The G-Track combines a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a digital audio interface that offers connections for instrument and line inputs and monitoring by headphones.
At first glance, the Samson G-Track large-diaphragm condenser mic and USB audio interface ($149.99) looks like one of those gimmicky hybrid devices that do many things but few of them well. But looks can be deceiving; thanks to an ingenious design, the G-Track could be a perfect fit for the traveling singer-songwriter who wants to record ideas on the road.
The upper part of the G-Track looks like a standard side-address large-diaphragm condenser. The mic employs a 0.75-inch, 3-micron diaphragm and has a supercardioid polar pattern. It includes neither a rolloff switch nor a pad. A/D conversion is 16-bit, at 48 kHz.
The capsule is covered by a heavy wire-mesh grille that stands up well to daily use. On the rim, where the head meets the mic housing, are two slide switches. The Input switch toggles between mono instrument as well as microphone and stereo line inputs. The Direct Monitor switch selects among three headphone-monitor modes: Mono, for monitoring the mixed mic and instrument inputs and computer playback; Stereo, for accurate monitoring of a stereo line source mixed with computer playback; and CPU, for monitoring computer playback only.
Below the switches is a column of three knobs that control playback level, instrument-signal level, and mic level. These spring-loaded knobs can be pushed down and locked flush with the housing to keep your settings from being accidentally changed.
The mic's main output is the USB connector; there is no XLR output. The USB port is flanked by two stereo ⅛-inch jacks: a line/instrument input and a no-latency headphone output that can also feed a mixer or powered monitors. The jacks are placed so that you can have a permanent setup, with all cables bundled neatly together as they descend from the mic.
The mic can be mounted on the included desktop stand with swivel adapter or on a standard floor stand, and an optional shockmount (the SP04; $39.99 [MSRP]) is available. In addition, Samson provides cables for almost every conceivable setup, including a headphone extender, guitar cable, 10-foot USB cable, and stereo mini to dual RCA splitter cable with RCA to ¼-inch adapters. These extras add greatly to the G-Track's convenience.
INTERFACING THE MUSIC
I wasn't expecting a lot from a combined mic and interface at this price, so I was pleasantly surprised by the G-Track's sound quality. The mic worked well on my neutral baritone voice, which was enhanced by the bump at 3 kHz; singers with brighter voices might not fare as well. Furthermore, the G-Track proved to be a good choice for narration as well as for vocals.
The G-Track requires Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Mac OS X 10.4 or later and comes with a copy of Cakewalk Sonar LE. Samson does not bundle audio software for the Mac, presumably because so many Mac users already have GarageBand. I tested the unit using OS X 10.5.2 (Leopard), and my Power Mac G5 immediately recognized the G-Track interface.
The interface uses basic USB audio codecs on Macs and PCs, providing two tracks of recording and stereo playback. Using MOTU Digital Performer 5.12, I was able to reserve my FireWire interface for output while assigning the G-Track to two input channels, testing it with vocals, guitar, and stereo synthesizer. You can use two G-Tracks for stereo recording by selecting two USB devices in Windows. Certain Mac DAW applications may require creating an aggregate device in OS X.
The G-Track had ample headroom on inputs and outputs, driving powered speakers as well as headphones. It delivered plenty of gain in Mic, Instrument, and Line modes.
The mic's frequency response has a bump in the range from 3 kHz to 10 kHz and a less pronounced bump up to 20 kHz, so it isn't a great recording mic for singers with bright upper registers, but it will make serviceable demos for most performers, especially songwriters looking to get ideas down.
ON THE G-TRACK
The surprising heft of the G-Track, along with its ample included accessories, makes the unit feel like a professional product. Keep in mind that while the sound quality is quite good for a mic at this price, the G-Track is not intended to be a substitute for a professional recording mic. It's a good choice for the new computer-based recordist who is adding narration to video tracks or creating Podcasts, and it's a logical tool for remote voice recording with a laptop.
Considering its price and the convenience of having a combined mic and interface, the G-Track will be a good investment for a large number of singer-songwriters who need to record on the go.
Value (1 through 5): 4