PCRECORDING.COM - Echo Gina24 Review:
I have always been a fan of the Echo line of products. My first real soundcard for my studio was the Darla. I have since used or owned the Gina, Layla, Darla24 and now I get to test the Gina 24. Echo has recently upgraded its entire line from the venerable 20-bit series to an all 24-bit/96kHz line which includes the Layla24, Darla24 and Mona. Gina24 has some impressive specifications and excellent driver support.
Installation was a snap. I inserted the PCI interface card into a free PCI slot and hooked it up to the breakout box. I then booted my computer and Windows detected the new card, prompted me to install the new drivers from the CD. Installation was quick and painless. A "G" appeared in my systray, indicating the presence of the Control Panel. (Later, for this review, I downloaded and installed the beta drivers that included the GSIF driver set. This too went without a hitch).
I confirmed the installation by checking in Control Panel, Settings and Sound devices, where the Gina appeared as the sole card without any conflicts. Windows recognizes the drivers for the inputs/outputs as stereo pairs. I checked and confirmed the Echo Console (described below) was operational.
In typical Echo fashion, a helpful and well-written manual was included with the Gina24. As is my custom, I read it from cover to cover. It contains helpful installation instructions, a thorough explanation of the Console controls, and a section on how to use Cool Edit Pro Se, the bundled multi-track software. At the back of the manual is a set of Appendix sections covering the Echo Reporter software, a general troubleshooting guide, and IRQ conflict resolution. The appendix options go on to include FAQ sections on DirectSound, MultiClient and Audio Software and finishes off with an explanation of basic digital recording - - sample rates, bit depths, etc. This manual is one of the most thorough and helpful you will encounter in the DAW world.
The heart of the Gina24 system is the Echo Console. While somewhat dull looking it is very powerful, a matter of function over form. Beginning at the upper left are analog input level meters, next to it are S/PDIF input level meters. Immediately below these are monitor settings. These monitor settings allow the user to monitor the input signal via any output. The settings are displayed in two monitor pair windows, one for analog and the other for S/PDIF. At the top of these monitor windows are radio buttons for Muting/Solo each side of the track. Below these are buttons for monitor channel selection. On the left are the 8 analog outputs and on the right are the Digital output and the 8 ADAT outputs. These are selectable only in stereo pairs. Pan sliders appear at the bottom of the window, as does a "gang" radio button for tying the two channels together. The advantage to this setup is that the user can set the monitor level of the input independent of the main output levels.
Output controls are displayed on the right of the Console window. Again, Mute/Solo/Gang settings are in the same position as the input control window. The manual wisely suggests that the outputs be left at maximum to preserve maximum useage of available digital bits. Attenuation of signal should be accomplished elsewhere in the signal chain.
At the far bottom of the Console are a series of buttons for controlling clock sources, Esync functions, S/PDIF and ADAT options. The Gina24 can slave to Esync, S/PDIF or ADAT clock sources and/or the Gina24 can be the "master" clock source and generate the clock signal. To the right is a digital mode switch which allows for selection of S/PDIF RCA, S/PDIF Optical, ADAT, or S/PDIF CD-ROM digital I/O. Only one digital source can be used at one time. Note: Since ADAT only goes to 48kHz, support above this for ADAT is unavailable.
If you click on File>Preferences the Preferences window appears. The user can choose from S/PDIF output formats, dither input, and whether to lock the sample rate.
Additional settings can be accessed via the Start>Settings>Control Panel>System>Device Manager>Sound, video and game controllers>Gina. Double click on the Gina button and the properties window opens. Here, the user can select
Gina24 Control Panel and make selections for monitoring during playback, SAW compatibility and multi-client audio. In addition, DirectSound, Driver and Resource information is available here too.
Other than the upgrade to 24-bit/96kHz capability, the biggest improvement in the Echo line is its ability to play multi-client audio. This feature lets the user simultaneously use distinct inputs/outputs on the card for outputting distinct applications simultaneously. For instance, if you wanted to use Samplitude 2496 at the same time as Reaktor, you could set outputs for each program. Moreover, all the interfaces are multi-client in that you could have an ASIO application, a wave application and a DirectSound application all running at the same time. However, each of these MUST be set at the same sample rate or it will sound really funny if it works at all. The manual has a set of helpful suggestions if you wish to use multi-client audio. The main catch is that the ability to do all this may be limited by how fast your system is because software synthesizers are CPU-cycle hungry.
One of the best developments in the soundcard arena of late is the inclusion of headphone jacks on the breakout box. The Gina has a stereo headphone jack on its breakout box with its own volume control. The advantage of independent volume control is that you can utilize every bit of the digital signal available by running your outputs at full volume. Attenuation at the headphone jack is all that is necessary to get it to a tolerable hearing level. The headphone jack, in combination with the Console makes for easy and precise monitoring of inputs and outputs simultaneously - - relative levels of each can be controlled via the Console.
While the Gina24 has only two analog inputs, it does provide for 8 ADAT inputs simultaneously. This is a wonderful addition to the card's flexibility for those who wish to combine ADAT and DAW resources. Note: ADAT and S/PDIF cannot be used simultaneously. The user can use both analog inputs and S/PDIF inputs simultaneously thus providing up to four inputs. With my present mixer, I do not have aux sends from the board. If I did, I presume I would be able to employ them for two channels and route them to my Lexicon effects box which had S/PDIF outputs. These outputs could then be routed to the S/PDIF inputs on the Gina. Since I was not able to test this out, any latency issues resulting from the Lexicon processing have not been determined. Perhaps I will conjure up a better mixer for testing this.
Otherwise, the two analog inputs employ TRS 1/4" connections and function well. The eight 1/4" TRS outputs are similarly high quality. I always prefer to have TRS (balanced) connections because of their superior sonic performance over unbalanced connections. Unfortunately, I still would prefer to have 4 analog inputs as a minimum
I tried out GigaStudio with the card and it seemed to work fine. I was able to play the instruments included with GigaStudio (my favorite is the GigaPiano). My system, a Celeron 366 was pretty taxed though by the demands of the GigaStudio, therefore I was not able to fully explore the card's multi-client ability with this system. The GSIF drivers worked though - - the main point of the test. However, I did wire in my CD-ROM and using it as a background I played some audio CDs through it, simultaneously with multitrack recording by setting the Console to use both. This was fun. I used a .wav file I had previously recorded as the source CD, tracked it in the Console, setting the analog inputs to record from my microphone in real-time. The multi-client functions works well and is easy to configure.
I recorded acoustic and electric guitars, some vocals, my AKAI synthesizer and the MAM bass synthesizer through the Gina24 analog inputs. The card captured every detail of the instruments. I noticed that the card was very accurate, even down to the slight, barely perceptible sound of the chair I was using for recording. (Guess I better oil that puppy). I appreciated that the highs were clearly present without overharshness and the lows were deep but not muddy. Simply, this card sounds very good, very close to the CardDeluxe that has been my benchmark.
This is no surprise in that the Gina24 uses high quality AKM converters and with 24-bit/96kHz capability. Virtually noise free, I was unable to detect system noise from the card itself. My recording environment itself is noisier than the card by far. In addition to the TRS connectivity, the Gina24 features an internal CD connection for hooking up to a sample CD and such. The playback quality through this system was outstanding. I tried a variety of audio CDs, from classical to blues - - throughout the test, the playback quality was first-rate.
I would still like to see four analog inputs on a card of this caliber but I understand that at this pricepoint it is already feature-packed. In addition, with the inclusion of GSIF drivers MIDI I/O seems to be natural extension. I believe there would be room on the card itself or on the back of the breakout to fit these in. It is just a thought.
This card features a powerful software interface that makes multi-tracking easy and enables multi-client capability. No latency monitoring is possible through the onboard headphone jacks on the breakout box. The addition of both S/PDIF and Optical inputs is another strong feature. TRS connections round out the robust hardware of this card. Driver support is excellent, particularly as it pertains to the beta drivers (GSIF, Mac, NT, 2000) that are soon to be out of beta. Word on the street is the that the Windows 98 drivers work fine under ME though I have not been able to confirm this.
The card sounds great, at the top of the prosumer class of recording soundcards. If it only had two more analog inputs it would be pretty perfect.