The more people make music with their iPads, thanks to the proliferation of music-creating apps, the more electronics manufacturers release new products to support and enhance these endeavors. The Focusrite iTrack Solo ($199.99 list) brings the company’s highly regarded microphone preamps and pristine audio interface quality to iPads as well as PCs and Macs—and at a reasonable, if not downright inexpensive, price point. It’s a top choice if you need a basic but versatile audio accessory for your iDevices, for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, electric guitars, and anything else you fancy. As a result, it’s our Editors’ Choice for budget audio interfaces.
Design and Connectivity
The Focusrite iTrack Solo is a 2 In/2 Out USB audio interface with 24-bit, 96KHz audio support, a single mic preamp, and a single 1/4-inch instrument input. You can’t record anything in stereo with the iTrack Solo, though of course you can make stereo mixes out of your recorded tracks and supplement them with virtual instruments in stereo. If you need dual mic preamps or stereo inputs—say, for miking the bridge and frets of an acoustic guitar separately—you’ll need to look at a more expensive interface.
As far as design, the iTrack Solo is surprisingly rugged. It measures 1.8 by 6 by 4 inches (HWD) and weighs 1 pound, and is encased entirely in aluminum, which lends it a quality, precision feel the all-plastic M-Audio Fast Track lacks.
Two gain knobs adorn the front panel, along with “halo” signal indicators that light up green with signal, and red whenever you override the inputs and need to back off on the input gain. There’s also a 48V phantom power switch for condenser microphones, a Direct Monitor switch, a large monitor level dial that controls headphone and line out volume, and a single 1/4-inch headphone jack. The back panel contains a pair of unbalanced RCA monitor outputs—balanced 1/4-inch would have been better—as well as a USB 2.0 port, a Kensington lock slot, and a Device Link port that connects the iTrack Solo directly to an iPad. All of the controls feel tight, precise, and satisfying to use, which is a nice surprise at this price point.
Focusrite throws in some useful software as part of the package, including Ableton Live Lite 8 and Focusrite’s attractive Scarlett plug-in effects suite. You also get 1GB of royalty-free Loopmasters content and a copy of Novation Bass Station. For this review, I tested the Focusrite iTrack Solo with a quad-core Apple MacBook Pro running Logic Pro 9, and a third-generation iPad with Retina Display running GarageBand 1.2.
Testing and Conclusions
Setting up the iTrack Solo with a Mac or PC is as simple as downloading the latest driver from Focusrite’s site, installing it, and then connecting the device via USB. The iTrack Solo is self-powered, so you don’t need the AC adapter when using it in this fashion. In testing, the interface worked exactly as advertised with the MacBook Pro and Logic. With Logic’s I/O buffer size set to 64 samples, round-trip latency was 7.8ms; the 32 sample setting yielded 6.4ms of latency. Both are easily sufficient for real-time performance and recording. I tested the iTrack Solo in a back-to-back comparison with the M-Audio Fast Track; the iTrack Solo sounded a little more transparent and smoother in the mid-high range, although both were just fine for pro-level recording projects on a budget.
Using the iTrack Solo with an iPad is slightly more complex: You must plug the USB cable into the AC adapter, plug that into the wall, and then connect the iTrack Solo to the iPad using the Device Link port and supplied cable. For whatever reason, the 6-inch proprietary cable is exceedingly short and rigid. It basically necessitates placing the iPad and the iTrack Solo right next to each other. You also have to be careful with the weak-feeling plastic prongs—and by all means, make sure you don’t lose it. But the hookup was drama-free, at least, and it worked on the first try in my tests.
With the iPad and GarageBand 1.2, the Focusrite iTrack Solo did its job beautifully once connected. I had no problems laying down a few instrument tracks with the internal sounds, and then recording audio on top of it. The Focusrite mic preamp sounded clean, warm, and full with the Rode NT-1A large diaphragm condenser mic I used for testing. Whenever the input signal crept too loud, the halo light around the gain dial changed from green to flashing red as advertised, and this was reflected in the recorded waveform as well. The Direct Monitor button lets you record and monitor audio directly, so there’s no comb-filtering effect from the latency.
I suppose I could knock the iTrack Solo for its annoying cable-related setup. But the interface costs barely more than the competition, sounds great, and throws in native iPad capability. And it still functions as a regular stereo audio interface for PCs and Macs otherwise, for barely more than what non-iPad-compatible two-channel interfaces cost. It’s tough to ignore that kind of value, and the short proprietary cable issue only comes up when you use it with an iPad anyway.
The M-Audio Fast Track is the closest competitor; it’s made of plastic and lacks native iPad support, but it’s slightly less expensive and still delivers good sound quality. I’m a little worried about the situation with Avid, though; the company recently sold off M-Audio, but kept charge of the audio interface portion of the subsidiary’s lineup, which leaves the future of the Fast Track in question. The Avid Mbox Mini is a more expensive and popular alternative; it also doesn’t support iPads natively, but it comes with a free copy of Pro Tools SE and is built just as well as the iTrack Solo. Finally, if you’re a Reason fan, the Propellerhead Balance costs significantly more, but it’s well crafted and integrates more tightly with that software than any other interface I’ve tested.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc