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PCRECORDING.COM - M Audio (Midiman) Delta 66 Review


Midiman Delta 66. List price $499.95.

One of the trends in the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) market is the development of component-based systems. In these systems, basic parts of a DAW system can be added on to others and multiple parts can be synced together. M Audio (Midiman) has recently released the Delta Series, composed of the Delta 66, the Delta 1010 and Delta DiO 2496, all 24 bit, 96kHz capable components. All of these products are designed to work together and several more are on the way. Please read the Midiman interview for more on this. This article reviews the Delta 66 which features:

  • PCI Host card with external audio break-out box.
  • 6x6 24-bit/96kHz full-duplex recording interface.
  • PCI card provides S/PDIF inputs and outputs on RCA jacks.
  • 4x4 analog break-out box accepts balanced or unbalanced connections on 1/4" TRS jacks.
  • Analog I/O configurable for +4dB and -10dB signal levels.
  • Measured D/A specs: 103dB (A-weighted) dynamic range, 0.0015% THD @ 0dBFS.
  • Measured A/D specs: 99dB (A-weighted) dynamic range, 0.0023% THD @ 0dBFS.
  • All data paths support up to 24-bit/96kHz performance, no upgrades necessary.
  • Powerful digital mixing, routing and monitoring capabilities.
  • Hardware sample-accurate sync links multiple Delta 66s.
  • Includes Windows 95/98, ASIO, DirectX and Windows NT drivers.

The minimum system requirements of the card are:

  • Windows 95, 98 or NT
  • Pentium II 266MHz - (96kHz operation)
  • Pentium 200 MMX - (48kHz or less)
  • 128 MB of PC100 RAM - (96kHz operation)
  • 64 MB of SDRAM - (48kHz or less)
  • UDMA EIDE or SCSI HDD

I received the card from M Audio/Midiman. The package included the PCI card with stereo I/O S/PDIF (RCA) jacks, an 8-port (1/4" 4 in/4out) analog breakout box, a manual, a 15-pin connector cable and floppy drivers. As is my practice, I first read the manual cover to cover and found it to be very informative, well written and thorough. I inspected the breakout box. My first impressions of the breakout box was that it was heavy and very sturdy. There was a satisfying click when I inserted the jacks.

Installation:

I inserted the soundcard in an empty PCI slot in my system - - a Pentium II 300, running Win98, 64 meg of RAM and a 20 gig Maxtor harddrive system. I then connected all the equipment together. Installation of the card and drivers under Windows 98 was flawless and took about four minutes. I double-checked everything and all was working perfectly. Having read the manual I was able to set up the input/output levels on the analog interface with ease (more on this later).

Sound quality:

With the card set at 24-bit/44.1, I first recorded silence and measured the noise floor of the card at -97dB, very quiet. I then listened to some songs I had previously recorded. The songs contained a typical set of instruments including a drum track, acoustic and bass guitars and vocals. Given that this card boasts high-end converters with 24-bit/96kHz capability, I expected it to sound very good. I was not disappointed. The sound was crystal-clear, full and very defined. I could hear everything except noise. (According to the manual, all internal signals are routed at 36-bit resolution). I then ran DDDrummer, a program that utilizes real drum samples, through the card at high volume. I was able to hear every aspect of the drum sounds spectrum from the bass drum fade to the shimmer of the ride cymbal. Again, the sound was very good.

Useability:

My expectations of great sound having been satisfied, I began to examine the useability of the card for recording applications. This card is for digital audio recording and playback and has no MIDI capability. (M Audio does make a MIDI interface product that utilizes the USB port, the USB Midisport 2X2). However, for analog recording the card is very capable. The breakout box was handy for connecting my cables and, for a small studio, provides sufficient connectivity for most projects. Moreover, M Audio is developing drivers that will allow for syncing up to four Delta 66s at once. The addition of the S/PDIF RCA Coaxial connections provides further connection options, including linking to an DAT machine. In my opinion, the card layout and connections options were well-thought out for recording digital audio in the real world. The best test though is recording.

Using a set of AKG C1000s I have for a pending review, a Spirit Folio mixer and a variety of recording software, I recorded random sounds such as my voice, finger-snapping, rubbing my hands together, clapping, and whistling. The card accurately captured all these sounds. Next, I recorded single tracks of my singing voice, bamboo flute and slow lead notes on my acoustic guitar. Again, the card captured the full audio spectrum of these instruments very well. Lastly, using Cakewalk 9, I recorded some tracks of a new song I am working on. I first laid down a rhythm guitar track with my acoustic and then a MIDI bass track with my synthesizer through another card with a MIDI input. I finished it off with a couple of vocal tracks. I got outstanding results. The guitar sounded very accurate as did my voice (however bad it may be).

The card features a software patching/routing system in the Control Panel window that is very intelligently laid out. I definitely recommend reading the manual for help with this feature. At first it seems complicated but gets much easier as you go. With this system, the user has great flexibility in routing signals from audio inputs, software inputs and hardware inputs. In the Monitor/Mixer window, the user can set input levels, pan settings, and mute settings. The manual contains extensive instructions on how to use this feature. Please see the screenshot below.


Screenshot A.

The user can control signal routing by using the Patch/Routing page. This function allows a user to patch each of the hardware outputs to specific audio sources. Again, the manual goes into great detail on how to utilize this feature. Please see the screenshot below.


Screenshot B.

Lastly, the user can set hardware settings, such as sampling rate, bit-depth, DMA buffer sizes, and clock settings in the hardware page. The user can do similar things in the S/PDIF window as well. Please see the screenshot below.


Screenshot C.

Finally, the user can save particular configuration settings by using the Save feature on the window. To recall a particular setting, the user simply highlights it, clicks on the Load button and then clicks on OK to recall those settings. Overall, I found the system worked very well and allowed extra routing options and settings for recording not available on other cards.

Overall impressions:

The card installed effortlessly and worked flawlessly throughout all of my tests. It sounded very good, which came as no surprise. The soundcard worked well with a variety of software programs including, n-Track Studio, Cakewalk 9, Cool Edit Pro SE, Digital Orchestrator, Mboom, Goldwave, and Samplitude 2496. The card provides for numerous connectivity options, internally with the patch/routing system and externally with the breakout box. An DAT user can also link directly to the card via the S/PDIF RCA Coaxial connectors. The breakout box is a nice feature. If you are like me, the PC is on the floor on its stand. Having the breakout box eliminated the need to get my old body under the table, at the back of the CPU.n My only complaint are that the cable for the breakout box is too short. I was left with having to put the box on top of my PC case. Not the best place. In addition, not having a MIDI port to hook to could be problematic. If a user can only have one card and must have MIDI capability, this card will not work. I can understand M Audio's marketing efforts but one would have to purchase a MIDI-equipped card or the USB device above.

Conclusions

The card sounded excellent, with very accurate reproduction of real instruments. The Delta 66 works very well, is extremely quiet and is an excellent card for the small studio. In the near future, M Audio will finish its drivers so that a user can string up to four 66s together. In that case, the card will have applications for larger projects as well. The hardware and drivers worked flawlessly in my applications. If you don't need MIDI connectivity, I highly recommend the Delta 66.

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