M-Audio M-Track 2X2 Series - Troubleshooting Audio Distortion
With the M-Audio M-Track 2X2 and 2X2M, you can create flawless 24-bit/192kHz studio-quality recordings with an intuitive and easy-to-use audio interface. If you're a beginner or even a pro, there may be a point where things aren't working as you'd expect and you could use some help. This article can assist in troubleshooting problems you may experience with the input, output, and initial setup of your M-Track 2X2 Series interface.
- Gain Staging
- Connecting and Working with External Hardware
- Distortion in Output, Metering, and Monitoring
- Additional Reading
- Further Support
If you are connecting your M-Track 2X2 or 2X2M to a Mac computer running a supported version of OS X or macOS, you will not need to install a driver. The M-Track 2X2 Series is class compliant on Mac - you're ready to get started!
If you are using a PC and running a supported version of Windows, you will need to manually install a driver for your M-Track. You can find the most current version of the driver at this link:
Gain Staging is the process of optimizing an audio signal through several stages of gain. More simply, it's making sure all of your volume and gain knobs are adjusted properly in a signal chain to keep the noise floor low and your signal distortion-free. For more info, check out our article on Gain Staging 101.
Proper gain staging is an important factor for attaining a robust signal without introducing distortion or clipping into the signal. Say, for instance, you are working with multiple devices - all of which have variable gain controls. Your devices could include instruments, compressors, equalizers, different types of modulation effects, etc. (Remember that plugins can also add gain digitally!) Since gain is a relatively common parameter shared among devices and plugins, you might find yourself in a situation where just about everything you're using has a gain parameter! While it may be intuitive to think, "I want a strong, defined signal; I should turn the gain way up!", this is not quite so, as that will likely result in an overloaded signal with unwanted noise and audio clipping. So what can be done to avoid this? Proper gain staging!
Each gain stage is certainly important as the sum of all gain stages will ultimately end up being your output signal but the first stage cannot be overlooked as it will set the tone, so to speak, for the rest of your gain stages. Assuming the M-track is the first stage (what you are connecting your audio source to), starting off with a quality input signal is paramount. The M-Track's meters will provide a visual representation of the signal that is being input to each channel. The gain knobs are used to attenuate this signal in order to find just the right level for that particular input source whether it be a microphone or a musical instrument. Each subsequent gain stage has the potential to boost a signal too far into distortion/clipping territory. Properly setting your gain stages will ensure that you are left with a clear and workable signal. If your signal begins to clip at one stage, the clipping will carry over to all subsequent stages.
Something else to keep in mind when working with plugins in your DAW - Some plugins you may use will have a gain level as well as an output level. Hang on, they aren't the same thing? Not quite. To illustrate this, let's use guitar amplifiers as a starting comparison. It is not uncommon to find an amplifier that has both a gain control and a master volume control. Increasing the gain parameter will push the signal until you reach the edge of signal breakup and eventually an overdriven to a distorted signal. Yes, you will notice that a side effect of increasing the gain is an increase in apparent volume but the secret sauce is the breakup in signal that can be achieved. But wait, what if you want the sonic qualities of an overdriven signal without the volume that will wake up your neighbors at two in the morning? This is where the master volume (output, in plugin terms) is useful. Gain is shaping your sound's timbre, master volume (output) is controlling the overall volume of the signal without affecting gain. These same principles apply to the plugins you are working with as well as other external hardware that has these types of gain and volume controls.
Setting gain is a balancing act. Like Goldilocks on a tightrope, you want to walk the line between a strong, workable signal and a signal that is too hot and becomes distorted. There might be a porridge joke in there somewhere but let's move on to how to actually connect STUFF to your M-Track.
Instruments like guitars and basses that use passive pickups should be connected to the instrument inputs on the front of the M-Track with standard 1/4" TS cabling. As passive pickups will yield a low-impedance signal, they will need to be boosted (the M-Track's internal preamp will take care of this) to achieve a workable signal.
The opposite goes for guitars and basses that use active pickups - for these types of instruments, you should connect them to a combo input in the back of your M-Track with standard 1/4" TS cabling. As these signals are already receiving a boost from the preamp within the instrument, they do not require an additional boost in signal. Microphones and other line-level devices that connect via XLR or 1/4" TRS cabling should also be connected to the combo inputs. If you are using a microphone that requires 48v phantom power, be sure to enable that +48v switch!
If you connect your input device and it is very quiet, the M-Track will register the signal around the -20dB meter mark or maybe even not at all. If that is the case, increase the gain. You should notice two things - an increase in apparent volume of the signal and that the lights in the input meter are moving closer to CLIP. Adversely, if you see that your input is jumping right up to the red light and hitting CLIP, decrease the gain until your signal is no longer clipping.
If you are receiving distortion or noise in your monitor output - pops, crackles, etc. a few things could be causing this. First, check your gain stages. If you are seeing red lights in the meters, something is clipping - reduce that something's gain level. Also, check your system output volume. If your system volume is pegged at 100%, try backing this off by about 10 - 20% to give your signal some additional headroom. Along those same lines, the M-Track 2X2 and 2X2M were designed with a slightly hotter output than your garden variety audio interface. If you are experiencing unwanted audio artifacts in your output when setting the USB/Direct knob all the way to USB, simply back the knob away from USB slightly to give your signal more headroom.
For more information regarding the M-Track 2X2 and 2X2M, have a look at the following knowledge base articles:
- M-Audio M-Track 2X2 and 2X2M - Optimizing Audio Quality
- M-Audio M-Track 2X2 - Frequently Asked Questions
- M-Audio M-Track 2X2M - Frequently Asked Questions
- M-Audio M-Track 2X2/2X2M Support Knowledge Base
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