PCRECORDING.COM - - Sek'd Siena Review
Sek'd, makers of Samplitude 2496, introduced their latest hardware effort, the Siena in late 1999. I am fortunate to be the first to review this fine soundcard.
The Siena makes Sek'd the latest player in the burgeoning 24/96 capable soundcard market. The MIDI capability ties in well with the recent MIDI improvements made to their flagship software, Samplitude 2496. Lastly, if 8/8 I/Os are not enough, up to four (4) SIENA cards can be installed and synchronized in one computer via SyncBus.
The Siena comes with its own floppy disks for Windows 9x/NT 4.0. I installed the card in a free PCI slot in my system - a Celeron 366, Soyo MB, 128 meg of RAM, 20gig Maxtor HD, and Vergence Audio M-00/S-00 monitors. The system instantly recognized the card and installation was flawless from the provided floppy disk. A small icon appeared in my systray after the installation was complete. The Siena sound system includes the Siena Manager - a special manager for expanded audio and MIDI configuration, level control and card monitoring. It is integrated into the driver and is opened by double-clicking on the systray icon.
The input window allows settings for analog input control. The eight tracks are displayed as stereo pairs, 1/2, 3/4, etc. Each stereo pair input levels can be adjusted with two faders with a level meter display. The faders can be locked together or moved separately. Each track can be muted with by clicking the "m" button.
For instance, in the screenshot here, the signal input to tracks 1-2 will be played back via output 1-2, The audio application wave data will be played back through output 3-4 (playback), if the user starts to record via inputs 3-4, that signal will be played back via 3-4. In tracks 5-6 the audio application wave data is played out through tracks 5-6 (playback) until a punch-in command is made. At this time, the input signals will be played back via 5-6. Tracks 7-8 simply play the audio application wave data.
If the user clicks on the settings button, a new window opens that provides audio settings for synchronization, buffer levels, and Master/slave clock settings. The user can allow Siena to automatically determine optimal latency settings or manually enter in a favorite setting. The "mode" radio button is for use when multiple Siena cards are installed and connected with theSyncBus cable. When connected this cable and this settings sample-synchronous and sample accurate performance of the linked cards is possible. It makes sure that all the interconnected cards start and stop at exactly the same time.
Lastly, by clicking on the MIDI tab, the user can set MIDI controls such as MIDI device, Note On commands and System Data filters.
In going through all of these options, I found the thin manual that was included with the card to be very helpful. It included additional information on multi-card operation, MIDI settings, troubleshooting, and basic 24-bit/96kHz recording considerations. However, the section on 24-bit/96kHz was confusing and would benefit from a rewrite.
Siena was recognized in every software application I used, Samplitude 2496 (of course), n-Track Studio, PowerTracks, and Cakewalk. With all the features built in to this card, I expected the Siena to be very flexible to use. I was not disappointed. With its advanced monitoring routing, I was able to route signals pretty much at will. Having hardware based punch in/out monitoring is a confidence builder. The card should perform well in just about any setting. There was one thing I did not care for though.
The breakout cable setup. The use of RCA cables limits connectivity to unbalanced cables - - a user would potentially lose all benefit of a balanced setup when hooking up to the Siena. Most connections in a pro studio are balanced - - exact compability with these systems is lost. (Most systems will work fine nonetheless). Secondly, the breakout cables are too short. Like most DAW users, I have my system on the floor, tucked in to isolate its inherent noise. I had to bend way over to access them every time I plugged in different cables. To Sek'ds credit, the cables are nicely labeled but this is not quite enough to overcome my concerns. According to Sek'd, their desire was to keep the price low and to encourage people to use a patch box for connections. In essence, the patch box would be permanently hooked to the Siena and all cable changes would occur at the patch box level.
I used Siena to record several work sessions on some songs I am working on. I recorded my Gibson Gospel acoustic guitar, some Native American flute, Gibson SG and percussion. I thought the card sounded terrific. The Siena uses four AKM 4524 Codecs which provide the monitoring flexibility and 24/96 performance. However, in comparison to some other recent soundcard releases, the SNR and dB statistics fall a bit short. For instance, the CardDeluxe has a noise floor of 110dB input and 114dB output. The published specifications for this card far quite a bit short of that. I realize that specifications are not the whole story, sound quality is. This card is a great performer having a very smooth sound, with ample space between tones and frequencies. Moreover, the bass tones are full without being muddy and the highs are crisp and clear without being brittle sounding.I believe it would be unfair to this setup to look only at the specifications. However, comparisons will no doubt be made and this card however good-sounding, may have an uphill marketing battle.
The Siena provides high-quality recording capability at a reasonable price. With its 24-bit/96kHz capability, high-fidelity recordings are a given. The routing options via the Siena Controller are very flexible and aid recording sessions greatly. No latency monitoring is such a pleasure to work with. Sek'd should rethink its breakout cable setup. It is difficult to use as is. At minimum, if they do not wish to change it, they should offer a low-cost optional patch-bay into which the breakout cables could be hooked.
The bottom-line is that this card records very well and provides smooth, accurate recordings. Its monitoring capability is very easy to use and makes for efficient recording sessions. This is a good sounding card.