I got into recording a while ago, my first interface being an original MOTU 828. That thing works great. However, it is not supported in ProTools, and I kind of want to start using ProTools more. Plus, I want to move it to my home studio to hopefully make it easier to record virtual tracks by connecting my PC and Mac together via the ADAT outputs of the 828. Anyhow, M-Audio came out with a diminutive new little recording box that works with ProTools M-Powered, and supposedly has excellent microphone preamps as well. This box would be their new USB2 Fast Track Ultra interface.
Physically, the Fast Track Ultra is 10″ x 1 3/4″ x 5″ish. It does not come with any way to mount it in a rack. I think M-Audio positioned ProFire 2626 Interface for rack duty. They seem to share a lot of the same features. The Fast Track Ultra can be bus powered, which limits the amount of inputs and outputs to four each. It can also, interestingly, be run as a USB 1.1 device, which hobbles the device to a maxium of 48Khz and two inputs and two outputs.
The Software included with the Fast Track Ultra is Live 6 M-Audio Enhanced. I believe this comes with pretty much all their hardware audio devices (it came with the Project Mix I/O as well). The drivers disc I received was a little messed up. The disk, on my mac, opened up to a file that was a Disk image of what the disk was supposed to be. Kind of strange. To be safe, I downloaded the current drivers off the M-Audio site. The installer puts a little thing in your system preferences area that is the mixer/settings for the device. I am not a huge fan of it, as it doesn’t really seem to do much. And, if you want it to run iTunes or other audio from your Mac, it comes out of outputs 1 & 2, and that includes the mic if it is plugged in to Mic input 1. The Mixer Software Panel thingy doesn’t seem to do anything about rerouting the Mac’s output to a different set of outputs, or anything. Not really even sure why they have this mixing software.
Recording. This box does NOT, as of this writing, work with ProTools M-Powered. M-Audio’s tech support said it will be supported in the next update (and hopefully 10.5 support??). Whenever that is. You can record up to 96Khz on this little guy, however, you do get some latency. I never had any issues with latency with my 828. In fact, I could set the buffer to like 1024 in Digital Performer (DP), and I had no latency with recording the Mic 1 input (you could only get one mic input or two stereo lines zero latency on the 828) and having DP play other tracks. The Fast Track Ultra is different. Not sure about the DSP chip that is supposed to provide low latency like they advertise, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. Setting the buffer higher than 256 resulted in noticeable latency. I currently have DP’s buffer set to 128, and the latency is there a little, but it isn’t terribly noticeable. I also had to run a line out of the headphone jack back to my headphone mixer/amp to further help with the latency. At least, I think it helped. I do get some strange little error things for Digital Performer that I would NEVER get with the 828. It does, every now and then, come up with a warning messages about the computer being to slow or something. The processor is hardly registering any activity, so, I don’t know why it does that.
The Preamps. M-Audio is advertising that the Fast Track Ultra has their Octane technology in the preamps. Are they better than the 828’s? That is hard to say. I use two microphones mainly to record. An AKG C414 ULS and a AKG C414 EB. I’d say that the sound I get from recording on the Fast Track Ultra is not as muffled as the 828. Or, rather, the 828 sounds muffled compared to the Fast Track Ultra. Plus, bumping the range up to 96Khz, recordings sound a little be better. It really isn’t a ‘night and day’ thing though.
The verdict. It is hard to say with this box. On the one hand, it is cheap, and is capable of making some good sounding recordings. On the other hand, the included mixing software preference panel seems totally useless, and the DSP chip……is it even working? Plus, latency…..a word I really haven’t had to use when using the 828. For $350 or so, is it worth buying? Yes, if you plan on using ProTools M-Powered. If you are going to use it with something else, there are a lot of choices this year, so, you might want to look at offerings from other companies. MOTU’s UltraLight would be one such device. But it is nearly double the price of the Fast Track Ultra. That is not to say that the Fast Track Ultra isn’t a good device. It just seems a little quirky, lacks ProTools M-Powered support, and the drivers and mixing software seem a little rough. Perhaps future revisions in the software will fix this. I’d give it an 7 out of 10. Its a good value, but has some rough edges that need to be ironed out.
UPDATE 1/26/08 by E: After some investigating, it seems that MOTU hardware boxes can, through MOTU’s Digital Performer, take advantage of zero latency monitoring via hardware. So, that is why the 828 has no latency issues. Hopefully, something like this will be available in ProTools M-Powered when it gets updated to support the Fast Track Ultra.
UPDATE 2/3/08 by E: Having done some more recordings with the box, it does sound a lot better than the MOTU 828 I had. The preamps are clear and crisp compared to the 828. True, the monitoring things is a pain, but with a buffer setting at 128 at 48Khz, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Even at 96Khz it works well.
59 thoughts on “M-Audio Fast Track Ultra”
mr dano, you seem to have some real experience with this thingy… so, i was wondering (neophyte alert), how do you get a stereo signal into your daw?.. i’m recording in sonar and i only get a mono reading each time, even though i get a center mix out of the headphones, only the left channel seems to actually record into sonar…
You can use the SPDIF and get a stereo signal that way, or you need to actually split your signal left right and route one input 1 and the other to input 2 and pan them left/right.
i’m plugging a guitar cable directly into front input one… again, total neo here, i can’t seem to actually make sense of this… do i need some sort of splitter box here or is this all something that can be controlled via the ftu control panel?.. or, is it my connection (the guitar cable) that is the real issue?.. i get two lanes of stereo in the track panel in sonar but only get data on the top (or left?) lane… i’ve got the input selected as “ftu stereo 1/2” in sonar, and, i’ve tried changing the “knobs” in the ftu control panel, but i can’t seem to get data in both lanes… am i not understanding the whole “balanced/unbalanced” input thing?.. can i not get stereo with a standard guitar cable?.. please help… thank you
No, you cannot get stereo with a standard guitar cable. The only STEREO input on the unit is the S/PDIF input. All the other inputs are MONO. If you want to record stereo, you need to split your signal and have it in input 1 & 2. And in whatever software you are using, you need to set up the inputs as 1 & 2.
thank you for all the info you’ve provided so far, and please, have patience with my further rounds of questioning… what devices do i need in order to split my guitar signal going into the daw?.. let me try to explain, i want to record, say, two or three guitar parts and then stereo mix them as i add further overdubs (and mix them as well for even further overdubbing)… if i want to record a rhythm part (a), then maybe a lead (b), then maybe a support part to the rhythm track (c), mix these say hard left (a), down the center (b), and hard right (c)— um, i guess, how do i set this up with the ftu and my daw?.. i want to be able to rough mix as i overdub, to balance out the sound picture as i lay in new ideas, instead of a giant mono down the middle pile-up… but, i cannot seem to get data that will allow me to send these tracks hard left or 60/40 etc… can you help?.. sorry if i’m asking lame questions… thank you.
I am not familiar with Sonar, so, I cannot really say how you’d do that. Guitar is a mono instrument coming out of the plug as far as I know. So, you are going to be recording mono tracks. Multiple mono tracks. Then you’d pan the tracks in your mixing board left or right. Left and right is usually a numeric value from -64 (far left?) 0 (center) and 64 (right). They all have to be coming back through the same output. So, you don’t want channels 5&6 coming back through 5&6 cause you won’t hear them. You need to route everything back through the mains, which is usually 1&2
I’d check out your Sonar or whatever’s manual to see how to do it.
dude, thank you… in your own way you have helped me figure things out (for the moment)… i have figured out how to do what i was looking to do… signals cancel each other out, and, you get no sound… i have rerouted all of my software returns and can now mix on the fly in stereo with my mono instrument tracks… this makes me very happy… thank you for helping me get my head around this (for the moment)…
Thank you very much for this information.
I am still wondering if I should buy the Fast Track Ultra, or the E-MU 0404 USB. Could you help me?
I don’t know anything about the EMU unit. I’m pretty happy with the Fast Track. The preamps are nice, and you have ProTools compatibility. Though if that doesn’t matter to you, there are plenty of other nice interfaces. MOTU makes excellent units that are consistently winning awards.