First if all dear reader I must reassure you that though in the course of this review there’s many a false start and unhappy turn, in the end true love conquers all. So be of good heart.
I found a had a few minutes on a quite Saturday in the office to unpack the Fostex CR 500 before heading up to Wakestock to record the Zutons. I had been informed by the editor of Audio Media that I was reviewing a pro CD player and as the machine in our Sadie rack was playing up a simple swap seemed in order. I never got further than unwrapping the Fostex, first the presence of a sizable red button labled “Rec” cast doubts on the veracity of the information I had received and secondly news that I’d forgotten to warn my engineer to bring a spare 64 way XLR loom interrupted the process of installation and the poor Fostex had to lie on the floor till Monday morning.
First thing Monday morning I rolled up to work with a DAT of the stereo mix of the Zutons as a power interruption had upset the CDR machine tasked with the main record duties, aside from the multitrack of course. So here was the perfect start for the Fostex – slap the DAT in the machine, copy the hour or so of the gig and drop in the tracks as we go through. The Fostex gives you a hint of what makes it special when you insert a disk as the first menu enquires as to your preffered format – audio CD or BWAV on a data disk? A click of the yes button to the default CDA option and away we go. I had plugged up in analogue as the CR 500 doesn’t have SPDIF, though as befitting a pro machine it has AES/ABU and balanced analogue I/O. The front panel carries some nice colour led meters so you don’t have to squint at bar graphs so level setting in REC RDY mode on the individual pots was quick and painless. Hit REC and off we go.
While the first track was cooking I scanned the front panel for the track increment function – in vain. Well if you’ve got a menu system I suppose there’s a limit to how many buttons you want on the fron panel. I searched the manual. The first song came and went and the second and the third. I was dashed if I could find any reference to track incrementing. A quick call to SCV revealed that Fostex didn’t provide the function for fear of interruptions to the audio while writing PQ stuff. While on the phone I shared a humourous story of how many years ago I had specified a pro CD player which turned out not to support track index points. This hilarious anecdote was followed by a short silence and then the news that the Fostex CR 500 doesn’t support index points either.
At that point I was quite happy not to love the Fostex so I gave it the cold shoulder it in the rack for a few days as punishment. However other people kept coming along and using it with virtually no training beyond “push this and press that”, treating it as you would a tape machine – which is actually part of what Fostex see this machine as doing – it’s a no fuss recorder, and a bit more.
One thing they’ve really worked on is the responsiveness of the drive. I like the fact that Stop is pause and in a playback environment it’s an important distinction which again makes the Fostex feel like a tape machine. When you hit Stop the last thing you want is your playback machine to recue to the top of a twenty seven minute programme. Another great feature is locate by time – so you’ve got your one hour long programme and you want to listen thirty four minutes in. No more holding down the scan key till your finger goes blue, just dial in thirty four minutes and hit locate.
In fact the responsiveness of the drive to the track playback buttons 1 to 10 is fast enough to be used as “instant” start without any buffering into memory palaver. And you have ten memory locations where you can set the in and out points and the CR 500 will playback just the selection between. And to help you select the ins and outs you can scrub the audio complete with waveform till you find the point you want – you probably want to read that again – yes you can scrub the audio using the menu control pot and watch the waveform on the LCD display. Love reborn. On top of that the machine will remember those ten locations for up to 100 different disks, not so shabby eh?
And last but not least back to that Rec button because the Fostex has a mighty clever trick – recording BWAVs straight to a CD, which means if you want a 24 bit master or a 96kHz 24 bit master the Fostex will see you right. And the files can he simply copied without ripping.
I can see that the CR 500 will not replace computer based playout systems or recorders but it boots quicker, is very flexible and easy to use, and if you’re going to have a CD machine around the place it should be this one. And they all lived happily together ever after.