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 I/O includes MIDI, USB, S/PDIF line out (six) and mic/line in (four).

The C600 I/O includes MIDI, USB, S/PDIF line out (six) and mic/line in (four).

MANAGING OUTPUTS
The C600’s output strategy was clearly a point where M-Audio focused on customer feedback, executing a fantastic solution. The unit offers six analog outputs using TRS ¼-inch analog connections. The unit also offers two headphone jacks on the front panel, each having their own level control on the top. What is fed to each of these analog connections is controlled by the software mixer in the C600 Preference pane in the Mac OS System Preferences. The layout of the GUI found here will be a comfortable transition for Fast Track Ultra users. It can be a bit confusing at first, but only because it is so packed with features.

Any piece of software sending signal to the C600 recognizes it as having eight outputs, including the six analog and the S/PDIF. Routing signal to output 1 from, say, Pro Tools will bring that signal into the software mixer’s “Software Return 1.” This signal can then be routed to any of the device’s physical outputs. By default, all eight software returns are routed to the corresponding physical connections, but you can easily modify this. In a similar way, the four analog and two S/PDIF inputs arrive into the software mixer previous to the A/D and D/A converters so that latency-free signal can be routed to any or all of the physical outputs. The first headphone mix will mirror the mix being fed to physical outputs 1 and 2, and the second headphone output will receive the output 3/4 mix. A new feature in the C600’s software mixer is the ability to copy the output 1/2 mix over to output 3/4 to create identical mixes for both cues or output paths. Likewise, any output pair’s mix can be copied to any other output pair’s routing page.

Each of the inputs and software returns feature an aux send that can feed signal to the onboard effects processor. By using the unit’s DSP to provide reverb or delay effects, the responsiveness of the processing is fast enough to be provided without latency. Eight different styles of reverb and delay offer simple controls, but are capable of producing sounds that allow a singer or guitarist to feel comfortable hearing his/her performance playing through the zero-latency inputs without being awkwardly dry.

The way that this software mixer integrates with the hardware monitor section is where the C600 really raises the bar. The large volume control on the unit’s top panel is accompanied by three buttons, corresponding to the three analog output pairs. The idea is that, for one, during a mixing situation each pair of outputs is connected to a different set of monitors, each output pair is being fed an identical mix and the volume control adjusts the output level as the mix is evaluated on each monitor pair. You can switch between monitor pairs by turning on and off the corresponding buttons. Alternatively, during tracking you might have your main mix feed outputs 5/6 to your monitors, allocating that mix to the main volume control and freeing up the other stereo pairs for independent headphone mixes. Most exciting, in my opinion, is that 5.1 audio from a DAW can be routed to the six analog outputs; all three pairs can be selected to feed the main level control simultaneously, and the large volume control can adjust the level of the entire surround mix.

With all of these flexible routing options within the software mixer, a great variety of professional workflows can be managed in very comfortable ways. Comparing to the hardware setup of the HD Omni I/O, I would say that the C600 software routing takes a slight edge in terms of overall look, ease of use and features. The copy/paste feature and DSP effects alone push it over the top. The software control panel for the C600 also handles the transport feature. The five transport buttons are a tad small and stiff for my taste, but I could see why some would find them useful. They are recognized by the Mac OS as a USB keyboard. With that in mind, you can program each of the buttons to play a keyboard shortcut recognized by the desired application as a specific command. Setting the Play button to perform the “spacebar” command makes the button useful in pressing Play in a good number of applications. Fast-Forward and Rewind, on the other hand, will find themselves very DAW-specific once programmed. An additional Multi button can be programmed to perform any shortcut, or even an eight-step series of commands.






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