M-Audio Pro Tools Recording Studio
Plug 'n' play, the muso way
Review Audio interfacing has always tended to be rather unpredictable on computers, especially laptops. What you get can vary with each refresh, with an audio input jack one day and just a headphone socket the next. The argument goes: if it’s that important, buy an external audio interface. If you’re a musician, even well-spec’d machines can lack the audio connectivity to suit your gear, which is where devices like M-Audio’s FastTrack come into play.
Winning combo? M-Audio hardware with Digidesign software make up the Pro Tools Recording Studio
The FastTrack is merely USB hardware married to Pro Tools M-Powered Essential compositional software, with the whole package being called the Pro Tools Recording Studio. While this is no Abbey Road, the FastTrack does provide basic interfacing to get you through most recording tasks. Round the back is an XLR mic input, a switchable guitar/line input on a 1/4in jack socket, plus an RCA phono stereo output with a 3.5mm headphone connector on the front panel.
Host powered from USB the FastTrack is encased in a silver painted plastic shell that looks good but isn’t immune to scuffs. Physically, it appears robust and well constructed with the three front panel knobs holding firm with not the slightest lateral wiggle to them. These controls vary mic input level, mix and output, however, there’s no level control for the guitar/line input.
The mix control needs a bit of explaining, as this is used to allow you to monitor both the input and the playback signal. In short, with it turned hard left to input, you’ll only hear what you have plugged in to the FastTrack, turn it hard right and you’ll only hear what’s playing from the computer. Have it in the middle somewhere and you can listen to a music sequence and play along with it.
Furthermore, when in record you can monitor your instrument or vocal through the computer, but that will introduce latency, which is a short delay in hearing your live playing, which can be off-putting. The advantage though, is that you can apply realtime effects to your live input and this can be a real performance enhancer.
Dual channel, but no matching input pair for stereo transfers
Installation on a Mac or PC should be a two-step process. First, instal the M-Audio driver that allows the FastTrack to work with other music software or to function as your computer’s main audio interface. As a stereo output, the FastTrack is certainly an improvement on laptop audio outputs, delivering much better definition.
I've been looking at this package as a cheap way to get a friend onto Pro Tools so we can exchange demos. It's worth mentioning that the Fast Track 2 is now available, which fixes some of the flaws of the Fast Track and also adds phantom power. It still includes Pro Tools M-Powered Essential and still retails for £79:
I've been using an M-Audio FireWire 410 for nearly 5 years now, with Pro Tools M-Powered, and I can barely say a bad word about it. The mic preamps are impressively clean for the price range, the routing options are flexible and the whole thing is wrapped in a sturdy metal case that's stood up to its fair share of knocks.
The 410 cost me around £250, so for £79 you can hardly expect the Fast Track reviewed here to live up to the same standards. I also use an M-Audio MIDI controller which is pretty shit though, and I had a shitty pair of M-Audio monitors for a while. However, it's not fair to say all M-Audio gear is shit.
Thumbs down, becaise the thumbs up still has jaggy edges.
The "cubase killer" lurches on...
M's firewire interfaces work well for me on the PC side... but then you have to deal with problems inherent with doing audio on the PC. Also, you really want to check M's web site for updated drivers...they seem to ship with drivers that aren't quite finished, but work fine with updates.
As for "Pro" Tools... meh. The only reason to deal with their arrogance is because you're paid to. Since I'm paying for the tools I get to choose who I deal with. Cubase was good back in its day, Logic was good until Apple took it away. These days it's Ableton. There are a *lot* of options, and Digidesign's bad attitude doesn't even make the A list.
Are you *really* sure the review unit didn't just have an earthing fault?
The bit about the levels of noise on the disconnected mic input just doesn't sound right. I mean, could they really have been so daft as to think that all you need for a mic input is to use an XLR socket, but not actually known to use a balanced-line input configuration with it? Since they've got a follow-up model that does phantom power, they must have used a balanced configuration there (or everything would be on fire), so they must know what one is.