Test Drive: The Fostex D-80 Digital Multitrack Recorder

The Erase function creates "silence" in a specified area on selected tracks. You can erase data on up to seven tracks at once. If you set all tracks to be erased, the D-80 performs the Cut function which deletes all audio on all tracks from the set In point all the way to the end of ABS time, disregarding any Out point you may have set. Use the Cut function to reclaim disk space by resetting the project's end point, deleting unwanted audio that may be further down the tracks.

This is the extent of the D-80's editing functions, and in comparison to most DAWs out there, these functions are very limited. At first, I thought the Cut function was going to be the standard "cut and splice" function where you mark two points, perform the Cut, and have the two points brought together. Wrong. To perform an edit like this, you basically have to use the Move and Paste function. For example, let's say a track has the following on it: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8." You want to cut out the "4" so it says, "1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8." You would need to mark an In point at the beginning of the "5" and an Out point after the "8" and Move that section to the clipboard and Paste it on top of the "4." As mentioned, this takes a long time and makes this kind of editing impractical on the D-80.

I was very pleased with the way the jog/shuttle wheel functioned. For scrubbing audio, the D-80 loops a short segment of audio much like using the search function on a pro model CD player. The unit is very responsive, and locating edit points is smooth and accurate, almost as good as RAM based scrubbing. The outer wheel shuttles playback forward and backward at fast speed with audio, and the inner wheel automatically engages the jog mode when turned. There's no JOG button to press before using...nice. The jog/shuttle wheels are also used to input data when the display is in the data edit mode or in Setup mode. When the time display is in ABS time mode, there are 25 frames per second and 100 sub-frames making it possible to locate to 1/2500th of a second.

The D-80 has five "virtual reels" or Programs as they are referred to. This means you can store only five projects per drive. This is limiting in radio production because you can create five projects in one hour on a busy day. Having to back up to DAT every time you needed to open a sixth project could be very time consuming. But for musicians, this is probably plenty of "reels." You could switch hard drives every time you needed new "reels" but this could be costly with drives still a couple of hundred bucks each and more.

The limited editing functions and limited Program storage may be major drawbacks to the D-80 in radio production, but it certainly doesn't rule the D-80 out of radio production. For someone who wants to make the big step from analog multitrack to digital, the D-80 makes the transition very smooth by acting much like its analog ancestor. Remove the editing functions altogether, and for the money, this is still a pretty nice digital recorder. It has eight inputs and eight outputs, something you don't find on a lot of digital multitracks. This gives you the ability to bring the audio to your mixer for quick and simple addition of EQ, effects, etc.. The D-80 is certainly worth considering if you're thinking about getting a tape-based digital multitrack where cut and paste editing is impossible anyway. And it surely has a place in the home studio. You get high quality, 44.1kHz recording in an easy to use and inexpensive box from a company that has done a tremendous job of catering to recording professionals.

If you're looking for digital recording with high-speed editing, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you're looking for high quality digital multitrack recording and a wonderful price, check out the D-80. If your station has several people producing, a box like the D-80 can bring the friendliness of analog multitracks to the studio very inexpensively. It's ideal for jocks who want a multitrack but don't need fast editing functions, and who don't want to deal with a long learning curve. It's ideal for those quick projects that require basic multitracking without all the extras. This would be a good machine to put in a studio where copy is put into donut jingles. Put the jingle on tracks 1 and 2, and up to six VO tracks on the other tracks. And again, the detachable control panel is a major plus where space is limited. Again, the trick is to determine what you need, then see if the D-80 fits the bill.

Specs on the D-80 include 16-bit linear recording with 16-bit A/D and D/A converters with 62x oversampling. The edit crossfade time is 10ms, frequency response 20-20kHz, and dynamic range >92dB.

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