When you examine pro audio gear catalogs these days, you cannot help noticing a great increase in the number of “integrated solution” units – everything from complete workstations-in-a-box to channel strips and stereo preamp with onboard A/D-D/A converters. Unfortunately, the old truism usually holds: the more features a manufacturer crowds into a single unit (while attempting to hold the price to a “reasonable level”) the lower the general quality level of each function section. Apogee Electronics’s new Trak2 is a notable exception to this rule.
Product PointsApplications: Stereo recording; mastering; DAW interfacing; digital format conversion and routing.
Key Features: Stereo digitally-controlled mic preamp, stereo 24/96 A/D converter, optional stereo or eight-channel DAC card, slots for two optional AMBus digital interface cards, UV22HR bit-reduction.
Contact: Apogee Electronics Corp. at 310-915-1000, Web Site
The Trak2 seems to do more than any other single piece of recording gear I have ever encountered, yet it performs each of its many functions at least as well as competitive single feature boxes.
So what exactly does the Trak2 do? Well, let’s look at the rear panel first. There are pairs of balanced XLR I/O connectors for mic in, line in, and send outs. There is a slot for inserting a stereo or eight-channel 24/96 DAC card, as well as two slots for connecting Apogee AMBus interface cards such as those used in the venerable AD-8000. There is another male XLR jack which can be set to output either S/PDIF or AES/EBU digital data, a pair of word clock BNC I/O connectors. Additionally, one notices a 15-pin D-sub communications port, which breaks out (using the supplied cable) to MIDI connectors and a serial jack for controlling many of its functions (as well as transferring software upgrades) via MIDI from a PC or Mac.
The front panel is deceptively simple. From left to right you will see a power switch, then four cursor buttons arranged in a cross formation which allow the user to move from field to field on the light blue LCD screen, which is the central information display and editing nexus for the unit. Unfortunately, I have pretty bad eyes, and found that screen quite difficult to read.
Luckily for visually-challenged people such as myself, Apogee’s Mac (or PC) Remote Control software application substitutes admirably for all the functions. One simply connects any MIDI interface between the Trak2’s breakout cable and your computer’s serial port. After I configured MOTU’s FreeMIDI properly, the Apogee Mac software application immediately recognized the Trak2; changes made either at my PowerBook or the Trak2 itself were immediately reflected on the other system.
To the right of the LCD screen is the data wheel, which can be pressed momentarily, quickly double-pressed (like a computer mouse) or pressed and held; each movement initiates a different function. There are status LEDs indicating clipping, 48V phantom power, polarity reverse and the setting of the insert function (mic input sent directly to ADC or line [insert] input sent there).
The System Setup page is the top-most page in the menu hierarchy and the Trak2 initially defaults to this page; exiting from other pages later on will always return the user to this page. There are 15 menu choices available; once you get to any of them, you will invariably find several options. The top-level menu choices are clocking, mic preamp, line in, A/D, D/A, digital I/O, metering, headphone, analog signal processing, Quick Keys, oscillator, global settings, load/save and status. There is no space here to detail the myriad setting choices for each menu.
In the mic preamp menu, the two channels can be linked and then adjusted together or adjusted separately; then linked, and subsequently adjusted again in tandem.
The mic inputs can be “protected” from accidental exposure to phantom power. There is a nice “Soft Mute” function which comes on gradually over 1,024 samples, to prevent clicks.
The DAC circuit permits unique combinations of confidence monitoring functions. One can always selectively monitor either the Trak2’s digital output as it leaves the unit, but can also monitor a stereo return from one’s recorder or DAW. And if the user has appropriate eight-channel AMBus cards installed, all eight channels can be monitored “confidently.” Individual channels can be level-trimmed or muted – or it can be done globally across all eight channels.
The digital input circuit is equally sophisticated. The Trak2 has eight digital busses accessible via the AMBus slots. An AES output pair field in the LCD menu for digital I/O allows one to route any of the four stereo pairs to the AES-S/PDIF output on the rear panel. Apogee’s renowned UV22HR can be set globally or singly for individual channels.
The routing menu is extremely extensive. Its routing matrix can accept eight of the possible 10 inputs inside the Trak2 (two from the ADC, eight from either AMBus card) and, basically, any input track can be sent to any or all output tracks.
During a period of several months I used a Trak2 for original recording at my classical music sessions, “digital mastering” of various analog tapes from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and as an all-around format converter and router. Despite my problems with reading its LCD screen, I quickly learned that once I got the unit programmed for a particular use – and then saved those parameters – I could easily select among the various user programmed “Dr. Fred presets” with impunity.
Apogee graciously provided me with a prototype AES+ AMBus card, which enabled me to send stereo bit-split 96 kHz data to my 16-bit Sony PCM-800 MDM, just as I do with my PSX-100. I also tried out my other AMBus cards and confirmed the Trak2’s functionality with all of them. Apogee promises an AMBus 1394a FireWire card – which would allow Trak2 users to interface the unit directly to appropriately enabled computer and digital audio hardware.
Its analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion sounds at least as good as that afforded by my PSX-100; its 90 dB mic/line amplifier is exceptionally transparent and smooth sounding, and its digital distribution, format conversion and interface features are second to none in quality and usefulness.
Apogee’s Trak2 is so much more than just an A/D-D/A box, that its relatively high price starts to look more and more like a veritable bargain. I cannot imagine any modern engineer’s studio which could not find at least several uses for it. My review unit isn’t going back to Apogee, that’s for sure
Royer SF-12A, Stephen Paul-modified Neumann SM 69, M 50, M 49, AKG/Manley Labs C24 mics; McIntosh, VTL amps; IMF Electronics, Tannoy/Manley, Dynaudio Acoustics BM6A monitors; custom Éclair Engineering console.