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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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

December 29, 2008

Test: M-Audio BX8a Deluxe Review

After having updated its entire range of audio interfaces, M-Audio now looks to update its monitors, especially in the wake of their excellent high-level EXS66 monitors. These updates have had great results on the small Studiophile AV40, so let’s see what’s happened to the BX8a, for which a Deluxe version was recently released.

M-Audio BX8a Deluxe

The BX8a Deluxe monitors are equipped, as their name suggests, with an 8″ boomer. The latter, made of curved Kevlar, is paired with a 1-1/4” natural silk, waveguide-loaded tweeter for a frequency range extending, according to the manufacturer, from 30 Hz to 24 kHz … In terms of power, these monitors are said to deliver 130 Watts. This means bi-amplification of 70 watts for the bass amplifier and 60 watts for the treble, which is more than sufficient for nearfield monitors. As for their looks, there’s nothing special to mention. Even if they’re not as original looking as the EXS66 monitors, the sober design, black matte finish, and the little blue power LED all look very nice. The well-adjusted ensemble and weight (26.4 lbs./unit) complete the impression of solidity and quality.

You might be a little surprised by the absence of features on the back of the monitors. In addition to the On/Off switch, the power cord jack, and TRS (Jack 6.35) and XLR inputs to connect the monitors to your audio system, there’s only a volume knob. No filter, no EQ, no boost: just a volume control with a middle position that’s not serrated. So it’s not possible to adjust the response curve of these monitors to adapt them to the room in which they’ll be used. Also you should be aware that there’s a vent at the rear of the enclosure: you will have to keep them a safe distance from the wall or it will affect the bass. This is a defect that was already present in the BX8a and which hasn’t been corrected in this version. In short, make sure you have enough space …

Conclusion

M-Audio BX8a Deluxe

Well-built and elegant looking, the BX8a Deluxe are nevertheless not perfect. Between the vent at the rear and a tendency to over-compensate the bass, we wonder why they didn’t include more than just volume settings in terms of adjustments. But compared to other speakers in the same price range, they clearly have their advantages. You’ll particularly like the width of their spectrum, particularly the highs which are very convincing. These latest M-Audio monitors have an excellent value and are likely to interest those who want to make their debut into the difficult science of mixing. Admittedly, there are better monitors, but more expensive,…even much more expensive.

Design.
Lows, and very detailed highs.
Pleasant to work with.
Excellent value for the money.

Lows too prominent .
Almost no sound settings.

Read the full M-Audio BX8a Deluxe Review.

December 22, 2008

Gifts for Music Lovers

Christmas Shopping

Are you tired of receiving boxes of chocolate every Christmas? You can’t take another hand-knitted sweater from your aunt and you’d like the bottom of the tree to look a little more…musical? Here’s a selection of gift ideas for your loved ones who may lack inspiration …

For Home Studios

The ultimate audio interface?
Prominently listed among the highlights of this year, TC Electronic’s Studio Konnekt 48 is a Firewire audio interface that features 24 inputs including 4 preamplifiers, 22 outputs, 12 simultaneous analog channels and world class DSP effects. Supplied with a remote control for around $1200, it’s one of the select few able to overshadow RME’s FireFace which, despite its numerous qualities, took a serious blow …

ProTools to go!
ProTools on a USB key; who would have imagined it? They did. Of course, the audio interface is ultra basic but thanks to the MBox 2 Micro, you can work your ProTools session on any computer, for a little less than $250. And since Transfuser currently comes with the package …

Little Adam
Halfway between a multimedia speaker and a near-field monitor, the Adam A5 is somewhat unique … There is the famous ribbon tweeter for which the brand is famous, guaranteeing quality highs, and bass response, which, given the size of the speaker, is no joke and makes it a worthy sibling of the famous A7, for a little less than $440 each. The ideal monitors for working in your apartment without disturbing the neighbors?

A half-legend?
Walking in the footsteps of the illustrious C414, the C214 is meant to be a more accessible version of the classic AKG mic. Featuring only one polar pattern but having the essential of what made the reputation of the large membrane microphone for under $600.

Night terror
It’s small, cute, inexpensive and it works like a charm. For less than $150, the Novation Nocturne will let you control your DAW and plug-ins while tasting the comfort of Automap technology.

26+26=2626
M-Audio’s high-end Profire 2626 has it all for those home studio owners who need a lot of inputs/outputs. Its preamps and converters meet our expectations and the price is around $700; did someone request a great deal?

Deus in machina
Widely used by the pros, the UAD-1 DSP card was nevertheless beginning to get old. So imagine our joy when we saw the UAD-2 arrive with a cornucopia of new plugins each as attractive as the next. And with prices that are not so “pro”, because between the small Solo to the big Quad, prices range from $500 to $1800.

Big Groove
The reference in virtual drummers is back! With 10 full kits and 55 GB of sounds and above all a complete mixer with a great effects section, Fxpansion’s BFD2 is a must for just under $400.

U47 USB?
If you’re looking for a simple way to connect a microphone (static or dynamic) to your computer, know that MXL has created the Mic Mate, an XLR to USB “adapter” incorporating a mic preamp and phantom power. It works without drivers, at the very reasonable price of around $50!

Multimedia Killers
Of course, with their 4″ boomers the Studiophile AV40 won’t do as studio monitors. Still, we’ve rarely come across such good multimedia speakers, with surprising lows for the size of the speakers, highs that’s aren’t bad at all, and great balance … The latest speakers from M-Audio have struck a strong blow to the competitors who offer roughly the same thing for much more, like Creative Labs, Logitech or Altec Lansing. At $150, the AV40 is probably one of the best options you can find for a traveling setup …

What if you changed sequencers…
We’ve got a thing for Reaper, a customizable sequencer, extremely stable, only a few MB, and costs, for non professional usage, fifty dollars. Where’s the catch? Why the discrepancy in prices? Well, we’re beginning to wonder …

Swiss army knife?
A recording studio in your pocket? It’s possible with the Boss Micro BR, a genuine Swiss Army knife that combines 4 tracks, a multi-effects processor, 300 rhythmic patterns and basic editing functions. It’s MP3 compatible, stores on SD cards, has a tuner, and an integrated microphone. What more do you need to know? The price? Around $200.

What a sound!
They look good, and work great, and what a sound. These tube and/or transistor preamps from Universal Audio give the best of both worlds …

Still haven’t found what you were looking for?  For more ideas read the full Gifts for Music Lovers article.

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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