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Review of EMU 1820M wins Creative Zen Player

Published: Wed February 15, 2006  News Feed

Well done to Mike Mortimer who has won our review competition. Here is the Review:

P.S. It may seem like bias (Emu sponsored the competition!) but find a better and more comprehensive review for last month and we will get another .mp3 player for the writer of that review!


E-MU 1820M
E-MU 1820M

E-MU's 1820M soundcard comes with 2 x Mic Pre Amps, 6 x 1/4" analog inputs and 8 outputs, Turntable input, ADAT, Coaxial, Optical, 2 x MIDI I/O, 4 x 1/8" Outputs (for 7.1 surround sound) and a stereo headphone output.
 £319.00 inc VAT
 Ordered on Request

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1820M Review by Mike Mortimer
9 out of 10 on the January 13, 2006

First off, this is one of the most amazing audio systems you will come across EVER. Yes you probably guessed that a ProTools system will most likely perform better, but in terms of value for money, you’ll never get better than this. Here at DolphinMusic it is £320. You will not believe you had just bought a system for just £320 with this specification and quality. Everything that E-MU have implemented into this system, they have done it so very, very well. Every component used, from the simple choice to use Neutrik XLR/TRS connections to the very hard decision of what A/D and D/A converters to use to whether they were going to use in-house made Mic Pre-amps or to use external technology is just sheer genius. Where to start? Mmmmm... How about the AK5394A A/D converters. This has to be the best choice they made within the whole system, to use the same converters that Digidesign use in their ProTools systems. 120dB Signal to Noise Ratio. That’s £320 for converters used in a £5000+ system! Doesn't that sum up the 1820m alone? You are going to be using the same converters that the top producers are using.

Next, I think it has to be the TFPro pre-amps. Another awesome decision. Why use in-house pre-amps when you can use pre-amps from a company that actually specialise in Mic Pre-amps? TFPro pre-amps are renowned for their transparency and extremely high quality amplification. Transparency in Mic recordings is optimum if your going to be mastering the vocals or instruments at a later date because you get a clean, undisturbed/uncoloured signal, and you don't want to be working with a signal which has already been modified/altered by the Pre-amps. The breakout box features 2 of these inputs. Only downside to mention here is that the phantom power is switched on and off for both inputs, although not too much of a problem as most Mics are either phantom powered or that the phantom power doesn't effect it anyway.

Another BIG bonus for has got to be the RIAA hardware pre-amplified turntable input with the ground lug to match. This is perfect for sampling purposes, the input is of extremely high quality and of course supports 192KHz which is very good for getting the most out of your vinyl, this means that you don't have to go anywhere near a DJ mixer, which are not usually good enough quality for decent sampling.

Now we get onto the headphone monitoring output. Headphone outputs aren't usually talked about much in reviews but something just has to be said for this one. At the moment I am using high impedance AKG 601 headphones, these suck so much power from headphone outputs and I was actually recommended by someone to buy a separate headphone amp for these, but I didn't. The 1820m comes with a headphone splitter cable too… no wonder. This headphone amp is amazing! I can honestly say that this could EASILY support 2 sets of the AKG 601's and still have headroom for extra volume if needed. No headphone amps needed here people, and this is perfect for high quality reference headphones, as generally speaking, higher quality headphones will have high impedances which this amp can easily support.

Now onto the 1820M’s TRS ins and outs. Obviously they are balanced (TRS), which surprisingly you do not get this feature much within this price range. Most of M-Audio's interfaces do not actually support balanced ins and outs and thus are all on RCA jacks, except for a few models which feature 2 XLR jacks. This is quite amazing for E-MU seeing as these two are direct competitors on the soundcard market. What more can I say, the ins are all on those AK5394A converters, and the outs are all on equally high quality D/A converters.

Two sets of MIDI ins and outs, I can't actually comment on the latency or any problems on these as I happen to use a keyboard which can interface using USB connections directly to my PC, but I seriously doubt that you will be experiencing any problems here at all. One thing to say here also is that the Sync card’s MTC synchronization cannot be used at the same time as one of the two MIDI inputs. So it is either one midi in, two midi outs and MTC, or two midi ins and two midi outs.

There are 4 stereo mini jack outputs which mimic the 8 balanced outs. Although this may seem to be odd for a system of this level, it is not a bad addition. I actually use it when listening to music as I have a set of Creative Megaworks which are enjoyable to use for DVD's and music, which of course use mini jacks, so, a helpful feature. It would be nice if one of them was an input as this would be perfect for testing MP3 player quality and other such devices that use mini jack connections.

But can you believe it... All this and I have only reviewed the breakout box so far!

On to the sync card. An extremely useful addition to this system. Word clock, SMPTE ins and outs and MTC. With a wide array of sync options using the Patchmix software, which we will get onto later. No downsides there.

On the main card which has the DSP on, we have SPDIF/AES/EBU coaxial ins and outs. No complaints there, but you do need a coaxial to XLR adapter for AES/EBU. Then we come onto the ADAT. 8 channels of input and 8 channels of output. Supports 96KHz and 192KHz and thus is compatible with the S/MUX standard. The S/MUX support has got to be a very useful addition as these days, interfaces that output in ADAT are of extremely high quality and generally there is no point recording in any other format other than 192KHz when using an interface of such high quality. The ADAT performs flawlessly, all the digital ins and outs perform without flaws as you would have guessed, and you can also sync the clock to SPDIF and ADAT signals using Patchmix. There is also the option to switch the ADAT optical ins and outs to SPDIF standard in case you need optical SPDIF or just simply more ins and outs. There is an additional SPDIF optical output on the front of the breakout box too.

One more thing to mention would be the Firewire port too. This is very useful for certain Windows based PC’s which may not feature Firewire ports. I haven't actually used this port but I expect it to work as well as any other 6 pin Firewire port.

Now lastly onto Patchmix. Many people will tell you that this is the most complex and annoying software to date. But that is because they didn't give it a chance. Be aware that it will take you about a day or two to get used to how Patchmix functions. This fairly steep learning curve and is due to the incredible routing options which it presents you with. Audio can be routed anywhere and everywhere, quite easily in fact once you get used to the software. This routing power has never been featured on an audio interface/soundcard at this price range. It becomes a dream come true once you get used to it, and E-MU frequently update the Patchmix software and their audio systems drivers. Although when you look at the specs of this system you may find that it says that it only supports 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 96KHz and 192KHz, E-MU did recently update the software and drivers/firmware to fully support 88.2KHz and 176.4KHz too.

That basically concludes this review. I have covered all major features, however, one last thing that I forgot to mention is that all inputs and outputs here are astonishingly accurate. The A/D converters have a frequency response at a mere +/-0.05dB!!! You WILL NOT find that kind of accuracy on any system at this price and dare I say on any system over 5 times this price. I won't explain the accuracy of every in and out as you can find this out yourself on E-MU's website, but I can guarantee that the accuracy is basically unsurpassed by many audio systems in any price range. I hope this review helped you understand the 1820m much more and that it will help you make the right decision when coming to purchase your ideal PC Digital Audio System.

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