Vesta Fire MR-10 Multitracker
Richard Walmsley on another contender for the 'small is beautiful' stakes
Since its launch, Fostex's unpretentious X15 multi-tracker has been regarded as the mighty midget of home recording. Now, however, from Vesta Fire comes a new contender for this prestigious title, the MR-10, or the Mister Ten as I very much hope it will come to be known.
Word has it, on the dealer grapevine, that there is not a great deal to choose between the Fostex and the Vesta Fire machines. Both are similarly priced at RRPs of £299 and £258 respectively, meaning that they should be available at around the £240-£250 mark.
The Vesta Fire MR-10 is an internally linked cassette recorder and mixer. The tape recorder is much as on a domestic cassette deck; Record, Play, Cue, Rewind, Stop and pause buttons etc, and it functions at 1⅞ips. The principle feature which differs is the use of optional dbx noise reduction, and a ±15% pitch control.
The mixer has two input channels suitable for use with 1/4 inch jacks, which feature Input Fader, Trim Pot, and Low and High Equalisation pots (±10dB at 100Hz and 10kHz respectively). Signals from these inputs are routed to the recorder by two record function switches — one for Buss Left (tracks 1 and 3) the other for Buss Right (tracks 2 and 4). These two switches can only be allocated to one track at a time meaning that only two tracks can be recorded simultaneously.
A four channel Line/Track mixer, with two pots per channel for level and pan enable signals from tape to be mixed for mastering, or for stereo monitoring over headphones. Finally there is a headphone socket with independent monitor level.
All these features are to be found in a very similar form on the X15, and in addition the machine is but an inch or so larger in length and breadth, and weighs almost exactly the same.
The differences — or rather the additional features — between this and the X15 are as follows: In the first place Mister Ten's mixer section has no less than ten input options which it is possible to use simultaneously. These extra (phono type) inputs are mounted across the top of the machine along with four tape outs for use with an auxiliary mixer or for adding effects. They are: four line inputs for use with higher output instruments (above -10dB) such as keyboards and drum machines, Aux In L/R for use with stereo drum machines, keyboards and cassette decks, and Phono In L/R for use with a stereo record player. Also on the top of the machine is a Five Pin DIN plug for use with an Expander Unit (not available at present) which will expand Mister Ten's mixing capability.
Like the X15, the MR-10 has four tape outs which can be used for signal processing — by taking a signal from one of these outputs into an effects unit, and back in through one of the 1/4 inch jack input channels — or they can be used with an external mixer.
The Line In (Phono) inputs are routed to the recorder via the Line/Track mixer, panning to the right for Tracks two and four, and to the left for channels one and three.
Whilst the MR-10 looks similar to the X-15 in terms of its dimensions and basic construction, it is a different looking beast for two reasons. Firstly the Mister Ten's mixer knobs are brightly coloured affairs giving it a slightly toy-like appearance. Secondly, the MR-10 has four VU meters positioned above the recorder. This means that unlike the X15, you can not only monitor input levels or stereo buss output levels, but you can also monitor the pre-recorded levels on all four tracks simultaneously, and there is a switch to determine which use is made of the meters. There is the usual Remix switch which connects the Line In mixer to the main stereo buss/line out channels enabling mixdown, bounces, and the recording of signals input through the line in jacks. Finally there is a single master fader to simultaneously control levels to both stereo busses.
So, having said all that, it is obvious that this machine includes a lot of features to be found on the X15 and a lot more besides. What therefore can you actually do with it?
First of all, this machine is a very adequate songwriter's tool, and is very simple and quick to use for getting ideas down to tape. The VUs seem to be easy to use, giving quick and fairly accurate levels which seem to be cleanly reproduced on tape. Like most smaller portastudios, most monitoring whilst overdubbing has to be done on headphones, although the sound can be monitored through speakers whilst eq'ing or rehearsing, via the Line outs.
Use of more than two inputs simultaneously on a machine this size is not always going to be a particularly practical notion, though the fact that this option is open makes the machine an attractive proposition. For instance, it cuts down on the number of bounces needed in order to do a complex mix; pre-panned drum tracks can be input via the Line or Aux ins, whilst two live parts are being recorded, or signal processing with separate levels for real and effected signals can be obtained.
The only slightly disappointing aspect of the Line inputs is that they cannot be used when overdubbing (the pre-recorded tracks will 'bounce down' if you try this approach) although they can be used as a live input during bounce down, again enabling complex mixes to be completed with the minimum of noise.
The fact that the Vesta Fire uses the same format as domestic tape recorders means that you can record song ideas on to tracks one and two, then send them to other band members who will be able to play them on a cassette deck and rehearse and work out their own ideas. One could do this on an X15, but using the Mister Ten the amount of music you can actually put down on tracks one and two without bouncing has been radically enlarged. Sequencers, drum machines and live parts can be put down, or perhaps most importantly for our present age, MIDI'd up keyboards.
The Aux In and Phono In sockets again have many applications for many different breeds of user. Home recordists using this machine can 'roll off' a whole four track mix and put it back in stereo on to two track, with the option of adding live overdubs. Also the possibility exists for people to add their own parts to records and tapes of recording artists — a pastime that might well appeal to many musical amateurs. But another use for these input options could well appeal to singers, jazz and studying musicians — types of musicians not normally that interested in this kind of unit. For the first time a cheap unit is available which will enable them to quickly record tracks from records and tapes, and to record their own improvisations, vocal harmonies etc on the remaining tracks for future analysis, experimentation or for audition purposes.
It will be quickly seen from all this that though Vesta Fire's MR-10 multitracker does bear resemblance to other budget multi-trackers it also has many features hitherto unavailable. Its appeal lies mainly in the flexibility of its input and output options and as such has the flexibility to go some way beyond a simple 'ideas machine'. At the moment it is handicapped somewhat by the unavailability of its accessories. It runs off DC 12-15V power and so has to be used with an adaptor, and unfortunately at the time of going to press the battery pack is not available. A remote punch in/out pedal comes as an optional extra and is an electronic device, unlike the X15's air bulb device. A smart carrying case is also available. When the expander unit becomes available, Mister Ten may even wrest the title of Mighty Midget from its honourable competition.