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Fostex MC102

Keyboard Mixer/Cassette Recorder


For about the going price for a line mixer alone, Fostex throw in mic inputs and a Dolby C cassette deck. Paul White takes the MC102 for a test drive.


The concept behind the Fostex MC102 is obvious, yet other manufacturers don't appear to have taken the step of combining a rack-mount mixer and stereo cassette deck with pitch control; while this may not seem to be such an exciting concept on the face of it, I can see a couple of very obvious applications. Firstly, the keyboard player/sequencer user who wants a no-fuss means of mixing sequenced sounds should find this product ideal. Furthermore, though this is essentially a line mixer, it is equipped with two mic channels, making it practical to add a live vocal to a sequenced backing track. If this seems rather crude, consider that all records were originally made this way, the only difference being that the result was mono and the sequencer was replaced by session musicians.

The other potential user is the 4-track owner who has run out of mixer channels. By feeding the tape outputs (or even the master stereo out) from the cassette multitracker into the line inputs of the MC102, the taped material can be combined with several channels of sequenced material and mixed directly to cassette.

THE HARDWARE



Occupying 3U of rack space, the MC102 comprises a stereo cassette deck and a 12-channel mixer. The mixer has 10 line-only inputs plus two variable gain inputs which can accept mic, line or instrument level signals. Only the two variable gain channels, A and B, are provided with EQ, a simple shelving hi/lo system operating at 100Hz and 10kHz, and an input gain trim control, but all channels have solo buttons, level and pan controls and a centre-detent Aux control.

There are actually two aux send busses, but each channel can only access one at a time; when the Aux control is turned anticlockwise from centre, the send signal to Aux buss 1 increases, and when it is turned clockwise, the send level to Aux buss 2 increases. There are send jacks on the rear panel and a stereo aux return, which is controlled by a single master level pot. In addition, there are jacks for the stereo monitor output and main stereo output. All the audio connections are on the rear panel, in the form of unbalanced jacks, with the exception of the A and B channel inputs and the headphones outlet.

The centre section of the front panel is given over to the master section of the machine, which is shared between cassette deck and mixer. Here we find controls for the Phones level, the Monitor level and the Aux return gain, as well as a Stereo Master level control. The Monitor control sets the level of the signal fed to the separate Monitor output jacks, which would normally be connected to a power amp or the aux input of a hi-fi amp. The buttons below allow the signal from the tape machine, the mixer output, Aux 1 or Aux 2 to be fed to the monitor outputs; as the switches are not interlocked, more than one switch may be depressed if necessary. All the tape transport buttons are of the mechanical switch type, and though these don't feel so nice as soft-touch switches, they're not too clunky and they do the job.

Unlike most domestic tape transports, this one is designed to work with Type II tape only (Chrome or equivalent) and claims a frequency response of 40Hz-14kHz. It is a standard two-head, single motor transport with a variable speed range of +/-10%.

USABILITY



Inputs A and B have an input impedance of 20kohms, making them suitable for use with line-level signals, low impedance microphones and electronic instruments. The input impedance is too low to give good results with electric guitars or basses (unless they are active) and, similarly, they are not really suitable for high impedance microphones. All the remaining channels have a 10kohms input impedance suitable for line level signals, though it may be on the low side for some semi-pro and domestic equipment. A more common line input impedance is 50kohms, and I suspect that Fostex have stuck with 10kohms to obtain a slightly better noise performance. Each input has a solo button which solos the channel signal to the monitor signal — useful when setting up a mix or optimising levels.

The effects routing system is a compromise, but on a small mixer like this, the fact that you can patch in two effects units has to be a good point, even though individual channels can only make use of one or the other and not both. Because the mixer has a fairly clean signal path, it actually performs very well, having a 20Hz-20kHz audio response and a low background noise level. Even the A/B mic inputs are reasonably quiet as long as you don't ask too much of them.

The cassette deck works perfectly well, though it is, in fairness, only equivalent to a decent budget hi-fi machine. Its frequency response isn't up to professional standards, but the use of Dolby C ensures it is reasonably quiet. Because this is a hybrid product, the signal routing isn't always obvious, but the block diagram in the manual clarifies things. Essentially, the main Stereo output is always the output from the mixer and is controlled by the Stereo Master control.

The Monitor output, on the other hand, may be fed from either Aux 1, Aux 2, the Stereo mix or the Tape machine outputs. There's no direct way to route the tape machine outputs into the mixer, though this may be achieved by using a couple of patch cables to link the Monitor out to a couple of spare mixer inputs; just make sure that the Monitor select switching isn't set to Tape or you might find you've created a feedback loop. For most applications you shouldn't need to feed the tape machine through the mixer section, but for live performance, where you might want to use backing tapes, it would have been nice if this operation was simpler.

SUMMARY



Fostex have come up with a simple, practical product that doesn't cost the earth. The mixer is fine for basic keyboard mixing or for adding vocals to electronic instruments, while the cassette deck provides a convenient way to record the mix. Criticisms are few and are mainly directed at the cassette section, which has been built down to a price and so isn't suitable for really serious work. The mechanical transport switches and tape counter are also a little passe, and there's no Dolby B option, which means that the tapes can't be played back properly on the many cassette decks still around that use only Dolby B.

The mixer acquits itself very well, and though it has EQ only on channels A and B, this shouldn't be a problem when putting together demos.

As to who will use the MC102, I can see it appealing to the home MIDI studio owner, the cassette multitrack user who wants more mixer channels, or the live performer who uses backing tapes and wants something considerably more portable than a flight-cased Robert Maxwell. At around £400 for a 12-channel mixer and a cassette deck, all in one extremely smart and easy-to-use package, the MC102 has to be considered good value.

Further information

Fostex MC102 £399 inc VAT.

Fostex UK Ltd, (Contact Details).


Also featuring gear in this article



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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Apr 1993

Donated by: Russ Deval

Gear in this article:

Cassette (Stereo) > Fostex > MC102


Gear Tags:

2 Track
1⅞ ips (4.75cm/s)

Review by Paul White

Previous article in this issue:

> SOS On-line - Your Letters

Next article in this issue:

> Invision Plus One


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