Test Drive: The Fostex D-80 Digital Multitrack Recorder

fostex-d80

by Jerry Vigil

The abundance of hard disk multitrack recorders on the market today gives the buyer lots of choices, each one having features and functions that set it apart from the rest. The trick is to know what you need in a digital multitrack before you go shopping, then look closely at what's out there. Fostex appears to have filled a niche with the D-80. If you need eight tracks of digital recording in an affordable and easy to use system, the D-80 is worth a look. It immediately got my attention when I saw the price tag of just $2,195.

The D-80 takes up three rack spaces and features a removable front panel. It removes quickly by simply lifting and pulling away from the main unit. With the optional five meter extension cable, all of the controls for the D-80, with the exception of the Power On/Off button, can be placed anywhere, from a small area on a desk top to your lap. Two mounting screws could even be placed on a wall or other flat surface to hang the control panel. The panel is roughly the size of two VHS tapes sitting side by side and has a rubbery backing that prevents slipping. The ability to bring all of the D-80's controls, including metering, to such a small control panel is definitely one of the D-80's biggest features.

For its modest price, the D-80 delivers simultaneous 8-track recording with eight unbalanced analog inputs and eight unbalanced analog outs on RCA phono connectors. 2-channel digital I/O (S/PDIF) is available on optical ports. The digital in can be assigned to any tracks. The 2-channel digital out is not a stereo mix (there is no internal mixer) but is used for digital backup of track data (two tracks at a time, in real time). MIDI IN, OUT and THRU connectors wrap up the rear panel and allow remote control of the D-80 with MIDI Machine Control codes or FEX (Fostex System Exclusive) messages. The MIDI connectors also enable syncing up to three D-80s for 24-track operation.

Behind the control panel is access to the D-80's removable hard disk. The unit comes standard with an 850 meg disk which delivers about eighteen minutes of recording on all eight tracks or about 160 track minutes. Many larger drives are compatible with the D-80. The sampling rate is fixed at 44.1kHz, and the D-80 uses no data compression. So you get very clean digital recording. However, 32kHz sampling would have been nice for broadcast production to save disk space.