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E-MU 1616M PCI-E audio interface review

pic pic

Features 10/10

This advanced audio system system offers:

  • Mastering grade 24-bit/192kHz converters: 120dB SNR A/D, 120dB SNR D/A, 0.0003% THD+N
  • 16 ins, 16 outs
  • Two mono 1/4" analog mic/hi-z inputs with high quality preamps with gain controls (line -15 to +50, mic 0 to 65), clip indicators and switchable soft limiters
  • Phantom power
  • Optical S/PDIF I/O
  • Coaxial S/PDIF I/O
  • ADAT optical I/O
  • MIDI I/O
  • Stereo phono in
  • 5.1 configurable
  • Headphone amplifier with volume control
  • Built-in DSP with zero-latency monitoring with effects

1616M offers pretty much everything that's possible in such a compact device. Its casing is built mostly from a hard metal covered with a cheap looking painting. Front and back plastic panels in my unit were glued to that metal but the glue apparently wasn't strong enough to hold them and after a closer look I could see some gaps. In overall the casing does what it's supposed to but it doesn't leave the best impression possible.

Sound quality 9.9/10

1616M PCIE sounds incredible. Its sound is a bit more detailed compared to 0404 PCIE. It releases the music from speakers so it becomes more present and dimensional rather than trapped in noisy boxes. Its middle range is different than that in 0404. It's the best sounding audio device that I've come across so far. I'm sure there are even better interfaces out there and I'll hopefully return to this review with an update sometime.

The preamps are pretty decent in 1616M as they sound dynamic, natural and full of detail. Soft limiting does what you'd expect from it within some reasonable ranges because it's quite easy to hit the preamps too hard even for the soft limiting mechanism. Fortunately soft limiting can be turned off. Gain controls are common for both line/hi-z and microphone inputs so in some cases it gets a little little bit tricky to set the gain that you want.

The headphone output is loud and it sounds very good and clear.

Round trip latency

The lowest round trip latency is 6.077ms (approx. 3.6ms input, 2.4ms output) at ASIO buffer size of 88 samples and sample rate of 44.1kHz. It's a pretty good result. Increasing sample rate all the way up reduces the latency further to approx. 5ms. It takes audio about 2ms to go through 1616M PCIE with hardware direct monitoring feature. Disabling the microdock changes the input and output latencies to approx. 3.1ms and 2.9ms. I guess is that EDI transmission takes additional 0.5ms and with the microdock enabled the output latency is lowered to compensate for this. 1616M is therefore a little bit more CPU demanding than 0404 PCIE - it's difficult to achieve lowest stable latencies on an Intel i3-2100 or AMD Phenom II 945. Some system tweaking helped so it's possible to play through plugins in a simple session at a latency of 8ms. 6ms was in my case almost playable with some occasional drop-outs which didn't affect recorded material.

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E-MU 1616M PCIE ASIO settings window

DSP

The built-in DSP is capable of sophisticated mixing, routing, direct monitoring and adding effects. It's possible, for instance, to rout any input source to an ASIO channel or ASIO output to WDM input. Offered effects include EQs, reverb, delay, chorus, distortion, guitar speaker simulator. Guitarists won't be impressed by their level of realism but they should like the possibility to record dry while rehearsing through these effects with a latency of only 2ms. Every effect is processed by the DSP, it's also possible to use E-MU DSP accelerated effects in any DAW but it doesn't seem to work on Vista/7.

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E-MU 1616M PCIE PatchMix DSP main (left) and FX (right) windows

Ease of use 8.5/10

PatchMix DSP can be probably confusing to some users due to the fact that it offers a lot. It's not that difficult anyway, it comes with many templates and you can save your sessions and even channel FX chains. It's a lot like any DAW software. It's not rocket science, but reading the manual might be a good idea.

Price 10/10

It goes for 290 euro new, it's a good price for an audio device that offers such a high quality sound and functionality.

Advantages

pic Fantastic sound quality
pic Extremely low actual latency
pic Plenty of ins and outs
pic Fine sounding preamps
pic Built-in DSP/hardware mixer
pic Bundled software
pic Price

Drawbacks

pic Microdock casing quality

E-MU 1616M PCIE on http://www.creative.com/emu/

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Technical Specifications

General

  • Sample Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz from internal crystal or externally supplied clock (no sample rate conversion)
  • Bit Depths: 24 bit I/O, 32 bit processing
  • PCIe Specification:
    • PCIe Base Specification 1.1 Compliant
    • Form Factor: Universal-keyed PCIe x1 Card
    • 3.3V I/O
    • PCIe Bus-Mastering subsystem reduces CPU usage
  • E-MU E-DSP 32-bit DSP with 67-bit accumulator (double precision w/ 3 headroom bits)
  • Hardware-accelerated, 32-channel mixing, and multi-effects processing
  • Zero-latency direct hardware monitoring w/effects
  • ASIO2, WDM/MME/DirectSound, x64 Drivers
  • EDI (E-MU Digital Interface) proprietary 64-channel audio link over CAT-5 cable
  • Anti-Pop speaker protection minimizes noise during power on/off
  • Ultra-low jitter clock subsystem: < 1ns in PLL mode (44.1kHz, Opt. S/PDIF Sync)

Analog Line Inputs (4)

  • Type: servo-balanced, DC-coupled, low-noise input circuitry
  • A/D converter: AK5394A
  • Level (software selectable):
    • Professional: +4dBu nominal, 20dBu max (balanced)
    • Consumer: -10dBV nominal, 6dBV max (unbalanced)
  • Frequency Response (20Hz-20kHz): +0.0/-.03dB
  • Dynamic Range (1kHz, A-weighted): 120dB
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-weighted): 120dB
  • THD+N (1kHz at -1dBFS): -110dB (.0003%)
  • Stereo Crosstalk (1kHz at -1dBFS): < -120dB Analog Line Outputs (6)

Analog Line Outputs (6)

  • Type: balanced, AC-coupled, 2-pole low-pass differential filter
  • D/A converter: CS4398
  • Level (software selectable):
    • Professional: +4dBu nominal, 20dBu max (balanced)
    • Consumer: -10dBV nominal, 6dBV max (unbalanced)
  • Frequency Response (20Hz - 20kHz): 0.0/-.06dB
  • Dynamic Range (1kHz, A-weighted): 120dB
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-weighted): 120dB
  • THD+N (1kHz at -1dBFS): -105dB (.0006%)
  • Stereo Crosstalk (1kHz at -1dBFS): < -115dB

Combo Microphone Preamplifier/Hi-Z/Line Inputs (2)

  • Type: E-MU XTC combo mic preamp and Hi-Z/line input w/ Soft Limiter
  • Gain Range: +60dB
  • Frequency Response (min gain, 20Hz-20kHz): +0.0/-0.1dB
  • Stereo Crosstalk (1kHz min gain, -1dBFS): < -125dB
  • Hi-Z Line Input:
    • Input Impedance: 1Mohm
    • Max Level: +18dBV (20.2dBu)
    • Dynamic Range (A-weighted, 1kHz, min gain): 118dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-weighted, min gain): 118dB
    • THD+N (1kHz at -1dBFS, min gain): -105dB (.0006%)
  • Microphone Preamplifier:
    • Input Impedance: 1.5Kohms
    • Max Level: +6dBV (+8.2dBu)
    • EIN (20Hz-20kHz, 150ohm, unweighted): -129.5dBu
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-weighted, min gain): 119dB
    • THD+N (1kHz at -1dBFS, min gain): -110dB (.0003%)
    • Phantom Power: 48V
    • Soft Limiter: 5dB max compression (software selectable)

Headphone Amplifier

  • Type: linear power amplifier
  • D/A converter: CS4398
  • Gain Range: 85dB
  • Maximum Output Power: 50mW
  • Output Impedance: 22ohms
  • Frequency Response (20Hz-20kHz): +0.0/-0.07dB
  • Dynamic Range (A-weighted): 118.5dB
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-weighted): 118dB
  • THD+N (1kHz, max gain): 600ohm load: -96dB
  • Stereo Crosstalk (1kHz at -1dBFS, 600 ohm load): < -100dB

Phono Input (stereo)

  • Type: RIAA equalized phono input
  • Maximum level:
    • Professional: 60mV RMS
    • Consumer: 15mV RMS
  • Input Impedance: 47Kohm
  • Frequency Response (20Hz - 20kHz): +0.1/-0.3dB
  • Dynamic Range (A-weighted): 96dB
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (15mV RMS unbal input, A-weighted): 96dB
  • THD+N (1kHz, 15mV RMS input): -90dB (.003%)
  • Stereo Crosstalk (1kHz at -1dBFS): < -80dB

Digital I/O

  • S/PDIF:
    • 2 in/2 out coaxial (transformer coupled)
    • 2 in/2 out optical (software switched with ADAT)
    • AES/EBU or S/PDIF format (software selectable)
  • ADAT:
    • 8 channels, 24-bit @ 44.1/48kHz
    • 4 channels, 24-bit @ 88.2/96kHz (S-MUX compatible)
    • 2 channels, 24-bit @ 176.4/192kHz
  • MIDI
    • 2 in, 2 out

Synchronization

  • Internal crystal sync at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz
  • External sample rate sync via
    • ADAT (44.1 - 192kHz)
    • Optical S/PDIF (44.1 - 96kHz)
    • Coaxial S/PDIF (44.1 - 192kHz)

Retail Box Contents

  • E-MU 1010 PCIe Card
  • E-MU MicroDock M
  • EDI (E-MU Digital Interface) cable (3 meters)
  • Universal power adapter
  • MIDI breakout cable
  • Quick Start installation guide
  • E-MU Digital Audio System CD-ROM:
    • Microsoft® Windows® XP, XP x64, Windows Vista®, Vista x64 Drivers
    • E-MU PatchMix DSP
    • E-MU Power FX (Windows XP only)
    • E-MU E-DSP Effects Library
    • Owner's Manual and Tutorials
  • E-MU Production Tools Software Bundle:
    • Cakewalk SONAR LE 6.3
    • Steinberg Cubase 4 LE
    • Ableton Live Lite 6 E-MU Edition
    • IK Multimedia AmpliTube LE
    • IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ
    • Celemony Melodyne essential
    • Waldorf Attack, Waldorf D-Pole
    • Waldorf PPG Wave
    • SFX Machine LT
    • Creative EAX® ADVANCED HD™ ALchemy (Vista only)
    • E-MU Proteus VX

Minimum System Requirements

  • Intel® or AMD® processor - 1 GHz or faster
  • Intel, AMD or 100% compatible motherboard & chipset
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP (SP 3), Windows XP x64, Windows Vista® (SP1 or higher), Vista x64
  • 256MB System RAM
  • 900MB of free hard disk space for full installation
  • PCIe x1 Compliant slot for E-MU 1010 PCIe card (also compatible with x4, x8 or x16 PCIe slots)
  • CD-ROM/CD-RW or DVD-ROM drive required for software installation
  • XVGA Video (1024 X 768)

Source - E-MU 1616M PCIE product page on www.creative.com/emu

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