AF’s Weblog

December 1, 2011

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600 Review

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.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

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.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

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.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

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.

AVID M-Audio Fast Track C600

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…

Conclusion

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.

Advantages:

  • Nice look
  • Practical desktop design
  • Quality preamps and converters
  • Transport keys
  • Big volume control
  • Two independent headphone outs
  • S/PDIF in/out
  • Price

Drawbacks:

  • Plastic housing
  • Sequential Multi button not very useful

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see: Fast Track C600 Review

 

Advertisements

July 11, 2011

AVID Mbox Pro Review

Filed under: audio interface — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:37 am

AVID, formerly Digidesign, took advantage of last year’s re-branding to present the third generation of its digital audio budget interfaces: the Mbox series. Today, we’ll give the Mbox Pro a try, the biggest member of the family.

For many years, Mbox interfaces were the entrance ticket to Pro Tools and were an essential tool for home studio owners who wanted to use the famous Digidesign (now AVID) platform. But things have changed a lot recently and now Pro Tools 9 can be used with any digital audio interface. The Mbox series also changed. Even if they already supported other sequencers in the past, they can now be used (and more than ever) with other programs like Cubase, Logic and company. However, the link between Pro Tools and the Mbox is still very strong, especially in terms of some very appealing bundles. Let’s start by unpacking the Mbox Pro.

 

Out of the Box

AVID Mbox Pro

Inside the nice black box with the AVID logo is the interface itself, which makes a good impression at first sight. The design is very appealing, professional but not austere. It looks quite sturdy due to the fact that it has a metal housing and not less due to its heaviness (6.2 lb!). With such a weight, you can be sure it wont slip down from your desk! The dimensions are also generous: 13.7″ x 7.6″ x 2.3″. The knobs are made out of plastic but seem quite rugged. The look of the new Mbox generation is pretty convincing. AVID did a very nice job compared to former versions. However, mobile sound freaks will find that the weight and bulky dimensions of the Mbox Pro are no advantage. In that case we recommend the Mbox and Mbox Mini, which are lighter and ought to be enough if you don’t need many ins/outs. However, it’s important to point out that the three interfaces don’t have the same specs (S/N ratio, dynamic range, etc.), so the differences between the three models are not limited to the number of connections.

Now, let’s have a look at the front and rear panels…

Panels

AVID Mbox Pro

On the well-equipped rear panel you have six analog outs and four analog ins on 1/4″ TRS jacks with switchable +4dBu/-10dBV sensitivity. You also get four inserts on 1/4″ TRS jacks. The inserts are placed between the preamp and the A/D converter in the signal path. The effect send and return are in the same TRS jack (tip=send, ring=return, sleeve=ground). You also get a stereo Aux input on RCAs or minijack. On the right corner there are two mic inputs (3 and 4) on XLR connectors, while on the left corner you have a pair of FireWire ports. Notice that the interface must be connected to its external PSU because it cannot be powered via the FireWire bus of the computer. A 1/4″ footswitch jack will allow you to punch in and out while recording or start playing back audio — very practical! Finally, a D-Sub port provides you with a MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN connectors, a coaxial S/PDIF connector and a BNC to feed it a wordclock signal using the provided breakout cable. The only regret of the connections is the lack of an ADAT connector!

AVID Mbox Pro

The front panel is also very comprehensive: a pair of XLR/TRS combos for mic inputs 1 and 2 and the two instrument inputs. They all have two switches: the first one to switch between the front inputs 1/2 (mic and instrument) and the two rear line inputs, and the second one to activate the soft limiter (which is a very rare feature on interfaces in this price range). Also notice that all four gain controls are push/pull pots allowing you to activate -20dB pads. In the middle of the front panel, you’ll find four meters with eight-LEDs each. Nice! Next to the meters, there are two buttons: the first one can be assigned to different Pro Tools functions (we already mentioned that the link between the house’s own hardware and software is still strong!) while the other one allows you to turn the 48V phantom power on/off.

You also get two fully independent headphones outputs: they are assigned to different channels and have their own volume control. Sweet! On the right corner you’ll find a big volume control as well as three keys assigned to the master out: a Dim/Mute switch that allows you to cut or decrease the volume of the main output, a Mono switch, and a Speaker button to toggle between three pairs of monitor speakers connected to the analog outs on the rear panel. Once again: very nice!

Now, let’s talk about the software…

Conclusion

The new Mbox Pro interface is a success: it offers a very nice design, it is robust, provides very comprehensive connections, and includes an easy-to-use virtual mixer. Add the effect section and you get a very appealing audio interface, even if it is not perfect. In fact, we missed an ADAT in/out and some additional effects like an EQ and/or a compressor. Moreover, the weight and the size of this interface are not that convenient for mobile recording.

 

When it comes to software, although the system worked perfectly with Cubase, we recommend to use it with Pro Tools for several reasons. First, the convenient Multi button you can assign to different functions, but especially because of the Pro Tools 9 bundles that can save you up to $200 on the sequencer price (the Mbox Pro alone costs $729 and only $999 with Pro Tools 9). Users of other sequencers might want to check competitor products that provide more features for the same price. But if you are looking for a high-quality audio interface and want to start working with Pro Tools 9 without spending a lot of money, the Mbox range is the way to go.

Advantages:

  • Sturdy
  • Nice design
  • Comprehensive analog connections
  • Good sounding preamps and converters
  • Virtual mixer
  • Integrated reverb and delay effects
  • Appealing bundle price with Pro Tools 9

Drawbacks:

  • A bit expensive without bundle
  • Heavy and bulky
  • No ADAT connection
  • No EQ nor compressor in the FX section

To read the full detailed article see:  Avid MBox Pro Review

January 25, 2011

Avid Pro Tools 9 Review

It was THE event at the 2010 AES show in San Fran: the launch of Pro Tools 9 took center stage and generated a lot of expectations. Pro Tools 9 is not merely a simple update. It is in fact a small revolution for Avid, given that the famous DAW is now open to the external world — for the first time ever.

Over the last couple of months there were rumors everywhere about the possibility of, one day, being able to use the well-known digital audio platform independently from the dedicated Avid hardware interfaces… All of you who have been patiently waiting for that moment can rejoice: now Avid Pro Tools doesn’t need Avid hardware to work, and still deliver a high performance. Or at least that’s the assertion by the American manufacturer — the leader in the digital pro audio and video markets.

Surely the most skeptical will think that it will only be possible with a “light” version of the software or something. Wrong!  We mean THE Pro Tools 9 — an almost “unique” version that works with all sorts of digital audio interfaces. However, when searching for more information on Avid’s website things get a bit more complicated, considering that there are several possible configurations at very different prices!

In order to make things clear, we will start by giving you an overview of the main software and hardware configurations and then introduce the new features offered by Pro Tools 9.

Set Menu or à la carte

Avid Pro Tools 9

Until now, the options to use Pro Tools were quite simple because they were limited: you could choose between an expensive Pro Tools HD system (including at least one DSP Core card upgradeable with Access cards) or the more affordable Pro Tools LE system with limited functionality (the price depended on the interface you chose)… Today, the configurations are quite different, although there is still some hierarchy when it comes to features (and price).

The first version is still the flagship in Avid’s DAW range: Pro Tools HD 9. Like its predecessor, this update of Pro Tools HD 8 works only with HD Core and Accel PCIe cards (including nine DSPs each) and is sold bundled as before: HD1 system (with one Core card), HD2 system (with one Core card and one Accel card) and HD3 system (with one Core card and two Accel cards). There is no surprise up to now.

The real change comes with the second version called Pro Tools HD Native, which is a piece of software that provides exactly the same features as the “HD” version but without a DSP card. Instead, Pro Tools HD Native is sold with a PCIe card with two Mini-Digilink ports that allow the user to connect any HD interface to it, like the new Avid HD I/O interfaces: 16×16 Analog, 16×16 Digital, HD MADI, and the new HD Omni! In other words, this Pro Tools version is the first “HD version” that can work without a dedicated DSP card… In fact, the compatibility between Pro Tools HD Native and the UAD-2 card system has just been officially announced… Does it start to make sense to you now?

Last but not least, the product range includes another version, simply called Pro Tools 9, which is very similar to the HD version and works on both Mac and PC platforms, regardless of your ASIO or Core Audio digital audio interface. This new hardware-independent version has the clear goal of competing with other native sequencers.

Let see if it can succeed!…

Pro Tools Will Always Stay Pro Tools

It’s true that the Pro Tools concept doesn’t change with this new update. We will probably have to wait some more time before certain features appear in the Avid software. Despite all, the manufacturer wants to listen to what its users have to say through IdeaScale.

 

And let’s make something clear: the fact that Pro Tools is used by the vast majority of professionals is not only due to the brand’s effective marketing. Apart from the proven quality of the ready-to-use hardware/software solutions in the HD range, Pro Tools has always had a great response due to the design of the software itself. Although it lacks some features, the software allows for an easy and fast recording, editing and mixing of audio, in comparison to other tools that make things much more complex because of their sophistication (for example, until version 4, the side chain was incredibly complex in Cubase and Nuendo compared to Pro Tools…).

 

For primary tasks, Avid’s sequencer is not disappointing at all and allows the user to work well and fast. That’s the main reason why it remains the first choice of many professionals and why it can be very appealing to beginners who can easily get scared by the endless menus, tabs and options in some competitor products… If all sequencers offered a demo version, these differences would be obvious, making the user’s decision much more easier.

Conclusion

By ensuring the compatibility of its flagship product with the external world, Avid took a huge step forward, which will certainly delight many professionals and semi-professionals: from now on, you can take the software anywhere, and even if it’s not an HD version it allows you to do some serious work.

After the major update that version 8 represented, we expected more new features and plug-in improvements. And we are still in shock by the price of the Complete Production ToolKit, which addresses professionals mainly. Although the “big” Pro Tools is now affordable to all budgets, it is not the best tool for everyone. And now that it can be really compared with other sequencers it could suffer from the aggressiveness of its competitors. But, since Avid is not a company that rests on its laurels, we are looking forward to seeing how this market will evolve…

Advantages:

  • Pro Tools usable with third-party audio interfaces!
  • Ease of installation/use/configuration of the software
  • Possible configurations
  • Improved I/O setup
  • Easier bus routing
  • Latency compensation (finally)!

Drawbacks:

  • Few new features compared to version 8 in terms of functionality
  • No VST/AU support
  • Complete Production Toolkit for HD version too expensive for non-professionals
  • Not all audio interfaces are 100% supported
  • Bounce only in real time

To read the full detailed article see:  Pro Tools 9 Review

 

Blog at WordPress.com.