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

 

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January 15, 2011

Winter NAMM 2011 Day 2 Highlights

And here are some video demo highlights from Day 2:

To see all news and videos visit: Winter NAMM 2011

November 19, 2009

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49 Keyboard Controller Review

Filed under: keyboards — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:12 am

It used to be black and now it’s white. M-Audio’s controller keyboard is back with a new look and on steroids…

The first thing you’ll notice as soon as you unpack the Axiom Pro is that it looks different compared to the standard Axiom. No black and gray sleek finish anymore, instead you now have a shiny white finish to emphasize the black controls with red and gray labeling. The color combination gives it an iPod Classic, 80’s revival look–it even has a chrome detail on the top of the encoders. Some might find it a bit too fancy but the contrast of colors will surely make it easier to use in dark environments, compared to the standard Axiom, be it on stage or in the badly-lit cellar you call home studio. M-Audio also used the occasion to add nice blue LEDs to 19 buttons and the keyboard’s LCD display.

White on Red

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49The controller’s layout will be familiar to people used to the first model. Apart from the look and the LEDs, the Axiom Pro has exactly the same controls in exactly the same place as the Axiom.

 

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49From right to left you’ll find eight velocity-sensitive pads, six transport controls for the sequencer, eight rotary encoders (which aren’t notched like on the old Axiom), nine sliders, nine buttons, eight global control buttons underneath the large backlit LCD display, a very convenient 12-key numeric keypad (which also includes letters, so maybe you can send an SMS with your Axiom…), two octave change buttons, and the essential pitch-bend and modulation wheels.

 

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49No big changes on the front panel… nor the rear: on/off switch, PSU connector, USB port (so you can power it via USB), MIDI input and output with 5-pin DIN connectors, and two 1/4″ jacks for sustain and expression pedals (not included). Nothing’s new under the sun. The real innovation is found on the most important element of any keyboard: the keyboard itself.

 

M-Audio Axiom Pro 49Thanks to the new TruTouch proprietary technology, the Axiom Pro provides a much more convincing playing feel than the Axiom. Even though the keys are still only semi-weighted keys with aftertouch, the keyboard feels heavier under your fingers and less cheap than its predecessor. Nice!  When it comes to MIDI, the keyboard works fine with a sequencer: velocity and aftertouch values match the velocity curve you set on the keyboard. On the other hand, we are less enthusiastic about the pads, whose response is not consistent throughout the whole surface. When you hit the side of the pad you record a much lower velocity than if you hit the center. In short, you’ll have to hit precisely in the center of the pad to avoid ugly surprises …

One last remark regarding mechanical parts: the sliders on the model we tested were a bit stiffer than the sliders on the old Axiom. It’s neither better nor worse, it’s just different. We’ll have to wait and see if it stays that way after long hours of use.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The Axiom was already a very good controller keyboard and it’s no surprise that the new Axiom Pro outdoes it with its improved keyboard, HyperControl technology, LEDs and ASCII message support. It will take you no time to learn it and its several sequencer mappings will allow you start working right away. Considering that it provides exactly the same control elements as its predecessor and that there is no 88 weighted key model, this Axiom is more like a Mark II than a Pro version. It’s an excellent choice for people looking for a high-quality, versatile keyboard but I’m not sure it makes sense for people who already own the previous model.

It is definitely worth the 30%-40% price increase compared with the older version, but it’s probably too high a price for Axiom users considering an upgrade. We regret that M-Audio didn’t seize the opportunity to add more new functions (more pads or an XY pad, like on competitor products). We can’t really complain about anything on this model except that it’s more like an Axiom II than an Axiom Pro…

Advantages:

  • Look
  • LEDs for dark environments
  • Very pleasant feel
  • Hyper-convenient HyperControl technology
  • Control possibility via ASCII messages

Drawbacks:

  • Still no 88-key version
  • We expected more new functions
  • No HyperControl presets for many sequencers

To read the full detailed article see:  M-Audio Axiom Pro49 Review

January 22, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo M-Audio Axiom Pro 49

Filed under: keyboards, namm 2009 — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:10 am

Exclusive presentation of the new M-Audio Axiom Pro MIDI keyboard and controller.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

December 9, 2008

Test: M-Audio ProFire 2626 review

With no fewer than 26 inputs, 26 outputs, 8 integrated Octane microphone preamps, and ProTools M-Powered compatibility, the latest interface from M-Audio aims to find its niche in the category of intermediate-level FireWire audio interfaces. Should the competition be worried?

trois quart

M-Audio has been releasing quality products at very attractive prices (even aggressive prices) for some time now: microphones, MIDI controllers, sound cards and other Home Studio accessories. Bought in 2004 by Avid, which also owns Digidesign, M-Audio now offers sound cards that are Protools M-Powered compatible.

This Protools version allows Home studio owners to use this “legendary” software and create sessions that are compatible with TDM versions, something which had already been possible with Digidesign cards (like MBox, DIGI002, DIGI003) but which has now become more affordable thanks to M-Audio.

The product we’ll be reviewing is the M-Audio Profire 2626 digital audio interface, which has the following specs:

  • 26 x 26 simultaneous analog/digital I/O
  • Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • 8 mic/line preamps using Octane technology including 2 instrument inputs on the front panel
  • Two ¼” TRS headphone outputs, and a user-assignable master volume knob
  • An onboard DSP mixer that allows routing of internal signals without taking up processor resources
  • Standalone operation (functions as eight-channel mic pre/eight-channel A/D-D/A converter)
  • JetPLL technology – jitter elimination (unwanted variation of one or more characteristics of a periodic signal)
  • Wordclock I/O

Basically, it’s got a lot of nice features which, for an average price of USD 899.95 MSRP (around $699 average street price), could be a very good alternative for people who want to mix with an analog or digital console. There are enough inputs & outputs to put down your tracks without a problem.

What’s in the box?…

Conclusion

M-Audio has come up with a very good product at an interesting price with their Profire 2626. Except for some minor installation issues and control panel display bugs, its internal routing, quality preamps and converters, and numerous inputs/outputs (almost boggles the mind considering the price) make this interface a must-have for people who want to record numerous tracks or who want to try venturing outside of their favorite sequencer to use a console (and thereby use external effects). The icing on the cake is that it works as a standalone A/D-D/A! So with an average street price of $699 it definitely deserves a value for the money award.

Number of Inputs/Outputs
Quality preamps and converters
Internal Routing
2 headphone outputs
Has Wordclock
Compatible with Protools M-Powered

Knob push/pull quality
Phantom common to inputs 1 to 4 and 5 to 8
Installation slightly arduous
Display bugs in M-Audio control panel

Read the full M-Audio ProFire 2626 review here.

August 26, 2008

M-Audio Fast Track Ultra review

M-Audio recently presented their latest addition to the Fast Track family: the Ultra, a USB audio interface with 4 Octane preamps, integrated effects, and advanced routing. Is it a worthy successor to the Fast Track dynasty? Lets take a look…

Fast Track Ultra

M-audio already has quite a bit of experience with audio interfaces, and models such as the Firewire 410 or the Fast Track pro were big hits (technically as well as commercially). Since they’re on a roll, they’ve decided to expand their “Fast Track” USB interfaces with an “Ultra” model, which has evolved out of the Fast Track Pro, which itself evolved out of the first Fast Track.

You can read the full test of M-Audio Fast Track Ultra on Audiofanzine.

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