Fostex X-15 Multitracker
The name Fostex is quickly becoming synonymous with quality home multitrack equipment. The very latest addition to the Fostex range of home recording equipment, the X-15 Multitracker, looks set to continue this trend. It is a portable, battery/mains operated four track cassette recorder and mixer — with the emphasis definitely on 'portable': for the complete unit measures only 3"(H) x 11½"(W) x 9"(D) and weighs in at under 6½lbs including the battery pack!
The unit is compactly constructed from tough black plastic. The X-15 differs from the model 250 Multitracker in several ways. Firstly, the tape speed — which is the standard 1⅞-ips; no double speed facility being provided. The slower tape speed should normally result in a lower signal to noise ratio, but the inclusion of built in Dolby B type noise reduction circuitry helps to maintain a healthy S/N of 60dB which is still slightly better than most open reel budget multitrack tape recorders! Crosstalk is quoted as 40dB, with a signal frequency response that extends up to 12.5kHz. The second difference is that you can only record on a maximum of two tracks at a time, which may appear somewhat limiting but is not in practice, as this machine is meant to be used for multitracking by one person and most musicians would rarely need to record more than two instruments simultaneously anyway.
The recorder is designed primarily for portability. With this in mind, a rectangular case is provided that houses ten (1.5V) SP2 type batteries. This case attaches to the rear panel by two large slot head screws that can easily be turned using the edge of a coin for quick removal and change of batteries. The recorder requires a voltage of between 11 and 15 volts. When the batteries are too low to enable a good recording to be made, the green power LED on the top of the main panel will either dim, flash or go out completely. A DC In socket on the rear panel allows an AC adaptor to be connected for mains power and is accessible once the battery pack is removed. Incidentally, Fostex say that a rechargeable battery pack should be available very soon that will allow the recorder to be plugged into the mains and used while the batteries are charging.
Now to the control layout of the recorder itself. The power switch is located on the rear of the battery case and a green LED on the main panel lights to say that power is on. The left side panel contains eight recessed phono sockets that provide connections for the Tape Output (-10dBV) from each track, the main Left and Right outputs (-20dBV) and channel A and B Line Inputs (-20dBV). Mic Inputs (-50dBV) are provided on the front panel for channels A and B. These are standard ¼" jacks and will accept most high impedance input signals. To the right of these are two small black thumbwheels and a ¼" jack stereo headphone socket (8-40 ohms) for monitoring your recordings. These thumbwheels are flush mounted with the front panel, but are cut away at the bottom to allow you to turn them. The first wheel controls the headphone level and does not affect your recording level.
The second thumbwheel is a Pitch control that gives you plus or minus 15% of the normal tape speed, effectively allowing you to change the pitch of a note, up or down by three semitones (a major 3rd). A centre click-stop sets normal pitch operation. This pitch control is a very useful device, which allows you to tune sounds on the tape to the pitch of your instrument, or to create effects. Two sockets for Remote Punch In and Punch Out complete the front panel controls, and these accept the Fostex Model 9060 Remote foot control which operates on an 'airline pump' principle, rather like a camera flash selector. You squeeze the pump and air pressure switches a contact!
The top panel contains the cassette section and the four channel monitor mixer. The cassette cover lid is situated on the centre right of this panel. Lifting it gives easy access to the standard cassette tape transport mechanism and the Erase and combined 4 track Record/Playback heads. The latter is the same one that is fitted to the model 250 Multitrack cassette recorder. Demagnetisation and regular cleaning of tape heads is particularly easy to achieve on this machine. Above the cassette LED is a 3 digit mechanical tape counter with a reset to zero pushbutton. Directly below the cassette lid are the cassette motion functions.
From right to left these are: Pause, Stop, Ffwd, Rewind, Play and Record. The large Record button has an accompanying red LED to indicate the record status. While in the Play mode, depressing either Rewind or Ffwd lets you hear what's on tape, giving an audio cueing facility for quicker selection of the start of your music. Pushing the Record button automatically depresses the Play button as well which cuts down the number of things you have to control when entering record mode.
The left hand side of the main panel is concerned with signal mixing and routing. Across the top are two rows of four small, rotary controls numbered 1 to 4, situated in a recessed compartment. The top row are the Gain controls with zero at the 12 o'clock position, and below these are the Pan controls for stereo positioning of tracks during mixdown or monitoring. Two Input Selector switches and two main faders (A and B) are located below this compartment. These three position switches determine which input signal is routed to the channel fader, and are labelled Mic, Line and Remix. The main fader controls either the record level of the input coming from the Mic/Line Selector or on Remix controls the level of off-tape signals during the stereo mixdown. Between the faders are two vertical green LED meters. These are the peak reading type of meter calibrated from -20 to +6 VU, with red LEDs above 0VU.
The X-15 Multitracker has only just been launched and is not available until May. The machine will sell at around £299 (inc VAT), a price that should enable anyone to multitrack their music — let's hope that every school music room gets one too! The unit comes with a strong, woven shoulder strap that fixes neatly to the case using two metal clasps, and makes the machine truly portable.
We will be testing the X-15 during the next few weeks and we'll publish a full practical appraisal shortly.
The Fostex X-15 is distributed in the UK by Turnkey, (Contact Details).