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

fostex-rd8

by Jerry Vigil

The Fostex RD-8 is a tape-based, 8-track digital recorder. The RD-8 is 100% compatible with the Alesis ADAT. The format is S-VHS tape, nothing more than high grade VHS video cassette tape, the same stuff you use to record your favorite TV shows on. The S-VHS tapes are available at most places where you buy blank VHS tapes. While your VCR records the TV's audio and video in the analog format. The RD-8 uses the same tape to record audio in the digital format. You get eight full-bandwidth audio tracks. There is no audio compression in use. Sampling frequencies are switchable between 44.1kHz and 48kHz. A standard S-VHS, 120-minute video cassette renders 40 minutes of 8-track tape time. The longer 160-minute tapes provide over 53 minutes of tape time.

In the world of digital multi-tracks, this is as simple as things get. There's no fancy cut and paste functions, no "undo" buttons. It's tape, just like the tape you throw on an analog multi-track deck. The difference is, you get the wonderful clarity of digital recording and some software based features not found on most basic analog decks. So, once you've decided to enter the wonderful world of digital multi-track recording, and if you're looking to spend minimum dollars to get your station in the digital domain, your first stop is the tape-based digital recorders. The RD-8 fills the bill.

The front panel of the RD-8 is not intimidating at all, and getting up and running on the machine quickly was not a problem, especially with the "Instant Gratification" section of the manual nearby. Levels for each track are indicated on a large LED display on the left side of the front panel. Below each track's 12-segment, LED display is a Record LED that flashes when the track is in Record Ready mode, and remains lit when the unit is recording. Below each Record LED is an Input LED that lights to indicate that the input to that track is being monitored. When the LED is off, the RD-8 is monitoring playback for that track. Below these LEDs are the record enable buttons for each track.

At the bottom left is the POWER ON/OFF button. Above it is the FORMAT button. Before you can use a tape, it must be formatted, much like a floppy disk must be formatted before a computer can use it. The formatting process is in real time, taking forty minutes, and writes a time-code track on the tape that enables accurate search and punch in/out functions among other things. If an unformatted tape is plugged into the RD-8, the red, LED time display to the right of the front panel will read "noFO," an abbreviation for "not formatted." Formatting is a piece of cake. Plug in the tape. Press the FORMAT button. Then press RECORD and PLAY and take a break. The RD-8 will let you record audio while formatting, if you want to. And, you can format a tape partially and come back later to format the rest of it. This is handy when you need to go to work NOW and don't have forty minutes to wait for a tape to format. The RD-8 also offers an End of Format Search function which locates the point at which you stopped formatting a partially formatted tape.