M Audio Delta 1010 and 1010-AI Computer-based Recording System - ProSoundNetwork.com

M Audio Delta 1010 and 1010-AI Computer-based Recording System

MIDIMAN and M Audio (two divisions of the same company) have come out of obscurity in recent years to offer a huge line of digital audio and MIDI products. M Audio's top-of-the-line Delta 1010 digital recording system ($799) offers 24/96 recording for PC computers in the familiar PCI card/external breakout box configuration. A companion product, the Delta 1010-AI ($249), adds ADAT lightpipe I/O to the Delta 1010 system.
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MIDIMAN and M Audio (two divisions of the same company) have come out of obscurity in recent years to offer a huge line of digital audio and MIDI products. M Audio's top-of-the-line Delta 1010 digital recording system ($799) offers 24/96 recording for PC computers in the familiar PCI card/external breakout box configuration. A companion product, the Delta 1010-AI ($249), adds ADAT lightpipe I/O to the Delta 1010 system.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: 24-bit/96 kHz recording; eight balanced TRS analog I/O; S/PDIF I/O; word clock; zero latency monitoring; MIDI I/O; eight channels ADAT lightpipe I/O

Price: Delta 1010 - $779.95, Delta 1010-AI - $249.95

Contact: M Audio at 800-969-6434, 626-445-2842, Web Site
Features

The Delta 1010 offers eight channels of analog I/O on its external rackmount box, in the form of 16 rear-mounted, TRS 1/4-inch connectors. Next to each is a handy -10 dBV/+4 dBu switch that lets you optimize record and playback levels for the type of gear being used. Having these switches right on the back panel is a real plus.

Also on the back of the Delta 1010 is a pair of word clock I/O connectors. These are great for insuring that all your digital gear has the most stable master sync flowing to it. For some reason, although the Delta 1010 will output 96 kHz word clock, it won't sync past 50 kHz on its word clock input. The front panel of the Delta 1010 houses its MIDI I/O jacks, a pair of MIDI activity indicators and a power indicator.

The last two channels of audio I/O - for a total of 10, hence the Delta 1010 name - are found on S/PDIF connectors on the PCI card itself. Extra digital inputs and outputs require adding the Delta 1010-AI, which offers eight channels of ADAT lightpipe I/O (but no ADAT sync).

The Delta 1010's PCI card attaches to its external rackmount box with a generous 10-foot. If you have the Delta 1010-AI, the cable path goes first to the ADAT interface and on through to the Delta 1010.

Unlike some similar interfaces that draw all necessary power from the PCI card, the Delta 1010 converter box requires its own power adapter. Thankfully, the supplied AC converter is not the wallwart style. The Delta 1010-AI box also requires external power, which it gets from a traditional wallwart supply.

On the software side, the Delta 1010 package offers M Audio's industry-best spread of Windows 95/98/ME//NT/2000/XP, Mac OS 9, OS X, ASIO, EASI, GSIF, MME, DXi and WDM drivers (Linux drivers are available though developed by third parties). Also included is a control panel utility for configuring the hardware. This software allows the user to set sample rate (between 8 kHz and 96 kHz) ASIO/EASI buffer size (as low as 336 samples), clock source and a handful of other hardware parameters; interface with software synthesizers.

The Delta 1010 is also compatible with Dolby Digital AC3, DTS and according to the manufacturer will soon be compatible with Microsoft's upcoming Corona surround sound streaming format.

A software patch bay allows any output pair to carry any Delta 1010 analog input, a stereo output pair from the computer or, in the case of select outputs, the Delta 1010's monitor signal.

The monitor mixer is the best part of the Delta 1010 software, rightly earning its own tab in the interface. This mixer can combine the outputs of the computer with any of the interface's inputs (20 channels total), routing this zero-latency mix to analog outputs 1 and 2 or the S/PDIF output. You can also record this monitor mix back to the computer if desired.

Each of the 20 input channels has its own fader and pan control, as well as mute and solo switches. You can group faders in stereo pairs as needed. The main stereo output also has gang and mute switches. Next to each input and output is a three-color meter with more resolution than the metering found in many recording software packages.

The remaining piece of hardware, the Delta 1010-AI, extends ADAT capability to the Delta 1010 system. Four hardware switches on the front of the Delta 1010-AI control its various operating modes. In each, the Delta 1010-AI "steals" input or output capabilities from the Delta 1010 interface instead of adding additional I/O.

Press the ADAT to Host switch, for example, and the unit's lightpipe input is routed to the card's eight inputs in the place of the Delta 1010's analog inputs. In similar fashion, the unit's ADAT to analog outs switch substitutes the lightpipe input for the computer's playback tracks at the Delta 1010's analog outputs. The Analog Ins to ADAT switch does just what its name implies, while the final switch - ADAT thru - patches the lightpipe input directly to lightpipe output.

The Delta 1010 and Delta 1010-AI have a unique capability to operate in standalone mode when not connected to a computer - or when the computer is off. In this situation, the ADAT to analog outs and analog ins to ADAT switches turn the Delta units into an outboard analog-to-ADAT converter system.

In use

Installation of the Delta 1010 system into my Micron Millennia 933 MHz computer was easy, with the latest drivers and control-panel application being a quick (450 KB) download from the M Audio site. The Delta 1010 PCI card coexisted happily with a similar card from another manufacturer, and even peaceably shared an IRQ.

The Delta 1010 control panel software is intuitive and easy to use. Patching is flexible enough to handle most any studio configuration, and the monitoring system offers precise control for tracking. The system's large, colorful meters are pretty but could use a few added features. They offer no true peak or clip indicator, no hold capability, no numeric readout of level or headroom, and no dB markings above -6 dB.

Sonically, the M Audio system puts in a good performance. Recordings are clean and detailed, and the system's converters have a nice, smooth character. At standard sample rates, the Delta 1010 system won't disappoint.

I was not dazzled with the unit's 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz recordings, however. The system has a stated top-end frequency response of 22 kHz, and I did not hear quite as much openness and air as I have with other high-sample rate products. A 96 kHz sample rate does little more than burn up additional disk space when the analog electronics cannot keep up.

On the other end of the scale, I appreciate M Audio's inclusion of eight sample rates below 44.1 kHz.

As I worked with the Delta 1010-AI ADAT interface, I was actually surprised at how limited its capabilities were. It offers ADAT lightpipe I/O, but you engage these channels at the expense of others. You can't record to ADAT tape from computer and analog inputs simultaneously, for example, or pull ADAT and analog tracks into the computer at the same time.

This "borrowing" of resources even extends to the word clock input. You cannot use word clock sync when using an ADAT - the lightpipe audio data has to be the clock source. The final stumper is the lack of ADAT sync capabilities. Delta 1010-AI users must rely on a BRC for sync, or stripe SMPTE to the ADAT and use an external SMPTE-to-MTC device. Considering the price of admission into a Delta 1010 system, I think this is a serious omission.

Summary

The Delta 1010 package offers solid engineering and good sound (at standard sample rates). Its control panel software is powerful and flexible, and it has a great hardware-based monitoring system. Good driver design makes the system very stable, even when coexisting with other hardware and sharing system resources. Back panel signal level switches make it easy to configure the Delta 1010 I/O box for -10 dBV or +4 dBu signals.

Unfortunately, the Delta 1010 system offers fewer features than some of its comparably priced competitors. For example, some competing systems offer two to three times the digital I/O, multiple MDM I/O formats, ADAT sync and more MIDI channels - all in one rackmount enclosure.

Granted, these systems top out at 48 kHz, but the Delta 1010's analog electronics can't keep up with its higher sampling rates anyway.

REVIEW SETUP

Micron Millennia 933 MHz computer, Windows ME OS, 384 MB RAM.