FOSTEX DV-40 Review
ã 2002 by Eddie Ciletti
For years, Fostex portable time-code DAT recorders have had few competitors
in the nerve-wracking world of location recording, a gig that demands reliability,
flexibility, portability and minimal battery consumption. To replace DAT,
Fostex has created a proprietary DVD-RAM format and, while a six-track
portable (PD-6) is not yet available, the DV-40 ($5995 msrp) is a 4-track
rack-mount version currently in use on soundstages to confirm performance.
(A six-track playback option is in the works for compatibility with the
With sample rate up to 192kHz and 24-bit dynamic range the DV-40 records
audio either as a Broadcast Wave File or as an Apple-Compatible Sound Designer
"SDII" file. (BWF is a time-code stamped version of the windows-compatible
".wav" format.) The portable will use a 3-inch DVD-RAM drive that is also
used in professional cameras and aviation applications because of its ability
to withstand high G-forces and still perform.
As a truly professional piece of dedicated hardware, the "ground floor"
of the front panel has familiar knobs and switches — Frame Rate, Clock,
Time Code Generator, various Sample Rates, Pull-up / Pull-down, Record
level, Monitor Switching and Level. Also on the Lower-Level are keyboard
and mouse ports (an optional VGA card allows video access in the rear),
Local and Remote (rear-panel via RS-422 or Network port), Record Mode (Mono,
Stereo or Multitrack) plus Analog or Digital selection.
Like the early CD drives for computers, the DVD-RAM drive requires a
caddy or carrier with an integral disc. You can use a disc without the
case for playback. Data Protection is an important on many levels, both
for long-term storage as well as minimizing errors during file transfer.
Consider how disposable CDs are now and how often they are not put back
in the case. Not all DVD drives accept DVD-RAM although the DV-40's drive
accepts bare-naked CDs.
I took the DV-40 out of the box once before taking it on location for
familiarization purposes. There are two DVD-RAM formatting options. Tape
Mode is like pre-striping a tape (simultaneously recording silence
while formatting). As such, the user must choose — and is locked into —
the sample rate, bit depth and audio format (BWF or SDII). Tape Mode adds
an extra level of data insurance allowing the DV-40 to tolerate a power
interruption while recording without losing the track (up to that point)
or its neighbors. It is also the recommended mode for long term storage.
Mode allows multiple recording options on the fly.
As of review time (July 2002) the current software version is 1.2 with
V1.3 in beta, DV-40 updates are available online and must be burned to
CD for transfer, a painless process. This is a young product to say the
least. It is obvious that Fostex plans for additional features such as
a built-in hard drive, an optional file format (in addition to BWF and
SDII) as well as two additional tracks (substituting the optional VGA card
for two additional playback channels). The manual is "thorough but not
clear" and is in serious need of a re-write. While the machine is fairly
intuitive, you'll definitely want to learn on your own time and take notes.
ON THE ROAD
I took the DV-40 on location to a not-yet-finished facility to record
a Jazz Trio. ProTools HD served as the multitrack, seven tracks for seven
mics that were either mixed live or during playback via Yamaha DM2000 and
sent as a stereo pair to the DV-40 — a completely digital signal path captured
at 88.2kHz / 24-bit. The other pair of tracks were fed by one of two Audio
Technica Stereo Shotgun mics (from the balcony), through a Great River
preamp directly into the DV-40's analog inputs.
The session is described in slightly more detail in the Sidebar of my
October "Tech’s Files" column as well as at tangible-technology.com where
you’ll also find a very respectable mp3. Sennheiser HD600 headphones were
used to monitor the DV-40. There are three monitoring options: all four
tracks summed to Mono or either pair of tracks in Stereo. A Grace 901 headphone
amp was also used, taking advantage of both it's digital AND analog inputs
to monitor each pair of tracks.
Once back at home base, the DV-40 was interfaced to an Alesis Masterlink
via AES port, for real-time transfer of the main stereo pair at full resolution.
Since I didn't have a multi-channel AES interface, the next step was to
download the four channels via Network port, using TCP/IP protocol, a standard
Cat-5 networking cable, a hub and Cute FTP (a simple File Transfer Program).
No dice. For round two, I enlisted the help of my friend Dave Meyers at
Overkill Audio this time using the recommended shareware FTP software and
a "cross-over" cable, one designed for direct computer-to-computer connection
sans hub. Once communications were established, we tried once again to
use a standard cable and hub with no success. Fostex is updating the manual
to include a step by step guide to walk users through the complexity of
the FTP interface.
Ultimately the DV-40 should effortlessly connect to any network. Perhaps
by the time this review sees wood pulp the editors will receive word that
it does. Meanwhile, the networking feature does support multiple users
and passwords plus all the typical TCP/IP tweaks (IP address, subnet mask
and gateway). It would be cool if the DV-40 also allowed dynamic IP address
assignment from a gateway or address server to eliminate potential conflicts.
The four-channels are embedded into a single file that will appear in
the FTP window. Once transferred to computer, I used Syntrillium's
Cool Edit Pro (CEP) to open them up. Since my hardware did not
support the higher resolution, a CEP plug-in utility down converted each
of the four tracks to 44.1Khz / 32-bit to make them playable on a Soundscape
Mixtreme card. At the moment, the transfer process is a little more like
Rush Hour than the Indy 500, but the DV-40 otherwise works reliably and
it sounds good.
While the network feature is cool, until the transfer rate is upgraded
(to 7x faster than real time) I suspect most users will either transfer
via AES or have a workstation outfitted with a DVD-RAM drive. The disc
formatting is readable by both Windows and Apple computers (the latter
running OS9.1 or later). For our test, a 6 minute, 600 MB file transferred
in just over an hour. (That’s the amount of space consumed by a six-minute,
four channel, high resolution recording).
I connected a Keyboard and Mouse hoping to be spared spinning the Shuttle
Wheel to select alphanumeric characters. So far, the keyboard is mostly
used for hot keys (an overlay would be nice). "F1" brings up the Track
Rename feature using the "arrow" buttons instead of the machine’s shuttle
knob. Future software revisions will include file naming via the QWERTY
section of the keyboard.
THE CRYSTAL BALL
Three things I would like to see on the DV-40 are a hard drive (coming
in December), a beeper and an "Auto Play" feature. The 4.7 gig DVD-RAM
capacity is fine for traditional sample rate and bit depths but a full-length
classical or jazz recording (4-channel / 88.2 kHz / 24-bit) consumes about
100MB / minute for about 47 minutes recording time. I have a feeling some
audiophile recordists are going to jump on this box big time for its high
resolution; a hard drive would eliminate the time obstacles imposed by
a single DVD-Ram disk and its default partitions of 2G + 2G + .7G. It is
possible to use 9.4 gig discs to increase total recording time and Version
1.30 software will increase the partition size to 4G allowing longer continuous
There were moments when I felt the need for more feedback from the DV-40
such as a "confirmation or warning beeper." The DV-40 executes some commands
instantaneously, but when skipping from track to track it takes a moment.
Pressing Play before it reaches its destination yields nothing — it doesn't
"stack" the PLAY command.
As a proud parent of young children I can relate to Fostex and their
DV-40. They should be proud too. While very young in its development there
were no failures or glitches, just features I’d like to see implemented.
The DV-40 is very professionally outfitted, is generally intuitive after
poking around the menus, with well-appointed front and rear panels. As
"just" a high-resolution recorder, the DV-40 is sexy. As a replacement
for the Timecode DAT format along with a compatible portable, the pair
will be a knockout.