Made by:
Street Price:
$100 Base Unit
$150 With Microphone

M-Audio Fasttrack

Review By: Zathras
Added: 8/26/05

Be Warned.... If you are interested in starting recording your uke it can be a very slippery slope. There are lots of wonderful gadgets you can buy with knobs, sliders, dials and blinky lights. For a gadget freak like me that is a very dangerous thing, but I am getting ahead of myself...

Before I started on this endeavor I had very little recording experience. Essentially it was limited to making MP3s of my Beatles LPs. So I've essentially started from a standstill.

The M-Audio Fasttrack is a "Guitar|Mic Recording Interface." What that translates to is you put your "mic/guitar in" and get "USB out." At its heart the Fasttrack is essentially an external USB soundcard.

On the front you have:

Mic Input
which adjusts the gain to the microphone (how loud things are recorded)
Peak and Signal lights
show you when a signal is coming in and when it is too loud
used to adjust the mix of what is coming from the computer versus over the mic/guitar
Input Monitor Switch
selects if what is coming into the box via mic/guitar is monitored in mono or stereo
Headphone Jack
you put your headphones here
Output Control
volume control for the headphones and RCA jacks on the back.

On the back:

USB jack
you plug into your computer from here
Output RCA jacks
for running output to speakers via an amplifier
Input Level Switch
for selecting if the 1/4" jack has a guitar or line level signal input
1/4" Input
for your guitar or mic
XLR Input
for an XLR mic

The FastTrack is available with or without a mic. The mic package includes an M-audio Soundstage dynamic mic, a microphone cord, and a microphone holder that attaches to a stand. The microphone appears to be of decent quality and if you are looking for an "out of the box" solution that would be the way to go. I would recommend going ahead and picking up a cheap boom type microphone stand.

The software package is pretty basic and par for the course for "included" software - quite limited and not really useful, but fun to play around with for a bit. The software included is GT Player Express which is a guitar effects program that seems to work quite well but is more than a little confusing. It was fun to plug in my uke solid and play around with distortion but I haven't used it again since the first day. My box also included Ableton Live Lite 4 (it isn't listed on the website so I don't know if it is included across the board or not now) which is a recording/looping program which again was not too intuitive.

Based on some recommendations from the boards I downloaded Audacity which is a simple FREE sound recorder/editor. It was what I needed at the start - Press record and play into the microphone.

The main "gotcha" to keep in mind reguardless of what software you are using - always make sure that the Fasttrack is selected as the audio device. Many programs have a habit of defaulting to your computers internal soundcard.

So the simplest way of recording is to just press record and play into the microphone. If it seems too quiet turn the Mic Input knob up.

After doing this for a while you then start getting fancy... now you want to record a second track over the first or maybe play over a metronome track. To do this you plug your headphones in and adjust the volume and mix levels - then when you hit record you can hear what is playing over the computer and what you are playing through the microphone.

Things start getting a little confusing around here, Say for example someone (ie your significant other) records a vocal track and you both want to hear how it sounds. Since the Fasttrack is set as your soundcard in your program all audio will be routed through it (so just through the headphones). The solution to this is to either hook speakers to the output on the back of the Fasttrack or you have to go in and change the "output soundcard" in your software to the soundcard in your computer temporarily.

I ended up putting a headphone jack switch box in so I can just flip a switch to switch my speakers between my computer and the Fasttrack. Also I have experimented with just using the Fasttrack as a soundcard - it seems to work as well as or better than the onboard one in my computer.

Here is one of the last tracks my wife and I recorded using everything stock from the box. To get a good level out of a uke with this setup you do have to have the mic input up almost all the way. This was when I started on the "slippery slope" of new gadgets.

I was reading several home recording websites and a number of people recommend using condenser mics for recording acoustic instruments. These types of microphones typically require "phantom power" which is provided through the mic cable. The Fasttrack does NOT put out phantom power so you have to use a preamp or other power source if you wish to use this type of mic. I ended up adding a Tube MP microphone preamp which allows a much greater amount of level control and provides phantom power.

The next model up from the Fasttrack is the "Mobilepre USB" which adds phantom power and dual inputs among other things. Looking online the price of the Mobilepre is the same as the Fasttrack with microphone package. If you know you are going to get deep into recording I would probably recommend going with the Mobilepre (assuming it is the same quality as the Fasttrack), but if you are unsure about recording or just want to start with a "one box" solution the Fasttrack is a great choice. It will give you all the tools you need to make a good recording and to get your feet wet. Then if you decide you want to add on additional gadgets down the road, you certainly can (and then take those other gadgets with you if you ever upgrade the Fasttrack).

Another reccomendation if you are thinking about starting home recording - check out the book Home Recording For Musicians for Dummies. It spells everything out for you simply and then goes indepth into a lot of recording topics.


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