MindPrint DI-Port Digital Audio Interface

German audio manufacturer MindPrint is a relative newcomer to the domestic recording scene, picked up by Steinberg North America (makers of Cubase and WaveLab software) for distribution in 1999. I tested MindPrint's all-in-one EnVoice mic processor/preamp last summer. Recently I got to check out its new DI-Port digital audio interface.
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German audio manufacturer MindPrint is a relative newcomer to the domestic recording scene, picked up by Steinberg North America (makers of Cubase and WaveLab software) for distribution in 1999. I tested MindPrint's all-in-one EnVoice mic processor/preamp last summer. Recently I got to check out its new DI-Port digital audio interface.
Product PointsApplications: Project studio; remote recording; multimedia

Key Features: Two Class A mic preamps; 24-bit A/D and D/A conversion; built-in monitoring; headphone output; RCA and optical S/PDIF I/O

Price: $449

Contact: MindPrint/Steinberg North America at 818-678-5100

Plus

+ Excellent sound quality

+ Onboard monitoring

+ Versatile analog input scheme

Minus

- No analog inserts

- Weak headphone amp

- Real estate hogging wallwart

The Score: A great-sounding, one-box solution for folks who already have S/PDIF digital I/O on their computer.
Features

DI-Port ($449) is part of a new class of interfaces designed to meet the needs of the modern computer-based studio. It offers microphone or line input preamplification, A/D and D/A conversion and monitoring in one compact, desktop unit.

DI-Port has a pair of Class A preamps fed by three different physical inputs. Front-mounted jacks are Neutrik combos, allowing connection of XLR or 1/4-inch plugs; on the rear of the interface sits a pair of RCA jacks. A switch on the unit's front toggles between the combo jacks and the rear-mounted RCA jacks.

Each analog input has a gain knob, green signal LED and red peak LED. DI-Port offers no pad switches, but its broad 75 dB gain range dips low enough to handle hot microphones and loud sound sources. A phantom power switch routes DC to both mic inputs for condenser microphones. There is no phase invert switch on either input.

DI-Port offers 24-bit D/A and A/D conversion on S/PDIF inputs and outputs. All digital I/O is on the back panel and consists of RCA and TOSlink optical jacks. Rear-panel switches select between DI-Port's 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz sampling rates, as well as digital clock mode.

In master clock mode, DI-Port uses its own internal clock regardless of what's present at its digital input. In auto mode the interface detects a valid input clock source and slaves to it automatically. A red LED located between the two digital clock switches lights when a valid clock source is detected at the unit's digital input.

Because of the delay that plagues software-only recording systems, many hardware interfaces offer their own zero-latency monitoring features. DI-Port has a simple but effective monitoring system that lets you set the blend of the digital signal returning from the computer (your playback tracks) and the analog inputs. The interface's mix knob goes from analog input only to digital input only; midway on the knob, the two signals are combined in equal proportion.

A front-mounted headphone output lets you plug phones into the DI-Port for hassle-free monitoring. The back panel has RCA monitor outputs suitable for driving a pair of monitors, as well as a combo stereo output on a 1/4-inch TRS jack. With a standard insert-style Y-cable, this latter jack gives you stereo 1/4-inch outputs. A single volume knob controls the level to the headphone and monitor outputs.

The last set of jacks on the DI-Port consists of the D/A out jacks, located on the unit's rear panel. This pair of RCA jacks carries a stereo analog output converted directly from the unit's digital input. For a straight analog output from your computer, these are the jacks to use.

In use

With MindPrint touting the quality of the DI-Port's Class A preamps and 24-bit converters, I was eager to give the box a listen. I recorded several instruments and voices (with a handful of different microphones) at 24-bit resolution into my computer. I used the computer as the digital clock source, with the DI-Port in master mode.

On playback, the DI-Port proved capable of recording some excellent-sounding tracks. The unit's mic preamps have a balanced, full sound. Their top end has ample detail but doesn't sound hyped or unnaturally extended. Low-mids and bass were full yet defined.

In an informal mic preamp shootout, the DI-Port's preamp section came in a close second to a unit costing three times as much; it totally outclassed the mic preamps in a $2,000 digital mixer.

Which brings up an additional application the DI-Port can be used for - basic microphone preamplification. Though it doesn't have analog outputs dedicated to the preamps, you can get a pure preamp signal from the monitor jacks if you crank the mix control fully clockwise. The mic preamps sound good enough to justify their use in other analog-only applications.

The converters on the DI-Port are very natural and transparent, and folks may want to consider using this box as an outboard converter rig for a DAT deck or other digital recording system (especially an older one). As I've noted time and again, we've crossed a threshold where sound quality is concerned - even low-priced 24-bit products like the DI-Port commonly deliver excellent clarity and accuracy.

The DI-Port's quality of construction is first rate both inside and out. Knobs and switches feel solid and smooth, and I've always been a fan of Neutrik XLR connectors. Knobs and jacks are clearly labeled and easy to access. I appreciate the fact that the DI-Port has a rear-mounted power switch and front-mounted power LED.

I didn't appreciate the unit's large, ungainly wallwart power supply that takes up about three AC outlets. Although it would add a bit to the cost, I'd prefer AC wires on both sides of the transformer to free up some power-strip real estate!

DI-Port's headphone output could use a little more juice. Rated at just 300 mW into low-impedance phones, the little box was unable to push my high-impedance AKG K240 phones past about medium-loud. If you want real loud phones (to hear yourself over a drummer, for example), make sure you're using low-impedance, very efficient headphones with the DI-Port.

Buyers should know that this interface makes a few assumptions about how you record. First, it assumes you don't need inserts to patch in analog processing before hitting the converters. This may not be the case for many folks, myself included. I almost always run mic signals through a tube compressor on their way to the converters, and would have gladly traded the DI-Port's odd 1/4-inch stereo monitor output for some insert jacks.

Second, DI-Port assumes your computer is already equipped with an S/PDIF digital I/O card. Thankfully, S/PDIF I/O is becoming pretty common even on multitrack PCI audio cards (such as Soundscape Mixtreme, Frontier Designs Dakota and others). I couldn't help think, though, about how cool DI-Port would be with USB serial support. It wouldn't need a card installed at all and would work like a charm with laptop computers. Maybe someday.

Summary

One key to a product's success is how well it handles the twists and turns of today's music production process. DI-Port offers good flexibility where I/O is concerned, allowing you to record a variety of different input sources without re-patching cables. You can use the DI-Port in several different roles in addition to simple computer interface.

Sonically, DI-Port won't disappoint. It mates excellent-sounding preamps with crystal-clear converters, resulting in sound that's good enough for the toughest master session. Home recordists that own the DI-Port can rest assured that their interface is capturing every nuance of their instruments and microphones.

DI-Port sets out to be the only box today's computer-based recordist needs to get great-sounding tracks in and out of their computer. Though I really missed analog inserts for additional outboard processing, I think DI-Port comes extremely close to achieving that goal. It's easy to see how the DI-Port, a good mic, some headphones or active monitors and a S/PDIF-equipped computer would be all you need to capture excellent recordings virtually anywhere.