Test Drive: Henry Engineering Fast Trac

Two more buttons on the right side of the panel control the output going to the cart machines. When dubbing agency tapes, it's not uncommon to occasionally receive a mono tape that is only recorded on one channel. If this is the left channel, the "L" button can be pressed to send the left input to both the left and right outputs. Likewise, the "R" button will send only the right input to both outputs. The STEREO/MONO button mentioned above can also be used to check the phase integrity of 2-track mono spots on reel. If there is a phasing problem, one channel can be selected and sent to both outputs. Pressing both the "L" and "R" buttons sums the left and right inputs and sends a mono signal to the outputs.

One last button on the right side of the panel is labeled PROC IN/OUT. The Fast Trac is a well thought out piece of gear, and the PROC IN/OUT switch demonstrates this practical design. If you add compression, reverb, EQ, or any other processing to your dubs, the processing unit or chain can be connected to the Fast Trac and enabled or bypassed with this switch.

Finally, on the far right of the front panel is a headphone jack which can eliminate the need for an external amp and speakers altogether if so desired.

So, taking up one tiny rack space, the Fast Trac effectively replaces a console used mainly for dubbing. Add a cart machine, a turntable and CD player and you have a dubbing studio in a rack. But wait! There's more! On that front panel are two more buttons labeled STOP and START. These two buttons bring us to the other half of the Fast Trac, the half a lot of people on your staff, particularly your PD and the jocks, are going to love.

The Fast Trac also automates machine control when dubbing. Pushing START will automatically start your cart machine then automatically start your CD player at the exact moment it should to provide a not-too-loose and a not-to-tight dub to cart. In the case of a dub from a turntable, the turntable will start first, then the cart machine, to compensate for the slower start-up time of a turntable. Here's how it works.

Each of the three input sources has two timing circuits for a total of six. Dedicated to each input are a "Recorder Start Delay" and an "Audio Mute Delay." The Audio Mute Delay is used to mute the audio until the exact time that the audio starts. This is most useful when dubbing from a turntable. With proper adjustments, the Audio Mute Delay can eliminate turntable noise and cue burns on records by muting audio until the exact moment the music starts. The Audio Mute Delay also acts as leader tape when dubbing from reel-to-reel.

The Recorder Start Delay is adjustable from zero to two seconds and sets the amount of time that passes from the time the START button is hit and the time the cart machine starts. When you hit the START button, audio is muted and there is a fixed half-second delay before the source machine starts. With a Recorder Start Delay adjustable from zero to two seconds, your cart machines can start as early as one-half second before the source machine, or as late as 1.5 seconds after the source machine starts. (The same times apply to the Audio Mute Delay.) After some trial and error adjust-ments, each of the six delay circuits can be set up for ideal times for each source. When using a turntable as the source, the only "manual" care that need be taken is how you cue up the record. It must be cued an exact amount of time away from the start of the audio for each dub if the timing circuits are going to function properly. This can be achieved by placing "cue marks" on the base of the turntable which indicate where the audio starts (as you're cueing) and how far back you have to turn the turntable to get the desired start-up time. One mark can be made for the "Audio Start" point, another for the "33 RPM" cue point, and a third for the "45 RPM" cue point. Similarly, when using a reel-to-reel as the source, marks should be made to indicate how far back to move the reels depending upon the tape speed in use.

All of this automatic timing stuff is great, and setting it all up is the part of the Fast Trac your engineer will love. On the back of the unit there are five 9-pin connectors and two 25-pin connectors, all of the female gender. With the Fast Trac you also get the corresponding male connectors, but, alas, there are no cables, just the connectors. Your friendly engineer gets to make the cables from scratch then wire the cart machines, turntable, CD player, and reel-to-reel to the Fast Trac so that each of the units can be started remotely by the Fast Trac. No problem. Just a few uninterrupted hours with some cables and connectors, a soldering gun, two packs of cigs and six pots of coffee.

One station that has taken advantage of the Fast Trac is KXEZ-FM in Los Angeles. We contacted RAP subscriber Phil Feser, Production Manager there, to find out how the Fast Trac is holding up. "It's great! We haven't had any problems with it at all. It takes only a few minutes to learn how to use it." Music used to be dubbed in Phil's main studio. The Fast Trac was installed in a small rack with a CD player, an ITC cart deck, and an amplifier. JBL monitors were mounted on the wall. The rack rests on a desk in what used to be a store room. How much time in the main studio has Phil gotten back? "We're adding a lot of music right now, and it has freed up our main studio an average of ten to twenty hours a week." The only negative comment Phil had for us referred to the fact that he had to use a knob to set levels instead of a fader. It's a tough life. If you're concerned that the Fast Trac might not be as clean as a nice console, rest easy. Henry Engineering didn't hold back on the specs. The frequency response is from DC to 30kHz. The noise floor is at 85dB. Distortion is less than .01% THD. Audio inputs are internally adjustable from -10dBm to +8dBm, and you get a choice of 20K ohms balanced or 10K ohms unbalanced. This will accommodate just about anything you might want to plug in to the Fast Trac. Outputs are available at +4dBm balanced (100 ohms), or -10dBm unbalanced (1K ohms). The external processor ins and outs are unbalanced as is the fourth external input on the front panel.

As mentioned, this might be one piece of gear you'll never use if you're the Production Director. You'll be busy cutting those promos and spots, and, with a Fast Trac and very little space somewhere, the tedious but necessary task of doing dubs can be moved out of "your room" and handled by someone else. Automated machine control means almost anybody can crank out dub after dub with consistent "tightness" on the carts, and your jocks and PD will love the disappearance of carts dubbed too loose or too tight. List price on the Fast Trac is a reasonable $1,195. For more information on the Fast Trac, contact Henry Engineering at (818) 355-3656 in Sierra Madre, CA.

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