Fostex FR2LE CF card recorder
Over the last few months I have had the use of the Fostex FR2LE compact flash sound recording device.
This good looking black and silver, rounded cornered machine, measuring 206mm wide x 132mm deep x 57mm high, has a weight of 800 grams without the 4AA batteries needed to run it for up to 4 hours. There is also a Tamiya rechargeable that will run it for up to 8 hours and, of course, you can run it from an external 12 volt source.
Connectibility to the machine is flexible with either ¼ inch jack or XLR for input, and ¼ inch jack and USB for output. The headphone is a mini jack connection.
When hanging from the substantial shoulder strap supplied, the upper edge (206x57mm) has the shielded CF slot, left and right microphone trim pots, a headphone trim pot, and the main gain control splittable between left and right channels. There are also the record standby button and a sliding record button. On the top edge of this side is a Led, left and right gain level meter.
The quality of the knobs leaves something to be desired, but they all work in a smooth manner, they have not broken as yet, nor do I expect them to do; and have found all of them come easily to hand when needed. The metering is accurate, but in bright light it becomes difficult to read, but a hand sheltered over the meter soon sorts this out.
On the top of the case is a central screen holding all the information you should ever want. At first glance in looks crowded, but you soon get used to it. This screen acts as the review screen for menu changes and the rubberised buttons at the side of the screen, when used in the correct way, ( another bit of learning), alter the settings to meet your personal preferences. Bright light conditions affect this screen as well, but the hand again sorts this out. Some might find that not being able to see some of this information annoying, but I have not found this to be a problem.
I am not going to write out the full specification in this article, as it is easily found on the internet at https://www.fostexinternational.com/docs/archive_products/FR-2LE.shtml . All I am going to say is that it is capable of recording up to 24bit/96 kHz on BWAV files or on MPEG 1 Audio layer 3(MP3) files for those who want to use it to record the latest popular melodies encountered on Radio 1 and the like.
For those who do not know, a 1gigabyte Compact Flash card, that costs around £10 to £15, and is usable many 1000's of times, will store approx. 96 minutes of stereo sound at 16/44.1; or approx. 30 minutes of sound at 24/96.
In the field, using a variety of microphones and techniques, I found the sound quality to be very good, if not excellent. The only disappointment found, but definitely liveable with, was that the maximum gain expected for the microphone inputs was probably 6dB down on what I usually find on my other machines. This could be a difficulty if using dynamic microphones without a pre amp. The self noise of the microphone pre amp stage was outstanding - far superior to other machines, such as the Edirol RO9 and Marantz 660. See Technical measurements below
I found the machine to be rugged enough when carrying it about in the Shiants. The plastic case can be easily scratched, but the integrity of the unit stood up to a few knocks and bangs while climbing around without a problem.
When it comes to downloading files, my usual methodology is to take out the CF card and download into the laptop or portable hard drive. Getting the CF card out with my manly hands, was not as easy as it should be; those of a more delicate build should find no difficulty. There are a few idiosyncrasies in the software that take a bit of learning. You cannot for instance completely delete a individual file, this is presumably defined as a failsafe device, that may help some people out of a predicament, but it does restrict creating additional space on the card.
Blackbird recorded using the FR2LE on the 10th June 2007 using Schoeps omni mics in a binaural setup
Settings - gain max (trim also set for max gain) sampling rate 44.1kHz Source impedance 150Ω
Minimum input for 0dBFS = -48dBu
Ein = -122dBu (unweighted, 22kHz BW)
Ein (A) = -126dBu (A weighted, 20kHz BW)
A plot of the noise floor at maximum gain is shown below, using a narrow IF bandwidth of 2.7 Hz. A spur is picked up at what looks like fs/4 (11.025 kHz), but this isn't likely to be audible under normal operating conditions (listen to the mp3 of the noise boosted by about 60dB - to me the tone is masked by the mid-frequency noise).
noise floor, normalised to 75% (boosted by 60dB if recorded at full gain, terminated in 150 ohms)
At around £400 or less including VAT, you get a reasonably rugged 24bit 96 kHz capable machine, with good quality pre amps and connectibility, that you can take into the field for a days recording, (as long as you have an additional set of 4 AA batteries in your pocket). It uses Compact Flash cards which are available up to 16 Gigabytes now and probably more in the future. So a few of these will cover a few weeks expedition, you new people to the game have it easy! Gone are the days when you had to carry a boot load of 51/2 inch reels of ¼ inch tape. Its all become very easy.
It will not let you down, and as long as you get close enough to the subject, with your microphone you will capture quality sound with which you will be pleased.
I therefore recommend the Fostex FR 2LE to you.
Review date: September 2007