Hands-On Review:Fostex MR-8mkII Digital Multitracker
The most affordable easy-start 8-track digital recorder ever
By Willie Crespin
Building on the affordable functionality of the original MR-8, the MR-8mkII adds a CPU that’s five times faster than the original, enhanced DSP effects to match those of the higher-end MR-8HD, a jog shuttle wheel for easier access to functions, and a USB host that lets it drive a standalone CDR burner without a computer. With substantive features like 8-track uncompressed linear 16-bit/44.1kHz recording (two tracks at a time), long-play mode for more time at lower quality, mic simulation, amp simulation, and dedicated hardware reverb and delay controls, this is a seriously powerful unit. With all that plus direct hi-Z guitar input, analog guitar distortion with dedicated knob, individual pan and effect-send controls, built-in mic, dual headphone outs, and alternative battery power, this is perhaps the best value I’ve seen in an intro-level digital recorder.
Nix the frustration
When I got interested in digital recording, several people said, "Dude, don’t waste your time with those standalone units, get an interface and some software and your computer will do the trick better." This might have been true had I been a computer geek or somebody with a lot of money or just lucky. Unfortunately, I’m none of those things. Due to decidedly bad luck and a funky old computer I picked up from a friend, I still didn’t have a working system a year and a half after starting my computer-based studio.
That’s when I started looking seriously into standalone recorders. The several Fostex units I checked out were all amazingly versatile and easy to use. And, in fact, I ended up buying a Fostex VF160EX. So I was more than happy to review the MR-8mkII.
Faster, easier, and more connected
My long-time musical collaborator Howie Soffel bought the original MR-8 a couple of years ago for us to record on during our regular fishing trips, which usually have a lot more to do with playing acoustic guitar than fishing. It was the perfect choice since, like the mkII, it can run on six AA batteries and it has dual headphone outs. So I’m very familiar with the MR-8’s amazing abilities. That’s why I was immediately impressed with the MR-8mkII’s upgraded features. The CPU cranks five times faster for quicker boot up and faster processing.
The MR-8mkII’s jog shuttle wheel makes accessing menu features much quicker and more organic feeling. The USB host feature is a big plus. In order to burn your own CDs, all you have to do is plug in an external CDR burner. Of course, you can also plug the MR-8mkII into your Mac or PC through the normal high-speed USB 2.0 jack and burn from there. A MIDI out gives you the ability to incorporate MIDI drum machines and keyboards into the recording process as well.
In addition to its jog wheel, the MR-8mkII features 34 self-illuminated buttons, 13 knobs, and 7 smooth faders, giving you a whole lot of hands-on control without necessitating a dive into the menus. Almost all of the buttons are clearly labeled so you can very quickly get the hang of recording on the MR-8mkII without constantly returning to the extensive step-by-step manual.
Recording is as simple as it can possibly be for a digital unit. You just plug in your mic or guitar, push the button to arm the track, then hit record and play at the same time. Rewind and record three more tracks, then hit a single button to transfer tracks 1-4 onto tracks 5-6, thus freeing up tracks 1-4. Record four more tracks and hit another single button to transfer tracks 1-6 to tracks 7-8. Now you can master your song and create a WAV file to output to a computer or CDR burner. (You can’t make a WAV file from the long play 22.05kHz recording mode.)
If eight tracks is not enough, you can bounce all eight tracks to two tracks of a new song that is created with a single push of a button. This allows you to record up to 20 tracks with none of them more than four generations old. When you’re recording in the 44.1kHz/16-bit mode, every one of those tracks will sound good without the degradation and tape hiss of analog units. Basic editing capabilities like copy, move, and paste are enhanced with more advanced functions like chain play mode, signature and tempo maps, bar offset, click level, song libraries, and much more.
The room, hall, and plate reverb and delay buttons on the MR-8mkII generate truly professional-sounding recordings with no tweaking other than turning the time knob. That’s thanks to an upgraded DSP chip designed for the MR-8HD. There’s an internal mic that actually sounds pretty good, plus three mic simulation models. Amp simulation models modify the direct guitar-in signal with rich distortion that’s adjustable with a dedicated knob.
Phantom power lets you use higher-end microphones, stereo outs go direct to monitors or an external mastering deck, and there are effects sends as well to use your favorite stomp boxes. A footswitch jack lets you punch in and out for on-the-fly corrections.
Given its size, weight, and particularly its price, the MR-8mkII is nothing short of miraculous. It makes full-function portable digital recording within reach for even the least well-funded musicians.
Enhanced DSP effects:
- Faster CPU
- Jog shuttle wheel
- USB host for driving standalone CDR burner
- Stores to included 128MB CompactFlash card
- 16-bit/44.1kHz uncompressed linear sound quality
- Long play 16-bit/22.05kHz recording mode
- 2-track simultaneous recording
- 8-track playback
- Ultra-intuitive interface
- 128 x 64 backlit dot-matrix LCD
- 34 self-illuminating keys
- 7 sliding faders
- 13 knobs
- Onboard guitar distortion
- Amp modeling
- Mic modeling
- Digital reverb and delay section
- Mastering effect for stereo bus
- USB 2.0 port for WAV transfer to PC
- MIDI out
- 6 AA alkaline cell operation
- Included power supply
- Built-in microphone
- Sophisticated editing/archiving system