The M-Audio M-Track Solo might just be the ultimate cheap audio interface. We would go as far as saying you won’t get anything better under $50 right now. Everything that it does is far beyond its price, and even if it isn’t your main interface, we suggest picking one up anyway. Let’s take a look at why we love it so much.Table of contents:
M-Track Solo overview
The M-Track Solo is a very compact 2×2 audio interface that’s ideal for any beginner or mobile musician. Despite being the entry-level interface, it still has M-Audio’s Crystal preamp found in the more expensive units.
On the front panel, you get an XLR/TRS combo input that can take a microphone or line-level signal. Next to the combo input is a TRS input that you can toggle between line and instrument level. The XLR/TRS input offers 48 V phantom power with a switch on the front panel.
There is a 6.3 mm headphone output with switchable direct monitoring. Each of the inputs and outputs is controlled via the top panel.
Each channel has an independent gain control with LED clipping indicators, while the headphone out and main outputs share the same level knob.
The back panel is as straightforward as it can be. It has a pair of unbalanced RCA monitor outputs and a USB connector.
If you like the M-Track Solo but you feel like you need something a little bigger, the M-Track Duo might suit you.
The M-Track Duo has two XLR/TRS combo inputs, balanced TRS monitor outputs, and individual level controls for monitors and headphones. Besides that, each of these interfaces performs to the same standard.
According to M-Audio, the M-Track Solo offers digital to analog conversion of 24-bit. Although the PCM2900 chip found inside the M-Track Solo only has a 16-bit converter, which means 24-bit performance is not possible. We can’t say if this is true of every unit, and maybe M-Audio has changed some of the internals to match the spec that they quote.
Sample rate/dynamic range
M-Audio’s M-Track Solo offers a sample rate of 48 kHz, which might seem low. But, think about the fact it’s around three times cheaper than any budget interface that we would recommend as highly. Also, consider how often you will actually need to go above 48 kHz.
The M-Track Solo produces a dynamic range of 88.2 dB (A-weighted), and that goes for both the microphone and line inputs. On paper, the dynamic range appears to be pretty disappointing, but despite the lack of headroom, it performs without any obvious noise.
The Crystal preamp is one of the best things about the M-Track Solo. It’s an ultra-low noise preamp with an equivalent input noise of -128 dBu (A-weighted). To give you an idea of how significant that number is, it outperforms the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Gen3, Behringer UMC22, and many others.
Obviously, there is more to a great interface than having a low noise floor, but at under $50, it’s fantastic to see it compete so well. It delivers a max system gain of 55 dB (FS/Vrms).
Using the M-Track Solo at home gives us somewhat mixed opinions. If we were asked would it be our main audio interface for recording, the answer would be no. As much as we love it, we have to be clear that it’s still a sub $50 interface, and advanced users won’t get as much from it.
Now, the other opinion that we have is that it’s absolutely amazing as the first interface for a beginner’s home studio. When you look at it that way, being under $50 isn’t a bad thing; it’s remarkable how good it is for the price.
Mobile recording is different; we would expect advanced users to gain as much as beginners in this area. It’s a relatively small unit; it isn’t likely to break in transit, and it delivers enough quality to capture inspiration wherever you are.
While there are audio interfaces that offer better A/D conversion, we just can’t get past the price. If you pick one of these up even as a spare or backup and throw it in a bag when you are traveling or recording on location, it’s ideal.
It’s easy to set up, easy to use; for things like demos, podcasts, interviews, and so on, it’s more than good enough.
As for the build quality, we have said before that the M-Track Solo is incredibly well built. But, we say that relative to other interfaces in the same price bracket. So, to be clear, the unit is plastic, not metal, and the knobs do have quite a bit of movement. However, if you look at other interfaces under $50, you’ll find the same or far worse.
What makes the M-Track Solo a little better is that the inputs are solid/secure, the switches feel robust, and it looks great. Most interfaces at this price look cheap before you even touch them; the M-Track Solo doesn’t.
The M-has Track Solo comes with two DAWs so you can start making music straight out of the box. The first is Pro Tools First M-Audio Edition, and the second is MPC Beats. MPC Beats is a great addition for beginners because it’s a streamlined version of the already user-friendly MPC 2.0 software.
Along with Pro Tools First, Avid also supplies 20 plugins to help you get into producing and mixing. As for virtual instruments, you get the ever-reliable Xpand!2 and Eleven Lite.
Between the provided DAWs and plugins, you have recording software, effects, amp simulations, and virtual instruments. You are pretty much good to go.
M-Track Solo vs. other interfaces
When we rate the M-Track Solo, we are very favorable towards it, and we have to be clear we are basing that on the price. Let’s take a look at some similarly priced interfaces.
Behringer U-Phoria UM2
The Behringer U-Phoria UM2 is a great little interface for the money, and on its own, would get few complaints. But, place it next to the M-Track Solo, and it just looks much cheaper, M-Track all day. See our U-Phoria UM2 review (coming soon)
PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
This comparison is quite interesting because the AudioBox USB 96 is technically the better interface. However, the fact that the M-Track Solo has a far lower noise floor for half the price means we have to stick with the M-Track. See our AudioBox USB 96 review
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
We consider the UMC202HD to be one of the best budget interfaces available. If you need more flexible i/o options, go with Behringer, but the better software bundle and overall value for money are with the M-Track Solo. See our U-Phoria UMC202HD review
Final verdict on the M-Track Solo
When it comes down to it, our verdict is all about the price. We place the M-Track Solo very highly on our list of the best budget interfaces, and we love it. If it was $100 instead of under $50, we wouldn’t place it so high and certainly not above the many excellent interfaces below it.
In simple terms, there are lots of higher-quality interfaces, but when it comes to value for money, this one is one of the best!
- Incredibly cheap.
- Fantastic Crystal preamp.
- Great for beginners.
- Great software bundle.
- 16-bit performance.
- Plastic construction.