The Ultra is the latest Fast Track interface to leave M-Audio HQ and, like its predecessors, looks like it's designed for laptop users in particular. However, its impressive feature set and USB 2.0 connection might make it a viable solution in the studio, too.
At a single glance, you can see that the Fast Track Ultra (FTU) packs a lot in. The front panel alone features four microphone inputs (two XLR, two TRS) plus gain controls for each. A master output dial sits in the top right-hand corner and there are two headphone outputs with independent level dials.
Round the back, you'll ﬁnd a veritable patchbay, with six line level audio inputs, S/PDIF I/O, MIDI In/Out, plus six audio outputs. There's a 48V phantom power switch, 5V DC power supply input and the all-important USB connector.
All of this connectivity means that the FTU is capable of eight simultaneous ins and outs, including the digital connections. For the input sources, channels 1 to 4 can either use the microphone inputs on the front or the line inputs on the back, with a switch next to each front-panel input conﬁrming your selection.
In keeping with the latest wave of interfaces of this type, the FTU can be bus-powered from your USB port, though doing restricts the interface to simple stereo I/O operation. To run all the inputs and outputs, you'll need the power supply.
This is the FTU's single weak point, with a ﬂimsy, too-easily-detached connector providing the all-important power - we're sure M-Audio could have found a neater solution.
Operationally, FTU can provide its eight streams of audio at up to 24-bit/96kHz and, as the preamps are transparent in use, this equates to a high-quality interface.
FTU's software integration is impressive, too. After you've downloaded and installed the driver, you'll ﬁnd a control program lurking on your computer which enables you to conﬁgure the interface in a number of ways.
For starters, you can set levels for all of the inputs and outputs, which can then be saved directly to the unit, so your settings apply irrespective of whether FTU is attached to your computer. This has obvious beneﬁts on stage where FTU could actually be used as a sub-mixer.
There are also studio beneﬁts, bolstered by the discovery that FTU features its own effects program, which enables you to blend and apply monitor reverb. Three rooms, two halls and one plate reverb setting are offered, as well as delay or echo algorithms, so you're free to select your effect of choice and then apply it across the FTU's I/O mix.
The Fast Track Ultra has enough inputs to do a job even at demanding recording sessions, and its output count means that it could comfortably act as a surround sound interface. Very impressive.