Given that music software defaults will typically set a new track to input channel one, plumb in a microphone and you’re away. Well, nearly. Dynamic mics are fine, but more expensive condenser mics require phantom power (+48V) and the FastTrack doesn’t have that, so forget about using any fancy mics. You can use both mic and guitar channels at the same time on separate tracks. I set it up to record a direct feed to the guitar input from a built-in pickup on an acoustic guitar while simultaneously capturing the natural sound with the mic.
Even though the guitar input doesn’t have a level control, it is set with sufficient gain to work fine with most pickups. I tested it out with an acoustic guitar fitted with a Schaller Oyster piezo pickup and an electric guitar with Mighty Mite humbuckers. Without the high impedance input, the piezo would have sounded very thin and brittle, but instead was warm and full-bodied. Likewise, the electric also had a much punchier sound. A word to the wise though, switching between guitar and line modes delivers an almighty thump to the output. This sort of behaviour immediately spells, ‘cheap and nasty’.
Returning to the twin track approach, the direct input was captured with no complaints, but the mic recording seemed to fizz a bit, with irregular buzzing reminiscent of mobile phone interference. Turning the mic level up, naturally, increased how noticeable this was. The mic used was an Audix OM7, designed for live vocals and very well screened – fine for test purposes considering I couldn’t use a condenser mic. Wi-Fi was off, cables were checked, replaced, even computers and geographic location were changed, but the outcome was the same – erratic noise. Check it out on this untreated, uncompressed 24-bit recording here.
So, if ballads aren’t your thing and you’re only ever going to record a thrash metal, then this might not be an issue, but unplug the mic and things get worse. The mic input channel suddenly hums like a fridge-freezer showroom. The noise is quite alarming but instantly curtailed by turning the mic input level all the way down – easy.
But an unused input really shouldn’t be humming away so loudly. More to the point, if you’re using the guitar/line input and have the mix control set for input, you’ll hear all this humming unless you remember to keep the mic level turned down completely. It’s disturbing, distracting and just not right.
The Structure plug-in features two edit pages to shape your sounds
Another thing that isn’t right is the software. Earlier on I mentioned that you can only hear the input signal treated with effects during recording. I lied, although this is the case with this watered-down version of Pro Tools. Use the FastTrack interface with other recording software that allows input monitoring during playback – which is just about all of them – then you can play along to a backing track with effects, which is great for working out ideas without getting bogged down by unnecessary recording.
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.
What else is good at a similar price?
I was really interested in this as I'm looking to record some guitar and vocal tracks for a rough demo but don't have hundreds of pounds to spend. Really disappointing this is only 45% rated and others agree with this. What do you guys recommend getting at a similar price, say up to £100?
Soniccore Scope looks good but even 2nd hand is much more expensive.
Daniel: Despite the guitar input being useless/noisey - I've recorded a fair number of rough ideas with this and never had any latency issues. Cubase SX seems to take care of things - I believe I get about 6ms latency when 'monitoring', and once recorded the new recording is automagically shifted to match the rest of the track. I'm very fussy with such things and can say I've never had an issue with this; surely all modern recording software measures latency and adjusts accordingly?