M-Audio's latest USB 2.0 audio interface comes in rack mount form and is capable of 96kHz 24 bit audio, with eight channels of Octane mic preamps - M-Audio's finest pres â€“ each channel has a signal and clip LED.
Inputs are all combi sockets, meaning you can plug either an XLR or 1/4 Jack into them. The first two channels offer switchable, front panel instrument inputs plus insert points. The last six are mic/line only.
Outputs are on eight 1/4 balanced jacks (on the rear) plus two separate headphone outputs (on the front) which take their signals from output pairs 1+2 and 3+4 respectively. There's also MIDI and SPDIF IO on a breakout cable, which you fix via the d-type connector on the rear of the unit.
Also on-board is the MX Core DSP which gives you the power to create 4 separate zero latency stereo mixes which are sent to each corresponding stereo output pair. Each mix can be a blend of inputs and USB audio from the computer, with the first two mixes benefiting from a single board DSP effect unit (3 Room types, 2 Halls, a plate, delay and echo) with duration, feedback and volume parameters.
Mic amps were fairly good sounding to my ears with a clean sound. There was a peak in the upper mid at around 4kHz+ which was noticeable when compared to the preamps on my Mackie VLZ3, which sounded a little smoother to me, but the bass response was good too. All channels have a â€“20dB pad which you activate by pulling the gain knob out â€“ I found that it wasn't too hard to find yourself with the knob cap in your hand, so you need to watch out for that.
The one critisism I had was that I found the overall gain available in the system to be a little on the light side. This doesn't seem to be a fault of the preamps, but more the headphone amps, I found it quite hard to get a monitor signal that was loud enough even with the phones at full level. This made me push the gain in the preamp to compensate, which is not ideal if you want to leave a bit of headroom. This wasn't so much of an issue with the USB returns, as they seemed louder, but in a live situation, you might be struggling to hear what any mic was doing in your cans over the actual noise in the room.
I've been skeptical of multi-channel audio interfaces in the past, due to their lack of sustained throughput performance compare to Firewire, but the FTU 8R dispelled my prejudices â€“ at least for 8 channels, by being both simple to install and reliable in operation â€“ the control panel for setting up the mixes and the sample rate, clock source etc all worked flawlessly and made me feel pretty confident that I could use this in a pro situation. In fact, I threw caution to the wind and recorded this weeks podcast through it using the DSP mix function to send three separate mixes â€“ one for me, one for my local hardware recording backup and one to send to the live streaming version. It stood up fine and was more than up to the job, operating without hitch for 90 minutes or so.
In the Box
Power Supply (the unit is not bus powered) - inline style
ProTools 7 M-powered demo CD
Ableton Live Lite 6 M-Audio Enhanced (upgradeable to 7 Lite for free, to full Live for $399)
The Fast Track Ultra 8R is ProTools M-Powered capable, but you will need to shell out Â£199 or $299 for the privilege, but to get you started, there is an Ableton Live Lite version which limits you to 8 total tracks, 4 instruments and 4 audio tracks and only 2 audio ins and outs. You can upgrade to the full Live version for a discount via the Ableton site.
Available now for $629.9/ Â£399 List. I've seen them for $499 or Â£333 street price.