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Control Room

Better than the reel thing

Fostex XR-5 & XR-7

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Stylish personal multitrackers


The cheapest and easiest way into recording is still the personal multitracker. Fostex have two new models in the shape of the stylish and portable XR5 and XR7 four-tracks. Danny McAleer gets back on track...


If four-tracks are the scourge of the bedroom studio, then Fostex must be captain Captain Bligh. For the company that has become synonymous with budget multi-tracks has just unleashed two more.

First in the frame is the XR7; a fully-featured four-track recorder. Pedants may prefer to call it a cat-o'-six-tails, for that's the number of channels its mixer section is equipped to handle. But the XR7 also boasts a and a handsome complement of functions and sockets (for extra flesh wounds? — Ed).

First impressions



The front panel is where all the inputs are: six 1/4" jacks (four line, and two mic/line), plus a punch in/out jack, and a headphone socket. There is nothing on the back panel, save the power switch and supply socket. The control panel is littered with aural interfaces. They begin, from left to right, with insert points for input channels five and six.

The XR7 also has two auxiliary sends, configured as a single mono out into a stereo pair. Although a lot of effects processors work this way, it would have been nice to have stereo outputs on the auxiliary sends. There are ways around it, though. You can use both sends, and return them to one set of returns, or perhaps even split the signal, thus having a dual stereo return. It isn't inflexible, and two sets are better than one. The only thing you can't do is send a signal to both auxiliaries at the same time.

The FB, or foldback RCA, gives an extra mono monitor output, independent of all the fader positions. The mix is set up using the FB pots on the relevant channels; turning the dial towards input, it's possible to hear what's being played in, whilst a turn in the opposite direction towards tape, will output the tape signal. Using these pots, an appropriate mix for playing along a new part can be set up, without messing up the levels going to tape. This is even more useful when bouncing tracks.

Connections to the outside are made via two pairs of RCAs, one for plugging in a monitor amplifier, the other for going to a two track device. There are also four more RCAs, to directly send out each of the four tracks independently, with the fourth channel doubling up as a tape sync.

Channels one through four are of the line input variety. As such, they have no gain pots. The only volume alterations you're able to make are with the 70mm faders, which have an agreeably firm motion. Switch to 'tape' with the input selector above each fader, and you can listen back to all the twiddlings already recorded, or bounce this track onto another one.

Each channel has five pots: The FB (foldback) control, pan, low and high EQs (±12dB at 100Hz and 10KHz respectively), and an auxiliary send. All the pots, with the odd exclusion of the pan pot, are centre-dented, and suitable for the most sausage-fingered of us. Finally, there is an auxiliary select switch that selects the signal (either the FB or input), to send to the aux sends.

The last two input channels have a trim pot, with a selectable gain between -60 and -10dBV, making them suitable for low-level sources such as microphones. This is a rather unconventional set up, as most multi-tracks use the first two inputs as the switchable mic/line variety. It doesn't really matter though, as it is just as easy to record these parts to tape, as it is channels one through four.

Five and six don't have any direct method of monitoring via the FB output. To hear an input in either of these channels via the FB mix, the relevant tape tracks must be switched on, and then the FB pots on channels one to four (whichever of the four that's applicable), turned to 'track'.

The EQ on the last two channels is much better, with an additional mid-band semi-parametric EQ, with ±12dB of gain on frequencies between 200Hz and 5KHz. A switch at the top of the channels determines whether the inputs are treated to a liberal sprinkling of EQ, or whether this section is reserved for the whole mix. Switching this setting to mix after everything is recorded on tape, allows that final bit of tweaking before mixing down on to two tracks.

The EQ is a potent weapon, and when used delicately, gives results of the quality we expect of Fostex. Parametric EQ is always useful, particularly for creating phasing-type effects on drum and vocal sounds. Actually, the only time when EQ can become a bit of a problem is during track-bouncing, where too much of it can lead to vicious amounts of distortion.

The master section of the mixer part has an identical fader to the channels for the stereo outputs, plus two pairs of auxiliary returns, and a monitor level. This pot increases the volume of the output to the monitor outputs (where the external amplifier is plugged in), the extra FB output, and the headphone levels, without adversely affecting the volumes going to tape.

Above the main fader is a monitor switch with three options: Stereo, stereo plus foldback, and foldback. With this, you can choose which of the outputs is heard out of the monitor outputs and headphones. Setting to stereo gives an identical signal to what is going to tape, while Foldback offers a completely different (and mono) mix, dictated by the channel FB pots. Stereo plus FB mixes the two signals together.


It's on tape



The XR7 has one of those horrible flip lids without any locking mechanism. It hasn't improved at all on the design of the X26; something I nearly wrecked once by getting a cable caught under the lid. Needless to say, the lid was propelled skywards, and was an absolute bugger to get back in again.

Three buttons reside alongside the digital display: Dolby noise reduction (C-type), rehearsal mode, and the counter reset. Next to these is the pitch control, with ±10% of speed difference for making the vocalist sound like Mickey Mouse or Barry White. The XR7 also has an additional half speed mode, so you can play normal cassettes on it, and decode all those alleged Satanic messages. This is accessed by simultaneously pushing Stop whilst holding down the rehearsal button. When this mode is active, the pitch dial makes no difference, and just in case you think it's broken, the display flashes helpfully. Pressing the rehearsal button again switches the tape speed back to 9.5cm/sec.

The backlit LCD digital display features six, seven-segment meters for channel/track monitoring, and for the main left/right outputs. Underneath the track meters are status lights, which flash when record mode is active for that particular track. To switch a track into Record Active, there are switches underneath the display, each with three settings: off (where the tape is in playback mode), a corresponding number for direct recording, and a L/R setting for routing. The numbered settings apply to direct recording, where channel input one is sent to track one on tape, and so on. This is the most simple recording method, but is no good for bouncing, or for using channels five and six.

For more flexibility, you can use the L/R settings on the track switches. These are used in conjunction with the pan pots on the input channels. For example, with an input in channel one, you can record on track one (or indeed track three) by switching it to L, and turning the pan pot all the way to the left. Alternatively, turning the pan pot hard right, and switching either tape tracks two or four to R, you can record channel one on these tracks instead.



"Recording quality is comparable in terms of frequency response to multi-tracks of twice the price"


In direct mode, the pan pots make no difference, and input one is sent to track one. It is actually possible to record the input from any of the channels on all four tracks at once. Whether that's good practice makes no difference; it just highlights how flexible the routing system is.

To achieve this, all four tracks are set to their relevant L/R settings, and the input set to dead centre (where a centre-dented pan pot would have been useful). And there you have it, four tracks. A greater use of this routing system, would perhaps just be to record on two tracks (numerous permutations are available), and then bounce them down on to another track to make a phasey recording. Superb.

Channels five and six are sent to the left and right tracks respectively, in their virgin state. By fiddling with the pan pots, it's possible to send them just about anywhere too. And with the rehearsal mode enabled, you can practice a punch-in/out record as many times as you like, without physically recording anything. It does this by muting the track when the footswitch is first pushed, and then begins playing again on a second press.

The fast forward and rewind aren't really as fast as other multi-tracks, but this isn't something to be particularly concerned over. Indeed, the rest of the logic controls make up for this lack of speed. Pushing the record and play buttons together may seem like a backwards step for logic control, but this allows a single push of the record button to be used for something else; namely, activating record monitoring.

There isn't any time-out on the monitoring; neither does it switch off when you use any of the other tape controls. This means you can fast forward, rewind and play, all whilst still being in monitor mode. As the XR7 has a digital counter (cue loud cheers), it's able to implement a 'return to zero' function. Using this with the play button, you can make it auto-play when it returns to the beginning of a song. And pressing the play button and fast forward or rewind together, allows you to fast-cue the tape, making it much easier to find start and end points, or something that sounds vaguely like the bit you wanted to hear again.

Recording quality is wonderful; comparable in terms of frequency response to multi-tracks of twice the price. Using the Dolby C noise reduction does an awfully good job of eliminating noise; perhaps a little too good a job, as it sometimes chops the higher frequencies from percussion sounds, making them sound duller. Still, a little compensatory EQing, and things are fine again. Of course, the same quality tape rule applies to the XR7 as it does to all multi-tracks; use a ferric tape, and you won't only get a nasty recording, but some seriously unhappy tape heads too.


Spot the difference



The XR5 is the sidekick of the outfit, with less functions and a cheaper price. It's housed in exactly the same suave grey plastic casing, the fundamental difference lying in the cassette area, and in only having four input channels.

Each of these four channels are laid out identically to the first four channels on the XR7; the only difference is that channels one and two are modified with a switchable gain (low, mid, and high) control to facilitate microphone inputs. All the input and output sockets are identical to the XR7, so versatility is not seriously compromised. These include all the auxiliary sends, foldback monitoring, and insert points for channels one and two.

It's only possible to record on two tracks simultaneously with the XR5 (either track one or three, and two or four), although it is still possible to route the signal from any input channel to any track using the pan pot. Unfortunately, as the cassette controls are of the mechanical variety, the only way to monitor a recording level going to tape is to push record down with the pause button also depressed. This means it isn't possible to mess around with tape positioning.

The quality of recording is fairly good, although obviously not as good as the XR7. Dolby B noise reduction ensures that few snakes are allowed to roam on to the tape, and the more dynamic pitch control on offer with ±12% allows for greater warbling.

The display on the XR5 is multi-functional, with its four bar segmented display switchable between mixer and tape volumes. It's all rather simple-looking, more so than the XR7 anyway, with a meek-looking mechanical counter to finish things off.

Verdict



There's nothing particularly innovative about the XR5 or XR7; both have much the same ingredients as a hundred other four-tracks. Their quality lies not so much in originality as in ergonomics and logic of operation. In terms of recording calibre and functionality, the XR7 greatly surpasses the XR5, and is certainly worth saving up the extra week's (or month's in my case) wages to pay for.

For those with an itching to get something recorded right away, but with a bank account that isn't up to it, the XR5 serves as an entry-level unit. Whether there's still a place for the humble four-track in these times of digital direct-to-disk systems is open to long, drawn-out debates, but as long as they churn them out to this standard, there's life in the old dog yet.

The essentials...

Prices inc VAT: XR5 - £379 XR7 - £499
More from: SCV London, (Contact Details).


Spec check

Mixer section XR5 XR7
Mixer inputs 4 (2 mic/line, 2 line) 6 (4 line, 2 mic/line)
Equaliser High 10KHz ±10dB (shelving) High 10KHz ±12dB (shelving)
Low 100Hz ±10dB (shelving) Low 100Hz ±12dB (shelving)
Channels 5 and 6 Semi-parametric: Mid 200Hz-5KHz ±12dB
Frequency response 20Hz to 20KHz 20Hz to 20KHz

Tape section
Noise reduction Dolby B (switchable) Dolby C (switchable)
Tape speed 9.5cm/sec 9.5cm/sec 4.75cm/sec (switchable)
Wow/flutter ±0.17% ±0.07%
Pitch control ±12% ±10% (at 9.5cm/sec only)
Frequency response 40Hz to 14KHz 40Hz to 18KHz (at 9.5cm/sec)
S/N ratio 58dB 65dB
Crosstalk Higher than 50dB (at 1 KHz) Higher than 50dB (at 1 KHz)
Erasure ratio 70dB or higher (at 1 KHz) 70dB or higher (at 1 KHz)
Heads Rec/play, hard Permalloy Rec/play, hard Permalloy
Weight 2.6Kg 3.0Kg
Dimensions (mm) 405 x 321 x 105 (WxDxH) 405 x 321 x 105 (WxDxH)



Previous Article in this issue

Didgital recording

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Acid test


Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Review by Danny McAleer

Previous article in this issue:

> Didgital recording

Next article in this issue:

> Acid test


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