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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.