Hands-On Review:Echo AudioFire Professional Recording Systems
Echo AudioFire Professional Recording Systems
Full Echo power for the FireWire set
By Oscar Sommers
It's a classic match that was simply meant to be. The technologies of Echo Audio and FireWire have finally met and struck up a scorching-hot romance. The fruit of this union is the AudioFire8 and 12, two sleek and sexy rackmountable FireWire digital recording interfaces built from the ground up to Echo's high standards. Now FireWire recording offers all the remarkable quality and flexibility that Echo's PCI interfaces have had for years, only in a very mobile, laptop-friendly interface. If you've been waiting for a FireWire interface that's as easy to use as it is revolutionary, you're ready for an AudioFire.
Echo flirted with the portable/laptop market with the award-winning Indigo series, designed for Cardbus-equipped laptop users. But the Indigo, no matter how good it sounded, didn't have enough I/O to be a professional-level recording option. While Cardbus versions of the Layla and Mona existed, Cardbus isn't standard equipment on a lot of laptops--but FireWire is. Plus FireWire has spread from being a laptop, mobile interface to being a fast, stable, and versatile interface for all computers. So Echo's decision to go to FireWire was easy, really, with its widespread adaptation, lower-than-USB latency, and its plug-and-play capabilities. And what happens when one of the leading computer-recording and digital audio companies in the industry, one that's been on the scene since the dawn of the era, goes FireWire? They do it better than everyone else, of course.
Playing with fire
Echo wasn't content to simply take a "Me, too!" approach to FireWire. Instead of simply using the same FireWire design and conversion specs as everyone else, Echo set out to come up with their own killer chip set. They adapted a Texas Instruments chip no one else had used for digital audio and combined it with their own DSP engine capable of 32-bit/1.6 gigaflop processing to get a solution that met their high standards. The result is the AudioFire12 sports groundbreaking 12-in/12-out audio handling at a pristine 24-bit/192kHz conversion rate, with full floating digital mixing capability and an audio bus that laughs in the face of latency. The AudioFire8 supports 10-in/10-out handling at 24-bit/96kHz with the same mixing abilities and zero latency.
Echo also set the AudioFire interfaces apart from the FireWire pack by making them out-of-the-box operational with Apple computers running Mac OS X. Apple made it extremely easy for hardware and software developers to integrate their products directly into the OS-level operations with Core Audio, the level where the AudioFire units operate. Not only does this result in a faster- and smoother-running interface, it also operates the moment you plug it in. With other interfaces there are always driver discs to install before you can use them, but Echo went the extra mile. You simply pull your AudioFire out and install the console software to get up and going, eliminating a whole step between you and your music. There's also support for all the major pro recording and audio software with low-latency drivers for ASIO 2.0, GSIF 2.0 (Gigastudio with MIDI), WDM, and Core MIDI, in addition to Core Audio.
The AudioFire8 and 12 both gain their name from the number of analog channels they can handle. The 8 is aimed at the same crowd who would consider a Layla3G, if it had a FireWire out instead of a PCI card bus. They took their newly developed chip set and applied it to the extremely popular and powerful Layla3G to create the AudioFire8--voila: portable Layla. The AudioFire12 is a slightly different beast, mainly crafted to serve as a high-fidelity digital converter for a computer-based DAW with a mixer/multiple preamp front end.
Echo put a lot of nice touches on these units, like a smooth, heavy-duty aluminum casing made to survive traveling, an integrated power supply so you don't have to deal with a wall wart, and the included cross-platform Tracktion software that's easy to use and works flawlessly. The AudioFire Console software handles all the main functions of the 8 and 12, with faders and meters for each channel and a settings button to tweak things to your needs. You can also save group settings so you can pick up where you left off at any time in the future.
Pick your poison
The AudioFire8 contains the exact same analog circuitry, hardware design scheme, and console software as the Layla3G. As a result, fans of the Layla3G will feel very comfortable switching over to the AudioFire8. For those considering Echo for the first time, the 8 will provide you with amazingly clean and clear audio with an array of fully balanced I/O and flexible mixing.
The two Neutrik combo inputs on the front are auto-sensing universal jacks ready to handle mic, instrument, or line-level signals. The 8 also has an LED meter, level control, and preamps with 48V phantom power for running your condenser mics on each of the front 2 channels. If you've heard the preamps in the Layla3G, you know these pres were designed with quality in mind.
Echo avoided the current trend of adding tube color to mic preamps to create preamps with very little coloration at all, figuring you can flavor your audio they way you want it afterwards. The pres sound simply incredible, delivering clean, clear audio with plenty of high-end presence and solid low-end reproduction with very transparent gain.
A headphone jack with level control is also on the front panel to let you easily audition sounds or even mix from your favorite headphones. The rest of the I/O on the 8 is located around back: six TRS ins and eight TRS outs, S/PDIF, MIDI, word clock, two FireWire jacks, and two channel inserts. The setup is functional as well as fashionable: the front keeps its uncluttered and sophisticated look and you keep all those cables and connections out of the way.
The 12, as noted above, isn't really intended to serve as a standalone recording interface. As such, it has its entire I/O section on the rear panel, and the 12 analog inputs and 12 analog outputs are line-level only. The rear I/O array also includes word clock and MIDI. What's on the front is a display with I/O meters, sample rate and clock synchronization indicators, and a power button with indicator light. With its audio capabilities and unrivaled conversion quality, the 12 becomes part of a devastating computer-based DAW when coupled with a quality analog mixer.
With the AudioFire series you're getting a topnotch recording interface based on proven audio technology and upgraded with the best-possible FireWire engineering. They deliver the audio quality, stability, and low latency you expect from Echo, making them a perfect solution for recording professionals in need of a portable interface or project studio owners looking for a quality digital recording solution.