Test Drive: The Fostex Foundation 2000RE 8-Track Digital Audio Workstation

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by Jerry Vigil

The Fostex Foundation 2000 hit the scene in early 1994 as a powerful, expandable workstation priced well into five figures. It came with a ton of features including internal digital mixing. Fostex recently introduced the 2000RE, a scaled down version of the original that strips some of the features, such as the mixer, and drops the price down to an attractive $9,995. But there's nothing about the 2000RE that leaves you feeling like something was left out. The 2000RE packs a full arsenal of editing features in this 8-track workstation and brings them to you with a dedicated control panel that makes working in the digital multitrack domain about as easy as it gets.

The main unit houses all the electronics as well as the disk drive and takes up four rack spaces. It's 21.4 inches deep and weighs 35 pounds. One look at the back panel explains why it's a bit on the heavy side. There are eight analog ins and outs on unbalanced RCA jacks. Electronically balanced analog ins and outs are available on two 25-pin connectors. There are sixteen trim pots for both the balanced and unbalanced analog I/O. Eight channels of digital I/O are provided in the ADAT optical format, and SDIF2 and AES3 8-channel I/O utilizes two 25-pin connectors thus letting the unit interface with the Alesis, Fostex, Tascam, and Sony MDM 8-track recorders. 2-channel digital I/O is available in AES3 and SPDIF formats. The SPDIF uses RCA and optical connectors, and the AES format is on a 25-pin connector.

MIDI IN and OUT connectors enable the 2000RE to send MIDI timecode, control other machines such as the ADAT or Fostex RD8, and receive MIDI control messages from external sequencing software. The 2000RE can read and generate SMPTE timecode in several formats. There are Word Clock input and output connectors, a Video Sync input, VITC input, LTC input and output, and RS-422 input and output permitting the 2000RE to interface with a variety of studio configurations. A SCSI port is used for external drives and backup devices. There's a 1/4-inch footswitch jack, a GPI (general purpose interface) that can be used for hands-free punch-in recording among other things. And there's a port for the Edit Controller. Needless to say, the back panel of the 2000RE is loaded.

On the other hand, the front panel of the main unit has just a couple of status lights, the power ON/OFF switch, and a button labeled RPE. That stands for Removable Project Environment--a fancy name for a removable disk drive. What looks like a permanently attached disk drive on the front panel is actually a removable one. The unit used for this review came with a 500 megabyte drive which is no longer available. Now you get a choice between a 1 gigabyte or 2 gigabyte drive at roughly $800 and $1,400 each, respectively. The drive is not included in the $9,995 list price. Removing and inserting the drive is a piece of cake, and the ability to do so is one of the nicer features of this workstation. Obviously, if you work in a multiple studio environment, this is a very simple way to transfer projects, assuming each studio is equipped with any Foundation 2000. In a radio station production environment, particularly when there's only one studio with one Foundation 2000, there are other advantages. Each producer could have their own RPE, or one RPE could be for promos, another for commercials. You could save work for longer periods of time with several RPEs on hand. However, using a backup device might be more economical. The RPEs store all project information, not just the audio files. As the name implies, this is a Removable Project "Environment."

The dynamic editing power of the 2000RE comes to life at the Edit Controller. This sleek interface is not much bigger than a computer keyboard and is perhaps one of the most user-friendly interfaces I've come across. At the top center is a 3" x 3 3/4" display screen. But this is no ordinary screen; this is a touch sensitive screen. A set of touch sensitive "buttons" along the right side and bottom of the display provide various menus and functions. Touch the TRACKS button to display the eight tracks and the audio on them. (The unit "chirps" each time a button is successfully pressed.) The TRACKS button also accesses a sub-menu of options for displaying the audio on the tracks. The display can show fade ramps, output waveforms, and more. One thing that was quite surprising was how quickly the 2000RE draws waveforms. It's virtually instantaneous with small projects such as spots and promos. A zoom function provides a variety of views, from a view of an entire project, all eight tracks included, to a view of a tiny fraction of a second of just one track. With the display set to show waveforms, the zoom is extremely helpful when performing precise edits.

The next button on the touch screen's main menu is the I/O button. This accesses the 2000RE's digital patchbay. The unit's digital and analog inputs and outputs can be configured in a wide variety of ways from this screen. Two analog inputs can be used to feed all eight tracks, for example. If you're using a 4-bus board, four inputs can be set to feed the eight tracks. If a patch is not possible, it'll let you know. The METERS button switches to the meter display. There's a meter for each channel/track with peak/hold and overload indicators.

The REELS/LIBRARY button is where you'll find the 2000RE's filing system. The terminology used is somewhat unique for digital workstations. When you record a sound file, you record an "Event." These Events are recorded onto "Reels." Up to six Reels, labeled 1 through 6, make up a "Project." Each RPE or disk drive can hold up to six projects, labeled A through G. On the screen, Projects are shown on the left, and the six Reels for the selected Project are shown on the right. Projects and Reels can be named using a typewriter keypad on the touch screen. This may sound more confusing than it is. Normally, you think of a "project" as an actual production. Think of the six Projects as six "directories" of the RPE, just like file directories in a PC. Within each directory you can have six Reels. Each of these Reels can hold a production, be it a promo, a commercial, or whatever. So, in effect, what you have is the ability to store up to thirty-six productions per drive. For my purposes, I found it best to name Projects A and B "Promos" and C, D, and E "Commercials" leaving Project F for miscellaneous production.

This Projects/Reels system can be a bit restrictive. Since you can have no more than thirty-six different productions on a single drive, it is possible to run out of places to store spots and promos before you run out of disk space. This might happen with a 1 gig drive, and would most likely happen using 2 gig drives because most radio spots and promos take up only a few track minutes of recording time. And this is more likely to happen if you use the 32kHz sampling rate which uses even less disk space for a track-minute. For this reason, a 1 gig drive is probably most efficient for radio production. That aside, the 2000RE's cataloging system is easy to use and loads projects (or Reels, actually) very quickly. Simply touch the Reel where your production resides then press the MOUNT button on the touch screen and your "reel" is "mounted" onto our virtual "tape deck" ready to work on. Loading a Reel takes just a couple of seconds, depending upon the amount of audio being loaded. Reels and Projects can be copied and erased from this screen also.

A sub-menu under the REELS/LIBRARY function accesses the 2000RE's Library functions. Here you can locate, delete, and audition audio that has been saved to the 2000RE's sound library. Audio can be stored in a Reel and/or the library. Storing to the library is done effortlessly from the Tracks screen. Let's say you've recorded a sound effect you know you'll use again and again. Touch the sound effect on the tracks display. It will highlight to indicate it's "selected." Then press the pop-up menu on the screen and press the "ADD TO LIBRARY" button on the menu. That's it. Go to the Library screen to see the sound effect and rename it if desired. The default name is the current date and time.

Another button in the REELS/LIBRARY sub-menu is the PREFS button. This is where timecode and sync information is set as well as the sampling frequency for the selected Reel. Available sampling rates are 32kHz, 44.1kHz, and 48kHz. The ARCHIVE button accesses the backup function. Reels, Projects (and all Reels in the Project), or an entire RPE can be backed up using the SCSI port and an external device.

Finally, the SYSTEM button on the touch screen accesses disk formatting/erasing functions, password functions, system information, time/date functions and more. Pressing the STATUS button displays the most recent system messages. A check mark on the SYSTEM button indicates a new message. This is where error messages are displayed.

By the way, in case you forgot, these buttons and functions mentioned so far are all accessed from the touch screen. No physical buttons, no mouse, no trackball. There's nothing simpler than pointing to something to select it. Touch screens are wonderful, and the design of this one is outstanding.

Now let's talk about the physical buttons. The 2000RE's Edit Controller is one of the most intuitive I've had the pleasure of using. I was amazed at how much I was able to do without even a glance at the manual. At the top left are a set of buttons used in multiple machine installations. For this review, they were never used. Below these are eight green SOLO buttons and eight red READY buttons. Simple enough; press SOLO to solo that track and press READY to arm the track for recording. The READY buttons also arm tracks for editing. The SOLO and READY buttons illuminate to indicate their status.

The transport controls are at the bottom left of the panel. You get RECORD, STOP, PLAY, REWIND, and F FORWARD. Multiple presses of the REWIND and F FORWARD keys initiate high speed forward and reverse up to 8x normal play speed. When PLAY is pressed simultaneously with REWIND or F FORWARD, audio plays back at high speed.

To the left of the touch screen are four arrow keys which have multiple functions. When the screen is in the Tracks display mode, a button on the touch screen switches between, Jump, Select, Zoom, and Scroll modes. The arrow keys are used in these modes to select events, zoom in and out, and scroll through a production. The DATA key below the arrow keys activates data input. For example, touch an event or use the arrow keys to select it. Press the DATA key and the typewriter keypad appears on the touch screen giving you the option to give the event a name up to 25 characters long. Once named, anytime the event is selected, its name will appear at the top of the screen. In other screens, the DATA key is used with the large data wheel to input data and make selections.

Left and right SEEK keys on the control panel are used to locate quickly to the beginning and end points of events. Above these keys is the AUDITION key. Select an event on the screen and press AUDITION. This enables listening to the event without having to put its track(s) in solo. To the right of the AUDITION key are the AUTO REC, AUTO RTN, and AUTO PLAY keys. Press AUTO PLAY to initiate automatic playback after any locate. The other two keys are used with the IN and OUT keys. These keys set in and out points within a production. When AUTO RTN is pressed, playback continues to the Out point, then the transport locates to the In point and stops, unless AUTO PLAY is on. AUTO REC is basically automatic punch-in/out recording using In and Out points to start and stop recording.

The IN and OUT keys are nestled with the other editing keys. Press the COPY key to copy the selected event or "region" (defined by the In and Out points) to the 2000RE's clipboard. Press the CUT key to remove the audio from the tracks and place it in the clipboard. Press the PASTE key to paste the clipboard audio onto a track or tracks replacing the audio on the tracks. Press the RIPPLE key before you press the PASTE key to have audio at the paste point slide down the tracks rather than written over.

The FILL key is a function not found on many workstations, but it's quite handy. First, mark an In and Out point on a set of armed tracks. Pressing FILL will replace the audio between the In and Out points with whatever audio is in the clipboard. If the clipboard audio isn't long enough to fit in the selected region, it is automatically looped to the exact length between the In and Out points. This is ideal for looping a short clip of music to make a longer bed. It's also handy for looping background noises such as crowds and ambience effects.

The real editing speed of the 2000RE comes to life with eight keys just below the touch screen. Six keys, the FADE TO, GAIN, FADE FROM, START, SYNC, and END keys adjust the event "envelope." The other two keys, the TRIM and ALIGN keys, set the operating mode of the other six. First select an event. To adjust the start and end point of the event, press TRIM. Use the transport controls and/or the scrub wheel to locate to the desired start point. Then press START. Do the same to set the end point. The display reflects the changes. If you want the event to fade out, move the timeline to the point where you want the fade to begin, then simply press FADE FROM. The FADE TO functions sets a fade up ramp. The GAIN function lets you drop the overall gain, the Fade From gain, and Fade To gain by as much as -60dB. When the event envelope is to your liking, press the ALIGN key and use the START, END, and SYNC keys to move the event forward and backward on the track(s). Event grouping is supported, allowing editing of several "grouped" events simultaneously. Getting up to speed with the 2000RE's editing functions is a quick process, and once you're there, things happen very quickly. Editing is nondestructive; however, using the CUT key is destructive. But there are UNDO and REDO keys to protect you to some degree. You get six levels of undo and redo.

To the right of these editing keys is the large shuttle/data/jog wheel. In the Shuttle mode, playback speed can be set anywhere from an incredibly slow creep to up to 32 times normal playback speed. In the Jog mode, this scrub wheel becomes a powerful editing tool. This may be a disk-based workstation, but it must be using a healthy RAM buffer for the scrub wheel. There is absolutely no drag or delay when scrubbing. It's as good as the scrub on any of the high dollar workstations.

To the right of the touch screen is the large red LED time display. The time at the top is the current "tape" time. The time at the bottom is the locate time. Press the LOCATE key to go to the locate time in the display. A numeric keypad below the time display provides ten locate points at each of the number keys. Press the HOLD key to transfer the current time to the locate time display. Press STORE then the 1 key to store that time in the 1 key location. To return to that point from anywhere else, just press GOTO followed by the 1 key. Use the CLEAR key to erase locate points.

If it seems like the features of this unit just go on and on, they do. There's the TimeFlex feature, the 2000RE's time compression and expansion function. The function is surprisingly easy to use, it's fairly fast (certainly faster than many time compression programs on disk-based systems), and does a pretty good job. A voice track compressed by 20% came out glitch free and sounded great using the unit's default settings. A sixty second voice track compressed 10% took about forty-five seconds to complete. It's fast enough, and the quality is there. This is a time compression/expansion function you can use.

And the features continue. There's "track stacking" which allows recording several takes at the same place on the same track without "recording over" the previous takes. Other features include auto event naming, a Jump mode that takes you anywhere in a production by touching the place on the screen where you want to go. You can split events. You can split tracks. Each Project has a Default Reel into which you can set preferences and even record audio that will appear in all six Reels in that project. Use the Mark function to place markers throughout a production for easy locating. You can plug a television monitor into the back of the Edit Controller and enlarge the display considerably (although you won't be able to touch your TV to do much more than put fingerprints on the screen).

Is the 2000RE a candidate for radio production? Absolutely. It's easy to learn, fun to use, and as powerful as anything in its class if not more so. If you want to go first class, consider the larger Foundation 2000 which is not only expandable, but features an internal 8x2x2 mixer with external mixer control panel. Either way, you'll get superb editing power in a full featured disk-based machine.

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