can be located somewhere that the noise it creates is not going to be picked up at too high a level by a microphone. Using a long SCSI cable is possible, but not entirely recommendable since reliability is reduced. Enclosing the drive is definitely not recommended as it will get too hot very quickly. An effective alternative is to do a bit of carpentry and make a small shelf underneath the bench or table on which the FD-4 sits. This will muffle the clicking and whirring of the drive to a useful extent while still allowing reasonable access for cartridge removal and for ventilation.
The Fostex FD-4 is a very effective four track hard disk multitracker. It has a sound quality far superior to cassette and is a very interesting alternative to Minidisc models.
The Iomega Jaz drive has become something of a standard in the audio industry, as far as removable cartridge drives are concerned. The standard Jaz drive offers a capacity of 1 Gigabyte and a new 2 Gigabyte model will shortly be available. From a Jaz drive you should be able to get at least eight tracks, with appropriate equipment (of course the Fostex FD-4 is only specified to be a four track recorder). Akais DPS12, with special formatting, shows the Jaz to be capable of a very useful twelve tracks. The great advantage of Jaz, besides its removable cartridge design, is the fact that the drive itself is quite cheap to buy and is usually supplied with one cartridge. The cartridges themselves are not as cheap as optical cartridges, nor do they claim to be as abuse-proof, but the low cost of the unit still makes it a very attractive option. Be warned that like all hard disks and optical disks, it makes clicking and whirring sounds when in use, but the Iomega-cased version (Jaz drives from other manufacturers are all Iomega products internally) incorporates WhisperDrive technology so it is, with regard to the immense amount of activity going on in multitrack digital recording, at least as quiet as you could possibly hope it to be.