MicroTrack 24/96

MicroTrack 24/96


Handy for location recordings such as podcast interviews.

 

If you need to record pro-quality audio with minimal fuss, M-Audio’s MicroTrack 24/96 is a self-contained wonder, smaller than anything else that can do this kind of stuff. Pity it’s not built as well as we’d like.

 

The MicroTrack captures audio with up to 24 bits and 96kHz of sampling quality onto CompactFlash cards and Microdrives, making it perfectly suited for on-the-go professional audio production. It has a pair of TRS input jacks for line-level sources (such as the master outputs of a mixing board) or microphones (either standard or phantom powered), a single stereo minijack for electret mics, and an S/PDIF input jack for recording directly from digital sources. A pair of RCA output jacks, a headphone jack, and a USB 2.0 port round out the I/O options.

 

The MicroTrack saves sound as uncompressed WAV files or compressed MP3s with selectable compression ratios. The audio quality is great, but we did find one quirk: At press time, there was no way to capture mono audio. M-Audio says it’ll add support in a future firmware update.

 

The included USB cable makes connecting the MicroTrack to a Mac a total snap, and the device shows up on the desktop like any other drive. The Li-Ion battery can be charged via the USB connection (make sure you’re using a powered USB port) or with the included AC power connector. While the battery carries a decent charge (around four hours with the bundled electret mic or line inputs; as little as 2.5 hours with a phantom-powered microphone), you may one day need to ship the unit back to M-Audio when the battery no longer can hold a charge - a $75 hassle.

 

The MicroTrack is just a tad larger than a first-generation iPod and made mostly of plastic, so we’re a little nervous about how it’ll hold up in the field in the long run. The prime candidate for breaking off is the main navigation control on the left side of the unit, which is used for moving between menu items (by pushing up and down) and for selecting menu commands (by pushing in). We wish this control switch felt more solid.

 

Another major issue we encountered is that the phantom-power rating of the unit is weak. Instead of the standard 48-volt specification of most powered jacks, MicroTrack phantom power tops out at 30 volts, which might present a problem for certain microphones and could result in low input levels and increased distortion. Check the list of tested microphones on M-Audio’s Web site to make sure you’re in the clear. If you don’t already have a microphone, you’ll definitely appreciate the tiny stereo electret microphone included in the package. It’s not going to replace a pro mic, but it’s unobtrusive and totally serviceable.

 

The overall interface is incredibly straightforward and effortless, with dedicated buttons for setting levels, recording, locking the unit, deleting files, pausing recording, and getting to the main menu. The LED indicators for recording and input-signal peaks are welcome and help visually determine appropriate recording levels. One glaring omission we encountered was the lack of a limiting circuit - a sudden loud burst of sound while recording will drive the captured audio into overload clipping. This is definitely a concern for recording live music or sound effects.

 

The bottom line. The MicroTrack 24/96 is a cool little device that makes field recording a snap, but we’d love to see it made with a little more metal - and we don’t mean Judas Priest.

 

COMPANY: M-Audio
CONTACT: 626-633-9050, www.m-audio.com
PRICE: $499.95
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.3.9 or later, CompactFlash storage
Small footprint. Easy to use. Excellent recording quality.
Questionable build quality. Phantom power a little weak. No audio-limiting circuitry.

 

 

BONUS TIP: GUIDED BY VOICES
You probably think a device such as the MicroTrack 24/96 works well for podcast interviews. You’re right, but there’s more you can do besides choosing the device to get the best voice recordings. Find a spot that’s as quiet as possible for your interview. If you’re out in the city, move away from the street and crowds. Talk in a carpeted room, if possible - carpeting can muffle residual noise and echoes.

 

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