Over the festive period, I had quite a bit of work to do completing an album project, so decided to tie that in with testing one of our new batch of M-Audio C600 audio interfaces. Features like the scriptable buttons and especially the new ‘Multi’ button turned out to be a real time saver…
Reviewing audio interfaces is a tricky task, so I wanted to make sure I gave M-Audio’s Fast Track C600 interface a thorough trial. Sure, you can blast through the features, plug in some sources, have a listen, and it’s easy enough to spot the good points and the glaring omissions. But if you want more than a cursory overview, you have to spend some quality time with it, and that means getting stuck into a project to see how the various components perform when it matters.
What the C600 brings to the table
The C600 and its smaller sibling, the C400, are a departure for M-Audio. There’s a growing ethos that the audio interface need not be a dumb box stuck in a rack somewhere, but something that can sit on your desktop and offer additional functionality and productivity. The C600 is certainly one such unit. A 24-bit/96kHz USB 2.0 interface with four mic/line inputs (two of which have instrument inputs), stereo S/PDIF, twin headphone outputs and six analogue outputs, it also brings some added bonuses to the the table. It has monitor control of up to three pairs of speakers, transport control, onboard monitor mixing (complete with delay and reverb) and the unique ‘Multi’ button, which allows for scriptable actions (more on this later).
During the time I had the C600, I needed to add some backing vocals, track some electric and acoustic guitars and of course I had a load of mixes to do, so pretty much every aspect of the interface would have its work cut out. The first thing I noticed was that the sound quality of the C600 is very good. Avid make a point of saying they have “leveraged technology” from the HD Omni interface for these units and you can hear that in the quality of the mic preamps and converters. Mic signals have plenty of clean headroom and very low noise, and output has a huge frequency range with exceptional stereo imaging. The instrument inputs handled electric guitars perfectly and produced predictably good results through IK’s AmpliTube.
The control section
For an interface that’s designed for project studio use, the C600’s control section is a real strong point. You can connect up to three sets of monitor speakers and switch between them via dedicated buttons on the interface, with the control software allowing you to level match. Being able to do A/B comparisons is hugely useful and usually requires some sort of monitor controllers; unfortunately such devices inevitably colour the signal so being able to do it without intervention is a real boon.
The C600 usefully features a set of transport control buttons, but what’s even more useful is that each button can be re-allocated, so they can be mapped to any control function in your DAW or even be assigned as shortcut buttons. I’ve never needed to use a rewind or fast-forward button on a non-linear editor, so being able to map one or the other to a function such as ‘save’ is incredibly helpful.
Taking this idea one step further is the ‘Multi’ button. This button allows you to perform any series of actions that you can do with key commands, at up to eight steps. You can define the key command for each step using the control panel, and pressing the Multi button takes you through the sequence one step at a time – a real time saver if you find yourself performing the same sequence of key commands repeatedly. Different setups for the Multi button can be saved too, so you’re able to have different functionality for different tasks.
The control panel software is clear and easy to use, and the mixer especially is extremely functional and lets you balance incoming signals and software returns for accurate tracking. It’s a DSP-driven system which gives near-zero latency and provides reverb and delay for comfort monitoring when tracking. It’s also designed to offer independent headphone mixes to each of the headphone outputs (both of which, I should mention, offer loud, clear and very high quality output). One additional thing that is often overlooked – both the control panel and drivers are very stable. Not once did I experience any unusual behaviour or unexpected quitting. Sadly this is not the norm for even considerably more expensive high-end units.
There are the inevitable niggles but that’s because, like any user, I’d like the moon on a stick. I would love a version of this interface with more inputs such as an ADAT so I could accommodate recording a drum kit for instance (are you listening Avid?). The monitor control section doesn’t offer a dim control or mono switch which you’d normally find on a dedicated controller, but to be honest I can’t recall the last time I used either and it’s certainly something I would do without if the alternative is to colour the sound with another unit between the output and my ears. The only frustrating omission in my view is the lack of a talkback mic, which meant some wild gesticulating and shouting to attract the singer’s attention.
This interface is a real winner. If you’re in the market for a project studio interface with some real time-saving factions, the M-Audio Fast Track C600 is worth investigating. The scriptable buttons are a huge gift to the musician, as they eliminate a lot of breaking of musical flow as you switch from ‘playing’ mode to ‘computer operator’ mode; something that happens every time you pick up the mouse. The fact the buttons are simply performing keystrokes (rather than being tied to DAW functions) and are fully scriptable means that video editors (who perform far more repetitive keystroke-oriented tasks than musicians, and always need monitor control) could find this really helps speed up their workflow.
For more information on the M-Audio Fast Track C600 interface, call 03332 409 306, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or leave us a comment below. You can also keep up with more news, reviews and offers on our Twitter (@Jigsaw24Audio) and Facebook page.