Posted to YouTube Dec 22nd, 2013
David here again with another video review and tonight I'm hooowling about the Akai Electromusic Interface Expander also known as the Akai EIE and remember... it's always a full moon here at Basic Home Recording Studio.
First thing you'll notice out of the box is that this unit is BIG!!!
How big? It's about 8 inches wide by 6 inches deep, 4 inches tall tipping the scales at 4 pounds.
Or if metric is your thing what do you think about 20 centimeters wide, by 15 deep, 10 centimeters tall and just under 2 kilos.
This is in the heavyweight division of units I've reviewed so far, but with the added weight and real estate brikee brikee pssh comes some really sweet features which I'll tell you about, of course, shortly.
So that's the unit itself. Also in the box you will find a 5-foot USB cable, an AC power adapter (which is required to use this interface), a hard copy of the quick start guide, and finally a CD which has the necessary software drivers and Cubase LE 5 recording software from Steinberg.
DAN-GER-OUS! This unit looks so Dan-ger-ous! Heeee Hoooo!!!
Seriously this unit, besides being awesome looking with the red and black colors, is as solid as any unit I reviewed so far.
Some might say "It's built like a tank", but I won't because that's really been overused. What I will say is "Its built like a sea wolf class nuclear attack submarine"... which is also tough.
Starting off the inputs - There are four of them are combo jacks that can accept either a quarter-inch instrument plug or an XLR connectors such as the one from your microphone.
The gain controls are here for each input. They, just like the rest of it, are solid and also silky smooth. Each of the 4 inputs can be set to either guitar or mic/line level, and what this is supposed to mean is that you can plug a guitar or bass in without a direct box, but I compared it with my live wire passive DI box and it's still not quite the same.
Most units at this price point offer this direct in feature, but I still recommend an external DI box and this is no exception.
In between the input selector switches are plus 48 volt phantom power, which goes to both inputs 1 & 2 with this switch and inputs 3 & 4 with this one here.
Here we have 2 VU meters which stands for Volume Unit and can be used to set your levels. If I power it on you can see they have this great LED lighting and if you overload the channel it'll go red so there's no doubt when your gain is too hot.
You can select which inputs (1 & 2 or 3 & 4) are shown in the meters as a pair, and whether they read out the signal that represents the input or output from the system.
Moving across we have the master output which controls the main outputs 1 and 2 only, which are on the back. I'll point those out in a moment. And another switch to toggle between mono and stereo output modes.
The blending of your raw input signal and the processed output from your computer is controlled with this guy. All the way over here and it's input signal only, and you can directly monitor your inputs with zero latency, while on the other side it's processed signal only, which gives you all your digital effects that you may have added via software as well as the ability to playback tracks that are already recorded.
Finally, the headphone controls - pretty basic here. Quarter-inch input, your output level, and a switch to toggle which outputs are being monitored (1 & 2, 3 & 4, or All).
Plugging in the headphones does not disable the main outs but you can effectively turn off the main out by dialing the master level down to zero.
On the back side starting on the upper right we have a power button here and the DC-In is for the included AC adapter.
MIDI In / Out ports - always a good feature in my opinion, but I'm also a piano guy so I'm definitely biased towards these.
This USB connection is the data link to your computer, and these ports here act as a hub for your USB devices. This is a great bonus because you always need more USB ports.
Here are the main outputs, the levels of outputs 1 and 2 can be set with the control on the front panel that I mentioned a moment ago. Outputs 3 & 4 are always set to full volume.
These inserts allow you to use an external effects processor such as EQ, a compressor, limiter, etc. to shape your sound on each input. This is a great feature if you are just getting into digital recording and have a lot of external processors already in your collection. These inserts work just like the ones you've already used before on your analog mixing desk.
The Akai EIE is an absolute monster that delivers across-the-board and offers a real alternative to many of the other popular audio interfaces available.
It requires external power and is bigger and heavier than the other units I reviewed so if portability is a major criteria this probably won't be the one for you.
Obviously if it's not bolted to the table or in a slab of concrete it still is technically portable, but it's big and heavy enough that you won't want to be moving it around too often.
The preamps for each input are powerful and quiet... just how I like 'em.
And the four available inputs are a good compromise between the two input solo recording units and the 8 input expanded interfaces.
The latency was very, very low when using the recommended ASIO drivers, but my computer is also an absolute power house so that might not be true for everyone who's watching this.
Also I really dig the USB hub inclusion. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a great added feature and can really help keep your music related USB devices located in one place.
In general I don't like the dedicated power supply because it's just another thing to plug in and get tangled up, but the inclusion of the USB hub is a nice consolation.
So where does it fall short?
This unit records 16-bit audio at 44.1 kHz, so there are two numbers there to consider and the first we're going to talk about is the sampling rate.
44.1 kHz is what I recommend for home recording because the file sizes stay manageable and the sound quality is comparable to that of a CD recording, so there's no problem there.
The 16-bit audio refers to the bit depth and it's this number that falls a bit short. Pun absolutely intended.
So why is 24-bit better than 16-bit?
The short answer is that it improves the dynamic range of your signal, and by that I mean the noise floor is lower and the headroom is greater.
The long answer is longer than I'm going to go into on a 12-minute video review, but check out my page on audio sampling rates for a more in-depth discussion.
And just while it's on my mind, one last note regarding the super fast sampling rates such as 96 kHz all the way up to 192.
These are purely marketing and don't make a significant improvement in sound quality. You're okay with 44 or 48 kHz at the most. Trust me.
Next, the brushed aluminum front has a really nice look, but it's often hard to see the writing on the unit, as I'm sure you may have noticed by now just watching this video.
With a lot of light it's actually reflective, and in low light it just looks blank.
And finally I'm crazy about the vintage, analog look of the VU meters, but unfortunately I was able to clip my signal on the software while the VU meter did not turn red, which is exactly why I recommend using the level meter in your software.
Still there's no denying the off-the-charts retro badassery of these things, and they are still useful, and honestly it beats the hell out of a simple clip LED, so I still like it but just be aware of the limitations.
So overall what do I think?
As always it depends on what you're trying to do but from top to bottom this thing has really impressed me.
Anyone from a beginner looking for their first interface to an intermediate user looking for a rugged piece of quality gear, check this thing ooooooout!
And that wraps up another review please subscribe to the channel, find me on the Facebook at Basic Home Recording Studio for mega-useful, semi-relevant, ultra-serious home recording updates.
I'm David and, as always, thank you for watching!