A Smoldering Spark

I have long been interested in recording music. Some of you may know I worked years ago with a company in Dallas called Sound Productions. They provide equipment and services for live music events. Since I had for all practical purposes sought my electrical engineering degree to find out how my stereo works working with professional audio gear was a big treat for me. It built on a high school dream of owning a recording studio. Now, at more than 50 years old, a lot has happened since then but the dream, if only a spark, is still alive.
This Christmas Santa brought me an audio interface for my computer. Almost all computer’s come with an audio interface in the sense of a sound card that will both play music or sound and record through a microphone input, but this one is a more specialized item suitable for professional quality recording. The common sound cards, built in to today’s computers are very inferior, and even many gamers, or those who optimize their computer’s for the high specifications needed for today’s computer games invest in a better sound card for their computers. Those sound cards are usually optimized for playing sounds. My Christmas present, while it has output to play music or sound,  provides a great deal of flexibility and professional quality signal handling on the recording side of audio signal processing.

Made by M-Audio, my interface sports the model name Fast Track Pro. It bills itself as a 4×4 audio interface, meaning it will record 4 channels or sources simultaneously and play back four signal streams  as well. That is a little misleading in that two of the inputs/outputs are digital. Digital interfaces are found on many or most newer items such as CD/DVD players and recorders. In a practical sense, the Fast Track Pro (FTP) is mostly useful as a two channel interface.

The FTP connects to your computer via a USB 1.1 interface. This makes it perfect for traveling with my laptop which was the goal here. It is also comparable with my Linux operating system, really important to me as I detest having to work in Microsoft windows of any stripe.

While it is limited to two analog inputs it is well equipped to handle those. Two combination jacks good for either the XLR connections expected by microphones as well as balanced ¼ inch inputs are available. The pre-amps are regarded as good quality, and switches are present for selecting instrument or line level inputs as well as a 20db pad. These options are coupled with the capability of recording at 24-bit 96kHz levels, although the FTP is limited to 48kHz if you are using inputs and outputs at the same time. As CD quality is presented at 44.1kHz and 16-bit at that the overall effect is that the FTP is capable of recording music at signal qualities common to professional audio processing.

Rounding out the package are headphone jacks, RCA outputs, and 48 volt phantom power for condenser microphones. Also included is I/O for midi devices. While it is capable of running from an external power supply non is needed when the FTP is connected to a computer as it derives it’s power from the usb connection.

I’ve had the opportunity to put the Fast Track Pro through real world applications the last couple of weeks and my complaints are minor and had mostly to do with my own confusion in handling the flexibility of the device as it was new to me. Without a doubt it was up to the job I gave it of handing 24-bit 44.1 kHz recording. When used properly the resulting recording are clear and concise; I would say sometimes stunning in clarity. Santa was good to me this year.