Sunday, January 6, 2008

Product Review - M-Audio Fast Track USB

I'll give you the short and to the point review first:

Save up for something better, dipshit.

Now here's why:

Don't get me wrong. The M-Audio Fast Track USB served its purpose fairly well. The quality of my audio recordings was immediately improved. And I got a lot of use out of it. Installation was simple and tech support has been decent.

It sounded like exactly what I needed; a pre-amp with a digital output (USB or firewire) with at least one microphone (xlr) input and one guitar input. I was fairly new to audio recording (or more accurately, I was new to having a little extra cash to spend on audio recording devices) and I wasn't satisfied, of course, with the standard line-in on my internal soundcard.

And so, lacking any amount of foresight or patience, I went out and bought the Fast Track. I bought it for I think around $100 - 130 about a year and a half or two years ago.

Here are my complaints:

1. Latency - This is the number one issue for me. While I can get somewhere around 10ms latency (which is pretty good for USB) on a single track with limited effects, the problems arise when I have multiple tracks with a few real-time effects processes running on each. In many circumstances, as the audio project becomes more complex, the production grinds to a halt unless I increase the latency to an amount that makes monitoring useless.

Although I haven't tried it, I have heard that the M-Audio Fast Track Pro, which uses firewire instead of USB, alleviates this problem considerably. I cannot vouch for it, but if latency is your only concern, the Fast Track Pro might suite your needs. It is, however, slightly more expensive than the USB version.

2. Single In/Single Out - I keep kicking myself for this one. I should have known... no, I DID know that I would quickly outgrow the usefullness of a single input (two if you are counting both the xlr and guitar ins together), single output pre-amp. It wasn't long after I purchased the Fast Track that I realized what a waste it was for a musician to invest $100 for a one channel in/out recording device. For two or three times the price, i could have had 8 times the channels. Do yourself a favor; If you think there is a possibility you may want to record multiple tracks simultaneously and you haven't got boatloads of cash lying around, don't compromise. Just settle your ass down, put your money away, and save up.

It is important to point out that even if you do get a multi track mixer, you need to be aware that a USB connection will still only support one track output. So even if you've got your whole band coming in on 8 separate tracks, if you're using a device that only supports USB, you are limited to one track output. You won't be able to level, equalize, compress and add effects to those 8 tracks individually, once they are recorded.

Firewire can handle multiple out tracks, so I recomend not only getting the multi-track mixer, but also spending the extra couple bucks for the firewire version. Something like the Alesis MultiMix 8 FireWire would work and you can get it for around $300.

3. Random Violient Hissing - My final complaint is a problem that is perhaps peculiar to my device although I suspect others have had the same issue as well. My M-Audio Fastrack USB, for no apparent reason, succumbs to random bouts of violent, earsplitting hissing or white noise. It is managable, I suppose, in the same sense that genital herpies outbreaks are managable; that is, it happens and there's nothing you can do about.

Tech support tells me it is probably a driver issue. But I have updated, unistalled, and reinstalled the drivers multiple times. I've disabled other audio devices. Adjusted my audio settings and software preferences. I've practically taken the thing out for dinner and a movie. All to no avail. Chances are, if you buy the Fast Track, you won't have this problem. But it is certainly worth addressing.


Conz0r said...

I've been having the same exact hissing problem with mine too..hmm..that sucks haha.

Luke said...

its bad.

do you both have Xp media center edition by any chance?

Sam said...

No. I don't have the media center edition.

Luke said...

Hey i just figured out that you can change the latency on the control panel. It will help with your white noise i think.