(low cost) Firewire Audiointerfaces, Empfehlungen für Wiedergabe (no recording)
(low cost) Firewire Audiointerfaces, Empfehlungen für Wiedergabe (no recording)
12 Jun 2009, 20:33
Mitglied seit: 11-August 03
ich bin auf der Suche nach einem stabilen Firewire Audiointerface.
Es geht dabei nicht ums recorden. Es soll lediglich der Sound vom Laptop via Firewire wiedergegeben werden.
Folgende Low-Cost Firewire Soundkarten wären interessant:
Der Beitrag wurde von Mike Fader bearbeitet: 12 Jun 2009, 20:57
12 Jun 2009, 21:29
Mitglied seit: 11-August 03
so bin mal selbst fündig geworden .. vielleicht hilfts ja auch anderen hier ... trotzdem würden mich eure Erfahrungen auch interessieren.
Phonic Firefly 302
Firewire Audio Interface[Mac/PC]
Reviews : Computer Recording System
Phonic's diminutive Firewire audio interface is extremely affordable and it can record at 24-bit/96kHz. Is it too good to be true?
The latest Firewire product from Phonic is a compact desktop audio and MIDI interface aimed at those musicians who do not need to record huge ensembles, but still want the chance to use high bit and sample rates. The Firefly's bit rate is actually fixed at 24, but sampling can be switched from 44.1kHz to 48, 88.2 and 96kHz. Although it only outputs two channels at a time, the 302 can simultaneously record up to five channels when its three analogue inputs are used alongside the stereo S/PDIF input.
The Firefly 302 has been priced so that even with VAT added its RRP comes in at just under the magic £100 mark. So, what do you get for your £99?
Measuring less than 200mm across, the Firefly is smaller than the advertised half-rack size, and is designed to sit unobtrusively on a desk beside a laptop or monitor. Situated on the front of the device are all the adjustment controls required for normal operation, plus a couple of sockets catering for the items Phonic expect to be most regularly connected.
The first of these is a headphone output, accompanied by its own level-control knob. The second is an XLR input for use with microphones, flanked by its own signal-input adjuster. Also on the front is a button for applying the 48 volts of phantom power required by a typical condenser microphone, together with a red status LED. The only other front-panel controls adjust the level for the analogue inputs found on the rear. To the right of these controls is the two-stage metering display, which simply lights green when a signal is present and then red when it begins to clip.
At the back there are inputs and outputs for S/PDIF digital interfacing, MIDI, and analogue signals. The analogue I/O is provided in both quarter-inch jack and RCA phono format, but these alternatives share the same channel routing and are not meant to be used simultaneously. The manual posts two warnings about trying to use both together, one stating that the results of mixing will "sount terrible" (sic), the other that will cause "irreversible damage." Nevertheless, it is possible to combine both formats by mixing either Jack 1 with RCA 2, or RCA 1 with Jack 2!
The Firefly can operate using either the six-pin or four-pin Firewire cable formats — having both connectors on the rear — although only a six-pin cable was included with the review unit. For those who need to use the four-pin type, which does not carry power, Phonic provide a 12V mains adaptor as part of the package, and there is a rear-panel switch to select whether this or the six-pin Firewire bus is used to power the unit.
The Firefly package includes two CD-ROMs carrying essential setup tools for both Mac and PC, not least of which are the drivers and Phonic's Control Panel software. Installation is merely a matter of running the driver disk and following the screen prompts, although there is one crucial step that requires the user to turn the Firefly's power off and on before continuing, so that the program can recognise the connection. At first this wouldn't work for me, and the problem turned out to be a hardware one. After communications with UK distributors, Shure, I was told that there were issues with the six-pin cable mode in early models — like the one sent for review! Apparently it worked OK with Macs and certain laptops but the output of desktop PCs was not agreeable to the Phonic. Bearing this in mind, I bought a four-pin cable, used it together with the supplied 12V power adaptor and was able to complete the installation process. Some weeks later Shure provided a revised model which worked happily with a six-pin cable. Result!
the Firefly's rear panel: the analogue ins and outs can be accessed via the quarter-inch jack sockets, the RCA phono connections, or a combination of the two.
Anyway, after the setup procedure installs the relevant ASIO drivers, the Firefly should happily communicate with the computer's recording software. The manual refers exclusively to Steinberg Cubase LE, which is bundled free on the second disk, but the hardware can, of course, be used with other DAW software. In Cubase it is necessary to select the Firefly 302 ASIO driver in the VST Multitrack page (found within the Device Setup menu), and, just below this option, there is a handy button that opens up the Phonic Control Panel software. This can also be accessed via the menu bar at the foot of the main Windows screen. In the software, a Settings page provides a group of sliders for adjusting audio buffer depths, so that issues of latency can be addressed, and another page, called Synchronisation, is where the sampling rate is set and the Firefly's slave/master status can be changed — as is necessary when using the S/PDIF I/O.
Operating the Firefly hardware should seem fairly straightforward even to the novice, as there is very little to worry about other than setting the levels so that they don't clip. Recording via the analogue and S/PDIF inputs produces pretty satisfying results, which can't really be faulted at this price. The mic preamp is adequate for most jobs, if a little flat sounding, but for really critical vocal performances it would be worth seeking out a dedicated preamp.
Inevitably Phonic have had to make some design compromises, and one of the most annoying problems I encountered was a whiney headphone amplifier on the review model, which consistently output a level-dependent, high-pitched digital drone. Tests showed that the noise was not an audio issue, just a monitoring one, and it was only really noticeable when no music was playing. Clearly Phonic have had to make savings, and it's obviously much better to do so in the monitoring system rather than the audio stream itself, but the noise was still rather annoying after prolinged listening.
Getting the S/PDIF Ins working proved unexpectedly confusing, and even had me shutting down my PC, swapping the Firefly with a nearby RME Fireface and checking that it worked with the same input source, leads and Cubase setup (it did, without trouble). It turned out that the clock rate of the 302 and the input devices have to be manually matched, even if the Firefly software is asked to automatically slave from an external master clock. In short, the sample rate detected in the input signal doesn't seem to override the manual sample-rate setting, although what other purpose the automatic mode serves is beyond me. Perhaps I'm missing something.
Matching the sample rates is easily done, but the Control Panel software has an annoying habit of resetting itself if the relevant 'Apply' buttons are not checked at every stage. This means that one can easily think that everything is correct only to find that it's not! Another issue is that the Cubase input meters cease to register audio when the Phonic Control Panel is open, so it is necessary to quit the Control Panel each time a change is made, to see if it has had the desired effect.
Nowhere in the manual does it clearly state exactly what can be input or output concurrently, but I managed to use the stereo analogue inputs together with a stereo S/PDIF signal and a microphone at the same time, thereby producing five simultaneous inputs, which isn't bad going for a £99 interface.
For anyone who doesn't need a huge number of recording channels, but still wants the option of recording at high sample and bit rates, the Firefly is an attractive option. The Control Panel software could be improved to make operation a bit less trial-and-error, or at least the manual could do a better job of explaining the variables, and there are also some niggling compromises in the hardware design. Nevertheless, none of the above issues affect the all-important audio and, on the positive side, there is no other Firewire product offering so many simultaneous inputs at this price.
Published in SOS November 2007
Audio Interface [Mac/PC]
Reviews : Computer Recording System
If you need a compact audio interface, the paperback-sized Duafire from ESI might be just the thing to slip into your laptop bag.
With more musicians wanting the ability to make music on the move, there is undoubtedly a demand for high quality but portable audio interfaces. ESI's Duafire, while it might easily fit into a budget-conscious permanent home studio, is most certainly small enough to be transported alongside a laptop-based studio. So what does this little box have to offer the mobile recording musician?
Small Is Beautiful
With a footprint about the size of a standard DVD case, the Duafire has the 'compact' box well and truly ticked. It offers two analogue inputs and four analogue outputs with sampling rates of 44.1, 48 and 96 kHz at 24-bit. The case is made of metal and feels very robust — only the three gain knobs protruding from the front panel mean that it might need a little care when throwing it into your kit bag. The front panel houses two quarter-inch line-input sockets with independent gain knobs. Input 1 also offers a separate XLR input with switchable 48V phantom power, while Input 2 can be switched between line and Hi-Z levels, the latter being ideal for direct input of guitar signals. Each input has a red 'clip' LED to indicate when the signal is getting too hot. Power LED aside, the only other feature on the front panel is the quarter-inch headphone socket, with its dedicated gain control.
The Duafire's Control Panel software provides faders for all of the unit's inputs and outputs, and also allows users to set sample rate and determine latency.
Things are equally straightforward on the rear panel. Outputs 1 and 2 are quarter-inch, line-level TRS sockets, while Outputs 3 and 4 are unbalanced RCA connectors. A pair of RCA inputs are also provided, intended for use with a turntable. They cannot be used simultaneously with the front-panel inputs, and a rear-panel switch allows the user to select which input pair is active. A ground connector is also supplied and can reduce hum when using a turntable with the phono inputs. A single Firewire connector, a socket for the included external power supply and a three-way power switch round off the controls. The power switch selects between off, bus power or the external power supply. If you're using a six-pin Firewire port on your host computer, the Duafire can be fully powered via Firewire, while a four-pin Firewire port (as found on many laptops) requires the external power supply to be used.
This brief tour does reveal two obvious omissions. Firstly, the Duafire is audio-only — it has no MIDI I/O. However, as the majority of modern MIDI controller keyboards now provide USB connectivity, I suspect that most potential purchasers will not consider this a great loss. Secondly, the front panel does not offer a hardware control for the main output level. If you are monitoring through an amp/speaker system, adjusting the overall monitoring level will have to be done from your monitoring system or via software.
Talking of software, as well as suitable drivers for Windows XP, Vista (32-bit version) and Mac OS X 10.3 and upwards, the Duafire is also supplied with a compact Control Panel application (described below). The handy printed User Guide aside, the other key inclusion is Cubase LE 4 software, which will be a very welcome addition for those new to computer-based recording (see the 'Start Me Up' box).
All Fired Up
Installation of the Duafire drivers and Control Panel software proceeded smoothly, and just a few minutes after taking the Duafire out of the box I was up and running. The Control Panel application itself is very straightforward. Virtual faders are provided for each of the two inputs and four outputs, and a left/right pair for overall output. Each pair can be chained for stereo operation and mute buttons are included. Input monitor buttons above the two input channel faders switch on direct (zero latency) monitoring and, usefully, if you're recording in mono, the direct monitoring signal is placed in the centre of the stereo image. On the down side, the display does not include any virtual metering of either input or output levels.
The Direct Wire options allow several audio applications to run simultaneously with audio being passed between them.
The sample rate and latency can be set via the 'Config' menu, and this also includes options for mouse-wheel control of the faders (a nice touch) and the ability to clone the signal from outputs 1/2 to outputs 3/4. This might be useful if you need to send the output to both a monitoring system in the control room (outputs 1/2) and to a headphone amp system in the recording space. The other key feature of the Control Panel is 'Direct Wire'. This is ESI's own technology and has been available with their PCI-based audio interfaces for some years. Direct Wire allows audio to be routed between different audio applications that are running at the same time. The most obvious application of this is for passing audio from one application (for example, a media player application) to another (such as an audio editor), allowing the audio to be recorded without any need for external wiring or multiple audio interfaces. The Direct Wire window shows a patchbay arrangement not unlike the back of the Reason rack (see above), and this flexible routing is a neat extra feature. Usefully, the printed manual includes some basic examples to illustrate how Direct Wire is used.
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Start Me Up
The Duafire is bundled with Steinberg's Cubase LE 4 software, which, while it doesn't offer all the bells and whistles of the full version, is a pretty impressive freebie recording application. Offering 48 audio tracks, 64 MIDI tracks, a decent selection of plug-in effects and the Halion One sample player, it provides plenty to get the computer recording novice off to a sophisticated start. When users outgrow the LE version, an upgrade route to the full version is available.
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In subjective terms, my initial impressions of the audio quality of the Duafire were positive. Playback of a selection of commercial test material, ranging from orchestral through to rock and dance, suggested that the audio was being faithfully reproduced with no obvious tonal bias. A quick A/B comparison with the more expensive Konnekt 24D interface connected to my test system suggested that the sound of the latter was perhaps a little more detailed, with somewhat better stereo imaging, but the differences were not major and, overall, the sound of the Duafire was very useable and workmanlike. There was also plenty of output level.
As an alternative to the usual quarter-inch jack inputs, the Duafire offers a pair of RCA phono sockets for connecting a turntable.
Recording via the various input formats — line level, mic preamp with phantom power and Hi-Z — also produced solid results with a range of audio sources such as spoken voice and acoustic and electric guitars. The mic preamp is obviously not going to match the quality of those on more up-market units but, in a home studio or mobile recording environment, and providing all the usual attention is paid to the rest of the audio signal path, the Duafire would enable you to get a very respectable recording job done.
These subjective views were confirmed by testing with Rightmark's Audio Analyser (v.5.5). Noise levels of -91.3dBA, THD at 0.0025 percent and a stereo crosstalk level of -91.4dB for 44.1kHz/24-bit operation, while not exceptional, are perfectly respectable.
Having done some initial experiments with Wavelab, Sound Forge and Acid Pro, I did the bulk of my testing with the full version of Cubase 4.1.3. There is, in truth, little to say — and this is a good thing, as the Duafire just got on with the job with an absolute minimum of fuss. At comfortable 6ms latency settings, I was able to run quite complex projects containing mixtures of MIDI, audio and video tracks, and plenty of plug-ins, without the system seeming overly stressed. The drivers, therefore, seem to be both solid and efficient.
Given that the Duafire is most likely to appeal to the home or mobile studio owner, I'm not absolutely convinced of the usefulness of the second output pair. For these users, a two-in/two-out — or even a four-in/two-out — combination might be more appealing. It might also have been nice to see the headphone gain control simply assigned to control overall output level of both headphones and main outputs, with independent controls within the software Control Panel. I'm sure some users, like myself, would rather scramble for a knob to mute the output level rather than a mouse whenever the phone rings or the neighbours bang on the wall.
There is, of course, plenty of competition out there for the Duafire, and somewhat different feature sets will appeal to particular users. However, the Duafire is compact, sturdily built and offers perfectly respectable audio performance. Those in the market for a Firewire-based audio interface for a small or mobile recording setup should certainly consider it alongside the alternatives in the same price bracket.
There are a number of other small Firewire-based audio interfaces in a similar price range to the Duafire, but obvious candidates would be the M-Audio Solo, Mackie Onyx Satellite, Presonus Inspire 1394 and the TC Electronic Konnekt 6. While each offers a different I/O combination, they all provide at least one mic preamp with phantom power. If you are happy to consider a USB2-based unit, the choice is even wider, with the Alesis IO/2, Lexicon Lambda or Omega, M-Audio Fast Track Pro and Edirol UA25 offering similar sorts of features at prices competitive with the Duafire.
Published in SOS July 2008
TC Electronic Desktop Konnekt 6
Firewire Audio Interface & Monitor Controller
Reviews : Computer Recording System
TC Electronic keep the price of their newest audio interface low by cutting down the I/O count, not the quality.
The Konnekt range of audio interfaces has earned TC Electronic an enviable reputation for audio quality. Starting with the 14-in/14-out Konnekt 24D, the series has also included the slightly simpler Konnekt 8, back in 2006, which was followed up in 2007 by the rather more exotic Digital Konnekt x32 digital patchbay, format converter and Firewire audo interface, and then the upmarket Studio Konnekt 48 in early 2008.
Not every musician needs an audio interface with loads of inputs and outputs, however, and many require no digital or MIDI I/O at all. Unfortunately, while there are plenty of entry-level interfaces available from various manufacturers, many tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater, reducing both the feature set and the audio quality to bring the price down.
With their new Konnekt 6, TC Electronic have taken a rather different approach, in more ways than one. Not only does it enjoy similar audio quality to the rest of the Konnekt range, it also abandons the rackmount case format for a stylish desktop design featuring lots of handy knobs and buttons to make your recording and playback experience as 'hands-on' as possible. Great care has gone into making this interface easy to use, with a handy reverb that you can use while recording and a high-quality headphone amp. It also functions as a monitor controller, complete with 'big knob'. Let's see how it all adds up.
Scene & Heard
The Konnekt 6 gets off to a flying start with the inclusion of an Impact mic preamp and two Hi-Z instrument inputs (as seen on TC's high-end guitar processors), all identical to those in the rest of the Konnekt range. However, the input options have been particularly well thought out, with three front-panel 'Scene Select' buttons that optimise the unit for different recording scenarios, in conjunction with the TC Near Control Panel software.
The latter features a mixer with one or two channel strips whose various parameters change for each Scene. The simplest Scene is 'Stereo In', catering for two line-level inputs such as a stereo keyboard or synth, where the single channel strip offers a balance control, send level to the TC reverb, and a fader controlling monitor level. Switching to 'Inst + Inst' adds a second channel strip, so that each separate instrument gets its own pan, send, and monitor level controls. 'Mic + Inst' adds a further two controls to the mic strip — an extra 12dB gain boost for low-output mics or quiet signals, and 48V phantom power for condenser mics.
Although a TC-badged, 12V line-lump PSU is bundled with the unit, the Konnekt 6 can be bus-powered via its Firewire connector if the host computer supports bus power, so only PC laptop owners with four-pin Firewire ports are likely to need the PSU. This makes the 48V phantom power option particularly noteworthy, since many competing interfaces rely on a mains PSU to generate this voltage, or restrict you to 12V phantom power (Firewire ports typically supply 12 Volts), resulting in lower mic headroom. The hardware front-panel Input/DAW mix control also lets you monitor your input signals with 'zero' latency (including any contribution from the M40 Reverb — more on this later).
There are just two (balanced/unbalanced) analogue outputs, although the Konnekt 6 cleverly provides two additional output channels, accessible from most audio software, which you can route to the headphone outputs. Thus you can send a different signal to the headphones from that of the main audio outputs, ideal for cueing during live sets, for instance, or for sending a performer a different mix to that being heard in the main monitors.
Having some analogue monitor controller functions on your interface makes it so much easier to set loudspeaker level without audio compromises, as well as allowing you to quickly reduce it. However, for some users the most exciting aspect of the Konnekt 6's domed analogue volume knob will be that it is illuminated from within by red LEDs, the brightness of which varies as you rotate the knob. Very chic!
The TC Near Control Panel provides access to the M40 Studio Reverb, available for monitoring purposes, while the channel strips sprout extra controls depending on your choice of input 'scene'.
The high-resolution meters have 12 LEDs per channel, enabling them to display a wide range of signal levels, from digital clipping down to -60dB. You can toggle between monitoring input levels or the combined signal level of the inputs, any reverb and DAW playback signals — both 'pre' and 'post' master volume control.
You also get a Mono button for checking the radio-friendliness of your mixes, plus a handy Dim button to quickly reduce the main output level (when talking to performers, or when the phone rings, for instance). The only oddity I spotted was that while the Control Panel utility lets you set the Dim level over a huge range, from -6dB to complete silence, this is a fixed level unaffected by the main level control. With a typical Dim setting of -20dB, and depending on the position of the main output level control, this can sometimes result in the odd behaviour that clicking on the Dim button does not change output level at all, and may even make it louder!
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Installation & Settings
As well as a bundled copy of Steinberg's Cubase LE4, low-latency Mac and PC drivers are supplied with the Konnekt 6, in ASIO, Core Audio and WDM formats, supporting sample rates up to 192kHz. However, I visited the TC web site to download the latest software version (2.1.0 build 3657, released July 7th 2008), rather than relying on the bundled CD-ROM software. While I was there I also read the list of known bugs, workarounds and fixes. Such openness is commendable in itself, and I wish more manufacturers would take this approach rather than keeping quiet until they've found the necessary fixes.
On my PC, installation of the TC Near drivers and associated Control Panel software was a breeze, helped by the A4 Quick Installation Guide. Although no printed manual was included in the box, a well-written English PDF-format manual can be found on the CD-ROM, and can be downloaded in another five languages from the TC web site.
The Control Panel software is common to the entire Konnekt range, and can be used to combine the functions of several Konnekt interfaces into one larger one (although the lack of digital I/O on the Konnekt 6 would prevent it being sync'ed to other hardware). In addition to the Mixer page containing the input channel strips and the M40 reverb controls and various setup options, you can access various System settings that apply to all detected Konnekt interfaces, such as sample rate, buffer size, and so on. The Konnekt 6 even features a hardware button labelled 'Panel' that alternately pops up or minimises the Control Panel window, so you can access it quickly when working on a project.
M40 Studio Reverb
New to this Konnekt model is the M40 Studio Reverb, which, unlike other models in the series, is native (runs in software on the host computer) rather than being DSP-powered. It appears in standard VST plug-in form, so you can access it from your audio applications and during the recording phase. The M40 is also available via the TC Near Control Panel software as a 'cue reverb' (you can hear it through either the main or headphones output, or both).
Although being a native effect means that the cue reverb is subject to buffer latency, these few extra milliseconds of delay are largely irrelevant in practice, even when listening to vocals on headphones, since even in real life reverb is always preceded by a short delay before the early reflections are heard by the listener.
The M40 provides a familiar set of controls, with a choice of larger hall, smaller room, or metallic plate algorithms that each sound distinctly different, along with Pre-delay, to help the reverb sit in the mix without swamping it; Decay Time; HF Colour; and an overall wet/dry mix control. TC also provide around 50 handy presets to suit a wide variety of scenarios (and you can save and load your own as well).
Overall, the M40 lives up to the TC reputation, with smooth tails and plenty of character — it's streets ahead of the old TC Works Native Reverb plug-in, for instance, but only works up to 96kHz, and uses the hardware as a dongle, so you have to have the interface connected if you want to use the plug-in version.
I was particularly interested in exploring the performance of the TC Konnekt drivers, as many users have apparently experienced stability and drop-out problems. TC have been working hard to resolve the various issues, and have also released their own version of the DPC Latency Checker utility to help track down conflicts that can cause audio spikes on particular computers. Fortunately, I experienced no such conflicts on my own PC, which features the widely recommended Texas Instruments Firewire chip set.
To combat the audio drop-out problems some PC Konnekt users have been having, TC offer three levels of Safety Buffer.
As many musicians now know, most Firewire audio interfaces include extra buffering, over and above the normal buffers, to ensure smooth playback, and TC even let let you vary the size of their PC-only 'safety' buffers in several stages. Unless you run into audio break-up you should stick with the Normal settings if at all possible, because — according to my measurements with the Centrance ASIO Latency Test Utility — while input latency remains unchanged, each incremental safety buffer level adds a further 6ms or so to output latency at 44.1kHz.
I managed to run a complex Cubase 4 project right down to a low buffer size of 96 samples with this Normal safety setting before experiencing audio break-up, which means a driver latency of 2.2ms at 44.1kHz. Input and Output latency in Cubase 4, including the various additional converter delays, was declared by the DPC Latency Checker to be 3.673ms and 3.424ms respectively — a total round trip of 7.097ms. However, the round trip as measured by the Centrance LTU was signficantly higher at 11.25ms, so while the Konnekt 6 ASIO performance proved perfectly adequate, my tests do suggest that the declared figures are rather lower than the actual ones.
Nevertheless, both ASIO and WDM drivers worked well on my PC. They can also be used simultaneously if, for instance, you want to run Windows Media Player with WDM drivers while working on your ASIO-based audio projects.
While technical specs don't tell the whole story, I was still impressed by those published by TC Electronic, which are among the most detailed I've seen anywhere. They confirm that much of the Konnekt 6 circuitry seems identical to that of the more expensive 24D model, with very similar mic and instrument input performance, and identical headphone spec and clock jitter (the last measure being one of the most critical for audio quality).
The rear of the Konnekt 6 houses the unit's streamlined collection of I/O. From left to right: 12V power socket, Firewire 400 port, headphone out, stereo audio outs, stereo audio inputs and mic input.
My first port of call with any interface review is to audition playback quality, since this tests the D-A converters as well as the analogue and clock circuitry. I fired up my hardware/software audio interface comparator, which lets me play back the same digital audio file through multiple audio interfaces simultaneously (each relying on its own internal clock and ASIO drivers) and switch between them at will to judge any differences in audio quality.
It didn't take long to decide that the Konnekt 6 was significantly ahead of my usual Emu 1820M benchmark interface. Every time I switched to the Konnekt the stereo imaging tightened up considerably, letting me pinpoint distant sounds in the mix more easily, as well as allowing me to hear further into reverb tails — all of which demonstrates a superior clock, courtesy of the TC Electronic 'JetPLL' jitter-elimination technology. The Konnekt sounded more natural on vocal playback, too.
The headphone amp also sounded clean and powerful through my Sennheiser HD650 headphones, while on the input side TC's Impact mic and Hi-Z instrument preamp also sounded very clear and extended. I certainly had no complaints about audio quality!
Using the Rightmark Audio Analyser Pro 6 software, I measured the dynamic range of the Konnekt 6 at a good 104dBA (several dB better than the published non-weighted figure) and obtained a very low Total Harmonic Distortion measurement of 0.0028 percent. Frequency response was also very flat between 10Hz and 20kHz. However, while audio applications worked perfectly with the Konnekt 6 at higher sample rates such as 96kHz, for some reason RMAA refused to run in the same situation, so I can't report on any frequency-response extension at higher sample rates.
Back in the July 2006 edition of SOS, Focusrite's Saffire LE gained my personal vote for 'best audio quality for audio interfaces under £500', grabbing this long-held crown from Emu's 1820M by a short head. However, judging by how quickly I chose the Konnekt 6 over the Emu 1820M, I now hand over this crown to TC Electronic, for achieving a clarity and precision that's frankly amazing at a price of just £179.
Apart from the reduced number of inputs and outputs and the lack of any digital or MIDI I/O, in no way did the Konnekt 6 feel like a budget interface — it's simply a deluxe model with fewer sockets. The monitor controller functions and handy TC reverb are the icing on the cake, and with such a stylish package the Konnekt 6 deserves to sell in huge quantities.
There are lots of small Firewire-based audio interfaces available, including the ESI Duafire, M-Audio's Firewire Solo and the Presonus Inspire 1394, while USB2 models such as Emu's 0404USB and Tascam's US144 are worth looking at if you also prefer 'desktop' styling. However, while they all offer some digital and MIDI I/O, none provide a set of monitor control functions like the Konnekt 6's, nor are they likely to beat its audio quality.
Published in SOS October 2008
CME Matrix K
Audio Interface [Mac/PC]
The Matrix K is a low-cost, no-frills computer audio interface designed to do its job simply and efficiently.
The CME Matrix K operates as a computer audio interface, stand-alone audio mixer and preamp. It's intended for the recording and playback of a maximum of two channels at once and has a very basic set of features, but in return it has been priced very reasonably. The product is manufactured by Beijing-based Central Music Company, best known to SOS readers as CME, makers of controller keyboards and small USB-based studio accessories.
The Matrix K comes in two formats, one connecting to the computer using the IEEE 1394 Firewire standard, and the other via USB. The Firewire version costs approximately 30 percent more, but supports sample rates up to 192kHz, whereas the USB version only offers sample rates up to 48kHz. However, both offer 24-bit recording and playback. Both versions work with PCs running Windows XP and Vista, and Apple Macs running OS 10.3.4 and higher.
Overview & Features
Measuring just 145mm across, the Matrix has a footprint roughly the size of a piece of A5 paper. As such, it requires very little room and is clearly designed to nestle on a small desk next to a computer. When connected to a PC or Mac, it can derive all the power it needs through the USB or Firewire cable, but where only an unpowered connection is available, or the Matrix K is employed as a stand-alone preamp and mixer, the supplied external power adaptor can be plugged in and used, courtesy of a rear-panel power on/off switch.
All the remaining switches and controls can be found on the front of the unit, the most prominent of these being a combi socket accepting both XLR and quarter-inch jack plugs, although not both at the same time! Obviously, the XLR format is intended for use with microphones, and to help with this, 48V phantom power is supplied when the first of the three front-panel buttons is pressed. Helpfully, a green LED illuminates to show when power is on. The neighbouring button, labelled Guitar On/Off, simply switches the jack part of the combi socket into circuit. This provides a high (2.2M(omega)) impedance input suitable for direct connection of electric guitars. The last of the three buttons is used for direct monitoring, and routes the input signals straight to the outputs as well as to the computer. This is useful for when the Matrix is operating independently from a computer as an audio mixer, or to achieve zero-latency monitoring when recording.
A group of four LEDs indicates that audio is being received, the first two lighting green to indicate that signal is present in the left and right channels and the other pair glowing red to warn of clipping. Oddly, these become active only when the Direct Monitor button is engaged, and CME say that you should rely on software metering in other circumstances. The knob positioned closest to the input is the level control for both the XLR and jack inputs. At the far side is the only other connector on the front, a quarter-inch jack headphone socket with its own level knob. The remaining two level controls relate to the stereo inputs and outputs, which are on the back panel.
Also found on the rear is a single USB port and a second headphone feed, this one using the mini-jack format. Like the headphone socket, the stereo input — where keyboards, drum machines and so on, are connected — is a single stereo mini-jack. As a means of input, this is more commonly found on in-built computer soundcards than on semi-professional interfaces, so CME's choice is surprising. The main outs, however, are balanced quarter-inch jacks.
Finally, there's also a laptop Lock hole for connection to a security lead, so that when someone steals your computer they won't forget to take the Matrix with them! Unfortunately there is not MIDI I/O for sequencing, or indeed any digital connections.
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Tests & Evaluations
Getting the Matrix configured properly on my Windows XP PC was not quite as straightforward as it could have been. The manual (serving both the USB and Firewire Matrix versions) outlines a setup procedure involving the loading of drivers and a dedicated device control panel from a supplied CD-ROM. However, this is actually only for the Firewire version. The USB version is class-compliant, and on the PC, is designed to be used as the default WDM or MME device. Using Cubase LE for testing purposes, I got the Matrix working as an ASIO Multimedia device, but found that I was limited to 16-bit operation. CME suggested downloading a free copy of the ASIO4All v2 driver from the www.asio4all.com web site, so that's what I did. From there on I was able to select these drivers in Cubase's Devices Setup window and then use the Control Panel button below to directly hail ASIO4All's control and setup page, where various latency-compensation and buffer faders are found.
The Matrix K's rear panel accommodates the stereo ins and outs and an additional headphone socket.
Using the arrangement described above, the product worked perfectly well. The only other issue, which initially proved confusing, was that the Matrix could not be seen by anything, including the ASIO4All driver, until the USB cable had been re-connected after the PC was up and running. Difficulties like this do seem to be common when using USB.
Operating the device is simple and logical, which is fortunate because the manual is full of badly translated sentences, which are often very comical but not particularly informative, as well as several mistakes. For those with an eye for a schematic, there is one printed on the top of the Matrix, which is helpful for quickly checking the routing when direct monitoring is being used, or when the product is at work in a stand-alone state.
Having a stereo mini-jack input on the rear, rather than two separate balanced quarter-inch jacks, or even a pair of RCA phono ins for that matter, seems like a compromise. I had to delve right to the bottom of my box of leads to find something suitable, indicating how rarely this format is used in the studio. The second headphone output uses the same format, but this is more standard for headphones than it is for stereo inputs.
The technical specification for the FW Matrix shows it to be very slightly better, in terms of performance, than the USB model, but the differences are fairly negligible. For example, the quoted dynamic range of the USB version's digital interface is 95.4dB (A-weighted), whereas the FW manages 97.7dB. My audio tests more or less agreed with these figures, and, indeed, the rest of the specification. As a point of reference, products costing a little more seem to be capable of achieving about 113dB, but given the price of the Matrix K, its statistics are still respectable.
The Matrix demonstrates a detailed high end and a balanced overall sound. If anything, the bass could be a little more defined, but it still has weight. Any noise generated by the device itself is very low, perhaps the only issue being that the headphone amp begins to whine a little irritatingly at higher settings. The mic amp has plenty of level and is of a reasonable quality, handling vocals and acoustic guitar quite well, and there is also more than enough gain to run electric guitars directly. It is also possible to mix either the mic or the guitar jack signal in with the stereo input, should you wish to do so.
Despite its ultra-low price, the Matrix K boasts a very respectable build quality and a decent sonic performance, and the second headphone output is a definite plus point. Having just a mini-jack input on the rear will strike many people as a drawback, but it's not an insurmountable obstacle. More significantly, the K doesn't offer a great number of I/O options, has no settings panel or mixer software of its own, and, unlike many other interfaces, does not include a free audio and MIDI recording package. That said, if a simple and basic audio recording device is all that is required, the Matrix K should do the job well and won't cost the earth.
There are many small computer interfaces on the market, but hardly any Firewire devices that cost as little as the Matrix K — in fact, the Phonic Firefly 302 is pretty much the only competition at this price. To its advantage, the Firefly actually enables up to five audio channels to be recorded simultaneously in certain configurations. On the down side, it does not have a dedicated second headphone output, and the one it does have is quite noisy.
The Matrix K USB faces more competition, from the likes of M-Audio's Mobile Pre USB, but is still one of the most affordable products in its sector of the market.
Published in SOS February 2008
Test: Behringer FCA202
Unter dem gelben Dreieck tut sich ein neuer Geschäftszweig auf: Firewire Audio Interfaces. Wie immer ist Behringer mit seinen Produkten ein Nachzügler, was neue Technologien betrifft. Dafür haut die Firma mit Entwicklungssitz in Deutschland immer mit Preisknallern zurück. Für schlappe 80 Euro bekommt man das FCA202, das auch featuremäßig äußerst mager dasteht. Zwei unsymmetrische Eingänge, zwei symmetrische Ausgänge, ein regelbarer Kopfhörerausgang – das war es auch schon. MIDI oder Mikrofon-Preamps sucht man vergeblich.
An Software liegt Ableton Live LE, der Sequenzer KRISTAL, eine GNU Software namens Audacity und ein Cross-Plattform Audio Editor bei. Wer direkt aktive Monitore anschließen möchte, kann dies auch über eine Stereo-Klinke am Kopfhörerausgang. Vorteil: man kann die Lautstärke analog mit dem Poti regeln.
Interessanterweise ist das FCA202 entweder über den Firewire-Bus oder das mitgelieferte Netzteil mit Strom zu versorgen. Ideal also für den mobilen Betrieb, sofern man einen sechspoligen FW-Anschluss am Laptop hat.
Die technischen Werte außer Acht gelassen, klingt das FCA202 eher unterdurchschnittlich. Der klangliche Abstand zu einer eingebauten AC97 Soundkarte ist kleiner als zu einem guten Audio Interface. Verglichen mit der gut doppelt so teuren Terratec PHASE 24 FW, fällt auch dem ungeübten Ohr sofort der Unterschied auf. Beim FCA202 klingen die Höhen, insbesondere S-Laute von Gesang und Becken unnatürlich scharf bis blechern, das Klangbild ist insgesamt in sich leicht zusammengefallen. Zum Musikhören und Keyboard-Spielen reicht das FCA202 vollkommen aus, aber ich würde damit nicht gerne Aufnehmen oder Abmischen. Gehört wurde hier von drei Testpersonen mit ADAM P11A und mit einem AKG271 Studio.
- Nur die Audioqualität wird dem Preis gerecht -
- Im Bordaux-Rot gehaltenes Control Panel -
Die Performace des Treibers geht voll in Ordnung und man kann auch bei niedrigsten Latenzen von 2-4 ms gut arbeiten.
Hier möchte ich gar nicht lange aufzählen, es gibt derzeit fast ausschließlich besser klingende Firewire Audio Interfaces für Musiker, auch wenn diese doppelt so teuer sind. Wer allerdings auf den Geldbeutel achten muss, dem seien USB 1.1 Audio Interfaces z.B. von M-Audio ans Herz gelegt. Diese verbrauchen zwar meist mehr Rechenleistung aber klingen in der Regel besser.
Das FCA202 hinterlässt einen zwiespältigen Eindruck. Einerseits ist es preislich und performance-mäßig wirklich gut und zudem stabil verarbeitet. Leider ist die Audioqualität für Recording-Anwendungen unterdurchschnittlich. Hier hätten die Behringer-Ingenieure weniger auf den Preis achten sollen, als auf Audioqualität. Ein Prädikat kann Behringer bekommen: „billigstes Firewire-Audio-Interface der Welt", aber ist es das Wert aus diesem Grund auf wichtige Dinge wie Mikrofon-Preamps und MIDI zu verzichten…. ?
++ Bus- oder Netz-Powered
++ regelbarer Kopfhörer Ausgang
++ stabiles Metallgehäuse
+ Ableton Live LE
-- kein MIDI
- keine Mikrofon Preamps
Test: Terratec PHASE X24 FW
Die Nettetaler Firma Terratec Producer liefert seid einigen Tagen das neue Audio Interface PHASE X24 FW aus. Das besondere an diesem Firewire-Interface sind die Mikrofon-Vorstufen, die in Kooperation mit dem bekannten Studioausstatter SPL entwickelt wurden. In unserem Test des kleineren Bruders, der PHASE 24 FW, stellten wir eine für diese Preislage ungewöhnlich gute und professionelle Klangqualität fest. Wir werden sehen, ob die X24 auch in dieser Liga mitspielt ....
Die X24 bietet wie die 24, zwei analoge Eingänge, vier analoge Ausgänge und zusätzlich einen optischen S/PDIF I/O sowie ein MIDI I/O. Die beiden analogen Eingänge sind jeweils mit einem von SPL entwickelten Mikrofon-Preamp, getrennt schaltbare 48V Phantomspeisung und Inserts ausgestattet. Zudem gibt es pro Kanal einen Instrumenten-Preamp und natürlich die Line-Eingänge. Zur Aussteuerung sollen zwei LEDs genügen, eine für Signal und eine für Peak.
Mit einem als Encoder (Endlos-Drehregler) ausgestattenen multifunktionalen „Master"-Regler lässt sich der Main-Output und der Monitor-Output zusammen oder getrennt regeln. Durch einfaches Drücken des Reglers stellt man die drei Funktionen um, die durch nebenstehende LEDs angezeigt werden. Durch längeres Drücken lassen sich die Kanäle Stummschalten, worauf die LEDs anfangen zu blinken.
Zusätzlich lässt sich die Lautstärke des Kopfhörer-Ausgangs getrennt mit einem Poti regeln.
Die analogen Audiosignale werden auf der Platine durch hochwertige Relais geschaltet, was idR in einer weitaus höhere Klangqualität resultiert, als das Schalten per CMOS-Schalter, so wie es bei anderen Soundkarten geschieht
Die Stromversorgung erfolgt entweder über den Firewire Port oder per mitgeliefertem 12V Netzeil. Da zwei Firewire Ports zur verfügung stehen können an die X24 weitere Geräte angeschlossen werden. Kaskadierbar ist die X24 aber leider nicht. Als i-Tupfer wird eine praktische Transport-Tasche mitgeliefert.
Die Installation Verläuft unter Windows XP SP1 oder höher wie bei jedem Firewire Interface einfach und Problemlos: Software und Treiber installieren, dann die X24 einstecken, fertig. Alle nötigen Treiber-Varianten (ASIO, WDM, GSIF ??? ect.) stehen zur Verfügung. Noch einfacher geht es auf einem Mac, dank der CoreAudio Unterstützung sind keinerlei Treiber nötig.
Das mitgelieferte Control-Panel ist für alle Einstellungen da, die an der X24 vorgenommen werden müssen. Hier lassen sich der eingebaute Digitalmischer, ASIO-Latenz und I/O-Routing einstellen.
Während einer mehrwöchigen Testphase konnte die X24 voll überzeugen. Beachtlich ist die hervorragende Audioqualität, die bei einem Preis von 350 Euro wirklich erstaunlich ist. Wie auch schon bei der Phase 24, kann die X24 hier Ihre Stärken voll ausspielen. Gerade die Mikrofonvorstufen können sich Positiv von der Konkurrenz abheben und sind dabei auf solidem Studioniveau anzusielden.
Auch Klangvergleiche mit den weitaus teureren RME Interfaces muss die X24 nicht scheuen und übertrifft diese erstaunlicherweise sogar! Es zeigt sich also ein weites mal, dass nicht ausschließlich Messwerte für guten Klang ausschlaggebend sind.
Die erreichten minimalen praxisgerechten Latenzwerte liegen bei 6 bis 8 ms, bei dieser Einstellung bleibt unsere Rechnerauslastung eines Centrino 1,5 MHz stets unter 3-4% Punkten.
Anders als bei den bekannten M-Audio oder Edirol Interfaces muss man bei der X24 für latenzfreies Monitoring ein bestimmtes Routing im Control Panel einstellen. Da der Kopfhörerausgang stets das Signal der Kanäle 3+4 wiedergibt, muss man also den Ausgängen 1+2 das Playback zuweisen und den Ausgänge 3+4 die Summe des Digitalmischers. Im Digitalmischer kann man sich dann ein latenzfreies Monitoring-Signal zusammenmischen, während man die Ausgänge 1+2 für die Lautsprecher im Studio benutzt. So kann man ein unerwünschtes Feedback durch die Monitorlausprecher unterdrücken. Schade das die nicht anhand eines Beispiels in dem sonst guten Handbuch beschrieben ist.
Besonders praxistauglich ist auch der Master-Regler, mit ihm ist es möglich die Lautstärke zu ändern, ohne mit der Maus erst das richtige Fenster auf dem Bildschirm zu suchen.
Die Phase X24 FW füllt eine Lücke im Markt, somit sind die Mitbewerber schwer auszumachen. Während sich M-Audio, ESI und Edirol mit ihren Interfaces vor allem dem Homerecording-Sektor zugewandt haben, kann die X24 mit hochwertiger Technik auf Studio-Niveau punkten und bietet dabei alles, was man in einem kleinen Studio benötigt. Sogar ein Cubase LE wird mitgeliefert. Auch wenn die X24 auf den ersten Blick weniger Features als z.B. die ESI FW610 oder das M-Audio 410 bietet, ist es vor allem der Klang, der ambitionierte Käufer zur Phase X24 greifen lassen wird.
Die Terratec Producer Phase X24 FW hinterlässt ein erstaunlich guten Eindruck und kann sich in Punkto Klang weit von der Konkurrenz absetzen. Die sehr guten und studiotauglichen SPL Preamps findet man sonst nur in weitaus teureren Geräten und auch die sonstige Ausstattung lässt keine Wünsche übrig. Der multifunktionale Master-Regler und der interne Digitalmischer sorgen für genügend Flexibilität für sämtliche Anwendungen. Auch der Insert-Weg ist ein wichtiges Feature für noch hochwertigere Aufnahmen, wenn man z.B. externes Equipment einschleifen möchte.
Für kleine Studios oder auch mobile Laptop-Studios ist die X24 unsere erste Wahl !! Wer mehr Mikrofoneingänge benötigt, sollte einen Blick auf unseren Test des Terratec Mic 8 werfen, der ebenfalls über gute SPL Preamps verfügt.
+++++ hervorragender Klang
++++ SPL Mikrofon-Vorstufen
+++ getrennt regelbare Ausgänge
++ MIDI I/O
++ stabiles Aluminium Gehäuse
++ Steinberg Cubase LE
++ gute Performance
--- nicht kaskadierbar
|Vereinfachte Darstellung||Aktuelles Datum: 21. September 2014 - 05:02|
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