Last year saw the introduction of several competing 24 channel, 24 bit stand alone hard drive recorders from Tascam, iZ Technology (Radar), Alesis and Mackie. As all of these units sound good and perform a similar range of functions, it's difficult to choose between them. The first question you might want to ask yourself is whether or not you even need a stand alone recorder, or would your needs be better served with a computer, an audio card and some recording software? The first obvious difference is cost and flexibility. A computer is generally cheaper (if only because you can start with minimal I/O) and with the range of software and supposed ease of upgrading, more flexible. But, actually configuring a computer and dealing with the constant upgrade path is a huge hassle, and computers always crash. A dedicated hard drive recorder is much more robust, simple to set up, and will essentially replace a tape recorder in most studio situations. The latency issue (delay while tracking) is done away with as well. Personally, I would always be a bit nervous actually recording a full band to a computer and would feel a little bit safer with a dedicated hard drive unit. But, if I was working mostly by myself or primarily with drum machines or minimal (8 tracks at a time or less) mic situations, I'd lean towards a computer. With that out of the way, how does the D2424 stack up against some of the other units out there? The Alesis unit is a bargain at $2000 list, but where Numark takes Alesis after purchasing them from chapter 11 bankruptcy remains to be seen. Like the ADAT itself, this unit is inexpensive and ready to rock with lots of analog I/O and two removable drives, but a full-featured remote is extra and hasn't been released yet. The Tascam unit has clearly emerged as the leader for heavy-duty, professional use in both music and post applications, but it's more expensive than the Alesis or Fostex units, especially when you add I/O and features - and the same with the Mackie system. The iZ Radar system is also a full-featured professional system that has been around longer than any of these units and has a reputation for being extremely stable, with a mature operating system and great sounding I/O. Where then has Fostex positioned the D2424? Like it's price, ($3995) pretty much right in the middle. The best thing about the D2424 is that, with one caveat, it's pretty much ready to go out of the box. The caveat is that there are only eight analog inputs, although there are 24 analog outputs. Each of the inputs is multed to the higher banks so input one goes to nine and seventeen, two to ten and eighteen, etc.. If you're never using more than eight inputs at a time this isn't a problem, but if you're tracking a band it's unworkable. I opted to also purchase the AC2496 ($799) unit that adds another 16 analog inputs to the unit. You can also add just eight inputs for around $499. But beyond that, the unit is ready to work in a professional studio. The analog I/O is balanced +4 and there are 24 channels of ADAT lightpipe I/O with a wordclock in and out as well - all standard. Maybe Fostex figured a lot of studios would already have extra lightpipe compatible I/O on hand, so that's why they only put in eight analog inputs. The other thing I really liked about the D2424 is that the remote comes with it standard, at no extra charge, as a detachable face plate. One last minor gripe is that the cable for the remote is not standard and must be purchased as an extra accessory from Fostex. Even in the smallest studio, it's likely that you'll want to use the remote, so it'd be nice to see Fostex bundle that with the machine. That gripe withstanding, I really like the remote which is pretty much the only part of the unit you'll interface with once it's installed. One very, very nice thing about this is that the remote is small and needs only the single cable coming from the unit, which is a huge bonus. No power cables, no sync cables - nothing. The bottom of the remote is padded, so it easily sits on top of the console without damaging it and can be moved around easily. Everything you need is on the remote, including metering for all 24 tracks and a jog wheel. From a functional and ergonomic point of view, this is a huge bonus that the other machines lack and in my small studio, that counts for a lot. Anyone who owned a BRC will understand what I'm talking about here. The unit also has MIDI in, out and thru connections standard. The D2424 comes standard with one IDE drive, but there's a second drive bay where you can add either another IDE drive or a DVD-RAM drive for backup. There's also a SCSI port for more backup options. (Note: You can only backup with, not record to the SCSI port). Lastly, the D2424 will record (although only eight tracks) at 96 k right out of the box without any upgrades. So, from a feature-oriented standpoint, I was able to put the D2424 into my studio with a full-featured (yet small) remote and 24 channels of analog and digital I/O for $4800. Taking the complete-package principle even one step further, Fostex has bundled a DIGI 9636/52 Hammerfall RME PCI card with the unit that's both Mac and PC compatible. This card allows you to transfer tracks between the D2424 and a computer, running just about any recording software package available, for editing and processing tracks without having to buy anymore hardware. The Hammerfall card gets high marks for its zero latency monitoring. The downside of the Hammerfall card however is that it uses the lightpipe connections to connect it to the computer which limits how far the computer can be from the D2424 unless you can track down some long lightpipe cables which can get pretty pricey. The other downside is that there is no documentation included with either the D2424 or the RME card that explained how to hook the two units up and use them together. I should also note that the D2424 manual also leaves a bit to be desired. The info is all there, but it's not exactly clear or well written. The manual is pretty dense and hard to navigate. We had some initial problems over a weekend while setting up the drive, and the manual was almost no help at all in trouble shooting. Fostex quickly fixed the problem the following Monday, but that didn't get us through the weekend session. For a product this deep (that many people newer to audio will be buying) a better manual would be helpful. I'm sure that it'll all work fine together, but since the PCI card also took up two PCI slots, I decided not to use it mainly because I've already got a MOTU 2408 system in my studio. Using the lightpipe IO and wordclock, transferring tracks between the D2424 and Logic Audio Platinum via the MOTU 2408 was a breeze and worked fine. I'm sure that ergonomics aside, the Hammerfall card (which is free!!) would work just as well, if not better due to it's high- performance hardware and zero latency.
In use, the D2424 is great. It sounds excellent and is easy to use. The only minor gripe in use is that the audio mutes for a second when you punch out of a track. It's fine on playback, but can be bit annoying to both the engineer and artist. We've used it on several sessions now, and it's never crashed or screwed up any tracks. The disc operating engine seems mature and robust. Bottom line, if you're looking for lots of I/O, a computer interface, 96 k compatibility and a full-featured remote in a stand alone hard drive recorder, you should take a serious look at the D2424. (www.fostex.com)