PCRECORDING.COM - Gadget Labs Wave/424 review:
Gadget Labs has been manufacturing soundcards since 1997 and released the Wave/824 in February 1999 - their leap into the 24-bit arena. With the release of the Wave/424, Gadget Labs created the WavePRO product family and included the Wave/424, Wave/824, and the Wave/496. The WavePRO family allows the user to upgrade a variety of integrated components, all of which can be synced together. I will quote from their website to capture their concept:
"The interchangeability of WavePRO products is achieved through electronic interconnections and the software driver architecture. First, the base PCI cards can be interconnected with a super-clock-sync cable (256x clock) to achieve sample-locked timing of all the audio channels. This enables multiple WavePRO PCI cards to work together as one; you can upgrade and extend capabilities without being concerned about audio timing drift. Second, each PCI card has a proprietary "daughtercard" connector that allows you to optionally extend the functionality to include SPDIF digital I/O or an ADAT light pipe connection. Lastly, the "road-tested" Wave/824 software drivers are being upgraded to include all members and features of the entire WavePRO family. Our goal is to have a single WavePRO driver for each of the operating systems, PC or Mac."
This review is on their entry-level soundcard, the Wave/424. (pictured below):
Gadget Labs is marketing the Wave/424 as a basic entry-level card 24-bit/96kHz capable soundcard. At an introductory price of $269.00, one will not find a lower-priced card that will function at these resolutions. I haven't anyway. The card is a high-quality, straight-forward digital audio/Midi interface card. It is designed to provide the highest commercially available bit/sampling rates with 4 in and 4 out 1/4" analog connections and a MIDI interface. It does its job very well as you shall see in this review.
I received the card in the mail in a full retail box. Included was the card, a MIDI adapter cable, a manual and an installation floppy. The card features the following specifications:
I first read the entire user's manual. The guide walked me through the familiar Windows setup routine. It contained helpful information on PCI card installation and diagrams of all the WavePro card connections. The manual contained information on all the WavePro cards, set out in individually specific sections. This required a bit of jumping around but was workable. The manual also had helpful preliminary configuration settings information for the Wave/424 based on Gadgetlab's own tests with a variety of popular multitrack software packages. These included Samplitude, Cakewalk, Steinberg, Cool Edit Pro, and others. There was a minor discrepancy between the manual and the Help information in the program. The manual stated that the Wave/424 was set at -10dBv and then explained that the Wave/824 and Wave/496 could be set at either level (the inference being that the Wave/424 could only be used at -10dBv). A bit later the manual stated that a Wave/824 user could activate an "input pad" if the input signal was too strong (there was no explanation of what setting "input pad" used).
To add a bit of confusion, the Help section in the software indicated the user has the option of setting all inputs either to -10dBv or +4dBv for the Wave/824, making no mention of the Wave/424. I emailed Gadget Labs and got a prompt response from Rob Ranck, Gadget Labs President. The Wave/424 is capable of either setting - the "input pad" is the same thing as a professional +4dBv setting. Lastly, the manual had a generic setup graph of how to hook up the system. Other than a need to clarify the minor confusion mentioned above, the manual was quite helpful during the setup process.
Installation: I selected a PCI slot on my computer - a Pentium II 300, 64 meg RAM, Windows 98, 20 gig Maxtor harddrive system and installed the card. I booted up, Windows had no difficulty finding the card. Per the instructions in the manual, I installed the drivers for the card without any difficulty whatsoever. I double-checked and confirmed that I had no conflicts in the Settings/System/Device Manager window. The card was living comfortably with the Xitel Storm card I already had in the system. The card was recognized and worked with all the software I have on my PC, n-Track, Cakewalk 9, Goldwave, Samplitute 2496 and Cool Edit Pro SE. (Later, I did run into some trouble in multi-tracking (simultaneous monitor/record) in n-Track 2.04 with the Wave/424. I believe this is a problem with the new release of n-Track though. I had no such trouble with my other programs). I then hooked up my gear for some testing.
Playback Sound Quality:
I played some of my original recorded music first. The card was very accurate with very crisp highs and robust lows. I then played DDDrummer - a real-sample drum player - the card sounded very good, even down to the "umph" of the kick drum and up to the shimmer of the chinese cymbal. One really cool thing about the Wave/424 is that it has a connector for your CD ROM audio out. Let me tell you, the sound quality through the converters on the Wave/424 was outstanding. I listened to some CDs from classical to Eric Clapton while I was editing this review. In addition, I was able to "rip" some audio into a wave file through this connection too. Pretty neat in my book.
I used the Wave/424 in n-Track Studio, Cakewalk and Cool Edit Pro SE. I recorded my voice and guitar to see how compatible it was with each program. It worked fine. It was here that I ran into difficulty with n-Track 2.04. I could not record and monitor tracks at the same time. This is the newest release of n-Track as of this week, so I am certain any issues will be worked out. However, I switched to Cool Edit Pro and Cakewalk 9 and did some serious recording with my Gibson Gospel guitar and some vocals through a pair of AKG C1000s and my Spirit Folio Notepad mixer. It sounded very accurate and captured the quality of my guitar very well. The vocals sounded clear and expressive. (I wish I had a better voice though). I then recorded some bamboo flute, a shaker rattle and some electric lead guitar miked through the AKGs. In each instance, the card accurately recorded the sound of the instrument. On the lead guitar it captured the grittiness I had introduced by overdriving the amplifier. Great sound all around. I had no trouble multitracking these sessions. This card sounds very good and works very well.
One of my initial concerns about the card was that I had to connect my cables at the back of my PC. Like most everyone else, I keep my PC box on the floor as far away from my other equipment as possible. The thought of having to reach down behind the computer everytime I had to change a cable was not very appealing. In addition, I had to purchase a 1/4" stereo to two 1/4" mono jack from (gasp) Radio Shack to hook up to the card. However, as I used the system I realized that it really did not make any difference. Since I had to use a mixer for signal routing to the card, I had my mixer outputs hooked to the card and the card outputs hooked to my monitoring system. These are cables I never needed to change. Most cable changes occurred at the mixer. Hence, my fears/frustrations were not realized. Moreover, since I received the card Gadget Labs now is stocking optional breakout cables (as pictured on their website) at a price of four for $10.00. This would be a useful purchase in case you do need to change out cabling. Overall, if you do not need to change cables often, this card is easy to install and use. For straight digital audio in and out interfacing this card works admirably well.
The Gadget Labs website has a troubleshooting page that contains helpful information about the Wave/424. According to Rob Ranck, a FAQ page is being developed as well and will be up soon. For the Wave/424, Gadget Labs provides a page that has information on specifications and options for the card. The few times I had to actually use email support, I received a prompt and courteous response that proved helpful. Lastly, Gadget Labs sells direct to the customer. In my mind, the advantage to this is that you only have to deal with one entity when support/return issues arise. No middleman, no online vendor, just Gadget Labs. In addition, Gadget Labs really gets to know its customer. This is a valuable commodity as we all wend our way through the DAW process and the challenges that arise.
Overall, the Wave/424 provides the least expensive, high-quality entry into the 24/96 playing field. It is a straight-forward PCI audio interface. Its job is simple - - to record and playback digital audio and MIDI sound files at very high fidelity. It does that job very well. The card sounds very good, it is extremely quiet, has crisp but not too harsh highs and strong bass without muddiness. The user will have to purchase some adapters to plug into the stereo inputs and outputs and will have to use a mixer for signal routing. However, these are items that most home studios are likely to have already.
If you have to have a 24-bit resolution rate, 96kHz sampling rate soundcard and have to spend less than three hundred dollars, this is the only game in town. On a sound quality basis in the real world, it competes very well. The card is a very good buy at its introductory price and will serve the basic needs of the serious DAW user very well. Lastly, Gadget Labs is committed to supporting its product and is responsive to customers needs. I highly recommend the Wave/424 and Gadget Labs.