Test Drive: The Fostex D-10 Digital Master Recorder

The next row of buttons below the cassette tray are the transport buttons. These are larger than the other buttons described so far and offer a nice, rugged feel. You get Record, Stop, Play, Rewind, and Fast Forward buttons. Below these is the sensor for the hand-held remote control.

To the left of the large display are three buttons that affect the display. Pressing the Display Time button rotates the display between reading A-Time (Absolute Time), R-Time (used when syncing the unit to another device with time code), and the date display which shows the year, month, day and military time. Oddly enough, the D-10 doesn't display program time or remaining time like many DAT decks. One can live without Remaining Time, but it is nice to glance at the display at any time during playback or record and see what the current Program Time is. (Chances are, Program Time will show up in a version upgrade down the road.) The next button is the Display Level button. Pressing this button cycles the display between 1-channel level display, 2-channel level display, margin level display, and error rate level display. In all modes, levels are indicated with two bar-graph meters. However, the 1 and 2-channel level mode activates a constantly varying, digital readout of the current dB level. When no audio is present, it continues to give readings -- indications of what the noise floor is. The error rate display apparently shows the error percentage detected during the decoding process. The margin level display shows how far from 0dB current levels are. The third button, the Margin Reset button, obviously resets the margin level display.

Other functions of the display include indicators for sampling frequency (48kHz and 44.1kHz), reference level, emphasis on/off, a "digital in" indicator that lights when a digital input is used, and various indicators for the ID codes.

Below the display are several buttons, ten of which make up the 10-key numeric keypad for inputting program and memory locate numbers. The PNO Locate button activates a search by program number. The MEM Locate button is used to locate points on the tape using stored memory locations based on A-Time. To the right of these buttons are six ID function buttons. Pressing ID-Auto activates the unit's automatic Start-ID recording feature which begins recording the Start-ID at the point where the input exceeds the preset reference level. The S-ID (Start-ID) and Skip-ID buttons are used together with the Write and Erase buttons to manually write and erase both types of IDs. The Renumber button is the common DAT function that renumbers all Start-IDs from 1 -- useful when Start-IDs are written out of order or without program numbers.

The Auto Record key activates the D-10's automatic punch-in/out mode. This function is quite easy to use. The in and out points are stored in memory locations 0 and 1. The Preview button starts the "rehearsal" function, and pressing Record begins recording at the punch-in point and stops recording at the punch-out point.

The Input Monitor button switches the output between input monitor and tape monitor. This function is automatic in the recording and rehearsal modes. The Mute button mutes input and output when pressed. The D-10 does not have a Record-Mute function, a function found on many DAT decks that records four seconds of silence then stops in the record-pause mode.

The Instant Start button engages the D-10's Instant Start mode. In this mode, the D-10 loads about three seconds of audio into RAM. When Play is pressed, audio begins instantly. To adjust the start point, press the Ram Scrub button. This engages the Jog/Shuttle dual wheel control at the far right. The inner Jog dial is used for fine tuning the cue point; the outer Shuttle dial plays the audio in the RAM buffer relative to the direction and to the degree the outer dial is turned. The further clockwise it is turned, the faster the audio plays back in the normal direction. When turned counter-clockwise, the audio plays backwards at a speed determined by the degree of the counter-clockwise turn. The inner Jog dial plays audio in either direction but only when the Jog wheel is in motion. You can press the Ram Scrub button a second time to reload the RAM buffer with 1.5 seconds of audio on either side of the current tape position.

The RAM Repeat button plays back one second of the audio in RAM repeatedly, beginning at the "instant start" point, until the Stop button is pressed. This enables adjustment of the start point using the Jog wheel in a "rehearsal" type mode.

The Instant Start mode is automatically engaged when the Auto Cue function mentioned earlier is used. Without the Auto Cue function enabled, the Instant Start mode cues to the beginning of the Start-ID and loads the first couple of seconds of audio from that point into the RAM buffer. When neither the Instant Start or Auto Cue functions are used, the D-10 cues to a point one second before the Start-ID. There are few, if any, reasons not to have both the Auto Cue and Instant Start features active at all times.

The Search/Cue button engages the D-10's forward and reverse "review" functions. Playback in this mode is variable from 1/2 to 2 times normal speed using the inner dial or Jog dial of the Jog/Shuttle wheel. If the Shuttle wheel is used, the speed is variable from 1/2 to 15 times normal speed. This mode plays back audio from the tape. The buffer is not used.

There are a few switches along the bottom of the front panel. These include the Remote switch which switches remote control from the front panel (Local mode) to the optional 9-pin port on the rear panel. The hand-held remote also functions in the Local mode. The GPI on/off switch enables assembly editing with another D-10 based on A-Time. The Input switch selects Optical, Digital or Analog inputs. The Sampling Frequency switch selects 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling. The Emphasis switch turns emphasis on or off when recording. During playback of a tape with emphasis, the D-10 automatically selects the emphasis mode whether the switch is in the on position or not. Finally, at the bottom right of the front panel are two input level controls.

The rear panel delivers AES/EBU and IEC standard digital inputs and outputs via XLR and optical connections. You get balanced XLR analog inputs and outputs and unbalanced RCA analog ins and outs along with the GPI input/output jacks. There are two empty slots on the back panel which suggest that the D-10 is only the first in a line of versatile DAT decks to come from Fostex using the basic D-10 design.

One drawback of a DAT deck with this many features is that the learning curve is longer than that of a more basic unit. The manual translation to English is not the best. This makes some parts of the manual a little difficult to understand with sentences like, "Auto record by the D-10 is for assemble recording only and A-Time continuity, as well as, error rate at the punch out section is not guaranteed." Hello? The result is a slow start on the D-10 for anyone who doesn't like reading manuals. However, after several hours spent with both the deck and the manual, the flawless and smooth functions of the D-10 become apparent and easy to perform.

The D-10 is rack mountable. The 2-head design uses 16-bit quantization and has the following reported specs: Frequency response 20-20kHz, S/N ratio >92dB, THD <0.05%, and channel separation >80dB (1kHz). The unit does not employ the SCMS copy protection system.

Is the D-10 ideal for radio production? It comes very close to being ideal, especially considering what you get for the money. One thing is most certain. The Instant Start feature brings DAT into another realm in the studio. The ease of use and cuing we all enjoy with our CD players becomes available on a DAT deck. While access may not be as fast as with CDs, everything else is quite the same. If you are planning to upgrade your DAT decks, or planning to go to DAT for the first time, do yourself a favor and get a DAT deck that uses a RAM buffer to provide instant start and other features. Several models are available from several manufacturers. Definitely make the Fostex D-10 one of your considerations.

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