I’ve been testing out the M-Audio Firewire 410 on my Powerbook G4 (1.5 GHz) since Sunday. It’s a nice small silver metal box… with flimsy plastic connectors and knobs. Oh well, for $250 what can you expect?
Installation and setup was straightforward. Download latest drivers on website (I have no idea if the included drivers would have worked; the website claimed only the latest drivers were for use with OS X 10.4 and the included drivers were a few revisions old), shut down, plug in and power on box, power on computer, select M-Audio Firewire 410 in the sound control panel. Play audio as usual. It worked great for the first hour and half as I just played audio through it on iTunes. Aside from the annoyance of having to power down before plugging it in or risk burning out your firewire ports on both ends, I thought it all worked pretty well.
Trouble hit when I launched an audio file in Quicktime. It didn’t play. Instead I got continuous clicking noises as the play bar crawled along and eventually locked up. I checked the box panels and the output lights were no longer lighting up. I launched the M-Audio Firewire interface software app, and it launched just fine which meant it detected the box. Okay. Launch iTunes. Clicks, crawling, crash iTunes. So I power down the box. Whoops, bad idea. OS X gives me the gray “you must restart your computer” message and the system locks up.
I restart with the box plugged in and powered on. Play audio. Same problem. I attempt to uninstall drivers, but the uninstall utility hangs. Okay, so I shut down, turn off and unplug the box, power on my computer, uninstall and reinstall drivers, restart with box plugged in. Play audio. Same clicking, crawling problem. Argh! Then I notice that the “sample settings” detects a sample rate of 192kHz. Hmm, that’s not right and where is that even coming from? There are no apps running, and I just did a clean reinstall! Sync source is set to internal so I switch it to external and back to internal a few times, but nothing changes.
So I do the whole uninstall and reinstall process again. Search for info on how to reset the damned thing, but can’t find any. Then I try the setting of the clock to internal and external several times, relaunch the app, repeat… and finally it detects 48kHz! Yay! So I try to play some audio, and it works… sort of. The audio plays but it’s all garbled and static-y. Hmm. Restart computer. Audio plays again, clearly!
Anyway that was Sunday and it’s now Wednesday. I’ve put my computer to sleep several times since then (haven’t rebooted though) and I haven’t run into any more problems. Sometimes if I have a bunch of apps running I’ll get little blips of static, but nothing continuous. I don’t know what the cause of my initial problems was and it disturbs me to think that it might happen again, because I don’t even know exactly what I did to fix it. I was almost ready to return this thing and buy another firewire box but I really want it all to just work as advertised since it’s a cheap portable Pro Tools option (why is the Mbox 2 still USB 1.0?!). In the meantime I suppose I should resume testing. But having searched the net and M-Audio knowledge base for solutions, it seems like my troubles were an isolated case. I’m kind of surprised I had problems; I have a pretty standard-configuration system. I sure hope M-Audio is good about support for drivers for this thing and OS X. Who knows though, now that those Intel macs are out?
The audio interface software is simple and very easy to use. I like it. My only other concern is that this thing work seamlessly with whatever apps I use it with.
I’ve done some quick tests of the analog inputs through the M-Audio interface app and can get sound in just fine. They’re way less noisy than the built-in audio, but that’s no surprise at all. Haven’t tried the digital I/O yet but I figure I’ll do that at some point using my CD player and MD recorder just to see if it all works. Unfortunately I have no MIDI equipment to test the MIDI I/O with. I want my Technics SX-P50! But it’s still in Boston along with 95% of my stuff.
Update: I’ve been using this box for a few months now with no real issues. Since figuring out that this messed up sound happens when the M-Audio driver gets confused about what the sample rate should be, I’ve found that the easiest fix is to fire up Ableton, which will allow you to set it explicitly. (Opening up GarageBand will also automatically set the rate to 41 kHz.)