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E-MU 0204 USB audio interface review

pic pic

Features 8/10

The only thing that's really missing is phantom power. Here's a brief list of features:

  • 1 mic/line/hi-z combo preamp with gain control, signal/clip indicators
  • 1 line/hi-z combo preamp with gain control, signal/clip indicators
  • Inputs: 113dB SNR, 0.0008% THD
  • Outputs: 117dB SNR, 0.0008% THD
  • Fantastic frequency response on line outs (+0.00/-0.01dB)
  • Fantastic frequency response on ins (+0.00/-0.07dB)
  • Fantastic frequency response on headphone out (+0.02/-0.08dB)
  • Stereo line level output
  • Direct Monitor with volume control
  • Headphone output with independent volume control which can be used as a pair of auxiliary outputs
  • Ground lift switches for avoiding ground loop problems
  • USB powered
  • Bundled with Acoustica Mixcraft LE (Windows only)

0202 was bundled with Cubase and Sonar, the 0204 comes with Acoustica Mixcraft which works only with Windows OS and does not appeal to me at all.

Sound quality 9.1/10

To me the 0204 sounds just a bit different from 0202. In comparison it has less mids and more clarity. It's not a great difference and it was difficult for me to choose between these two, because I couldn't say that one was better than the other. In the end I went with 0202.

Latency, driver performance

Low latency performance of the 0204 USB is poor. On a Windows based machine only the lowest buffer size settings are usable for playing through guitar amp sims as they make the round trip latency go below 12ms. There's also a small latency drift of 5 samples which equals 0.113ms. The lowest round trip is 9.445ms. It wouldn't be that bad if the driver was stable, however there was some popping, losing sync and cracking on an Intel T3100 based notebook. On the same machine ESI UGM96 performs flawlessly at its lowest buffer size of 48 samples with the resulting round trip of 8.7ms.

Things go worse on a Mac. First of all it doesn't work at the buffer size of 14 samples. There are only strange noises there. The lowest achievable latency is around 15ms, which is totally not acceptable for software monitoring.

Buffer size Measured latency Measured latency Reported latency, Reaper Reported latency, Cubase
samples samples ms ms ms
14 - - - -
32 692 15.578 5.2 14.24
64 751 17.029 6.8 15.692
96 815 18.48 8.4 -
128 879 19.931 9.8 18.594

E-MU 0204 USB latency measurement results and DAW report values, Mac OS X 10.7.4, Reaper 4.151, Cubase Elements 6.06

Buffer size Buffer size Measured latency Measured latency Reported latency, Reaper
ms samples samples ms ms
2 88 417 9.455 3.8
3 132 515 11.678 5.8
4 176 624 14.149 7.8

E-MU 0204 USB latency measurement results and DAW report values, Windows 7 32-bit, Reaper 4.151

Perhaps these issues has its source in beta drivers, however E-MU doesn't rush things too quickly. It's been a while since the realease of Windows 7, but there's still no proper Windows 7 driver available for download on their website. With the interface you get a beta driver on a CD. It appears that its behaviour depends on the USB controller chipset and I had some troubles with it for some time.

Fortunately, just like its predecesoor, the 0204 works on Linux OS.

Ease of use 8/10

It's so simple to use that I would give it a 10, but unfortunately the 0204 cannot playback WDM and ASIO streams at the same time. So, for instance, you can't play your guitar with Reaper while listening to music coming from Winamp or watching a movie on the internet. So any chance of jamming with some tracks is that these tracks are also in your DAW. ASIO settings come down to choosing latency and bit depth.

Direct Monitor offers digital volume control, but it's a bit quiet even at the loudest setting and may cause inconvenience.

Price 9/10

Fairly priced, it costs around 100 euro new.

Advantages

pic Improved sound quality compared to the 0202 USB
pic Price
pic Features
pic Size

Drawbacks

pic Simultaneous playback of WDM and ASIO is impossible (Windows only)
pic Preamps sound fine but you won't be thrilled
pic Poor low latency performance, especially under Mac OS
pic Bundled software
pic Poor support

E-MU 0204 USB on http://www.creative.com/emu/

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