Hang 8: Riding the Wave/8*24 (Gadget Labs)

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in April 1999, contributed by then Product Review Editor Jim Roseberry. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

Drum-roll please…

Gadget Labs (http://www.gadgetlabs.com) redefined the standard of “More-for-Less” with their rock-solid Wave/4, so we’ve ALL been waiting for the scoop on this piece of gear. A 24-bit audio card with eight channels of balanced +4 analog I/O, built-in MIDI… and a MSRP of $499!

Ladies and Gentlemen: I welcome you to the Overview/Review of Gadget Labs’ Wave/8*24.

Features

· Full Length PCI card
· Rackmount patchbox – connects to PCI card via included 2-meter cable
· Eight channels of analog I/O (individually switchable between balanced/unbalanced, and +4/-10) via ¼” TRS connections… Channels 1&2 also feature XLR connectors.
· Supports 8, 16, or 24Bit audio (When recording 16Bit audio, the Wave/8*24 samples at 24Bits and dithers down to 16Bits)
· Supports the following Sample Rates: 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, and 48kHz
· Up to three Wave/8*24 cards can be clock-synced via internal connectors
· Monitor incoming audio from the outputs
· MIDI I/O
· Win 95/98 and NT drivers (PC ASIO coming soon, Mac ASIO planned for 2nd quarter of 1999)
· Includes Cool Edit Pro SE

Options

· Longer (7 meter) cable – connects patchbox to the PCI card
· S/PDIF (coax) daughter card ($129.95)
· ADAT Lightpipe daughter card (also provides BNC Word-Clock input) – available around Summer

System Requirements

· One free PCI slot that can accommodate a full length card (it’s a long one)…
· A single IRQ
· Gadget Labs recommends at least a 166MHz CPU (Intel recommended – but not required).

Specs

A/D converters – 24Bit 128x over-sampling – 105dB dynamic range
D/A converters – 24Bit 128x over-sampling – 106dB dynamic range
Frequency Response – 10Hz to 20kHz +/- 0.1dB

Package

I don’t normally comment much on the appearance of a piece of gear. But in this case, I’ll make an exception.

The first thing you’ll notice when you unpack the Wave/8*24 is the striking turquoise color of the rackmount patchbox. Besides attracting attention, the florescent background contrasts well with the white text… and makes patch chores easy in dim light. The patchbox brings to mind an Alesis QuadraVerb in both size and construction.

Installation:

The Wave/8*24 is VERY easy to install. Pop in the card… connect the patchbox… load the driver… restart your machine… and you’re done!

To verify compatibility, I installed the Wave/8*24 on an older P2/266 LX system… and a Celeron 300a (450MHz) BX system. Installation was quick and painless in both cases.

NOTE: If you have IRQ Steering disabled, you’ll need to enable it to get the Wave/8*24 to install and operate properly. I discovered this the hard way.

Operation

Driver Panel: The Wave/8*24 doesn’t have a bunch of useless bells and whistles, so it is spot-on easy to use. (ie: You won’t find a half-assed useless software mixer or other confusing options.) Simply open the driver panel (click on the W8 icon in the lower right corner of your desktop)… set the input/output levels to match the rest of your gear… and get on to the business of making music. Kudos to Gadget Labs for keeping it simple!

Patching: Patching to/from the patchbox is SUPER easy because ALL the audio input/output jacks are on the FRONT of the patchbox. No need to crawl behind the rack with a flashlight to setup your next session! The MIDI input/output jacks are located on the rear of the patchbox.

Monitoring: The Wave/8*24 permits ‘Input Monitoring’… which simply routes (echos) audio from an input channel to its corresponding output channel. This is useful if you wish to monitor signals off the Wave/8*24 while they are being recorded. Input Monitoring can be enabled/disabled independently for each of the Wave/8*24’s eight channels (via the Driver Panel).

NOTE: An output channel cannot be used to play back existing audio while it is set for Input Monitoring. In other words, if you have output channel 1 set to monitor a vocal you are feeding to input channel 1 (for recording) you cannot use output channel 1 to play existing audio tracks.

Use with Audio apps: I used the Wave/8*24 with Samplitude 2496 and Cakewalk Pro Audio 8.0. In both cases the Wave/8*24 performed flawlessly. MIDI/Audio sync was tight… and there were no ‘hiccups’ during record or playback. The Wave/8*24’s drivers are rock-solid…

NOTE: At this time, there is a MIDI/Audio sync problem while running Cakewalk Pro Audio 8.04 and the Wave/8*24. The timing seems to ‘lurch’ a bit here and there. Previous versions of Cakewalk (including 8.03) work fine. Gadget Labs is aware of the problem… and are currently working with Cakewalk to solve it.

Documentation: The Wave/8*24 comes with a short (easy to digest) manual. It contains all the info you need… from setup… to tweaking your audio app for proper sync/performance. It amazes me that Gadget Labs is one of the FEW companies that actually documents these settings. This is particularly handy for novice users.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. But how does it SOUND?

I wanted to spend some quality time evaluating the Wave/8*24’s converters before passing judgement.

I measured the noise-floor of the Wave/8*24 (recorded silence and ran Statistics in Cool Edit Pro) at –104dB.

Sure… you can get an eight-channel set of 24-bit converters with a lower noise-floor, but you’re gonna have to open your wallet to the tune of about $1100-$1200 to do so. Considering that –104dB is quieter than most project studio mixers… and the cost of the Wave/8*24 is $499… the noise-floor is acceptable for all but the most demanding applications.

Subjectively, the Wave/*24’s converters sound exceptionally good! The bottom end is ‘round’ and well defined… The top end is clear and detailed without sounding harsh… Want a point of reference? The Wave/8*24’s converters sound subtly yet audibly superior to those on a Yamaha O1v. The bottom end is less ‘boomy.’ And the top end has more clarity/detail.

Mackie uses the same A/D D/A converters on their Digital 8-Bus Mixer… so it’s no big surprise that they sound darn good.

Note: When recording 16-bit audio, the Wave/8*24 actually samples at 24 bits… then dithers back down to 16 bits using an algorithm licenced from Pow-r consortium. This yields better fidelity than simply sampling at 16 bits.

How Did Gadget Labs Pull This Off?

Intelligent Engineering!

The converters are actually on the PCI card, BUT (and this is a BIG but)… the Patchbox uses active electronics to send very low impedance audio signals to the PCI card. Thus, the audio is MUCH less susceptible to noise (hum or hiss) than with a conventional balanced cable. This is the same VLZ technology used in Mackie mixers.

Instead of using conventional DSP (Motorola, etc) to manage audio data flow to/from the PC, the Wave/8*24 uses a custom designed SoundCache chip. Gadget Labs describe their SoundCache chip as being an “audio processing accelerator.”

Gripes

The patchbox is powered by a wallwart. Given the cost of the unit, I’m sure many users can live with that.

Bottom Line

If you’re a project studio owner who’s looking for a 24-bit card with eight channels of analog I/O, I strongly encourage you to consider the Wave/8*24!

For those who need more channels of I/O, you can clock sync up to three Wave/8*24 cards… (24 inputs/outputs!)

As they did with the Wave/4, Gadget Labs have once again set a new ‘Bang for the Buck’ standard. It’s a More-for-Less winner!

Hey Rob… you aren’t getting this unit back!

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