With connections on the side and on top, the brand new Fast Track C600 breaks with the typical M-Audio rack and half-rack design. Have manufacturers decided to fight their battle based not only on features but also on design ? Yes, indeed.
Just like the textile and record industries, the small audio world has been hit by popular trends as we can see every year at the main international trade shows, like NAMM and Musikmesse. Not so long ago, Line 6’s modeling amps set a trend followed by all manufacturers, from Ibanez to Vox, Zoom, Fender, and Marshall. A few months later, and by unanimous decision, a new wave of pocket amps and all-tube 5-watt amps came out. Treading in Samplitude’s and Altiverb’s footsteps, all manufacturers wanted to have a convolution reverb in their product range — nowadays replaced by the “algorithm reverb is definitely better” trend. Another follow-the-leader example is the introduction of dozens of pocket recorders following the success of the Zoom H2.
And now, I’m pleased to announce the arrival of a new trend, this time in the world of external audio interfaces: the “desktop” interface. Where does it come from? Hard to tell, even if Mackie’s Onyx Satellite came out in 2006 and TC Electronic’s nice Konnekt 6 (2008) are precursors, recently followed by Steinberg’s CI2 & CI2+, Lexicon’s I-Onix U42S and Roland’s Capture series, and now by the Steinberg UR28M, Propellerhead’s Balance and M-Audio’s new Fast Track C400 and C600…
The principle of a desktop interface is simple: instead of having the controls on the front panel like an effect rack, all controls are placed on the top panel while connections are located on the front or rear sides. This way, the unit can’t be rack mounted but it gains in ease of use. The controls and lighting indicators are bigger, there is more space between them, and sometimes even more features. Which is the case with the Fast Track C600 we want to review today. It looks wonderful, like a fortuitous meeting…
… in a home studio between a sound card and Kubrick’s monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The first thing you’ll notice after taking it out of the box is that M-Audio took a very unexpected turn regarding design. The gray PVC akin to previous interface series is gone. M-Audio decided to go with Darth Vader-like black plastic, sometimes matte sometimes glossy, together with green, blue, red and orange LEDs. The overall look is really great, even if we would rather have the manufacturer use higher-quality PVC or even metal to give it a more classy feel when you turn knobs and push buttons. However, I must admit that the overall design is very attractive. The C600 is rather light, but heavy enough to stay safe on your desktop (and it also features anti-slip pads). Its great looks and ergonomically designed sloping front panel look very promising.
The first thing that catches your eye is the big volume control on the right with a pair of smaller controls to adjust the level of the two headphone outs (independent, channels 1/2 and 3/4). Above these rotary controls, you’ll find three buttons to turn on/off the audio outs of the sound card pairwise: “A” for outs 1/2, “B” for outs 3/4 and “C” for outs 5/6. This way, you can use this section as a monitoring controller, connecting a pair of speakers to each output pair and switching between them very easily. This section offers another valuable feature: a MIDI transport panel allowing you to control your sequencer. Play, Rec, Stop, FFW and RWD: all main transport controls are there, and a “Multi” button allows you to program eight sequential steps (define eight operations you want to be performed one after the other when you press the button once). In other words, it’s not a Mackie Control but it’s enough to save you time and increase ease of use. Such controls should be available on all audio interfaces.
On the left you’ll find the controls dedicated to the four audio inputs of the sound card. And once again, the space available on the control panel provides valuable extras, like the 8-segment LED meter for each input. This makes gain adjustment much easier… All other features are pretty standard. You get a Pad button for each input stage and two buttons to turn on/off the Phantom power of inputs 1/2 or 3/4. Inputs 1 and 2 are equipped with an additional button to select the front or rear connectors.
Are they different? Yes, of course. On the front panel, besides two headphone outs on 1/4″ jacks, you have a pair of jack inputs, one of which (input 2) is a hi-Z instrument input. On the rear panel you have four XLR-1/4″ jack combos for inputs 1-4. So, for inputs 1 and 2 you can select either the rear or the front connectors and that’s why you have Front/Rear buttons on the top panel.
The rest of the connections on the rear are also standard: six line outs on 1/4″ jacks, S/PDIF in/out on RCA, MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN, a USB port, and one connector for the power outlet. This detail has some consequences: when you’re using only the USB cable to power the C600, only inputs 1 and 2 are available. If you want to use all four inputs, you have to connect the interface to the power outlet. The same applies to the headphone outs since only one is available when the interface is used without external power supply.
Now let’s take a closer look…
The new Fast Track C600 is a great success in every aspect. The desktop design is very practical, the controls are laid out in a very intuitive manner, instrument inputs and headphone outputs are easily accessible and independent, and the device looks nice. The full-plastic housing gives it a fragile look, but considering the price… When it comes to sound, we noticed an obvious improvement and the comparison with the much more expensive MBox Pro is flattering for the small C600. The preamps and converters perform really nice and this M-Audio interface will certainly be a good choice for musicians who don’t want to spend more than $400 and don’t need more than four preamps. Year after year the quality of budget products increases and the Fast Track C600 confirms this trend.
- Nice look
- Practical desktop design
- Quality preamps and converters
- Transport keys
- Big volume control
- Two independent headphone outs
- S/PDIF in/out
- Plastic housing
- Sequential Multi button not very useful
To read the full detailed review with sound samples see: Fast Track C600 Review