Sonic LAB: Akai EIE Pro USB Audio

96kHz 24-bit, four channels      16/07/12
    MP4 5:50 mins    

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This is the Pro version of the handsome Akai EIE USB audio interface, a  desktop 4 channel IO audio interface with MIDI too.
First up it's a chunky little feller, with solid, metal plate construction, it's not a lightweight unit. There’s a couple of VU meters on it (or are they?), more on that later, four switchable combi inputs with mic-line or guitar positions. 48v phantom power is switchable in pairs - and yes you do need to run this from an external power supply, its not BUS powered.

Firstly, you do need to install a driver for the Akai EIE Pro, this is due to the higher sample rate (up to 96khZ 24-bit). The regular EIE (not pro) IS class compliant.

Moving on to the monitoring section, you can switch the meters to be input or output, inputs 1+2, 3+4. There’s then the main output level which is taken from outputs 1+2 - this can be switched mono or stereo - which is handy for centering a single input. A separate headphone output can be switched to monitor 1+2, 3+4 or ALL. Finally a blend knob gives you control between source and DAW return for zero latency.

First thing you will notice is the inclusion of a 3 port USB hub - a nice touch for those with Macbooks where USB is a scarce commodity.

MIDI in and out are also included so you can use this as a basic interface. You get four audio outputs on 1/4 jacks, plus four insert points. Insert points are a nice addition, so you can patch in external gear - EQ, compression or whatever and process the inputs.

I tested the mic amps with our sEelectronics Voodoo VR-1 mic, which being a ribbon mic, requires a bunch of gain and I found it to be pretty quiet and sounded good to my ears. It's not a Neve, but perfectly acceptable to my ears. I recorded it at 96kHz 24-bit without any issues, though I did notice a couple of forum posts where people had dodgy playback, I did not experience, this but it was pointed out that there is a Firmware update that addressed this (download here).

Metering needs a special section I feel, firstly - they light up a pale blue and flash red when peaking. This in theory sounds great, but I actually found it a little distracting - red spells danger right? Not something I want to be seeing while trying to give my best performance. There is also another issue with the metering standard used. VU at 0dB (before the scale goes into the red) generally matches up to -18dB on the digital scale (0dBfs) - eg: it allows 18dB of headroom before you clip digitally. In the case of the EIE, 0dB digital is 0dB on the VU meter, so there’s not all that much actual needle travel to set your level with - you’d be better off using the DAW input meter.

Aside from the obvious references to the children’s farm-related nursery rhyme, I found the EIE Pro to be a good, solid, functional unit. I like the monitoring options, it sounds pretty good and the USB hub is a nice touch. I don’t like the metering all that much, though it's something you can work around easily. But as a four channel interface with MIDI and insert points, it's not badly priced.

EIE Pro £199.99 $449 List - seen it for $249



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