Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fostex VF160 - Teardown Instructable

Here is my long-overdue post about doing a little opening and cleaning of a great WORKHORSE, the Fostex VF-160 recorder.  The process is not very complicated, and can be done in just a few hours, with only a few common tools.  Hopefully this tutorial will allow you to "renew" your old VF with total confidence.  I am certainly no electronics whiz - IF I COULD DO IT, SO CAN YOU!

My VF was picked up from an online auction site for a tad over $100 (cheap, right?!?)...I thought it might possibly work well, and at worst, I could still get a few spare parts for my other VF's for when they needed them.  When I got it, I was pleased to find out that it DID work: all channels played and recorded, all the LED's lit, the screen was clear...BUT, the faders felt rough, and most of the buttons had to be held down hard for several seconds for them to actually activate, and there was some sort of small debris (sand? dirt? pebbles? seeds? dung?) bouncing around inside the chassis when it was tilted.

I decided I had little to lose by opening it up and giving it a good cleaning.  So, grab your VF, and follow along with me:

First, flip it over toward the bottom, in order to access the black rectangular panel that covers the hard drive:

Use a screwdriver to remove the four screws that hold the panel on.  Keep those screws with that cover.

Then gently wiggle out the hard drive, which is loosely surrounded by protective black foam.

Remove one plug from the hard drive:

Then the other - the computer ribbon connector comes off best when you pull straight just a little bit on one end, then a little bit on the other...repeat until the entire connector comes off.  Be careful not to bend any of the tiny pins inside!

Here's a shot of the uncovered hard drive, a 30 GB Maxtor Fireball 3.  Cover it back up with the foam, and set it away from your work area.  No dropping - it is a hard drive, susceptible to impact and static, etc.

Next, let's go to the cd burner - the cover is held in place by a single screw on the bottom.

Simply remove that screw, and lift off the angled cover.  Keep that screw with that cover - in fact, do that with every item that gets removed.  Not all of the screws are the same size, so mixing them all together could be a problem when it's time to reassemble.

At the very front, you will see the 2 screws that hold the cd burner in place:

Remove the 2 screws - they are SHORT (like all of the screws in the VF), so try not to drop them inside the unit when removing them.  A lightly magnetized screwdriver may be of help.

Then, using the 2 metal tabs where the screws were, use a gentle back-and-forth motion to remove the cd burner.  There is no cabling between the cd burner and the internal connector, but this will be the same type of wiggling you used to remove the hard drive ribbon connector.  When you feel the connection completely loosen, pull the burner out toward you:

And if you didn't already know it, there is a tiny hole at the front of (all?) cd drives, which can be used to manually open the cd tray.  Insert a paper clip into the hole and push straight in, until the internal latch clicks open - now the cd tray slides out!

After a few puffs of air to clear out any detritus inside the cd burner, close it up again and set it aside.  Here is the info on my cd label:

Next, we'll go to the side panels.  I'm using a nice soft handmade blanket between the VF and the tabletop, to keep from having any tipping/crashing/swearing...we'll start with the right-hand side panel:

Remove the 3 screws, and tilt the top away from the chassis:

At this point, the tipping should have disengaged the hooks that hold in the bottom edge - check out the crapola in there!

Then do the same, in reverse, for the opposite side.  Of course, you would want to wipe the pieces down well, before re-installing them.

Now, with all of the extraneous stuff out of the way, we can begin actually TAKING THIS THING APART!  Remove 4 screws from the bottom, along the front edge:

Then remove the 7 screws on the right-hand side:

And the 7 screws on the left-hand side:

And the 4 screws on the top, along the back edge (just above the rows of inputs):

Now you should be able to separate the top and bottom parts of the chassis:

And slowly open it, somewhat like a sideways book:

Unfortunately, the still-attached cabling will not allow the two halves to lay completely open.  We will need to detach some connectors first - so lay the top portion back down, and move it several inches toward the front, like so:

Then rotate the entire thing (or move yourself around the workspace) so the back of the unit is facing you:

Here is a closer view of the 2 white rectangular plugs that need to be disconnected - each plug has a bunch of gray and 1 white wire:

These plugs were REALLY HARD TO REMOVE.  I found that the best thing to use was a really long screwdriver, braced against the back lip of the bottom chassis, where pressing down on the handle would exert an upwards pressure on the top piece of the white plug/clip:

It is actually best NOT to wiggle the blade, because it will scratch the circuit board underneath!  I scratched mine trying the wiggling method with a smaller screwdriver, but luckily, did no operational damage.  In this closeup you can see the black mark I made with a Sharpie pen to distinguish which plug went where:

After the top came loose, I also marked the I can't mix up tracks 1-8 and 9-16 (remember, you're only marking ONE PAIR, top and bottom piece)!

Before we go too far, let's remove the fader knobs:

And the trim knobs.  We'll wash these all in warm soapy water before replacing them.

The front panel should look pretty naked now, like so:

Gently turn the panel (without pulling or kinking any wires), and remove these 2 screws from the edge area:

At this point you can finally lay the whole thing FLAT.

Okay, keep hold of that screwdriver (in fact, maybe grab the one with the mild magnetic pull) - you need to remove the 12 screws that hold on this protective metal plate.  Try not to lose the screws while taking them out (easier said than done!):

Once the screws are out, untwist the fine wires from this little pigtail hold-down:
 Then you can carefully ease all the delicate wires through the sharp rectangular hole while removing the metal plate.

Once the plate is off and out of the way, you will need to remove the 2 "secret" screws - these were totally NOT obvious (to me), and took a little bit to figure out which ones they were.  They are marked with YELLOW arrows.  The big RED arrow points to a PROBLEM AREA, where 2 circuit boards will need to be careful when dealing with this small area:

Lift the circuit board by the edge closest to you first, and gingerly twist it as you lift, to allow the PROBLEM corner to clear the other PROBLEM corner:

The entire button assembly removed:

The naked inside front panel:

And the solo Button Assembly:

You'll want to have a can each of Deoxit D5 cleaner and Deoxit F5 cleaner/lubricant.  Shop around a bit, and you should be able to pick up each one for around $10.  Stick in the sturdy red straw, and start spraying D5 (the red-topped can) in each of the button contacts.  The contact is a tiny round button on top of a squarish block under each of the button "flaps" on the button panel:
 Follow the directions on the can - you must activate/press the button several times after flushing the area with D5...the idea is that you WASH AWAY the grime, leaving behind a newly-cleaned contact surface.  Keep the panel somewhat upright, over a bunch of newspapers or cardboard, and preferably do the work outside where there is good ventilation.

Here you can see the saturated newspaper and dirty cotton swabs from cleaning out some crevices in the button panel:

HERE is some of what I wiped out of the tops of the faders (please tell me that's not a PUBIC HAIR - I don't even want to THINK about what the rest of the crud might be...):

Then get the green-topped can of F5 FaderLube and give the faders a shot or three.  Be sure to slide them up and down several times to get good coverage:

And getting through to the end, I notice the dial at the front lower right:

Why, there's a few nice access holes right in the back!  Fshhhhhh!  Fshhhhhh!  (Sound of 2 squirts of Deoxit D5 in those holes)...then spin that dial around and around!  Smoooooooth.

Now set the whole thing mostly upright to allow stuff to drain/drip off. and LET THE WHOLE THING DRY.  The Deoxit instructions say from a few minutes to an hour, others online have said several hours...after a few hours, I could still see wet newspaper, so I let the thing dry ALL NIGHT.  In the meantime, you can spray some more stuff!
 Be sure to plug and unplug a MIDI cable, afterward.  And AVOID spraying the ADAT optical plugs - probably tape over them, or use those little square ADAT ptrotective plugs that always get lost.

Spray the stems of the trim knobs, and rotate each of them:

Spray the 1/4" inputs, and plug/unplug a 1/4" cable:

And so on, and so on.  Wipe off any excess cleaner, and let everything dry.  KEEP those cans of Deoxit, they'll come in handy for LOTS of other stuff!


Now, just follow the instructions in reverse (scroll UP in the post instead of DOWN), and reassemble.  Remember to keep those pairs of rectangular multiple wire plugs together correctly (the pair that is marked, goes together), like so:

And THAT'S IT!  Pretty easy, overall.  And pretty cheap.  And you now have a "new" VF!  Throw in a higher capacity hard drive instead of the old one, and YER THE CHAMP.

How cool is that?


Anonymous said...

Don't know how old this is, but thanks for posting!! I've had my VF160 since 2006 and I think it's overdue for a cleaning!

HansHarz said...


thanks for that detailled instruction.
Now my VF is clean, but it still doesn´t work... that was the reason for disassembling. Direct Record-Button didn´t work, so my hope was to clean it. But at all, the malfunction must be somewhere else....
I think it´s time to say goodbye after about 13 years.

HansHarz said...

...after waiting a few hours, life came back into the malfunctional button. Everything works fine. Anybody tried bigger HDD´s than those 40GB-things on the compatibility-list?

Marty said...

I just have a headphone jack in the unit, that only has one side working now. Can I replace the headphone jack without opening the entire unit? Thanks so much!!

ilamfan said...

I haven't gone so far as to replace the headphone jack, would be most of this "opening up" I show here, plus some extra opening on the top panel where the headphone jack is.

First try spraying some DeOxIt in the headphone jack, and plug/unplug several times. This has worked wonders a few times already for me.

Replacement of a tiny little set of tip/ring/sleeve contacts or wires seems like too much trouble to me - the other VF units I've had with headphone problems, I attached an inexpensive headphone amp, and used the Monitor Out (1/4" L/R) or the Stereo Out (RCA L/R) plugs. Add the appropriate adaptor to plug into the stereo 1/4" input on the headphone amp, and now you have FOUR separate headphone outs...

About $40, and way more useful than just one!

Unknown said...

If you want to upgrade the HD, the Samsung HM160HC will work for sure. This will also be less noisy and hot then old Harddisk.

It's a 2,5 HDD so you need some conversion cables.

Still need to try a IDE to CF + CF to SDCard adapter.

Jonathan Harrod said...

Thanks for this! I want to ask, have you ever had any issues with either the left or right channel not working? It is a strange issue. I tried to pan a guitar to the right and suddenly, no sound. I then turned it back to center, it came back. No track will pan to the right. I thought it might be a headphone jack issue so I plugged direct into the monitor outs. Left worked fine, right monitor jack, no sound.

I actually cleared the hard drive just to see if it was because I had all tradks full, and it still has the same issue. Could cleaning a certain component inside the unit fix this, ie, could a board be dirty, etc? I hate to get rid of it, it is a great machine and I know the functions so well.

Any advice is hugely appreciated!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this guide. I recently broke the stop button on mine. I ordered a new button assembly. Does anyone know if the plastic white button assembly separates from the other part easily for replacement if I tear it down following the guide?

Dan C said...

What Jonathan Harrod said. After more than ten years of reliable service, my VF-169 ex suddenly lost all output on the left channel this morning. I mixed down part of a live recital yesterday and was continuing today, when I only got output from the right channel. Both channels show on the master level meters, and I haven't tried burning a cd yet to see if it's ok through that output, but I don't have left channel on either the monitor or headphone outputs. My monitoring mixer only shows one side, and I swapped cables to make sure it wasn't a bad cable. Same result; only the R jack on the monitors has a signal, and only the right headphone.

The only difference from yesterday is that I unplugged the power cable and input/output cables from/to the mixer to see how the unit fit on a new laptop stand I bought yesterday (so I can hover the VF over a live mixer instead of laying it out alongside, to save tabletop space). Power was off when I unplugged and when I reconnected everything.

Tried tuner cleaner on the monitor jack to no avail, and anyway, it's also dead on the phones jack.

This doesn't make the unit worthless if the cd burner still produces a stereo result, but any kind of stereo mixing is obviously out of the question. I could use a y-cable to get a bilateral mono output to the monitors, but that's hardly a real solution.

Anyone know of a qualified repair place?

ilamfan said...

It's most probably some old/dry solder joints. If you're handy enough with a soldering iron, try re-soldering...I'm pretty hamfisted, myself, so I wouldn't bother (I'd wreck more than I'd fix!).

Have you tried the STereo OUT plugs? Left/right rca plugs. Add some adapters and see if they'll work.

ALSO try the ADAT out - you may have some digital equipment just "laying around" that could accept a stereo ADAT line in, then send out analog stereo. Maybe an old (gasp!) minidisc recorder could be picked up dirt cheap to do this.

Hey, if worse comes to worst, just watch ebay for a cheap VF...the ones with broken cd drives are the cheapest. You have a working cd drive on yours, just unscrew and unplug from the old one, and plug in to the "new" ebay VF. Easy peasy. And to replace a unit that you know and trust for a few hundred bucks (when they used to retail for $1500) is not that bad.

I expect that almost any of these workarounds are cheaper than actually finding someone who can actually repair a VF.

As far as that "new stop button" mentioned above (sorry for the LATE reply, and not much of one), the white plastic assembly was one whole big solid molded piece - not sure how just the stop button could be ordered or added in. And (if I remember right) the big plastic piece was sort of melted/glued into place at about 15 or 20 points...seems like it would be a real PROJECT to replace a single button?

If you tried, and it was easier than I make it sound, please let us know!

Thanks, everyone!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. I actually have a new whole button assembly I was hoping to put in. But, like you say, I worry about tearing it all down and getting to that point and realizing it's just not feasible or really risky to try and swap it out. I mailed my unit in to an authorized servicer a few years for the same issue. It wasn't exactly cheap. I really want to try but I'm very reluctant. I really wish I'd found this blog before the button broke so I could've cleaned it and not had to push the buttons so damn hard.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone replaced a jog wheel

Anonymous said...

This is super old, so not sure if anyone will answer.

has anyone fixed a dead or fried input?? the peak light is continuously on, i know some people have come across this, but haven't heard how to fix