DAW Interface Reviews

CENTRANCE MICPORT PRO REVIEW

Every once in a while something comes along that just does a great job, and the audio it passes is exceptional even at a low price. The MicPort Pro wowed me from the first moment I plugged it in (and it functioned flawlessly with no drivers on an XP PC!) with its simple design and features. The MicPort Pro is a mic preamp with switchable phantom power and a headphone amp with an 1/8 output. It uses USB to connect and requires no driver install on any modern PC or MAC.

The preamp is very clean and quiet, and the detail really took me back with this unit. Way more sound was coming out of it than I ever expected any item that could almost be considered a convenience item like this. The headphone amp on it absolutely cranks, I never found a situation where it wasnt ready to overdrive the cans if needed either. It offers about +40dB of gain which is plenty with a condenser mic, and seemed suitable for most dynamic mics I plugged in also. For singer songwriters who want to record to a laptop or desktop computer and only monitor with headphones on, the MicPort Pro is sent straight from heaven. Grab a free software program off the web and for super low dough, couple the MicPort with a decent condenser mic and make music. Podcasters are snapping these units up, for good reason also: most use headphones and this thing is just too easy.

Conclusion: The only limitation is it only has a headphone level output, I admit I have not tried to plug into a line level monitor controller but its certainly not optimized for a proper speaker monitor setup. However, for interviews and even foley sound with a laptop I think this is the perfect product. For podcasters it is a very high quality delivery if you have a good mic.


ECHO AUDIO AUDIOFIRE 12 REVIEW

I have had the pleasure of gigging out with the Audiofire series converters several times, ranging from live jazz recordings to theatrical performances. Ive also used the Audiofire in my studio at times and been able to compare it to comparably price converters and can tell you that ECHO has a real winner on their hands when it comes to clean, unhyped conversion with nice detail and depth. They have long been known to deliver a quality product at a low price, but for firewire recording I feel a real barrier has been broken here in the this only costs what? range.

The full metering in and out (its a limited LED meter but very helpful) is very much welcomed by me (Audiofire12). Most units do not give you any confirmation of levels whatsoever, even much more expensive ones. The all TRS balanced connections allow a lot of ins and outs and still keep the unit in a single rack space. The fact that it will do 192kHz 24 bit is very nice, no real limitations here. I was able to easily use the Audiofire12 with an inexpensive laptop at higher sample rates with no pops or glitches, and very low latency. The internal software mixer is so simple its ridiculous, very easy to dial in headphone mixes etc with virtually no latency (I mean really no noticeable latency!). Takes just a few seconds to wrap your head around it, and it all just makes sense.

Conclusion: The sound of these converters is top notch, and Ive heard nothing else in this price range that touches it. You will find very few firewire DAW interfaces on this website for sale, the ECHO Audiofire is a stand out in sound, function and stability. Highly recommended (or you could spend your whole life searching the web for everybodys opinion on a million things!).


PUNCHLIGHT LAMP USB REVIEW

I love simple devices that just do a job well and bring something to the process, and this is one of those devices. This Czech company seems to have found a very cool way of bringing simple but functional needs within the price range of anyone, and is something that the most well equipped studio is probably still without. Utilizing USB from within a DAW while tracking is pure genius, and it even powers the device so a simple USB cable is all that is needed (and includes a 5m cable with each lamp). The lamp is nicely sized at almost 3” across, has a felt-like backing for using table-top, and the cable entrance is from the side (so it could be wall mounted without a cable issue).

To learn about the device we installed it on a Windows XP 32 bit machine running Steinberg Nuendo / Cubase. We simply plugged it in, and within seconds it was recognized and ready. Then we visited punchlight.com to download the latest utility software, and placed that file on our desktop. Next we chose “Generic HUI” in the utility, then created a Mackie HUI device in Nuendo with an output of “USB Audio Device” (it seems Punchlight didn't write a name for it to report otherwise). At that point the device will function with “Play” (pre-roll) defaulting to yellow and “Record” defaulting to red.

You can enter the utility and choose any combo of colors for each mode (we liked green for play mode) and also adjust the brightness. There is a manual “cue” mode which you can click on to send a quick blue (default, you can change it too) flash to the artist. In stop mode, the light is off. You can also just have the lamp on all the time, turning it red for instance and hanging it over a door might make sense in general to let visitors know not to enter a room.

Conclusion: We all know musicians and vocalists need help in the studio knowing what is going on, and the Punchlight Recording Lamp USB is the perfect way to keep them informed and ready. For overdubs, or for simply letting visitors know not to enter a room while tracking, there is no better solution if you need interactive DAW controlled indication to others.


RME PRODUCTS REVIEW

I have used RME PCI cards and breakout boxes and converters over the years, and have never seen an issue with reliability or stability. Overall I think the most stable PC drivers in the industry would have to have RME among them: I mean this stuff just worksand worksand works. As Vince from Sham-Wow says, you know the Germans make good stuff. In this case I would certainly say it is proven true.

Digital connectivity is never easier than choosing the right RME product, from ADAT to SPDIF to AES to TOSLINK to MADI to Wordclock, they really have it all. Latency is virtually non-existent thanks to ultra low latency drivers and on board DSP power that takes the load off your computer. Totalmix, RMEs internal routing matrix is INCREDIBLE. It took me a while to wrap my brain around it but once I did, I realized I can send anything anywhere at anytime with no noticeable latency at all. Multiple headphone mixes and splits? No problem, RME is on it with Totalmix.

The Steadyclock wordclock technology is also just awesome stuff. I have witnessed this clock snap those 1s and 0s in line on many a device and it always made an improvement when it was the master. Many RME devices have Steadyclock as standard, it can make a real difference. The A/D and D/A conversion of RME is clean and neutral for the most part, not huge or small or anywhere in between, but pretty true to the source overall. An RME converter will never get in the way of a good recording.

Conclusion: No matter the connection you need to make, RME has it covered. My personal experience has been glitch free and for that reason I am proud to be an authorized RME dealer.


SSL ALPHA LINK AX / SX REVIEW

AX = ADAT version, SX = AES version.

Solid State Logic (SSL) has been building unique consoles for decades, and now that the market is changing and getting more compact (like everything is!) SSL have been rolling out products that continue to impress me not only in build quality and sound, but in price point. Considering its all still built right there in Oxford it makes it even a bit more amazing to me. When it comes to the Alpha Link range of converters and DAW interfaces I have to say, they are well deserving of the name SSL and deserve serious consideration for any studio.

First of all, these converters sound fantastic. Such a natural, detailed and extended sound which gives you all the boom on the bottom and air on the top, in a very linear fashion. I do not hear them accenting one part of the range over another, it sounds like what I hear coming off my mixer or preamps. I know some companies incorporate a sound to their converters but sorry, Id rather achieve that with other gear. The fact that you get 24 in and out in a single box is astounding, nevermind the additional 24 digital in and out onboard (AES or ADAT). All 24 analog channels will operate at 96k / 24 bit without being halved in channel count as well. The onboard metering is simple (single multi colored LEDs for each channel switchable between AD and DA) but effective enough for my uses. When you look at the pricing it is absolutely a stunning deal, so do not let the low price fool you; this is SSL quality through and through.

I have used the PCI Mixpander cards and now own the latest generation of MADI PCIe cards and use them daily here at ZenPro Audio. Very simple and straight forward stuff to operate, my Rain Recording PC and Nuendo setup enjoy a 100% stable relationship with the SSL MADIExtreme card. I have seriously never had a glitch with interfacing, and I have owned two systems on two PCs thus far. Reliability is so important, so I can testify that it is delivered here as well when it comes to a strong and stable connection.

Conclusion: The pinnacle of tape machine recording has been 24 track, I find that having 24 analog in and out available for my DAW setup is never a limitation when producing rock and pop recordings. SSL has not only hit the nail on the head with features and sound, but knocked one out of the park on pricing. As a daily user of the Alpha Link system I highly recommend SSL for any serious recordist or studio owner.


SSL MADI EXTREME PCIe REVIEW

The PCIe MADIExtreme cards are extremely simple and powerful in use. Compatible with PC and MAC systems, they can be used with SSL Alpha Link MADI converters or other brands as well. The card is sturdy physically, and small in size. You can run 6 if needed in one system according to SSL (I run one), and it has all popular driver interface formats on board. The 64 handles 64 channels of MADI audio, the 128 handles 128 of course.

The card is seemingly very fast. Round trip latency even at 44.1 in my XP Rain Recording PC and Nuendo rig = 2.04ms including conversion on my Alpha Link MADI AX. Once the card was installed I simply configured the clock and other settings and away I went. There is no slick interface, there is no internal digital mixer to handle routing. The MADIExtreme is an efficient in and out device that provides 64 streams of audio to and from your DAW. Once setup and the correct driver is installed, youre done and off to make music. I have never had a glitch with my SSL system, not one, and the latency isnt noticeable by anyone (me or the artists I record). Installation was slightly tricky, but again once settled it just works.

Conclusion: The MADI Extreme cards are simple and effective, I can think of no better and easier way to route my I/O from the Alpha Link system to my PC rig. The newer MX4 card has built in DSP, routing and effects that is incredible, but I chose the keep my I/O on one card, and effects on another by adding Duende PCIe separately.


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