- Firewire interface
- Echo sound!
- Xilinx Spartan FPGA with very nice firmware
- Won't boot without power supply on some Macs
- Phantom power on/off switch only via software
Echo Audiofire 4 is a firewire soundcard with the typical Echo sound. It is my primary card for music production. Here are a few thoughts on it.
Echo products are not available in Bulgaria so I had to buy this one from Berlin. The Audiofire series all come in a reassuring, chunky, black box, and all include the soundcard, a power supply, and some cables.
Once you remove the card (sits on top), the connecting cable and the power supply box (in theory you should not need one), there's literally nothing left, except for two styrene pads, a quickstart sheet of paper, a driver disc, and some nylon used to wrap the things. There isn't even a printed manual.
No manual. There's PDF *stuff* on the disc.
It's a solid feeling, good looking box with plenty of connectors. Controls at the front feel a bit shaky, but that's me overreacting.
This one was supposed to be simple. Just plug the Firewire cable in and power up the soundcard. Mac OSX supports this right out of the box. In practice, daisychaining with an external Firewire drive proved to stop the Audiofire from functioning. After some initial confusion (the card powered up the first time and refused to work any other time afterwards) I ended up with a non-functioning soundcard with a single blinking LED (and nothing about blinking LEDs in the manual).
Finally I traced it to this post at Create Digital Music. It's still a bit awkward but I've got the hang of it. The card needs solid power when booting up. Tough :/
Audiofire4 at work
Too early to tell, but I listened to a few of my own Logic projects, at 128 and 256 sample latencies. That's fairly low.
I also tried it under Live. At ~450 samples it is stable at 80% CPU. I'll do some more elaborate tests later, but it's within my requirements.
It's a class-compliant firewire interface, which means truly low sample latencies are in the hands of Apple, and Apple can't reliably hold and care for Firewire audio interfaces.
That said, it manages 256 and 128 if it needs to.
Budget allowing, it's far better to go for RME, Apogee, or MOTU, though check out if Focusrite and Presonus ship with their own drivers.
Just for the heck of it I did launch a photo library while Logic was running (a fairly tough thing to do while having Logic do its thing).
Not a glitch.
When it works (and has enough CPU), it's not bothered by other device activity. This is fairly standard nowadays.
The sound is rich and tight, and already somewhat familiar to me (both Indigo cards sound the same as the Audiofire). On really high quality headphones there's an audible brownish noise with very digital character coming out from the card when nothing is playing, but that's after you've listened to nothing else for more than 10 minutes and your ears are really trying to pick up something. The noise changes character if you turn on +48V phantom power via the console. At high volume the headphone amp makes a hissing noise, but I can't ever imagine turning up the volume on headphones that loud and surviving.
The headphone volume knob is problematic. My first interface had a crackly knob, which hurt my ears. My second (the first died mysteriously one day) has a noisy knob - somewhat better but still makes the otherwise nice assembly feel cheap.
Typical for Echo, the Console is straightforward, very intuitive and quick to operate. It is also very flexible.
The only weird thing is that since settings are stored on the soundcard itself (!)
launching and quitting the console saving the settings results in a brief sound drop-out,
while settings are retrieved/stored the card is reset. This is silly, but in practice it shouldn't bug anyone that much.
This was changed in the last Console/firmware version Echo Audio posted on their website.
It's discontinued, sadly.
I still use the AF4, though I have outgrown it and am currently looking to replace it.