Paul White provides a sneak preview of the world's first truly portable 8‑track digital multitracker for musicians.
After much conjecture on the future of the Portastudio/ Multitracker integrated mixer/recorder, Fostex are first into the ring with an 8‑track, 16‑bit/44.1kHz hard disk‑based Multitracker aimed at the home recording market.
The Fostex DMT‑8 is a fully integrated mixer and hard disk recorder with on‑board 540 Megabyte Quantum IDE drive, giving a total of 12 minutes of 8‑track, CD quality recording. The mixer features four mic/line channels (unbalanced), four line‑only channels, and a further eight secondary channels. The latter can be used for monitoring when recording and as extra inputs when mixing, just like a regular in‑line mixer. There's also a stereo buss input for adding a submixer [see 'Submixing' workshop elsewhere in this issue]. Up to four tracks can be recorded simultaneously, and as you'd expect from a hard disk system, you get full cut, copy, and paste editing. A Jog/Shuttle wheel makes it very easy to precisely locate edit points and you can copy all eight tracks in one go if, say, you wish to duplicate a chorus later on in a song. Unlike an analogue recorder, you are given the chance to undo the last thing you did, so mistakes aren't always final.
Recognising that the Fostex DMT‑8 is likely to be used with a MIDI sequencer, the designers have equipped the machine with both MIDI Clock/Song Position Pointer and MTC outputs, so that you can sync up your sequencer without having to lose a track to timecode. The Fostex DMT‑8 operates quite happily as the master in a system but cannot be used as a slave. Tempo maps with up to 32 tempo changes can be created and stored in the Fostex DMT‑8 and you even get a metronome option (via mixer channel 8) based on the tempo map, not only to help you keep in time, but also to assist in choosing the right edit points for copy and paste editing.
The elapsed time display can be set to read absolute time, the MTC location, or bars and beats, and the transport section is set out to resemble a conventional tape transport, right down to auto punch‑in/out and locators.
With a maximum of 12 minutes recording time, disk backup is obviously a serious consideration so Fostex have fitted an optical S/PDIF output, allowing a complete project to be backed up to DAT in 48 minutes. There's no coaxial S/PDIF out, which seems a bit remiss, but an optional optical‑to‑phono converter is available. The output from the analogue mixer section is also available via the S/PDIF digital output, but there are no digital inputs provided other than those used for restoring backed up data.
The DMT‑8's mixer section is very much as you'd expect to find on a mid‑priced analogue multitracker. It offers 2‑band sweep EQ and two centre detented aux sends, which can be fed from either the main or monitor channels depending on which way you turn them. Separate outputs are provided for all eight disk tracks and there are four track inputs which feed tracks 1/5, 2/6 and so on, so you don't have to use the internal mixer if you don't want to. However, with two sets of routable stereo returns, the mixer has a maximum of 20 analogue inputs (not counting the stereo buss inputs, which you can also press into service while mixing), which is pretty generous for a system of this size and price. The only obvious weak spot in the mixer is the lack of phantom powered, balanced mic inputs.
Fostex have carried through their multitracker philosophy very neatly, right to the point of making the machine appear so analogue that you keep looking for the tape slot!
To make the Fostex DMT‑8 feel like a tape machine, there's a fast cue mode accessed by pressing Rewind or Fast Forward while in play mode. This lets you hear the audio data at five times the normal speed. Alternatively, you can use conventional Wind and Rewind buttons which spool through the track at 25 times normal speed but offer no audio cue. In this mode, you can use the counter to stop somewhere close before using the scrub wheel to home in on exactly the right spot. Of course, searching to zero, end or a cue point is virtually instantaneous, since no tape is involved.
Naturally we'll be bringing you a full review of the Fostex DMT‑8 in the near future, but I did have the machine round at my studio for a good few hours and I managed to play with it enough to be very impressed. The scrub/jog system is particularly good and mitigates the lack of fine‑tune edit functions. Some people will obviously compare the Fostex DMT‑8 to a computer‑based disk recorder and bemoan the lack of certain advanced features, but Fostex have really taken the route of providing a hard disk equivalent of their existing analogue multitrackers and priced the machine accordingly. I think the way to approach the Fostex DMT‑8 is to take the view that it is a digital, musician's multitracker and has more facilities than you get from tape — it isn't realistic to view it as something like a Pro Tools system but with features missing. The ease of use is excellent — Fostex have carried through their multitracker philosophy very neatly, right to the point of making the machine appear so analogue that you keep looking for the tape slot!
There are obvious shortcomings which were necessary to keep the price so low, the main one being probably the lack of expandability — you can't add an external hard disk drive — though data backup to conventional DAT is cheap, if not exactly fast. You can only bounce tracks via the analogue mixer, not digitally, but then that's no worse than working with conventional tape.
At a projected selling price of around £1499.95, I can envisage a lot of potential analogue 8‑track customers plumping for one of these instead, and the familiar interface means that even newcomers to recording shouldn't be intimidated. The Fostex DMT‑8 is expected to be in full supply by November, but in the meantime SCV London will be delighted to provide you with full details.
- 8‑track, 16‑bit/44.1kHz hard disk‑based Multitracker aimed at home recording market
- Internal 540Mb Quantum IDE drive gives 12 minutes of 8‑track, CD quality recording.
- Up to 4 tracks can be recorded simultaneously.
- Full cut/copy/paste editing of all 8 tracks, with Undo facility.
- Jog/Shuttle wheel for precise location of edit points.
- MIDI Clock/Song Position Pointer and MTC outputs let you sync up your sequencer without losing a track to timecode.
- Works as Master, not Slave.
- Tempo maps can be stored, with up to 32 tempo changes.
- Metronome option (via mixer channel 8), based on tempo map.
- Elapsed time display shows absolute time, MTC location, or bars and beats.
- Conventional tape transport, with auto punch‑in/out and locators.
- Optical S/PDIF output (no coaxial S/PDIF out).
- 4 unbalanced mic/line channels.
- 4 line‑only channels.
- 8 secondary channels.
- Stereo buss input for adding a submixer.
- 2‑band sweep EQ.
- 2 centre detented Aux sends, fed from either main or monitor channels.
- Separate outputs for all 8 disk tracks.
- 4 track inputs feeding tracks 1/5, 2/6 etc.
- 2 routable stereo returns.