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By Jon Chappell
Harmony Central Senior Editor
At first glance, the full name of Fostex’s LR16—Live Recording Mixer—seems to be a contradiction in terms. Don’t you have to distinguish between "live" and "recording" when you’re shopping for a board? A live board is an animal entirely different from a recording mixer, right?
Not any more. Fostex has blurred the lines of these formerly distinct tasks by providing a system that has the front-panel immediacy and operational ease of a live mixer coupled with the deeper functionality and track-routing of a multitrack recording setup. The LR16 is a breeze to operate and what’s even better, it simplifies the process of creating a full-blown 16-track recording. You can also record a live performance and add other parts or overdubs later in "post."
The LR16 is an all-digital, full-function 16-channel mixer with a built-in hard disk recorder. It can record 16 simultaneous tracks plus a simultaneous stereo .wav file of the entire mix. The system consists of two physical components: a low-profile, 16-channel mixer and a "connector box" (as Fostex calls it), that houses the hard disk recorder and a full complement of transport controls. The connector box also acts as the I/O panel for all connections to your gear—mics, instruments, and external audio sources such as MP3 players. As a live mixer, it’s perfectly suited for just about any venue—clubs, schools, houses of worship, auditoriums, and concert halls. As a recorder, it’s a 16-track hard disk recorder with all the advantages of digital operation including easy transfers to a computer or thumb drive.
The configuration of the LR16 is simple: the two units are each 19" wide, so the mixer panel and connector box can be installed in a rack. But the system works equally well as a standalone, tabletop configuration, with the connector box sitting just behind the mixer. On a flat surface, the connector box sidles up nicely to the mixer, almost like a meter bridge, which, in fact it is: The LCD display shows the volume levels for the 16 channels. You can’t even tell it’s two parts.
You don’t have to have the two components next to each other, either. If space is an issue and there’s room for just the mixer in front of you, the connector box can be parked anywhere and connected to the mixer with an off-the-shelf CAT-5 (Ethernet) cable. Fostex includes a short cable, but you can use one that’s up to 50 meters (about 164 feet) long and still enjoy reliable data transmission. (Musician’s Friend sells a 35-foot cable that should do nicely in most situations.)
The mixer is all-digital, but with analog-style controls. Anyone who’s ever moved a fader or twisted a pan knob will feel instantly at home on this board. There are long-throw faders, 3-band EQ (with sweepable mids), three sends, and a trim control on each channel strip. Over on the right side of the board, you find four subgroup faders that you can route any of the 16 channels to. The built-in digital effects are reverb, delay, and limiting—a great feature to have in any live venue to prevent clipping distortion and to protect speakers.
The connector box houses an 80GB hard disk, which holds approximately 16 hours of uncompressed, full-resolution, 16-track audio at 16-bit/44.1kHz format—the same as a CD. You can also select 48kHz resolution—sometimes preferred for video projects. The chances are pretty good that you’ll find a computer to offload the disk to before you fill up 16 hours, but you don’t have to offload to a computer; the LR16 provides a second USB port, allowing you to plug in a thumb drive and offload a song right at its conclusion. With a web connection handy, you could be digitally distributing the performance seconds after the last downbeat!
All tracks are stored as .wav files, which is good, because it means that any recording can be constructed from the component files, if necessary. There’s no "host program" that needs to be opened to hear your "project." Each recording is simply (up to) 16 stacked .wav files. Any multitrack software program can take these .wav files and make the recording whole again. It’s like the LR16 is the "universal donor" of multitrack audio recordings!
Another nice feature of the LR16 is its option of sending individual tracks just to the recorder, leaving them out of the main (house mix). This would be especially handy if you have a reference track such as a drum machine or click track running alongside the live tracks that may need to sync to additional overdubs once you get to the studio.
In addition to recording all 16 tracks at once, the LR16 records a separate, simultaneous stereo .wav file of the mix. So you have the best of both worlds: a multitrack recording of every channel with a mic or instrument, plus an on-the-fly recording of what actually went down live. This means you can not only relive what the audience heard, you also have instant capture of the song that you can offload and distribute via email.
The LR16 is ideal for someone interested in recording audio in a live performance, while having a great degree of control, fine-tweaking, and micro-editing back at the studio. The LR16 not only provides a single system that supplies the hardware to meet both tasks, it actually bridges the process of live mixing and recording. You can use the LR16 for transitioning a live band into the recording world in a non-intimidating way. Have the band run through a song "just one more time" during rehearsals. The LR16 is instantly ready to capture those great performances that occur when the artists don’t know the "record light" is on.