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PCRECORDING.COM - - Interview with Matt Gonzalez of Echo Audio.

Hardware questions:

1. Who are the main players at Echo Audio? Design team? Software team? Etc.?

The founder and chief technical officer of Echo is Milo Street. The company president is Bill Adler. Milo, his brother, Dan Street, and Jim Goodland comprise the hardware team.

Here's a list of the software team:

  • Matt Gonzalez (myself): I do the DSP code, Windows 95/98 drivers, and BeOS drivers.
  • Steve Benson: Steve is developing our next-generation user interface.
  • Ric Hunt: Ric is responsible for NT4 driver development.
  • John Januzik: John is in charge of hardware and software testing.
  • Marcel Mauceri: Marcel takes care of customer service and support.
There isn't really a design team per se; it tends to be somewhat freewheeling. Everyone participates.

2. What was the philosophy behind creating the Layla, Gina, and Darla lines of soundcards? What market were you intending to meet?

Personally, I have wanted to be able to record my guitar on my computer since I was in college. This was back when state of the art in PC audio was the Sound Blaster Pro, with amazing innovative stereo 8-bit sound. I have always thought of myself and people like me as the target market for our products.

I would say that the philosophy behind the cards is simply to give people creative tools to make music.

3. With respect to competitors cards, what is unique about the Darla card, now that it has grown up to 24 bit and 96 kHz capability?

First, I would say that Darla24 is using good 24 bit converters. A number of audio cards are representing themselves as 24 bit audio, but if you take a good look at the audio specs they are only marginally better than 20 bit hardware.

Also, I think that the breakout box with TRS balanced connectors is a nice feature. Darla24 continues to have all the other things that are nifty about our cards, like the flexible monitor mixer and our new Windows multi-client audio drivers. These drivers let you use multiple applications simultaneously with the different outputs and inputs of our hardware.

4. What is unique about the Layla card with respect to its direct competitors such as Gadgetlabs 8/24 or the CardDeluxe?

Well, with Layla you get the digital I/O included; no extra box to buy. Layla can do a hardware sync to MIDI time code; I don't think the competition can do that.

While the Gadgetlabs 8/24 has somewhat better dynamic range than Layla, our tests here showed significantly worse total harmonic distortion. They may have cleaned this up on their new products, but I notice that they don't even list total harmonic distortion on their website for either current or new products.

I haven't used the CardDeluxe, but the specs look good. Obviously, the CardDeluxe just gives you 4 in and 4 out; Layla gives you 10 in and 12 out. The CardDeluxe seems like more of a competitor for Darla24 or Gina.

5. What is the next big leap for the PC-based audio recording industry that you see?

If I had to guess, I would say that multiprocessor systems will become more popular, especially with the upcoming release of Windows 2000 and professional audio applications for BeOS.

The biggest bottleneck in PCs right now seems to be both memory and processor I/O bandwidth. Right now it looks like a standards war is being fought; should be interesting to see how that settles down.

7. Echo at present officially supports and recommends only Intel chips for its cards. What is it about Intel architecture that differs? FPU performance? Corporate support?

We actually want to change this; it's more of an issue of the motherboard chipsets than the processor. All I can say is that we're working on supporting non-Intel chipsets.

8. What is your opinion about the newest chip release by AMD in light of the previous question?

It looks like the Athlon is pretty slick. We will be testing with Athlon-based machines; hopefully, we'll get them going.

9. Have we reached the theoretical limit with respect to PCI technology and soundcard performance?

No, I don't think we have. Most computers out there are still using 32 bit wide/33 MHz PCI; going to 64 bit/66 MHz PCI quadruples the bandwidth. The latest Power Macs already have 66 MHz PCI, but I can't think of any 66 MHz PCI audio cards. Guess we'll have to make one. :)

However, like I said before, I think the bottlenecks are elsewhere.

10. What is the next "big thing" you expect to see in the industry?

Hopefully BeOS will hit it big with musicians and recording types. We're big fans of BeOS here.

Software questions:

1. Echo offers a very useful utility that measures a systems capability to do digital recording called the Echo Reporter. How does the Echo Reporter work? What does it do to analyze the system? How accurate is it in real terms?

Mainly, the Reporter is useful for the disk bandwidth test utility. Unfortunately, the nature of the disk cache in Windows (and the nature of hard disks themselves) makes it very difficult to get a completely firm number on how fast your disk is. In general, the Reporter gives you a good rule of thumb.

2. What language are soundcard drivers written in? C++, Java?

The drivers are written both in C and C++. Our next generation user interface is being developed in Java.

3. How does it relate to the hardware architecture?

The drivers actually are talking to the firmware loaded into the onboard DSP chip, which then talks to the converters and so forth. The firmware is written in Motorola DSP assembly.

4. Does Echo plan on releasing any onboard effects for its cards such as reverb, chorus, or mixing capability?

At this point, we have no plans for doing that.

5. Do you plan to offer drivers for Linux or Beos in the future?

Our hardware will be supported in the next major release of BeOS. Right now, we don't have plans to do a Linux driver.

General questions:

1. What are Echo's marketing plans now that the association with Event Electronics has ended?

Echo will be introducing new products in the near future. We will be marketing these products ourselves.

2. What was the reason for the breakup?

Sorry, I really can't comment on that.

3. Does Echo have plans in place for continued support of its products, even those sold through Event?

Yes. We are continuing to work with Event to support the products, both providing them with driver updates and working with them to resolve tech support issues. Despite the separation from Event, we are absolutely committed to continuing to support customers who have already purchased our products.

4. How would a reader access support directly from Echo?

Just go to our web page-