Date: March 17th, 2005
Written By: Michael Carter
Edited by: Nathan Glentworth (Owner, Head Editor & Hardware Reviewer)
Product Submitted by: M-Audio
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With 18 inputs and 14 outputs, it sounds like it would be a monster to hook up. However, the inputs/outputs are well laid out and easy to understand. The two front panel Neutrik connectors are very nice, allowing for both balanced XLR and balanced/unbalanced 1/4" mic/instrument hookups. Phantom power is also on hand, for using studio quality condenser mics. Speakers can be connected to the rear panel output jacks, and for those wanting 5.1 surround, the provided S/PDIF ports will plug into any speaker rig with the proper connections. Note, the 1814 itself does NOT decode AC3 or Dolby Digital, it simply allows a digital pass-through to an outboard decoder. The ADAT Lightpipe connection also allows quick, latency-free connection to other units, such as M-Audio's own Octane mic preamp. However, I borrowed a friend's PreSonus mic preamp unit, and it also connected perfectly.
SOUND QUALITY & PERFORMANCE
Obviously, the intended use is for pro recording, so I used both Reason and Cubase SX to test input signals, midi latency, and playback quality. Since, ideally, this will be your only sound solution, I also tested a variety of audio material, including MP3 playback, CD audio, and a couple of games.
Without getting into a huge amount of detail, the performance of the 1814 is amazing, far surpassing the typical computer soundcard. With it's low latency, 192kHz sample rates, and dedicated hardware, it made everything I threw at it sparkle. Using my LX4 studio monitors, recorded tracks showed more detail, CD audio revealed details to the music I'd never heard, and the overall separation of the channels created a much wider stereo field than my previous soundcards. M-Audio really did their homework with this one. The only gripe I've had so far is with the front panel level control. While it works flawlessly in Cubase or Reason, it occasionally stops working during regular "home" usage, requiring a quick leap to the software control panel. While not a major issue, it can be annoying. Sound quality, though, easily surpassed my Audigy 2, so that little issue is easy to ignore.
Using a Studio Projects B3 condenser, I recorded a few vocal tracks with a local singer, and the 1814 performed flawlessly, easily transferring her voice to Cubase, with no latency, no loss of clarity, and no distortion. Impressive, to say the least.
I was also impressed with the range of monitoring options. Two sets of speakers can be connected and controlled independently, as well as two sets of headphones. I found the headphone signal to be loud, yet very clear, which is essential for recording drum tracks or other loud instruments. Using a set of Audio Technica ATH-D40FS headphones, I found the sound to be much cleaner and crisper than other headphone monitoring systems, with no distortion at high volumes. Since each set of 'phones is controlled separately, and independent of the main speaker outputs, you've got a wide range of options to get the sound you're after.
The final test was software compatibility. Previous computer-based recording solutions were mutually dependent on the hardware and software, limiting your choices to a few "supported" products. Since Ableton Live is a good program, but not quite up to the speed that I would need for my studio, I wanted to test it with every program I have in my arsenal. I'm happy to say that the unit worked flawlessly with Cubase SX 2, Cakewalk 9, Cakewalk Sonar, Sony SoundForge, Fruity Loops, and a variety of smaller MIDI programs. This again shows the value of the 1814, in that you're not limited to a very expensive program to use it to it's fullest. If you can record with it, the 1814 can handle it.