The market for audio interfaces is incredibly competitive, as several companies now have fully-featured units which manage to pack seriously impressive feature sets into boxes with prices that won't frighten your bank manager.
Due to the high visibility of its rivals, Echo Digital Audio isn't perhaps the first name which springs to mind for those considering an interface purchase, yet this Californian firm has a proud pedigree, and its latest model, the AudioFire Pre8, combines the company's established interface know-how with a set of its mic preamps.
The package includes the now familiar combination of the hardware interface itself and a dedicated piece of software to help configure its assorted ins and outs, which we'll get to shortly. The hardware is a robust, 1U rackmountable affair with two switchable mic/line/instrument inputs on the far-left of the front panel.
Next to these are their extended controls, with gain dials and additional buttons to control or select phantom power, phase inversion, low impedance, DI, pad and bass roll-off below 80Hz. To the right of these you'll find gain knobs for inputs three to eight with a global phantom power switch for these to their right.
Two headphone outputs feature on the far right-hand side alongside the main output, while the back panel completes the physical I/O, with mic/ line inputs for channels three to eight, eight 1/4-jack outs, channel inserts for inputs one and two, plus In and Out ports for MIDI, S/PDIF, ADAT and Word Clock. Twin FireWire 400 ports and the power inlet complete the feature set.
The AudioFire Pre8 can record audio at specs up to 96kHz at 24-bit (selected via software) and through the FireWire connection, recording latency is impressively low.
We plugged the AudioFire directly into our Mac to discover that installation was driver free - Logic found the interface immediately and was only too happy to do business. However, the bundled CD does contain the AudioFire Console which helps configure settings and provide visual feedback during use, and this application can simply be dragged across to your hard drive to run alongside your DAW whenever you like. Separate tabs are provided for analogue and digital connections, so setting up the interface the way you want is child's play.
In terms of sound quality, particular note must go to the celebrated mic pres which certainly live up to their reputation. They're clear and rich and, as there's so much I/O, we'd happily use this interface as a hub and trust the inputs to accurately transfer the sound of our hardware synths to our computer without need for further processing. Fire fighter
Those who have been following Echo's product line closely will be aware that the company already has a line of AudioFire interfaces, but the addition of the 'Pre' in the title here reveals all, as the first in what may well become a line of much more flexible, hands-on interfaces.
The addition of eight high-quality mic pres is welcome, as is the array of digital I/O options featured as standard, and features like these propel the interface's standing up a fair few rungs of the ladder.
As we mentioned at the start, when it comes to middle-market interfaces, it's a certainly a hugely competitive market, but Echo's AudioFire Pre8 more than stands its ground among the competition.