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Fostex X28

Cassette Multitracker

Policemen look younger, you start to disown parts of your record collection and, just as surely with the passing of time, entry-level cassette multitrackers sprout more inputs and features. Dave Lockwood tries to keep up with the Fostex X28.

Fostex's X26 was one of the more versatile entry-level multitrackers on the market. Their new X28 expands on the concept, offering more inputs, better electronic tape transport controls and, in my opinion, significantly improved styling. It is quite remarkable just how much is crammed into its compact 331mm x 193mm dimensions: separate headphone and line-level monitor outputs: +/-10% varispeed; direct tape outputs; stereo aux return: simultaneous 4-track recording... it's all there.

A 12VDC adapter is employed, making the unit very lightweight, but nevertheless reasonably substantial in feel. Unlike many external PSU-powered devices, the X28 chassis does have a power on/off switch. Maintenance access, for the efficient cleaning and de-magnetizing so essential to a marginally engineered system, is slightly hindered by the flip-up cassette cover, which should have been made readily detachable. Frequency response up to 12.5kHz and a signal to noise ratio of 58dB or better is no disgrace from a standard speed transport, and gives subjectively acceptable results for this level of the market.

The compact cassette multitrack designer is faced with something of a dilemma. The early units were effectively scaled-down standard recording desks with a tape transport built-in. They had a bus for every track, EQ, and usually an auxiliary send, on every channel. Seeking, at the same time, ever greater compactness and complexity however, has left the designer with no choice other than to adopt a host of non-standard procedures and configurations - anyone upgrading from a 4-track machine is quite likely to find, these days, that hardly any of his techniques are transferrable from one 4-track machine to another, never mind onto bigger gear!


The X28 has been configured to offer eight fader-controlled remix inputs, plus a stereo aux return. Seeking to maximise flexibility for use in combined MIDI/tape set-ups has created an almost bewildering array of options; by utilising the Monitor output for mastering, and subsequently mixing the tape tracks via their aux controls, it is actually possible to combine 10 external sources with the three remaining tape tracks (the fourth is dedicated to sync code). The inevitable compromise is that, as on the X26, the channel facilities are minimal. There is no channel EQ, and the only facility common to all eight inputs is the Pan control. EQ is present only on the stereo bus. Signals that need to be recorded with EQ can be routed to tape via this bus, but on remix you are limited to EQing the whole output.

A simple 2-band set-up is provided, offering a standard +/-12dB at 100Hz and 10kHz - perfectly adequate for subtle brightening, LF filtering, and above all, 'tape generation loss compensation' ie. 'put it on tape a touch bright and you won't want to do anything to it coming off', which is just as well because you won't be able to!

Eight 1/4" input jacks are featured along the front edge of the unit, with the eight channels divided into two groups of four, Input A and Input B. Only the Input A group have gain controls (-10dB to -60dB), allowing connection of (unbalanced) low level sources such as microphones and low output instruments. Type B inputs substitute a switch to select output from the four tape tracks, or the front panel inputs, fixed at -10dB line sensitivity. The front-end amplifier on type A inputs actually turns in quite a decent noise performance on mic signals, especially if you can use it with a condensor mic which can run unbalanced; a self-powered (on-board preamp battery) electret type would be ideal. Headroom is a much more significant problem. There are no insert points on the X28, so a mic level compressor before the input would make a bigger difference to the system performance than any other form of processing. With economics dictating the use of Dolby B circuitry, rather than the more powerful Type C used in other Fostex models, there is not that much dynamic range to play with, making optimal loading of the tape essential. There is no NR disable switch for track 4, but Dolby B is extremely unlikely to upset sync codes based mainly in the middle frequencies.


The single auxiliary send is post-fader from the Group A inputs, but pre-fader from Group B. The distinction is necessary because the group B controls are dual function, sending from the input when turned anti-clockwise and from the tape signal when rotated past the central point in the other direction. This allows them to become independent monitor mix controls. There are three monitoring options: the stereo bus in combination with the Input B channels, in stereo; the Aux/Monitor pots alone, which will be mono; or the stereo bus combined with the monitor pots in a hybrid stereo/mono combination. Unless you are recording stereo signals, which is probably not that common in 4-track work, the least troublesome monitor method for recording basic tracks and overdubbing and dropping-in is via the aux bus.


Tracks selected to record-ready will receive signal from their correspondingly numbered input (ie. channel 1 to track 1) whilst tracks 1 and 3 receive also from the left side of the stereo bus, and tracks 2 and 4 from the right. It is not therefore possible for any one input to access all the tracks, so some re-plugging at the front will always be necessary.

The X28 has an informative illuminated display, incorporating six miniature bargraph meters showing levels on the stereo bus and the four tape tracks via 7-segment columns. The tape counter is electronic, and transport activity is confirmed by a cute tape-motion display. Curiously, the Dolby on/off switch is located on the top panel among, more regularly accessed facilities such as Counter Reset and Rehearsal Mode, and it also defaults to 'off' every time the machine is powered-up! You simply would not want to use this machine without the Dolby on, yet it would be all too easy to forget to turn it on until after you have recorded the first track. Users will get used to it and not forget, of course, but they shouldn't have to; it is a design fault.

Zero Return, and even Zero Return and Play is incorporated, both via transport control and footswitch. Footswitch drop-in is also included - very quiet electronically, and as fast as the tape speed will allow (ie. rather slow). The Rehearsal function allows you to practise drop-ins, flipping the monitoring to input without recording, enabling a you to achieve a precise level-match before committing yourself - very helpful.


With its multiple remix inputs and emphasis on mixing flexibility, the Fostex X28 seems to be aimed at becoming the first choice entry-level multitracker for the MIDI user. If you are not going to be putting many signals on tape, and do not need to do too much track-bouncing, you can certainly get away with Dolby B and minimal EQ. Also, given the extent to which MIDI equipment's audio signals can be optimised at source, it probably better to have an auxiliary send on every channel than an EQ, if you can't have both. Designing equipment for this level of the market is about making the right compromises between price, performance and user-facilities. I think Fostex have got this one about right.


Fostex X28 multitracker £385 inc VAT.

Fostex UK, (Contact Details).


Input Impedance (All inputs): 20kOhm
Input Level (Input A): -60dBV (1mV) to -10dBV (300mV)
(Input B): -10dBV fixed
Output Impedance (all line outputs): 10kOhm
Output Level (all line outputs): -10dBV
Tape type: IECType II (High bias) C-60 to C-90
Tape speed: 4.75cm/s
Wow and flutter: +/-0.1% (IEC/ANSI)
Frequency Response (Mixer): 20Hz to 20kHz
(Recorder): 40Hz to 12.5kHz
S/N ratio: >58dB
Crosstalk: better than 50dB down @ 1kHz
Erasure ratio: better than 70dB @ 1 kHz
Head Type Record/Play: 4-channel Hard Permalloy
Erase: 4-channel Ferrite

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Making Waves

Next article in this issue

Steinberg Avalon 2.0

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 - Dec 1991

Donated by: Bert Jansch / Adam Jansch

Gear in this article:

Cassette 4-Track > Fostex > X28

Gear Tags:

1⅞ ips (4.75cm/s)
4 Track

Review by Dave Lockwood

Previous article in this issue:

> Making Waves

Next article in this issue:

> Steinberg Avalon 2.0

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