RME Digi96/8 PAD computer soundcard

When I read John Atkinson's reviews of the Digital Audio Labs CardDeluxe (Vol.23 No.9) and RME Digi96/8 Pro (Vol.23 No.11 and Vol.24 No.1), I realized that soundcard technology had matured far faster than I had been aware. For about the price of a mainstream CD player, anyone with a reasonably powerful computer could add multitrack digital recording technology to his bag of tricks.

As someone who had lusted after the most modest project studio for years—and since I was in the market for a new computer—I knew that a high-quality soundcard was in my future. But I wanted one with analog-to-digital processing. Fortunately, RME released the $599 Digi96/8 PAD—essentially the same as the Pro board reviewed by JA, but enhanced by the addition of a two-channel A/D input.

Before I bought my new computer, I consulted RME's website and followed their hardware recommendations. I wound up installing the Digi96/8 PAD in an Aberdeen-sourced Pentium III 800MHz with 30GB of hard drive, running Windows ME, Sound Forge XP Studio 5, Las Vegas Audio LE, and Acid Pro 3.0. Installation was a snap, and Windows' plug'n'play function immediately recognized the device and made all the appropriate connections.

Digital source components basically consisted of my computer's Toshiba SD-M1402 DVD-ROM drive, Flextor Flexwriter 16/10/40 CD-RW, and my ancient but still serviceable Aiwa HD-S1 DAT recorder. Analog inputs were primarily my Fender Custom Shop Telecaster, a DiMarzio/Kramer Strat knockoff, and an Apex 430 condenser pressure-gradient (cardioid) microphone—all fed through an ART Tube MP microphone preamp. The card's digital output fed a Perpetual Technologies P-3A D/A processor. I also used the card to feed the TosLink input of my computer's desktop companion, the Yamaha @PET RP-100 receiver (reviewed by JA in Vol.22 No.12). Loudspeakers were either Linn Tukans connected to the Yamaha, or Paradigm Reference Active 40s fed by the P-3A's analog outputs (via a RadioShack TRS-plug-to-twin-RCA adapter and a run of AudioQuest Platinum). Volume control was provided by a McCormack Micro Line Drive (reviewed in Vol.18 No.6).

Like the PRO model, the PAD employs a D-connector-terminated breakout harness with coaxial digital in and out (S/PDIF) via RCA jacks, AES/EBU in and out via male and female XLR connectors, and analog out via an in-line TRS jack—but the PAD also incorporates digital input via another TRS jack. It's a really simple system to use, if you have the foresight to mount your computer where access to the rear panel is relatively simple. (Those flying leads are very short.)

I, of course, had not sited my computer so intelligently. I spent half an hour moving documents and effluvia around on my actual desktop in order to gain access to the wiring harness, and by the time I did, I guess I was just running on instinct. Noting the female XLR, I just grabbed a mike cable and ran it from my ART mike preamp to the "professional" connection. Trust me, it made sense at the time.

Naturally, when I tried to record voiceovers or direct-injected guitar lines, I kept getting a "check input function" prompt—and then I realized that I'd plugged the preamp output into the card's AES/EBU digital input. This, I reckon, is what they mean by "intuitive" operation. Even when I made an egregiously bone-headed connection, the RME's protective features showed me the error of my ways.

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