Fostex 454 Mixer
Fostex’s new 454 mixer is aimed fairly and squarely at the recording user, with features that make it an ideal companion to most 4 or 8-track recorders. Paul Ireson explains why.
Fostex's new 454 mixer is aimed fairly and squarely at the recording user. Its connections and facilities would certainly allow it to perform in a small PA role at a pinch, but by and large its features make it the ideal companion to a 4 or 8-track recorder.
The mixer has an 8:4:2 configuration, with good EQ, two auxiliary busses (one mono, one stereo), and inputs and outputs just about everywhere in the audio chain that you might happen to need them. Physically, it adopts a flatbed design and is more or less square. The back panel is effectively split in two, one half being the 'true' back panel, and the other being a strip at the back of the top panel which carries even more audio sockets. The former is used for the channel Input jacks and XLRs (one of each type per channel), Insert jacks, stereo Monitor and Aux Out jacks. The latter houses all of the phono connections, the ones you'll be hooking up to your recorder: Tape In and Direct Out for each channel; Bus In 1-4; Bus Out 1-4; Stereo Master outputs; Stereo bus inputs; 2-Track In. (The Stereo Master outputs are phonos whereas the Monitor outputs are jacks, reflecting the fact that the former will be connected to a tape recorder, and the latter to a mixer or power amp.) There is also a switch to select either PPM or peak hold operation for the LED bargraph meters, and another to switch 24V DC phantom power in and out on the (XLR) balanced inputs. Two headphones jacks can be found at the front right facing edge of the unit.
The mixer layout is conventional, with eight sets of identical channel controls to the left and a bus/master section to their right. A slightly sloping section of the top panel houses the four LED bargraph meters. Each channel has an unbalanced jack and a balanced XLR socket for line or mic input. A stereo jack provides an insert facility for each channel, in the conventional manner. Each channel also has a phono tape input and phono direct output (post-fader, post-EQ signal). Working through the channel controls down the board, the input section comes first. All channels have input gain variable from -10dBV to +60dBV, and you can select Mic/Line Input, Off, or Tape as the source for each channel. Below the input select switch is a single pot for the Aux 1 send level.
Aux 2 is a stereo bus. Its source is switchable on each channel, independently of the main input choice, between Tape and Pre- or Post-fader channel sources. Both Pre- and Post-fader sources are post-EQ. You can pan the signal in the Aux 2 stereo bus, and of course vary its level. Both auxiliary busses lack a master send level control, so send levels are set entirely by the channel pot position.
The assignment section lets you route each channel to busses 1 and 2, or 3 and 4, or off, and set a balance between the two selected (effectively, a pan position). The EQ section is excellent: clean, effective and, for want of a better word, musical. It combines a shelving high band filter (10kHz) with two parametric equalisers. All bands have a healthy 15dB of cut or boost, and the sweepable bands cover 60Hz to 1 kHz and 400Hz to 6kHz.
Below the EQ section is a PFL (prefade listen) button for each channel. Channel faders have a 100mm travel and feel smooth and high quality. Just above each fader is a peak/PFL indicator LED. It would have been better if this was a two-colour type, so as to also give notice of whether a signal is present at each input — as it is, it will only indicate clipping. Because the channel path takes the signal through the EQ before the fader, at which point the peak indicator is placed, radical equalisation will often require the input gain to be tweaked in order to prevent clipping or to boost the signal to a more suitable level.
To the right of the channels are the controls for the four busses, Monitor and Master outputs. Four rotary pots just below the meters allow you to set levels for the Monitor and Stereo Master outputs, Phones outputs, and PFL bus (when PFL is selected, the signal is sent to the monitor outputs).
Controls for each of the four busses consist of a Bus In gain pot, which allows you to mix in an external signal (from a phono jack on the rear of the top panel), and a pan pot to vary the position within the main stereo bus. Each bus also has a PFL switch and a fader, like the input channels. You would most probably use the bus inputs as effects returns, and there is also the stereo input (phono) to the stereo master bus that could be used in the same way, but note that this has no gain control — it is mixed unattenuated with the stereo master bus signal, just before the main output level control.
A set of buttons above the bus controls allows you to select your sources for monitoring: Bus 1-4, Aux 2; Stereo Master; 2-Track. The latter selects the stereo phono inputs that are intended for connection to a stereo master recorder's outputs. If any of the stereo busses (2-Track, Master, Aux 2) are selected, then they are monitored in stereo. If either Busses 1 and 2, or 3 and 4 are selected, then the first is monitored on the left and the second on the right. If only one out of either pair is selected, then it is monitored in the centre of the stereo image. If several sources are monitored simultaneously (you can switch them all in, if you wish), the above rules still apply.
To the right of the monitor select switches is one that allows you to choose what is to be displayed on the meters. The four meters can either show levels for busses 1-4, or levels in the stereo master bus (output) and the 2-track input. If PFL is used, then the need to display this signal takes priority.
The ergonomics of the mixer are good. Knobs fall easily to hand, and they are laid out so as to avoid any cluttering. They have a feel of quality to them, which extends to the audio performance. Frequency response is quoted as 20Hz-20kHz, with 0.05% THD at 1kHz. Careful listening to a variety of sources gave me no reason to doubt these figures. A single line input gives 86dB unweighted signal-to-noise ratio, and using all eight cuts this to 76dB. The figures are 68dB and 58dB respectively for mic inputs.
The Fostex 454 is well suited to a contemporary modest recording environment, both in terms of its quality and features. Provided you don't really need to record on more than four tracks at once, the 454 would be an excellent complement to any of the current generation of affordable 8-tracks — you could, of course, record on all eight tracks via the 454's channel direct outputs.
A typical application might see the 454 partnered with a Fostex R8. Assorted synths, mics, and guitars would be connected to the channel inputs, and the recorder's tape outputs to the channel tape inputs. The bus outputs would feed the R8's inputs 1-4 — provided nothing is connected to inputs 5-8, the signal received at input 1 is also sent to input 5, that received at input 2 is duplicated at input 6, and so on. This cuts out the need for repatching all eight inputs. When recording tracks without effects, Aux 2 could provide your stereo monitor mix of all four busses. If you wanted any treatment on your monitor mix, patching effects between Aux 2's outputs and the stereo inputs, and monitoring the stereo master bus, would be the way to go.
For overdubbing, Aux 2 could again provide your stereo monitor mix, of both tape tracks and the inputs being recorded. Again, bus outputs would feed the recorder inputs. In mixdown, the stereo master would be used to carry the final mix, which could be monitored either at the mixer or recorder outputs. Here, you would most probably use Aux 1 and 2 for effects.
All in all, the 454 is a worthy addition to the Fostex range — an amply featured, high quality, small recording mixer that is well able to help you get the best out of today's 4-track and 8-track recorders.
£599 inc VAT.
Fostex UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Ireson
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!