Test Drive: Pro Tools M-Powered

by Steve Cunningham

When Avid Technology, the parent company of Digidesign, acquired M-Audio last August for $80 million in cash (that’s right, eighty million), it was clear that they were buying more than a line of inexpensive soundcards and controller keyboards. Digidesign essentially owns the pro and semi-pro audio markets, so the acquisition gives them a substantially larger slice of the low-end market to complement their dominance on the high-end.

The first fruit of this marriage is a version of Pro Tools designed to run on M-Audio hardware. Pro Tools M-Powered is a re-packaged version of Pro Tools LE that runs on one of eleven M-Audio interfaces. This month we’ll take a look at Pro Tools M-Powered on M-Audio’s Firewire 410 interface.

M-Audio’s Firewire 410 interface has been around for a couple of years, and with two mic preamps, it’s good for many of you doing production work. The other supported interfaces offer a wide variety of configurations, from the Firewire 1814 (18 inputs, 14 outputs, 2 mic pre’s and ADAT lightpipe), to the PCI-card-based Delta 1010LT (10 inputs, 10 outputs, and 2 mic pre’s).

FW410 CC RGB HRez

THE FIREWIRE 410

The Firewire 410’s case is 1U high, and slightly more than a half-rack wide. Inasmuch as it’s designed to be portable, there is no provision for accessory rack ears. The box itself is a rather plain gray, but the silver front panel with its beveled edges, silver knobs, and chrome buttons looks sufficiently pro for my tastes.

The two front-panel inputs have Neutrik combo jacks that are wired to accept either a balanced mic plugged into the outer XLR portion, or an unbalanced “instrument-level” quarter-inch plug inserted into the inner jack portion. The rear panel is home to two separate quarter-inch jacks for unbalanced, line level signals, and these are activated by pushing in the front-panel Mic/Line buttons. I like this better than having switched jacks where plugging something into one deactivates the other, since you can leave both your mics and line sources plugged in and switch between them at will.

The two mic preamps have a globally switched +48V phantom power option, and provide up to 66dB of gain. There’s also a switchable 20dB pad for each input to cope with hotter signals, and each mic/instrument input has its own gain control knob. The rear line-level inputs have a fixed sensitivity of -10dBV and are unaffected by the gain controls. Rounding out the front panel’s input section is a pair of LED indicators for each input which display signal presence (around -30dB) and clipping (these seem to kick in at about 3dB below audible clipping).