M-Audio Profire 2626: The Test
M-Audio Strikes Again
With no fewer than 26 inputs, 26 outputs, 8 integrated Octane microphone preamps, and ProTools M-Powered compatibility, the latest interface from M-Audio aims to find its niche in the category of intermediate-level FireWire audio interfaces. Should the competition be worried?With no fewer than 26 inputs, 26 outputs, 8 integrated Octane microphone preamps, and ProTools M-Powered compatibility, the latest interface from M-Audio aims to find its niche in the category of intermediate-level FireWire audio interfaces. Should the competition be worried?
M-Audio has been releasing quality products at very attractive prices (even aggressive prices) for some time now: microphones, MIDI controllers, sound cards and other Home Studio accessories. Bought in 2004 by Avid, which also owns Digidesign, M-Audio now offers sound cards that are Protools M-Powered compatible.
This Protools version allows Home studio owners to use this "legendary" software and create sessions that are compatible with TDM versions, something which had already been possible with Digidesign cards (like MBox, DIGI002, DIGI003) but which has now become more affordable thanks to M-Audio.
The product we'll be reviewing is the M-Audio Profire 2626 digital audio interface, which has the following specs:
26 x 26 simultaneous analog/digital I/O
Up to 24-bit/192kHz
8 mic/line preamps using Octane technology including 2 instrument inputs on the front panel
Two ¼” TRS headphone outputs, and a user-assignable master volume knob
An onboard DSP mixer that allows routing of internal signals without taking up processor resources
Standalone operation (functions as eight-channel mic pre/eight-channel A/D-D/A converter)
JetPLL technology - jitter elimination (unwanted variation of one or more characteristics of a periodic signal)
Basically, it’s got a lot of nice features which, for an average price of USD 899.95 MSRP (around $699 average street price), could be a very good alternative for people who want to mix with an analog or digital console. There are enough inputs & outputs to put down your tracks without a problem.
What's in the box?
The box contains: a 12V 3.5A power supply, a Firewire cable, and a breakout cable (with MIDI, wordclock, and coaxial S/PDIF connectors). The interface is a classy black rack 19" 1U. In short, it immediately gives off a good impression and the weight of the device is reassuring.
The front panel has 8 knobs which control the Octane preamps. The first two are 1/4” (TS) instrument input jacks suitable for bass/guitar/keyboard, which give the direct sound of the untreated instrument (like a DI). You can switch between instrument and microphone inputs via the Mic/Inst switch. Each Gain knob has a green LED which signals the presence of a signal and a red clip LED . The Push/Pull system for attenuating -20dB for each knob is a good idea and nicely implemented, but using it is a little unnerving: the push/pull mechanism doesn’t give a lot of resistance, one wonders if they'll still work in a few years. Phantom power is activated via 2 small switches. Phantom power is activated in groups to either inputs 1 to 4 and/or 5 to 8. It's too bad they're linked in such way, but it does save a lot of space. Next are the two headphone outputs with separate levels knobs and the user-assignable master volume knob.
The power button is also on the front panel and the small blue light (a favorite of M-Audio's) stops flashing when the card is recognized by the computer.
Due to a lack of space, I imagine, power for the interface is provided by an external 12V 3.5A power supply. There are two 6-pin FireWire cables for connecting the device and to connect a hard drive or other IEEE1394 device .
The originality of the interface lies in its breakout cable which includes: 2 x 2 S/PDIF coaxial input/output wordclock and MIDI input/output. Then there are also the 2 optical ADAT I/O, 8 ¼” TRS analog line outputs and 8 Combo XLR/TRS jack inputs.
I myself couldn’t resist getting an M-Audio Firewire Solo so I could use protools on my laptop, therefore installing an M-Audio device was familiar ground for me. I often had problems with the low-quality integrated FireWire port on my Asus P5BE motherboard which caused sudden disconnections (really annoying). A good-old Firewire-USB2 card from Adaptec put everything back into order and works fine with both the Firewire Solo and Profire 2626. The moral of this lesson: be careful when choosing a Firewire card!
I currently use Windows XP SP2 in my studio with an Intel Dual Core 2 GHz with 2 GB of RAM. Because I would have had to uninstall my Protools TDM 6.9 cs3 system in order to install Protools M-Powered, this test was therefore carried out on a Fujitsu-Siemens P IV 2.8 GHz laptop with 1 GB of RAM and a 100 GB internal hard drive at 7200 Rpm, all under Windows XP SP3.
Installing Windows XP drivers must be done before plugging in the card. Once you reboot, a small icon appears at the bottom right of the screen which controls the M-Audio Profire 2626. You can then plug in the card (but it would be wise to turn the computer off before doing so).
Another point to emphasize: you should download the latest drivers for the interface. The installation CD that came in the box said "Operating system not compatible". Not a very nice as a welcome message, but everything was fine after getting the latest drivers from M-Audio’s website (which is very clear and user-friendly).
You can configure all internal routing via the same icon: headphone outputs, internal mix tracks routed to other outputs, the user-assignable Master, and digital inputs/outputs. It’s very handy for making different headphone mixes.
All this is very well thought out, except for a display bug that appears at every startup, but luckily it can be removed by clicking on any controller (no doubt this will be fixed in an update).
Here’s what we tested:
Drums were recorded with 4 microphones (2 overheads, 1 snare and a kick) in three stages:
M-Audio Profire 2626 converters and preamps
Amek preamps (2 CIB and 1 DMCL) and converters from the M-Audio
Amek preamps and converters from the Digidesign 192 I/O in Protools TDM
Here are the microphones used: 2 Neumann U87 for overheads, 1 Shure Beta57 for the snare and a Shure Beta52 for the bass drum.
I’d like to thank Megamat for playing drums (even if the snare tightness (tuning) changed between 2 takes!)
The recordings were made at the maximum level before clipping in 24-bit 44.1 kHz, they were normalized for A-Bing tests in Protools TDM 6.9 cs3. To listen to these samples, just download and import them into your sequencer. Be sure to uniformly lower the levels to avoid clipping the Master and to get the same level on the tracks to compare.
Here are the the results:
I was impressed with the quality of both the preamps and converters of the Profire 2626. I did however find the recordings with the Amek and 192 I/O a little clearer. It’s very subtle, but it would be noticeable in a loaded mix. Regarding the bass drum, the lower spectrum is more present (at least it is through my Genelec 1030 monitors, but less at home with NS10 monitors, of course).
The preamps using Octane technology are very bright, very clean, and don’t color the sound. Considering the price at which this interface is sold, it sets the bar very high for quality preamps and converters! I took the opportunity to save an acoustic guitar-vocal project by a friend with the Profire 2626, to see how it performed. No real surprises: the preamps and converters responded nicely, although headroom is tighter than on the 192 I/O (there has to be something to justify its price).
I then tested the Profire 2626 with 18 inputs via an RME ADI8DS converter in ADAT and the SPDIF input of the Amek DMCL, everything worked great, no stalls with the BNC wordclock connected between the machines. We also had to test the 18 outputs, so we took out an old dusty DDA (Series 16), plugged it all in... and once again everything worked perfectly!
M-Audio has come up with a very good product at an interesting price with their Profire 2626. Except for some minor installation issues and control panel display bugs, its internal routing, quality preamps and converters, and numerous inputs/outputs (almost boggles the mind considering the price) make this interface a must-have for people who want to record numerous tracks or who want to try venturing outside of their favorite sequencer to use a console (and thereby use external effects). The icing on the cake is that it works as a standalone A/D-D/A! So with an average street price of $699 it definitely deserves a value for the money award.
[+] Number of Inputs/Outputs
[+] Quality preamps and converters
[+] Internal Routing
[+] 2 headphone outputs
[+] Has Wordclock
[+] Compatible with Protools M-Powered
[-] Knob push/pull quality
[-] Phantom common to inputs 1 to 4 and 5 to 8
[-] Installation slightly arduous
[-] Display bugs in M-Audio control panel
In light of this test, AudioFanzine gives the M-Audio ProFire 2626 a 'Best Product' award.