Hands-On Review:E-MU 1616 Laptop Digital Audio System
E-MU 1616 Laptop Digital Audio System
Digital recording with astounding sound quality made truly affordable.
By Terrence Fiedler
Interfacing through its CardBus PC Card, which fits in the PCMCIA slot of your laptop, E-MU's 1616 Digital Audio System provides professional audio quality, supreme platform stability, and a healthy host of very useful features. Over 600 hardware-accelerated effects presets, zero-latency hardware mixing and monitoring, 16 ins, 16 outs, headphone monitoring directly from the PCMCIA card, dual studio-grade low-noise preamps, a killer software bundle, and much more make the 1616 the most advanced laptop recording system ever created.
A bigger window
My first computer-based recording system was USB port-based and worked OK for what it was, but it really wasn't much. The biggest problem was that I could only record two tracks at a time. Cutting stereo tracks with even one other person was out of the question. The USB port was handy, but it just didn't have the bandwidth I needed.
In those dark turn-of-the-century days, there was no alternative laptop solution. Now the 1616 uses the increased bandwidth of the PCMCIA slot—standard equipment on most laptops—to give you up to 16 simultaneous inputs and outputs. The easy-access MicroDock unit connects by cable to the card and features two mic/line/Hi-Z XLR/1/4" ins with soft limiter, 48V phantom power, and level meters; four 1/4" balanced ins; S/PDIF in/out; turntable inputs with hardware RIAA preamp; eight channels of ADAT I/O; plus 32 channels of MIDI I/O. Those ADAT channels can be put to good use easily. With something like a Behringer ADA8000 A/D/A converter, for example, you can add eight mic/line ins and outs for just a little more cash.
Using the included Sonar LE recording software, you can record eight tracks simultaneously. And if you upgrade to pro recording software, you can use all 16 ins and outs at once (provided your laptop's PCMCIA chipset is up to the task). That's amazing power for any laptop-based system, let alone one that's this affordable.
Another great strength of the PCMCIA-based system is platform stability. Recording with it in both studio and live settings, I encountered none of the annoying clicks, pops, dropouts, and crashes that sometimes plagued my old USB-based system. The 1616's ultra-low latency 24/192 ASIO 2.0 and stereo WDM drivers make it compatible with the lion's share of audio and sequencer software applications out there--even the high-end professional stuff.
A clearer view
The most surprising feature of the 1616 is its phenomenal sound quality. The two mic pre's are the same quality as those found in systems costing ten times as much. They're rated at –127dBu EIN--that's an extremely low noise rating. Their soft limiters handle signal overloads by compressing and gently distorting the sound, rather than brutally clipping it. This combination can make a huge difference in recording quality, especially for beginning recordists who haven't mastered the finer points of level setting.
The 1616's A/D and D/A converters operate at 24-bit/192kHz with a pristine 112dB signal-to-noise ratio. The premium 1616M system ups the ante with the same master-grade converters used in the world's most expensive pro studio gear--converters that boast an amazing 120dB SNR! Having this quality of conversion makes the difference between a good demo recording and a release-quality CD. This is definitely the first time such pristine audio has been available for so little outlay.
The rainbow's end
The 1616's treasure trove of features and effects includes PatchMix DSP—on-board digital signal processor that delivers zero-latency mixing and monitoring that totally eliminates the biggest headache of computer recording. E-MU's DSP also gives you over 600 standalone hardware-accelerated effects and over 600 E-MU Power FX VST plug-in effects. These effects run on E-MU's proprietary DSP chips on the CardBus card, leaving your laptop's CPU free to handle more host-based effects and essential recording and playback functions.
The CardBus PC Card also gives you an extremely handy stereo headphone/line out. You don't even have to connect the MicroDock to listen to and mix tracks you've already recorded. You could even use this output to do final mixdowns to an external device. You can control the output level from your software or from the normal headphone volume control on your computer.
The E-MU Production Tools Software Bundle that comes with the 1616 has more than enough apps to keep you busy for a long time. Three recorder/sequencer-type applications include the LE version of Cakewalk's SONAR, the current top dog of digital audio sequencers; Cubase LE, a super-easy audio-oriented recorder that doesn't require much of your laptop; and Ableton Live Lite 4 for E-MU, a powerful sequencer that lets you play fast and loose with loops and BPM.
Additional VST plug-ins, instruments, and effects applications in the Production Tools Software Bundle include Steinberg's Wavelab Lite, a clean and powerful audio editor; IK Multimedia's AmpliTube LE and T-RackS EQ; Minnetonka diskWelder BRONZE for burning DVD audio disks; SFX Machine LT; and E-MU's own Proteus X LE Desktop Sound Module, which is modeled after the incredible Proteus 2000 sound module and gives you 1,024 cutting-edge instrument presets. Whether you're a serious electronic audio geek intent on creating a masterpiece of ambient textures, or a straight-ahead rock-n-roller who just wants to lay down some clean, snappy tracks, there's plenty here to work with.
E-MU has made a real breakthrough with the 1616 and 1616M. It's no exaggeration to say that a skillful engineer working with good musicians could use the 1616M to produce an industry-quality CD ready for professional mastering. Given its incredibly low price, this is nothing short of miraculous.
Features & Specs:
|E-MU 1616 and 1616M Laptop Digital Audio Systems||E-MU Production Tools Software Bundle|