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E-MU 0404 USB

A top-class external audio interface.

November 23, 2006



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The E-MU 0404 USB interface was first introduced at Musikmesse 2006 and at that very moment became nearly the most anticipated product of the year. I'll say! It was claimed to offer features record for any external audio interface, including top-end converters, good capabilities - all that at some very affordable price of $199. This fall the novelty reached Moscow. And despite being overpriced, the first stock was sold out within 24 hours.

The name "0404 USB" implies the quantity of mono-channels and the USB bus. Onboard there are 2 A-class mic/guitar/line pre-amplifiers, headphone pre-amplifier, coaxial/optical SPDIF switchable to AES/EBU, MIDI I/O and, of course, the 2x2 analog interface based on AKM's high-end DAC/ADC.



As you can see, most controls are located on the device itself. It's surely more comfortable to use hardware controllers, than software sliders. Note the analog output signal level control. It enables to connect the device directly to active acoustic systems without being afraid of dynamic range losses due to digital level reduction.

Technical specifications

0404 USB is one of the first products utilizing the newest AKM AK4396 DAC, which is a dual-channel 24-bit 192 kHz converter tailored for the high-end market and professional equipment. This DAC belongs to the AKM 439X top-end series and is a further development of AKM's advanced multi-bit architecture. The SNR within 20 kHz band is rated 114-120 dBA. The noise spectrum doesn't raise until 80 kHz allowing to avoid problems with intermodulation of good signal as well as modulator noise-shaped signal. THD+N is rated -90..100 dB.

  • 24-bit 192 kHz AKM AK5385A ADC and AK4396 DAC (end product SNR measured by vendor is 112 dBA input, 117 dBA output).
  • E-MU XTC Class-A ultra low-noise mic/line/guitar pre-amplifiers (-127dB EIN); additional amplification 65dB (rated 60); phantom power +48V and soft limiter that can be turned off.
  • Ground lift for connection quality/flexibility.
  • Hardware zero-latency direct monitoring (mono/stereo; operates only at up to 96 kHz inclusive).
  • Powers from an external universal power source (supplied).
  • Compatible with most popular editors/sequencers (ASIO2, WDM, MME, Apple Core Audio and Core MIDI, AC3 and DTS Passthru).


On the front you can see (left to right): 2 combined Neutrik XLR-TRS connectors - mic/line/guitar input (1.5 kiloohm mic and 1 megaohm Hi-Z); SPDIF/AES coaxial I/O; below is optical TOSLINK; rightmost is ¼" TRS headphones output.



On the back: ¼" TRS-balanced output dubbed by unbalanced mini-jack (1/8" TRS, standard for connecting active PC acoustic systems) for more comfortable connection to consumer audio devices; MIDI I/O; power switch; USB2.0 B connector; power connector.

Prima facie, the non-USB power feed seems surprising. But it becomes obvious when you consider that the card consumes current of up to 1 ampere, while a single USB port is limited to 500 mA (even less in real devices). Since noone likes that greyish-white smoke and distinctive smell, the vendor decided to play it safe and implement the main power feed. (Enthusiasts might want to accept responsibility and try feeding the card from 2-3 USB ports. Since the supply voltage is 5V, perhaps, the first engineering samples were bus-powered.)

For that we get a bonus: the interface can work without a PC as an external pre-amplifier. However, to make us completely happy, vendor could add the standalone DAC mode with external clocking.) By the way, we found out that some users still succeeded in making the device work as a standalone external DAC.

The only criticism to the design is that phantom power is enabled on both XLR inputs simultaneously. When using a dynamic mic, you are to make sure it has balanced interface and XLR-XLR cable with a correct pinout. In that case phantom power, when enabled, won't cause any problems (see explanations of Mackie's specialists).



On the bottom we can find 2 miniature ground-lift switches, which are very useful for negating sneak ground circuits occuring when you connect a large number of equipment (usually it's 50 Hz noise pickup with multiple harmonics, can also be cracking, etc.)

Bundle

  • 0404 USB interface;
  • 1.5-meter USB A-B cable;
  • Universal power supply and additional English-type plug;
  • CD with drivers for Windows XP/XP64 (Mac OS X support was promised by the year-end), CD with Steinberg Cubase LE, Wavelab LE, Cakewalk Sonar LE, Ableton Live Lite 4 for E-MU, IK Multimedia Amplitube LE, etc., CD with E-MU Proteus VX;
  • Paper guides: installation guide and user's manual, Proteus VX booklet, card with software serial numbers.

Though it's rather traditional to supply unnecessary applications as a bonus, this time the software package is rather useful, allowing to start working right away. On the other hand, they could limit it to drivers and reduce the price even further.


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Page 3: Drivers, subjective tests, performance



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