How to Resolve Background Noise and Low Output Volume with the M-Audio Fast Track USB with Pro Tools

I recently purchased the M-Audio Fast Track USB recording interface with Pro Tools so I could begin recording some of the music I've been writing ever since picking the guitar back up a few years ago. I was excited to have something I could plug into my laptop or desktop, record music played on guitar or bass, and add drum tracks using a MIDI sequencer. However, when I hooked the equipment up, all did not go as planned. I eventually solved the problems and am ready to start recording as soon as I have some time.

The first problem I had was a horrific amount of background noise. I had plugged guitar directly into the specified input on the M-Audio box, with the M-Audio box plugged into the USB port on my laptop. I had the correct line selected on the box (using the Line vs Mic input button), but the background noise overwhelmed everything else. Doing a little research on the web, I found that if I unplugged the laptop and let it run on battery power, the noise went away. Some people were mentioning "ground loop" as an issue. Wikipedia defines ground loop as "a current, generally unwanted, in a conductor connecting two points that are supposed to be at the same potential, often ground, but are actually at different potentials." However, most of my electrical outlets, including the one I started my attempts to record with, are ungrounded. However, I was able to attempt recording on both ungrounded and grounded outlets with no change -- the background noise was still there.

A co-worker of mine does music production on the side and lent me a D.I. box, which is used to reduce unwanted noise and with which he thought I might resolve the issue. It made no difference, the noise was still there. I finally decided to punt and just attempt to record with the laptop running on batter power. And that's when I ran into the second problem: low output volume. Specifically, the volume of what Pro Tools recorded was far less than what I was hearing via the M-Audio box.

To resolve this latest issue, I decided to run my guitar through a small practice amp which has a line out -- essentially, using the amp as a preamp and running its line out into the input of the M-Audio box in the hopes of getting a louder input signal. And while it did give me louder input levels, it unfortunately did not correct the low output levels -- but to my surprise, it did correct the background noise problem! I still have some background noise, but not nearly at the level it was, and it's definitely low enough to not hamper my recording.

Okay, so what about that low recording volume? Well, it turns out that the Pro Tools quick start guide that came with the M-Audio box could have been a little clearer. I had everything connected correctly, but in Pro Tools I was selecting Input 1 as my interface input. However, the correct input for the guitar/line is Input 2 -- the XLR mic is Input 1. I found it curious that I was getting any volume at all when connected to Input 2 and specifying Input 1 in Pro Tools, but whatever. Bottom Line: if you're recording with a guitar via the line input, select Input 2 in Pro Tools. I hope this helps someone, I searched the web and found so many posts from people having the same problems, but found no answers.

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