Working with the
and Emulator X Studio
Ok, we all know Emu is out of the hardware sampler business.
I know that perhaps better than anyone as I stare into my rack of two
E-mu samplers, an ESi 32 and E-5000 Ultra, not to mention my rack of six
emu synth modules and 3 foot stack of emu sample cd roms. Up till now
I've resisted going for the new emu desktop systems, thinking "ah
glorified SoundBlasters". But having heard they just updated the Emulator X
soft sampler to v 1.5, the G.A.S. hit hard. That's Gear Acquisition Syndrome for those of you
lately. But it took more than passing GAS to get me to flip the plastic.
No one knows better than I the anguish of installing and learning a deep
audio interface on a workhorse PC. I am writing on day two and I am happy to say, it's
installed, thank god, and working acceptably on my older Athlon 1.4 gHz
system. However, an audio interface of this stature will run
better on a faster, DAW-optimized machine. And don't forget memory, lots of it,
if you plan to get the most out of the Emulator X software sampler.
The interface itself is beautiful.
That's the breakout box, called "the Dock" you see in the pic.
It's connected by a special kind of Cat 5 cable (called an EDI
connector) to a PCI card that you
put in the computer. The cable is 3 meters long--just long enough
for me to keep the PC in the next room, thankfully, as the last thing i
want is that machine in the studio. You can technically, according
to the manual, go up to 10 meters,
but you'll have to get the cable from emu.
Installation was not
hard, in fact, almost flawless. There is a critical instruction
you must observe if you have (or had)
a consumer creative labs card on your system previously, but the getting
started guide clearly gets you through this. Driver installation went
smooth. Make sure you update the drivers and PatchMix software at emu's
site right after installation.
I ran into several problems setting up
Cubase and Sonar. Many were due to me not understanding the role of
the PatchMix DSP application, which must be setup properly for
your sequencer to work. Thankfully, the application comes with a
lot of preset configurations for just about any possible use of the
1820. Once I had the correct PatchMix setup, it worked like a
dream, well almost a dream. If you are an experienced user such as myself, you'll figure this
out pretty quick. If you are a newbie, beware, you will have to
learn a lot about setting up a software mixer by studying the manual.
But you have to learn this stuff anyway, so just plunge in.
While there are WDM drivers for the
1820 you really want to use ASIO, as there are more options available.
Cubase SX, which is known for compatibility with ASIO cards, is as
smooth and fast as you would hope. If you use Sonar, select the
ASIO option and save a major headache. Latency is really good
(low!) at the 128 samples buffer setting.
My first attempt to use Emulator X was on
an AMD 1.4 GHZ Thunderbird processor with a meager 512 MG of Ram. I
knew this was barely enough and I was correct. Turning on streaming
was an invitation to a crash, but with streaming off I was able to load a
128 meg converted EOS bank and it sounded great. Latency was good.
There seemed to be an unaccountable graphic slowdown, much like one gets
with Norton's stuff. For a 4 year old processor and limited memory, it
appears to me that all the driver issues are not sorted out. I have
applied all available updates and was still getting errors where the audio
engine stops and the computer needs to be rebooted to get it back.
This was more than a minor annoyance when you get your sequencer all set up
and the sound goes "poof".
I then said enough was enough. I
wanted emulator-X to work so I bit the bullet and upgraded my PC to
an AMD64 Athlon 3400+ and 2 gigs of memory. Now we are cruising.
Latency is incredibly low, streaming works perfectly (though I don't need it
with 2GB!). Oddly the program still loads fairly slow and while overall
navigation through the screens is much better, it still is not what I would
The moral of the story use a fast machine
with decent hard drives and as much memory as you can muster.
The sound of the 1820M is really top
notch, even at 16 bit. I can hear some high frequency problems on
many of my previous mixes I did not detect on my delta 1010 and 828mk2.
To my ears the sound is crisp and clear. I am not surprised, given
the hi grade converters and knowing emu, who has always strived for
excellent sound quality in their samplers. Emu claims these are
the same converters used in high end Digidesign Pro Tools HD systems (not
the Digi002 dudes, the REAL Pro Tools)
Interestingly, the converters used in the
1820 and 1820M are different. The 1820M and the 1212M have the AKM
AK5394 converters which offer a dynamic range of 120dBA (!) This is
nothing short of amazing in an interface at this price, right on par with
the converters in digital audio systems costing many times this price.
The 1820 (non-M) specs out with a dynamic range of 112dBA. Still
respectable, but you should know that you get better converters in the "M"
package and the lower cost 1212M package.
Inputs and Outputs
The Emu 1820 and 1820m are definitely
powerful devices as far as audio interfaces go. The half-rack box and Pci
card holds a whopping 18 inputs and 20 outputs. So lets count them up:
- 2 Mic pres
- 6 balanced or unbalanced line inputs
- 8 Adat inputs (switchable to optical
- Stereo coaxial s/pdif
- Stereo turntable inputs (RCA)
- 8 balanced or unbalanced outputs (+4 or -10)
- 8 Adat outs (switchable to optical
- Stereo coaxial s/pdif
- stereo headphones
In addition to the better converters,
the "M" version of the 1820 adds Word Clock in and out and SMPTE (LTC)
in and out on a daughterboard. The daughterboard needs a space to
attach near your other cards, but it does not have to be adjacent to the
PCI card and it does not itself use a PCI slot. If you plan to
connect to digital mixers or other audio interfaces you need the word
All of this i/o traffic is controlled an negotiated with the
PatchMix DSP application (a rather large control panel) which can be configured in many ways.
You can add inserts, sends, returns and plugin in emu's effects in PatchMix. There is an amazing variety of effects, which you can
use as VST Plugins inside your sequencer, or in PatchMix directly
outside the sequencer. (This is great if you want to dedicate your
PC, as I intend, to running Emulator X as a standalone sampler without a
The PatchMix DSP panel shown above is
expandable and allows you to route your audio to various destinations with
sends, returns, inserts to peak meters, trim controls, test tone signal
generators and monitoring chains. You can also insert as many effects
as you want on these channel strips. There are hundred of effects
Going Mixerless? The 1820M
certainly allows you to. You have all the i/o you need to get
started with home recording and can add more preamps via the ADAT i/o if
you need to record many mics at once. The PatchMix software will
allow you to do huge mixes and unusual routings most audio interfaces
cannot touch. The onboard mix preamps/DI inputs make recording
convenient. There is a headphone jack that can be routed independently
for latency free monitoring.
If you have a mixer you will also be
thrilled. You can run the 8 analog outs to your mixer and run the
alt/submix busses to the line inputs as you would expect from a large
audio interface. You can add ADAT converters to give you 16 analog
outs. With a digital mixer with ADAT you will have 8 digital
channels piped into the board from the 1820M, plus your analog channels,
making the 1820M a very complete solution.
Finally, if you have 2 computers, the
1820 M is a great solution for tying them together via ADAT. My
plan is to hook ADAT from the 1820M on the PC to the ADAT ins on my G5's
828mk2. I'll let you know after I try it if it works. This
will allow me, I hope, to pipe the Emulator X sampler direct into Logic
Pro on the Mac, making my PC a standalone sampling workstation.
This is a great way to go, i think, because the great sample editors
like Sound Forge and Wavelab don't exist on the Mac.
When you consider how expensive it
would be to have a hardware sampler with 18 ins and 20 outs, you should
be appreciating what emu has come up with in the Emulator X studio
package (which comes with the 1820M system). As a software sampler
the Emulator X is no slouch, its as deep, no deeper, than EOS was in the
hardware realm but much, much more flexible. Those who have used
EOS will feel at home right away and you'll recognize many EOS
conventions (as unconventional as many of these are), such as cords, the
rather unusual envelopes, and of course, the filters. There's more
filters in Emu-X than there were in EOS, and many of the functions that
were troublesome to get working, like BPM based LFOs and triggers, now
work with elegance.
I played around a bit with the supplied
sampler instruments and consider them average (though there is a new
free "Proteus-X Composer" Bank on E-mu's site that is many shades better
than the one supplied on CD Rom.) Having lots of emu
sounds already I knew what to expect. The true test for me was to
load in the Post Industrial Cyber Sound Depot as I knew my own
programming would tell me tons about how well Emu-X fares. Here I ran into several problems.
The software would not recognize EOS format CD Roms even though it
claims to, so i had to use Chicken System's Translator to make a E4b
bank which is an EOS-DOS format. Emu-X loaded E4b format with no problems.
Then I could save to EXb format and the translation was done.
The keymaps and most of the programming
came out well. There were some major differences in volume levels.
Some kits I made in EOS and tweaked so they'd be very hot were way over
the top, and some patches had serious phase issues that did not exist in
EOS. The filter routings seem wrong too, probably because the EMU-X has
more filters and has a global filter that defeats the others that EOS
did not have. EMU-X seems to have gotten all the layering
right though, and overall, many of the inspired patches I made in Post
Indie are close enough where I can fix them. I was never able to
get this close with translations to Kontakt, EXS, or Battery, so
overall, i am pretty enthused. Am i going to recast the 1000
presets Post Indie in EMU-X format? Perhaps finally release the
World Cafe bank that is half done? I just might! You heard it here
For the new guys here that are not EOS
magicians you might be wondering if the Emulator X sampler is for you.
This is going to depend on your typical sampler uses. Emu-X is
deep, mysterious and very powerful and offers exacting control for multisamples,
where you may have 20-50 samples in a single keymap. If you are
just building virtual drum kits and doing one shot dubs off turntables,
there are many easier soft samplers like Intakt and Battery.
However, if you are the type where you find the bigger soft samplers
like Halion, Kontakt or the EXS too limiting, or you want to do huge
detailed and heavily layered soundscapes you are a good candidate for
Working with Emu-X
First of all, don't even mess with
version 1 of Emulator X. Update it immediately to 1.5. The
earlier version was unstable here. The sampler is kind of a CPU
hog if you use a lot of filters and have do lots of layers. Emu
added a disk streaming option in the preferences. This helps by
only loading the first few parts of samples in use and streams the rest
of them. Streaming will allow you to achieve much better polyphony
and will let you load really large samples. However, this is going to
put some strain on your hard disks, especially if you are pumping audio
in a sequencer at the same time. So you can turn off streaming,
then you will be limited to the memory you have available. My old
PC only has 512 megs of RAM so I hit the ceiling rather often with
streaming off, but i tended to prefer it. I definitely
recommend getting as much RAM as you box will allow.
Emu upgraded the Emulator X to the X2
and added many more features. You can read about it
Programming structure of an EMU-X voice,
the synth engine which modifies the raw samples
The Emulator X/1820M Studio package is
more than a simple audio/Midi interface, but one that you can use as a
platform for whatever you are doing with audio on a desktop PC. I
hope I have showed you how tremendously flexible this system is.
Its a serious tool; not a toy, and if you are serious about making
music on your computer and willing to spend more than a day figuring
things out you will be rewarded with recording power over and above the
guys running m-box's and the simpler M-audio interfaces. Given the
low price of admission for all this power, I was going to bestow the Tweak's
Pick award for "Power for the Buck" PC audio interface. However,
I think it still needs to be tweaked up. If they are able to fix
these problems E-mu will be credited with audio interface and dedicated
soft sampler of the decade.