Echo Digital Audio Corp. gave female names to its line of digital studio interfaces for computer-based hard disk recording systems: Layla, Gina, Darla and Mona.
The youngest, Mona, is a powerful, 24-bit/96-kHz converter digital studio with enough I/Os to handle most home studio and professional recording needs.
Product PointsApplications: Studio
Key Features: PCI recording card with rackmountable interface; four XLR, 1/4-inch analog mic/line inputs and six XLR and RCA outputs; optical I/O; BNC word clock I/O; Windows drivers (95 through Millennium); Mac available soon
Contact: Echo Digital Audio at 805-684-4593; Web Site: www.echoaudio.com.
+ Sound quality
+ Ease of installation
+ Flexible I/O
– No AES I/O
The Score: A well-thought-out and implemented project recording studio solution.
Mona comes with a PCI card, rack mountable interface box, cables and software. The silver interface box features four analog inputs on the front panel and six analog outputs on the back. The front inputs are Neutrik combos, accepting balanced or unbalanced 1/4-inch or XLR connectors.
The rear panel hosts three pairs of XLR and RCA jack outputs, a port for computer connection, optical I/Os for S/PDIF and ADAT, and BNC I/O for word clock connections – in short, everything you need to professionally connect your music to your PC (except AES/EBU I/O).
When a guitar is plugged in, a switch (marked Guitar) must be activated to increase the 10 k-ohm impedance to 107 k-ohms. The four-input level knobs increase the volume, which is displayed on the level meter on the front panel. There is a 48 V phantom switch, a connection for remote and headphone out with level control.
Once the software (Windows 95, 95 OS2R, 98, 2000 or Millennium – Mac beta drivers are on the company’s Web site, as are GSIF beta drivers) is installed, the Echo Console will flash across the screen when you boot up. The Echo Console controls the input, output and monitor selections, with buttons and faders similar to a mixing board. You can mute or solo channels, gang faders, pan, adjust record and playback levels, and set clock source and destinations.
There is also a button on the console to call up ADAT controls. Mona accepts eight channels of ADAT I/O and she is compatible with her sisters – the other Echo “gals” – and most sound cards for expandability. For synchronization, Mona generates word clock and Esync. Esync is the proprietary signal for other Monas, Ginas, Darlas, Laylas and any other models Echo comes up with.
The CD-ROM also gives you a copy of Syntrillium’s Cool Edit Pro, a multitrack recording and editing software program, and Reporter Software – a program that will analyze your hard drive and walk you through the minefield of hard-disk recording on a PC.
I am not a PC tech guy. Of the four or five previous times I’ve installed different sound cards in my PC, each installation was an exercise in frustration: computer spread across the floor, the system not recognizing the card, IRQ setting conflicts, and me facing a backlog of work.
Then I got Mona. I installed it myself. It was quick. It was easy. Maybe it was my time for an installation to go right. Whichever, Mona went in as cool as Italian ice.
This brings me to the owner’s manual. While there are often problems deciphering manuals, such as too much or too little technical information, not enough help or poor Japanese translations, this was not the case with Mona. The owner’s manual is as well thought out as the machinery and tells you just what you need to know at the time you need to know it. And it’s all done in a language even a non-PC techhead like me can understand.
For the two months Mona has been installed in my computer, I have been mostly using it for recording and editing in Sonic Foundy’s Sound Forge. It has worked smoothly and without problems.
The microphone preamplifiers sounded good and clean. The meter on the rackmount unit lights up when you boot up, telling you it registers the signal coming from the card. The console software is easy to use and will popup when called upon without having to exit whichever program you are working on at that moment.
All in all, it is sturdily made and the software is as reliable as any I have used. I get the feeling Echo is a customer service-oriented company, and will be there for driver updates and support as needed down the line.
Mona’s my girlfriend now. Even at $995 a pop, she can do no wrong. If that’s a little steep for you, try the Gina 24 for $495 per unit or the Darla 24 for $379. The sisters, all with 24-bit/96 kHz recording capability, are ready to satisfy your – ahem – hard-disk recording needs.