M-Audio Fast Track C600 Audio Interface Review

Nov 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Brandon T. Hickey

NEW I/O BRINGS CLEAN PREAMPS, ADVANCED ROUTING, DSP EFFECTS

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The C600 includes a software mixer for routing inputs and software returns to outputs and headphones.

The C600 includes a software mixer for routing inputs and software returns to outputs and headphones.

With the release of Pro Tools MP this year, users have been buzzing about the possibility of an upgrade to M-Audio’s hardware. The company’s devices were preferred by many over their LE rivals because of its thorough feature sets, abundance of I/O and reasonable prices. The answer has come in the form of the new M-Audio Fast Track C400 and Fast Track C600 (reviewed here) USB interfaces.

ON THE SURFACE
The Fast Track series’ overall cosmetic design has gotten a complete overhaul. No longer do we see the stackable unit with a narrow front control panel. The new design takes a note from desktop interfaces like the Apogee Duet, with a large volume control and a generous spread between knobs and buttons across the large top surface. Ergonomically, this is a refreshing alternative. Other welcome additions, which I haven’t seen from the Fast Track line before, are the 8-segment LED input meters, innovative monitoring section and transport controls. All of these new bells and whistles are built upon a solid foundation mirroring the impressive feature set of the Fast Track Ultra.

The top of the unit has a generous spread between knobs and buttons.

The top of the unit has a generous spread between knobs and buttons.

The Ultra offered plenty of input and output options, with quality mic pre’s, dual independent headphone mixes and MIDI I/O, as does the C600. One of the most impressive Ultra features, however, was the software mixer for routing inputs and software returns to outputs and headphone mixes. The ability to mix zero-latency inputs with playback tracks and effects powered by DSP from the hardware was professionally executed. The C600 improves upon this with stylish new graphics and even more options.

INPUT SELECTIONS
The C600 can accept signal from four analog inputs simultaneously. On the back panel of the unit, four XLR/¼-inch TRS combo jacks can accept mic or line-level signals. Alternatively, the first two inputs can be fed by front panel instrument jacks. Comparing the C600’s preamps to the Fast Track Ultra’s, I found a strikingly similar character. Recording vocals, I noticed the same tight low and low-mid frequency range with plenty of substance, without being over-emphasized. The top end is smooth and balanced, without an abundance of additional harmonics seeming to be added. Most of all, the upper-midrange from the preamp/converter pairing has an impressive amount of detail and clarity for a product in this class. Several M-Audio products—including the ProFire Series, the Fast Track Ultra and Ultra 8R—include the “Octane circuit” in M-Audio’s Octane preamp/converter. These pre’s have distinctly superior gain, fidelity and flavor to those found in the Fast Track Pro. I would not be surprised if that same circuit was the basis of the C600’s preamps.

By contrast, plugging an electric guitar into the instrument input on the front panel was slightly disappointing. This was an area that I felt could have used improvement on the original Fast Tracks, and after using the HD Omni I/O, I learned what a well-executed instrument input could really sound like. Granted, the Omni and the Eleven Rack, which apparently was the basis of the Omni’s instrument input circuit, are in a higher price class than the C600. That said, with the Avid brand name shared by M-Audio, I had hoped that a lower-cost yet comparable design might have trickled down to the C600. The Omni felt like plugging into an actual guitar amp. I plugged in, never really had to adjust a gain control on the device, and a hot, meaty signal lit up an Amplitube Fender Twin. With the C600, I had to keep backing off level, padding the input and scaling back gain further and further to avoid clipping. By this point, the signal felt thin and compromised, and my performance still felt inhibited by my fear of overdriving the A/D converter. A DI through the C600’s mic pre provided a superior experience.






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