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Old 6th October 2014, 01:21 AM   #1
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Default RMAA / ARTA interface for measurements (looking for EMU alternatives)

Previously, a lot of people used the EMU 0404 or 0204 for measurements - they had very low distortion, high dynamic range, and in general the high objective performance needed for measuring DACs and other DIY equipment. With those cards discontinued (and I don't plan to look at the used market) I'm looking for alternatives. Most people on the internet recommend those two devices when talking about measurements, or talk about more expensive analysers/pro soundcards. There's not much talk about cheaper interfaces for beginning DIYers.

Currently, it looks like I have to pay a lot of money to get more performance than what the cheap audio interfaces can provide. I might plan to do a bit of recording in the future, so I don't want to just purchase a consumer card with a line input.

Basically, I want something with actual line-level inputs (that support a full 2Vrms, not ones that clip when fed a full-scale signal), have low THD (around 0.002% or less, just in case I build some higher-end equipment), support 24/192, and use USB or PCIE connections. I'm just wondering as to what you guys are using for your measurements, and maybe give me some suggestions for what I can buy. My budget is around $200 or so.

Thanks!

Last edited by df audio; 17th October 2014 at 10:31 PM.
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Old 6th October 2014, 05:01 AM   #2
RNMarsh is offline RNMarsh  United States
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QA400 or good condition used HP gear (339A) etc.

RM
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Old 6th October 2014, 09:30 PM   #3
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The QA400 only supports a maximum of 1.41Vrms before clipping, which is completely unacceptable for testing line-level equipment. Some people here are working on external circuitry to bring the voltage down, but I do prefer native 2Vrms support whenever possible. Most of the pro interfaces have volume pots that can directly scale the input down without too much trouble.

The problem with used analysers is that I have no idea whether or not they're actually accurate (the cheap ones are many, many years old). It's easy to get swindled on eBay by someone who's selling a defective device.
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Old 14th October 2014, 06:21 AM   #4
1audio is offline 1audio  United States
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I think the EMU tracker pre is still current and it works pretty well for me as a portable USB interface. For PCIE I would suggest the Juli@ which has a balanced interface option and can handle 2V on either balanced or unbalanced.
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Old 15th October 2014, 04:36 AM   #5
AR2 is offline AR2  United States
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I use and like a lot RME Fireface. Mine is Firewire, but there is USB one as well:

RME: Fireface UC

This one is not cheap interface, but it is in my opinion the best one. Drivers are solid, ether on Mac or on PC. They have been the leader when it comes to high quality interface. I will have a hard time expressing how happy I am with it. There was not one instance that I had problem with drivers with any release or update. Otherwise very good specs.

Outside of that, I would think you would be surprised how used old gear is still relevant. With computer interface you also have to make sure that all settings are all the time the same and unchanged, where with professional equipment is just turn on and go. All in all, it all depends what is that you want to do. For analog measurement test gear still has an edge. For digital, you would need to put a lots of money to reach the performance of the computer interface, as long as you know what are you doing. I hope this helps.
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Old 15th October 2014, 01:45 PM   #6
RNMarsh is offline RNMarsh  United States
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If the thd doesnt increase due to input source z being too high and causing non-linearity with opamp...... the QA400 input Z is 10K - so put a 10K in series at the input jack to pcb and get a 2:1 divider or input sensitivity changed to 2.4vrms. Etc. ??

THx-RNMarsh
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Old 16th October 2014, 07:31 PM   #7
Frex is offline Frex  France
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Hello df audio ,

I use some of my own products for audio (but not only) measurements, but i use also
the very good sound card from ESI, the Juli@.
It's an internat PCI sound card, but now the same exist in PCI-E .You can look HERE.
This sound card cost about 120€ and use a very good DAC and ADC.
It support sampling rate up to 192kHz for both in and out, and the SPDIF link too.
Many DIyers here know well this board for it's very good price/perf ratio.
I don't remember about the nominal full scale input level, bute the alaog inputs
can be asymetric or symetric, and in this case the sound will probably support
this level witout saurate. I hope that will help you !
Regards.

Frex
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Old 17th October 2014, 02:59 AM   #8
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@1audio: The EMU Tracker Pre, like the other EMU products, is discontinued. Only unstable beta drivers are avaliable, and I'll have to buy a used product (which I don't want to).

@AR2: The problem with used gear is the old drivers (as mentioned earlier), or in the case of analog test gear my inability to test the equipment before making the final sale. For an inexperienced person like me, the chance of getting swindled is pretty high. If you work carefully, write down your settings, and check the meters before testing, I think it's possible to use an interface for testing purposes. The RME and similar gear is great - for professional developers. I don't have the budget and need for such accuracy so far.



The Juli@ does look nice though (I've never heard of ESI until now) and may fit my needs. Time for more research...
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Old 17th October 2014, 04:07 AM   #9
RNMarsh is offline RNMarsh  United States
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I have modified 0404 and 0204 .... still have the EMU 0404. never used them afterwards.... driver issues make them a hassle to use on newer gen computers. Moved on to the QA400..... put a 10K input level control pot in front of it and it is now PnP operation. Then moved on to 339A and then to ShibaSoku 725D and then to Audio-Precision 2722 with options. As you can see, I have ran the whole gamut. I like the PnP and portability of the QA400 with any computer....desk top or portable.

With the sound cards (if you find one you like)... I only use portable computers these days.... the software available is more flexible for other uses than distortion... recording and acoustic measurements, for example.


THx-RNMarsh

Last edited by RNMarsh; 17th October 2014 at 04:14 AM.
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Old 17th October 2014, 05:11 PM   #10
1audio is offline 1audio  United States
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I understand your issues around discontinued products. I did a quick survey of the USB audio interfaces at Sweetwater and confirmed that operation over 96K is not available on the reasonably priced interfaces. Windows does not have native support for USB audio UAC 2 so you only get 96K without drivers. Most of the boxes I saw were not sophisticated and many were 44.1/16 bit. The market for them doesn't seem to care for the higher performance solutions. That's probably why the EMU stuff has been discontinued (not to mention that Creative has no clue how to sell to the Musical Instrument market).
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