PCRECORDING.COM - EgoSys WaMi Rack 24 review:
Mfg: Ego Sys
EgoSys is a Korean company that is making strong forays into digital audio hardware. Their website features a wide variety of hardware applications for DAWs. Their latest multi-channel offering is the WaMi Rack 24, which consists of a rack-mountable external converter box connected to a PCI interface card via a 44 pin cable. It features:
The English language manual that came with the package was quite helpful, particularly as it pertained to the use of the Control Box. While not always written in the best English it contained basic configuration, troubleshooting and installation information. In addition, it has a brief section for Cakewalk 9.0, Cubase VST, Logic and Gigasampler setups.
Installation was a snap. After inserting the PCI card in a free slot, I hooked up the cable to the external converter box and plugged in the power supply to the external converter box. I was ready to go and booted my computer - - a Celeron 366, Win98SE, 128 meg RAM system. Windows recognized the new hardware and I installed the drivers from the diskette. (I later downloaded a newer driver and used the handy infclear.exe utility to clear out the previous driver). It all went without a hitch, a check of the System settings showed the card was operating properly and had no conflicts.
The WaMi Rack 24 I received was a promotional unit and did not come with bundled software. Ken at EgoSys advised me that the WaMi Rack 24 Power Pack includes Samplitude 5.5 and GigaSamplerLE. I am familiar with both of these two products and they are a good starting point for a beginner. The installation diskette installs the WaMi Control Panel. All input level settings, mic power settings and output level settings are controlled from the Control Panel. Input controls are in the left column beginning with choices for Digital I/O. Next are options for 3/4 inputs - - analog, coaxial, and optical. (Analog 1/2 inputs are default I/O channels). Selecting any digital input automatically uses inputs 3/4. Next down are Word clock and Clock Source settings, and at the bottom the user can select either consumer or professional digital output levels.
The middle column at the top are four input knobs with numeric readout windows below each. Next are -10dBV and +4dBu input buttons and balanced/unbalanced buttons. At the bottom are Mic On buttons and phantom power switches - - each of the inputs can be used at either Mic or Line levels.
On the right side of the Control Panel are settings for sample rates between 32-96kHz, at standard intervals. Below this is a monitoring control where you can select which inputs you wish to monitor in real-time. This essentially taps into the input signal and provides no latency monitoring of input signals together with previously recorded tracks. Next are two options for Mix mode, Dynamic which will not alter the combined signal levels even though their cumulative volume may cause clipping and Soft which will automatically reduce the combined signals to ensure that clipping does not occur. Next, options for Consumer or Professional (-10dBV or +4dBu) output levels are represented by two buttons. Lastly, whether to display SMPTE information is determined by a toggle switch at the bottom right.
Driver selections are done by right-clicking on the face of the Control Panel. A drop-down menu appears with options for Close, Always on Top, Mixer Reset, EASI, GigaSampler and DirectSound drivers. A check mark appears next to whichever driver you select.
The front of the WaMi Rack is very simple with level meters for each of the outputs. Beneath these is a row of LED lights for power, MIDI communication, SMPTE In and Out, and four MIDI In and Out indicators. To the far right is the power toggle switch. The back has all inputs and outputs for the system plus all synchronization connections. There are two horizontal rows of inputs. Looking at the back of the external box, beginning at the left there are four MIDI Inputs and four MIDI Outputs. Next to these is a row of 1/4" TRS analog jacks labeled 1-4. Next to these are a set of optical S/PDIF jacks and then a set of SMPTE I/O 1/4" jacks. Beneath these is a row of 8 analog 1/4" TRS jacks labelled 1-8. To the right of these is a set of word clock jacks and a set of RCA S/PDIF jacks.
The WaMi Rack with its wide array of connectivity options is easy to incorporate into several different applications. All of the jacks are easily accessible in the back of the external converter box and are clearly labelled. For instance, if you want digital connectivity, you can use either RCA or optical S/PDIF. In addition, there are synchronization options for SMPTE and WordClock.
Of special note is the tremendous MIDI connectivity in this system. With four full-blown MIDI I/O connections providing up to 64 MIDI channels, this is a MIDI user's dream. I imagine a musician with a MIDI drum machine, a couple of synthesizers and guitar synthesizer would love having all those channels available at once, in sync, and in one unit.
The inclusion of GSIF drivers is a major plus for sampler users. Lastly, Windows, ASIO and EASI drivers make this a system that can be used by a wide variety of software applications. Overall, the system is efficient to use with an easy to understand software routing interface.
The WaMi Rack uses very high-quality converters that deserve special mention. The specifications of the A/D Crystal CS5396 and D/A AKM AK4393VF are rather amazing. The CS5396 boasts a noise floor of 128dB and the AK4393VF a noise floor of 120dB. In other words, you can pack a lot of signal into your track with these converters. Keeping in mind that a system is more than just the converters this is still a powerful place to begin a system. The potential for quiet recordings is significantly enhanced by the use of these converters
I set up a pair of Marshall 2003 microphones, plugged in through my Folio mixer and into inputs 1/2 of the WaMi Rack. I opened in turn, Cakewalk 9.3, n-Track Studio, Samplitude 2496 and found that the card was recognized in each. I selected Samplitude 2496 for some test recording. Given the rather amazing dynamic range and signal to noise ratios claimed for the card, I wanted to see just what it would do. I do not have sophisticated diagnostic equipment so I tried a few different approaches.
I recorded my electric guitar by close-miking my amplifier and laid down a simple rhythm track. I then added some acoustic guitar placing the microphones at the twelfth fret and at the body of the guitar. On top that I laid down a synth bass track and then another track of counterpoint electric guitar. Lastly, I put down a GigaStudio sampled track. Throughout, as each layer was added, the WaMi Rack handled it all with ease. Each track was clearly discernible from the others and accurately represented.
Next, I worked on a song that I have been finishing up. I recorded my Gibson Gospel acoustic, then laid down a vocal track and then a bass synthesizer track. On top of this I played a guitar lead during the bridge first with my acoustic guitar and then a harmony electric guitar lead with my Gibson SG. It sounded terrific. The real-time monitoring was a real plus though I sorely missed a level control for the monitoring. It was loud. All in all though it was very pleasing.
As you might expect with the converters used, this card was very quiet. I heard no discernible system noise and I was able to pack a great deal of signal within the dynamic range this system is able to reach. The converters are very pleasing to the ear, with no harshness in the highs and pleasing fullness to the lows. The mid-range was very present and pleasing to the ear as well. Though I did not have a chance to use any sophisticated noise level tests, this card was as quiet as anything I have heard, even the CardDeluxe. The use of balanced cables on TRS jacks is a plus as well, further eliminating any chance of RFI interference entering the signal chain. The best way to describe the "sound" of this system is that it is transparent. You do not know it is there - - which is a very good thing. I just wonder how good this would sound with a truly premium preamplifier. It would be interesting.
EgoSys has gotten a lot of the features of this system just right - - very high-quality converters, 1/4" TRS connectors, ample synchronization options, digital I/O and very robust MIDI I/O capacity. In particular, the converters are among the best that can be had for this type of application. The software interface is easy to understand, use and works well. Software-selectable mic/line level inputs is a nice touch, providing great I/O flexibility. In addition, the system has excellent driver support for all the major types of multi-track software available. Lastly, the system provides for no-latency realtime monitoring of input signals.
The Power Pack software bundle with Samplitude 5.5 and GigasamplerLE rounds out this valuable package, allowing for a beginning user to get right to work and do some real recording.
Unfortunately, the 12V phantom power supply is not powerful enough for most professional level condenser microphones such as the Rode NT series, Audix studio microphones, Marshall microphones (among others of this type and level). However, there are some good quality microphones that are compatible with the 12V system, such as the AKG C1000s which employs a 9 volt battery for power and I am sure there are more that will probably work. In addition, having to use XLR to 1/4" connection adapters to hook into a 1/4" balanced jack is a hassle, particularly when 12V power is all that is available for condenser microphones.
Lastly, the lack of a headphone monitor jack is telling. The system has all the makings of complete system that needs no external mixer - - it has preamplifiers and line/microphone inputs, analog/digital I/O, robust synchronization and huge MIDI capacity. Yet, it has no native method of monitoring the signal, for which an external mixer or personal monitor box is needed.
I suggest that the phantom power be increased to 48V and add one or more XLR inputs to the front of the system. There is room there, I would think. In addition, design in a headphone monitor with a volume knob on the front of the interface. This would take full advantage of the wonderful converters included in this system and eliminate the need for an external mixer altogether. Then, this system would be virtually unbeatable in this price range. (I recognize this would increase the cost).
At the suggested price, a user will not find better converters in an external converter box, along with balanced analog I/Os, digital I/O, multiple MIDI I/O, and robust synchronization capacity. This system records and plays back clean, full and rich sounding analog, digital and MIDI signals with ease. Coupled with a high-quality preamplifier, I believe this system competes very well with systems that are much more expensive. It is easy to use and with its very complete driver support will work with virtually any multi-track application out there. Simply, it is a very good system that with a few improvements in the hardware arena would be a great all-in-one system.