Fostex ¼” 8 track decks

Fostex  manufactured many multitrack machines, and was one of the few companies that put out an 8 track multitrack machine on  ¼” tape. This format put home studio multitrack recording within a budget for every musician due to the low price of these machines.

The upside of all of the Fostex 8 track ¼” tape machines, was that they had many features found on higher end machines, such as the 15 IPS tape speed (these were single speed machines), which offered good quality recordings to past 20Khz (usually around 22Khz for a machine with good heads). These decks all have pitch control, and some form of Dolby noise reduction (usually Dolby C) to improve the signal to noise ratio. While the deck had RCA jacks for the inputs and outputs, that’s what most home recording studios were based on for line level signals. The electronics of these units were generally reliable, and failure of the channel PC boards or other similar issues are rare, even to this day. The heads last a long time, and it’s uncomon that a deck comes in with the heads so worn that the deck is a write-off.

On the downside,  the deck does have some weak points:

Bad track separation. Due to the very narrow width of tape used per track, there is more bleedover between tracks, and any minute flaw in a used tape will likely be heard on one or more tracks compared to a deck that uses more width of tape per track.

Bad LED VU meters. It’s very common for one or more LEDs to be dead on the VU meters, and the LED channel strips that were available from Fostex in the 1990s are long discontinued. Most users simply rely on the remaining working LEDs to guesstimate the recording and playback levels of the deck. The LEDs are surface mount, and can be replaced, if you source out new LEDs and have really good soldering techniques. The problem is, replacement of the LEDs is very time consuming and delicate work, and with the low resale value of the deck (comparatively speaking), it’s not worth repairing the LEDs.

2 head design. To cut corners, Fostex uses one single head as the record/playback head, meaning that monitoring off the tape while you’re recording is not possible.  Still, as long as you’re not pinning the meters into the reds and the tape saturation point, with good tape you’re ensured a good quality recording every time.

Belts and motor pulleys. The earlier Fostex models used 3 belts in these machines – one each for the reel motors and one for the capstan motor drive. While all these belts stretched over time, the thin belt and heavy strain on them during rewind and FF made them wear out faster than most belts. This was a significant problem, so Fostex finally switched to a plastic toothed belt for the reel motors, which provided  a better grip and more torque for the fast wind functions. The capstan motor belt is subject to normal wear and tear, and should be replaced every 10 years or so.

With the last Fostex model made, the R8, Fostex cut a bunch of corners on the tape transport. The tape tension pulleys and pinch roller are held on with cheap snap-on plastic covers, which wear over time. Lose one of those covers, and you’ll be looking forever on Ebay to find a replacement. Worse, the motor pulleys for the capstan and reel motors are plastic, and are press fit onto the steel motor shafts. Over time and with the heat generated with use, the plastic deforms, and eventually the plastic pulley slides off the motor shaft, and sits under the front cover. Our cure is to pull the front cover off (easy to do), roughen up the motor shaft with sandpaper, and then use an epoxy or J-B Weld to hold the pulleys to the motor shafts. We do this with every R8 we get in, whether the pulleys are slipping or not.

As an entry level multitrack deck, you can’t beat the Fostex units. Most musicians that stick with the analog format will find the need to upgrade at some point in time to a ½” 8 track machine.