In the early 1980s Fostex had great success with their 8 Track reel to reel recorders, primarily with well heeled home musicians and smaller project studios. On the back of that success they developed the revolutionary Fostex B-16, a 16 track recorder that totally changed the game on it’s arrival.
The Fostex B-16 was a 16 track reel to reel multitrack recorder that used 1/2″ tape, which had not been done prior as most machines up to that time used the 1″ tape format. This fact alone made the prospects of 16 track recording significantly more affordable. The price of entry was US$5,900, which was a lot of money back in the mid 1980s, but in light of what machines that came before it cost, it was something of a bargain.
The Fostex B-16 was a two head machine that used a combined record/playback head, this was in part the reason for the price. There were two other models available that cost more, the Fostex B-16DM (Independent Monitor Model) was a three head model for around US$9,600, and the Fostex B-16D, a Direct Drive Motor version which is very rare and hard to find that cost US$6,800. The two head model is what most people are familiar with.
Cramming 16 tracks onto 1/2″ tape is not easy, each track is half the width of the tracks on a Cassette, so making this machine sound as good as it did was quite amazing. Separation between tracks was around 55dB which is impressive given the track width, and with the built in Dolby C noise reduction, noise floor was around 80dB (Weighted). The fact it ran at 15 ips helped the Fostex B-16 to manage a very respectable 40Hz-18kHz frequency response.
Unlike professional machines of the time, the semi-professional Fostex B-16 did not have balanced XLR inputs/outputs. Instead it featured unbalanced RCA inputs/outputs running at -10dB, which dictated the use of a semi-professional mixing desk too.
This however did not stop the Fostex B-16 being used in project studios the world over, in fact many studios used the Fostex B-16 as something of a stepping stone to go from an old 8 track (which is what the better project studios were using at the time) to fully fledged professional studio with 16 tracks available…next step was a used Studer 24 track! The mid 1980s was a great time for Fostex, they were a real innovator and the B-16 is clear proof of that.
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The Fostex B-16 is the most compact sixteen track recorder ever made. Small enough to use in any application. Light enough for one man to carry. And affordable for a working musician to own and use. It’s development and the outstanding audio quality were made possible by advances in several basic component technologies, all skillfully employed by Fostex engineers.
Creative Series Products are engineered by a team of specialists, whose experience extends to the beginnings of multitrack for musicians.
Each product in the Fostex Personal Multitrack range has been conceived and built to fulfill the needs of the musician or engineer to create and to capture music.
Reliability and pricing for the real world of music, have been made possible by using the very latest electronic and mechanical components, and by applying only field proven design principles.
Realising the future needs of creative music has resulted in production of the remarkable Fostex B-16.
Every essential feature to run sixteen tracks, and engineer sound using the latest techniques is incorporated. At the design stage, every requirement was carefully studied to find the most cost effective solutions yet maintain a high level of performance.
As you will discover, every aspect of the design reflects careful thought, providing all the potential of sixteen track, in the most accessible way.
It’s only recently that major improvements in magnetic tape formualtion, head design and noise reduction systems have permitted professional audio performance to be achieved with a narrow format.
Fostex successfully pioneered serious multitrack usage on narrow gauge. The B-16 is the latest result of their research and development. Running half inch tape at the optimum, mastering speed, results in the most compact and most cost effective sixteen track ever built.
This economy of scale also results in a machine that’s easier to use. Internally the mechanics are more efficient, less bulky, less cluttered, so they are more accessible and run cooler.
So they are less likely to wrong. Audio circuits and controls are rationalised, so the meters correspond to the selector lights and switches. So it’s quicker to see what you’re doing and operational errors are less likely to occur. In every way, this meticulous design results in direct benefits to both users and owners.
Above all, the sound of the B-16 is a true breakthrough. Development of the new precision head, incorporation of the latest Dolby ‘C’ and the no-nonsense approach to switching and interfacing result in a crisp, tight sound With all kinds of programme material.
The characteristics of the new noise reduction circuitry have resulted in a machine that actually makes it easy to achieve good sound.
Using the B 16 opens up many new opportunities. It’s the first truly portable sixteen track, so it can go where the music is. The facilities, so the capabilities of many musicians, composers and engineers, will increase through its use. Production suites and houses will discover new ways of sweetening video.
By putting all the facility of sixteen track in the hands of more people, this multitrack recorder, IS having a strong influence effect on the way music is recorded. Read on about the innovation that is within the Fostex B-16.
Three DC motors, mounted on a precision engineered alloy plate, provide the basis of the stable B-16 tape transport. Proven mechanics and the latest electronics work together to control tape motion and handling.
The efficient design of this integrated transport wins many ways. Less operating links and arms mean power can be used much more efficiently. The latest high torque motors and solenoids all consume less current, so a more compact power unit is possible. So there’s less heat and less weight. Throughout the entire transport benefits of such an innovative design approach are apparent. An efficient and stable transport, that’s both cost effective and keeps its specifications. In the Fostex tradition.
Shuttling or spooling tape, can put strain on its plastic base film. Positive yet careful tape movement is essential. The path employed for the B-16 ensures constant tension in every mode. The two sensor sprung arms detect motion and constantly control the two direct drive reel servo motors. Failsafe safety measures are also included. A photosensor and band brakes bring the machine to a smooth stop in case of power failure or during stop ‘parking’.
From the supply tension arm sensor, the tape passes over a flutter roller, tape guides and heads, emerging to the capstan, tacho roller, second tension arm and takeup spool. All tape path components are rigidly mounted on a machined plate of alloy, to ensure long term stability.
It follows that less moving parts mean less power is necessary to move the tape efficiently. The three heavy duty DC servo motors are ironless rotor type, producing strong torque yet consuming very little power. Both tape lift and brake solenoids operate with simpler mechanics than ever before. These electromechanical components are controlled by a master printed circuit, located at the rear of the machine.
Motion and tension sensing, servo control, tachometer and audio switching all interface to a central LSI. This dedicated logic chip is the intelligence for the recorder. It ensures the operator can move quickly while keeping tape safe.
The bright digital display is calibrated in hours, minutes and seconds, and permits accurate logging of elapsed time in both play and wind modes. The microprocessor based counter is driven by the right hand low mass, low slip tacho roller, and provides both plus and minus times relative to zero set. A local, return to zero button works together with the counter logic to aid fast operation. The display is repeated on the remote controller, which also provides further search possibilities.
Features are incorporated with professional editing in mind.
The B-16 is built in the Fostex tradition of accessibility for regular maintenance, checks and repair. The uncluttered layout is apparent once the control board is simply flipped down. And there’s Instant access to the remainder of the transport parts, by simple removal of the front panel dress plate.
Fostex pioneered the use of Dolby C noise reduction for multitrack recording. This system has been developed at the Dolby Laboratories, specifically for use with narrow gauge recording techniques. Not only does Dolby C offer the highest sonic integrity, but there are also side benefits which provide a noise reduction system that’s easier to work with.
The side effects of wide band compansion do not occur, and clear, tight recordings are achieved without difficulty. The highly acclaimed audio performance of the B-16 is possible due to this truly remarkable noise reduction system.
The basic principles of Dolby noise reduction are firmly established in recording. Low level, selected frequency bands (or band) are boosted before being recorded on tape. During playback, these signals are detected and lowered to their original level. As a result, tape noise is also pushed down, resulting in much quieter overall performance. The latest Dolby C system provides a total of 20dB of noise reduction in this way.
Providing noise reduction on silence is not all that difficult. For many years, conventional companders have been around which dramatically reduce noise – between selections on a tape or record. Yet it is just as important to have noise reduction when there is music playing. While music will mask the noise part of the time, there are times when it won’t. A bass drum note for example, cannot hide tape hiss, no matter how loud the drum is; the ear can detect both simultaneously.
Conventional wide-band compansion systems affect noise reduction at the time of playback by turning down the volume when there is little or no music present. This turns down the noise as well. But they also turn the volume back up again on louder music and so turn the noise back up at the same time. Thus the bass drum note is accompanied by a burst of tape hiss – tape hiss which is audible if there is no music at higher frequencies to hide it.
This problem is called noise modulation. It means that with any conventional wide band compander, the noise level is constantly shifting up and down with changes In the level of music. Dolby noise reduction on the other hand is free of noise modulation on virtually any type of music.
Unlike conventional wide band companders, Dolby C type noise reduction operates over a constantly changing or sliding band of frequencies. The band extends low enough to provide very effective noise reduction on silence. But in the presence of music, the band slides up just out of the way of the music, so that any noise at frequencies above the music is almost as effectively reduced as if the music wasn’t there. The presence of music does not prevent noise reduction from occurring where it is still needed.
In addition noise reduction that does not get in the way of the music, Dolby C achieves two further improvements. There’s the ‘anti-saturation’ circuit that helps to prevent high frequency tape saturation. And spectral skewing which reduces the possibility of encode/decode errors due to the normal variations in tape formulation. Incorporation of Dolby C in the Fostex B-16 results in clear, tight sound recordings that are easy to achieve.
The innovation in the audio circuits of the B16, is more than just the achievement in signal quality. Great care was taken at the system design stage to ensure that the status of all channels could be switched and seen with ease.
So it’s not at all surprising that this compact multitrack offers unique operating advantages. For the first time, here is a sixteen track recorder where everything is where you would expect for fast and smooth operation. Metering, monitoring, record selection and status are located as individual control strips.
Cross referencing any channel’s status and level is instant, so minimising the possibility of error when working fast or alone. There’s more of a chance to concentrate on the truly creative side of multitrack.
Progress in electronic design is already at a stage where poor quality, drift and breakdown are all but a thing of the past. Innovation today is in building equipment that’s is easier to use and own. The B16 achieves all the goals of quality.
The precision head assembly is a breakthrough in design that has made the unique format of the B-16 possible. Fostex pioneered the technology of narrow gauge multitrack on open reel. Now development of this new head marks true progress. High-hardness permalloy is employed, with a core design which reduces head bump effects to less than 1dB.
A crosstalk figure of only 55dB at 1 kHz. easily matches that of conventional machines using tape of twice the width. It is more on par with recorders using tape four times the width. The precision staggered erase head design ensures complete erasure of all signal between tracks. The heads are bridge mounted for accessible azimuth adjustment
Each of the sixteen audio circuit boards carries the full record, reproduce, control logic, bias and noise reduction circuitry for one recording channel. These boards plug in to a mother board, and all major presets are available through clearly marked slots behind the hinged meter panel. Access for periodic line up is excellent. Fewer wired connections, and the use of ribbon cabling mean that both reliability and accessibility are improved. Up to date circuit design, fast amplifiers, and use of Dolby C, results in audio performance which challenges much wider tape formats.
Optimised design has resulted in a recorder that’s easier and so faster to use. There are single switches above the channel meters, which select playback, record, or monitor for each channel. Normally you monitor playback (line out) unless you are in record. Or hit the ‘all’ switch and you hear the input signals to all channels. Or touch ‘record’ only (not rec/play which enters the transport into the record mode) and you hear only the channels which are selected to record ready.
If you preselect record, the appropriate channel number flashes, record ready, (below the switch), until you enter record on the machine, by remote or by footswitch. And monitoring will automatically change from sync playback to input monitor. This operating system is obvious to master, and you’ll soon discover just how quick and logical it is to use.
The bright, two colour bargraphs are accurately calibrated In dB’s and follow the signal level and source at the output of the B-16. They are peak reading types, which will capture, hold and display, fast transients. Uniquely, this meter panel is removable to mount above the B-16 for convenient horizontal operation, or may be located locally to the mixer.