Cymatic Audio uTrack 24
By Phil O'Keefe |
Rack mount 24 track hard disk recorder / player and computer audio interface
Bringing a computer with you to a live gig can be a bit of a pain, and there's always the concern that something might happen to it, or that someone will walk off with your expensive laptop. Not to mention that in order to do much of anything with it, you'll need to pack along an audio interface too. However, there are still significant advantages to being able to record your live performances, and Cymatic Audio offers you a way to do so without requiring you to bring your computer to the gig. The uTrack 24 is a single rackspace hard disk recorder / audio player that requires no additional hardware beyond a mixing board and an external hard drive, and offers considerable capabilities that are bound to make it popular with bands and engineers alike. Let's take a look at what it has to offer.
What You Need To Know
- The Cymatic Audio uTrack 24 is three devices in one. A hard disk recorder, a hard disk audio playback device, and a 24 x 24 USB audio interface.
- The uTrack 24 is a single rackspace sized unit (1.75" H x 19" W x 7" D, not including the rear panel connectors) with an attractive fiery orange brushed metal faceplate with black accents. For tabletop use, the rack ears can be removed if desired, and there are four rubber feet mounted to the bottom to help keep anything from getting scratched up. Power is supplied by a 12V "line lump" computer style power adapter.
- The built-in metering is rather clever. There are 24 three-color LED indicators on the front panel. These can be used as individual meters for each of the 24 tracks in input overview mode, or as one single channel 24-segment meter in channel focus mode.
- The amount of channels supported depends on the sample rate you select. 24 track USB hard disk recording and playback are supported at both 16 and 24 bit resolution at sample rates of 44.1kHz and 48kHz. High resolution sample rates of 88.2kHz and 96 kHz are also supported, but the maximum channel count drops to 8 at these sample rates. These same limitations apply when using the uTrack 24 as a computer audio interface.
- Don't need that many tracks for your hard disk recording? Menu options for stereo, 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 track recording at the two lower sample rates, and stereo or 4 track recording at the higher sample rates are offered, making it easy to select an appropriate amount of tracks for the situation at hand while saving drive space.
- The front panel controls include five very large rubber transport control buttons (Record, Play, Stop, FW, RW), as well as three smaller rubber menu buttons and a large backlit LCD display. In fact, all of these buttons illuminate, making it super easy to use the uTrack 24, no matter how dark the room is.
- You'll also find two large rotary controls on the front panel. The one near the display is used to select various menu items, and has a built in push-to-select switch. The other large knob is a main output level control, and adjusts the level of the rear panel 1/4" TRS balanced +4dBm output jacks. These jacks provide a summed output of all the recorded tracks courtesy of the uTrack 24's onboard DSP mixer, or serve as main control room outputs when the unit is used as a computer audio interface.
- A front panel headphone jack, complete with level control is provided for monitoring. A front panel footswitch jack is also included, and allows you to control recording and playback with your foot. You'll need to provide your own footswitch though, as one is not included.
- As a audio interface, the uTrack 24 can be used with an iPad running iOS 5 or higher with the Apple Camera / USB adapter, or Mac (OSX 10.8 or later) and PC computers. For Mac users, the uTrack 24 is plug and play. No driver installation is necessary. ASIO/WDM drivers are available for download on the Cymatic Audio site that support Windows XP SP2, and Windows 7 and 8 (32 and 64 bit). Microsoft NET Framework 4.0 is required, and if it's not already installed, the driver installer will prompt you to download and install it the first time you attempt to use it.
- When used as an audio interface and connected to your computer via the rear panel USB Type B connector, buffer sizes from 64 to 16384 samples are user-selectable via the uTrack 24 software Mixer Panel running on your computer, as are the sample rate and word clock source, with internal, BNC word clock and digital I/O from the optional card slot options available.
- The Mixer Panel software gives you the ability to solo and mute individual channels, as well as set the relative levels and the panning. Adjacent odd / even channel pairs (1/2, 3/4, etc.) can be linked for stereo use if you wish.
- As a stand-alone audio recorder, uTrack 24 records to "off the shelf" USB drives, with a Type A USB port on the front panel for connecting them. Drives must be FAT32 format, and can be formatted directly from the uTrack 24. I had no trouble using pre-formatted FAT32 drives. The display warns that dropouts may occur if you attempt to record using a flash drive. When I connected a 32GB SanDisk USB 3.0 thumb drive, it mounted successfully (the mounting process only takes a few seconds) although I did experience a couple of dropouts with it when using it to record 16 tracks at 44.1kHz. I got perfect 24 track 24 bit 44.1 kHz recordings with dropout-free results when sticking to standard external USB hard drives from Western Digital and Seagate.
- Cymatic says that a future firmware update will allow two uTrack 24 units to be synchronized via the dedicated synchronization connectors on the rear panel, giving you up to 48 track recording capability at 44.1 / 48kHz, or 16 tracks at 88.2 / 96kHz.
- Multichannel audio connectivity is provided via six balanced +20 dBu = 0dBFS 25-pin D-Sub connectors on the rear panel of the uTrack 24. The connectors use the Tascam wiring standard, which means breakout cables are readily available, and the unit will patch right into many existing rigs.
- Ideally, you'd want to connect the uTrack 24's outputs to the line inputs on your mixing board, and use the board's direct outputs on each channel to feed the uTrack 24's inputs. Alternatively, you could use the external mic preamps of your choice and bypass the live mixer entirely.
- No digital I/O is included, but an optional MADI card is in the works and is scheduled to be released in July 2015, with an ADAT I/O card planned for a later release date. The slot for the expansion card is on the left side of the rear panel, and covered with a metal plate.
- BNC connectors for word clock I/O can be found on the rear panel. Unfortunately, synchronization to an external clock is currently not supported under OSX when using the uTrack 24 as a USB audio interface, but this is slated to be corrected with a future firmware update.
- The review unit came with firmware 1779 installed, but is now updated to firmware 2644. Since various new features require updated firmware, it's important to check the Cymatic Audio website and update your firmware upon purchase, as well as occasionally afterwards. Firmware updating only takes a few minutes and can be done over the RJ45 network connection or via USB.
- Don't forget, uTrack 24 isn't just a recording device, it's also an audio player too. For helping out with audio file-related organizational tasks, Cymatic offers their free uTool software. This runs on your Mac or PC and allows you to create playlists, convert files and export and import recordings to and from your uTrack 24. With it, you can take multiple mono WAV files from your computer and convert them into a single multitrack song file for playback on the uTrack 24, separate uTrack 24 multitrack recordings into individual mono WAV files, as well as save your playlists to your external hard drive, which can then be called up and played back on the hardware unit.
- What about directly importing your live recordings into your DAW? Just disconnect the drive from the uTrack 24 and connect it to your computer and you can read from it directly, just as with any other drive. Bringing your tracks into Pro Tools is a breeze. I used the standard Import menu option in Pro Tools 10, and all 24 tracks from a uTrack 24 multitrack file were imported quickly and painlessly to individual tracks in Pro Tools.
- Speaking of helpful software tools, Cymatic's free uRemote software is available for Macs running OSX 10.9.5 or later, PCs (Windows 7 32 and 64 bit, Windows 8 / 8.1) and iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) running iOS 7 or later. This software allows you to remotely control any uTrack 24 device that is connected to the same WiFi network. If more than one uTrack 24 is on the same network, you can select which one you wish to control. The RJ45 port on the rear panel (labeled "Network") must be connected to your WiFi router. There is no wireless connectivity built-in to the uTrack 24 itself.
- I used an iPad Mini to remotely control the uTrack 24 and everything worked flawlessly. The uRemote software's S metering page provides 24 separate full screen meters, and I was able to control all the uTrack's settings and transport functions wirelessly, even when I was standing a considerable distance away, as well as adjust the levels, pans, mutes and solos for each individual track of the onboard DSP mixer. Sweet!
- When used as a hard disk recorder there are no overdubbing capabilities. You can select up to 24 tracks to record simultaneously (again, up to 8 at 88.2kHz or 96kHz sample rates), but you can't record 16 tracks in one pass, then add more tracks to that same recording on any or all of the 8 unused tracks later. This also means that you can not use some of the tracks as recording tracks to capture the performance while simultaneously using others as pre-recorded playback tracks to support your live performance - you're limited to doing one or the other at any given time.
- The spinning platters inside hard disk drives can be somewhat vibration-sensitive, and you may run into issues with dropouts if you set one on a bumpin' and thumpin' stage. You might need to place the drive on a shock-isolating surface, such as a piece of foam rubber, to help isolate it from vibrations if this occurs. While I was unable to test any Solid State Drives (SSDs) with the uTrack 24, Cymatic Audio assures me that they are working on compatibility testing with some solid state hard drives (which have no moving parts) to determine if any will work reliably for recording at the same level as a traditional spinning platter hard drive.
- There is no separate power on/off control on either the front or rear panels which means you can't accidentally turn it off, but there is also no strain relief retaining clip for the power supply's cable to insure it stays attached, which seems a bit risky for a live sound oriented product. Cymatic Audio says that future generation models will include one. Still, if it's sitting in your rack, chances are good it won't be accidentally disconnected. The risk of accidentally disconnecting a USB cable is similar, so take that into account when you're getting everything set up.
- As of this writing, you can't sync other devices to the uTrack 24 with MIDI Time Code. The rear panel MIDI output jack is currently non-functional. MIDI output functionality, including the ability to play back standard MIDI files is another feature that is scheduled for a future firmware update, which according to the uTrack forum on Cymatic's website will probably be released sometime in July of 2015.
- The ability to use the two rear panel sync connectors to cascade two uTrack 24 units is also awaiting a future firmware update - for the time being, cascading is not supported, although Cymatic Audio assures users that it will be soon.
It's amazing just how many channels and capabilities Cymatic managed to cram into a single rack space unit that sells at this price point. While more and more modern mixers are starting to add multitrack recording capabilities, there are certainly a lot of boards out there that lack them, and for those who would like to be able to record their live performances, the uTrack 24 offers a great way to do so without having to resort to bringing along a laptop computer. Sure, some features are currently unavailable, but they should be ready soon, and the firmware update process is fairly pain-free.
The uTrack 24's user interface is easy and intuitive to use, and the remote software makes using it even simpler. The sound quality is quite good, and will of course depend on what you're connecting to the uTrack 24. No, the converters are not going to challenge ultra-high end models, but at this price, it would be unfair to expect them to. Given the nature of the product and the price tag, I doubt anyone will be disappointed, but for those who want to use their choice of converters, the upcoming MADI and ADAT I/O cards will provide them with options for doing so.
This is a very useful product. Being able to play back a recording from a previous gig is fantastic for doing virtual sound checks. Even if you're in a room you've never played in before and the band is unavailable before the show to do a traditional soundcheck, you can still get the board dialed in for the new venue by playing back the previous night's recording and using that to get everything adjusted. The uTrack 24 also is a great choice as an audio playback device that can be used for playing back pre-recorded tracks to support and enhance your live performance, or for pre-show, intermission and post-show background music playback. And of course, being able to easily and affordably record every show has lots of advantages. The band can review all of their performances and see where things can be improved, and for live albums, nothing beats being able to record every show and then pick the best performances of individual songs from the entire tour for release. As an added bonus, once you get off the road and return home, the uTrack 24 still remains useful since it can be utilized as an audio interface for your Mac or PC. That makes it incredibly versatile, as well as a great bargain. I suspect this will be a very popular product because of that.
Cymatic Audio uTrack 24 ($1,149.00 MSRP, $999.99 "street")
Cymatic Audio's uTrack 24 product web page
Downloadable uTrack 24 product manual (PDF file)
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.