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Alesis io26 and io14 Interfaces


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What is it about interfaces that seem to attract Pro Reviews like magnets? I don't know, but I do know there's a lot of interest in interfaces...in fact, a Pro Review of the Alesis firewire interfaces was specifically requested in Suggestion Box.

 

Certainly, there's a backstory: Alesis has been digital audio just about as long as anyone, and their Wavefront Semiconductor subsidiary was involved with the Dice II firewire chip. They've done Firewire and USB mixers, and I suspect the io26 and io14 are a logical outgrowth of this R&D.

 

Here's where to get the specs on the io26 and on the io14. The io14 is basically a cut-down version of the io26 with fewer inputs and features, but uses the same basic technology. Street price on the units (based on the Musician's Friend online catalog are around $400 for the io26 and $300 for the io14.

 

And now, as is traditional with hardware Pro Reviews, let's start out with some pictures.

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This review will concentrate on the io26, as the io14 is a subset. However, I assume that questions will arise about differences between the two, so I have both here.

 

The first picture shows an overall view of the io26. One thing you don't see from the pictures is that this is a fairly heavy box, and thanks to the metal casing and rubberized ends, it has a substantial, rugged feel -- I wouldn't be afraid to take this on the road with a laptop.

 

And here's something else that's pretty impressive: All the jacks and potentiometers are fastened with lockwashers and nuts. With a lot of inexpensive units, there's just a hole cut in the chassis, the pot or jack solders to the board, and protrudes through the hole. This is why many knobs feel "wobbly" when you turn them, but not so with the io26 or io14. The Neutrik mic/line combo connectors (another classy touch) are also fastened to the chassis with two screws.

 

I don't know how many consumers will notice this, but I suspect Alesis will when units don't get returned to their service department. I do find this level of construction very cool, given the general tendency to "cheap down" products these days to hit the lowest possible price point.

 

The second picture shows the io14 main view.

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Is this a control surface only or is this the actual audio interface that bypasses you pC card?

 

I don't believe this is a control surface at all. Strictly an audio interface.

 

I'm hearing very good things on this one in various places on the 'net. I'm very excited about this Pro Review.

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Is this a control surface only or is this the actual audio interface that bypasses you pC card?

 

I guess that's a pretty basic question I didn't address :)

 

It is indeed an interface that connects to a Mac or Windows computer via FireWire, so you don't have to open up your computer and put in a card. What might be confusing you is all the knobs. We'll get to that shortly, but they're gain controls and mix/monitor controls for the interface itself, not a "control surface" in the sense of sending MIDI messages and such.

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The io26's front panel has three basic sections: Four inputs on the left, four slightly different ones on the right, and a "control" section in the middle. The io14 has the same four "left" inputs as the io26, and the control section.

 

The picture shows inputs 1-4. Note that these are mic/line inputs with insert jacks, and as they should be, the insert jacks are post-preamp/pre-A/D converter. You need a TRS-to-dual-mono cable to use these, but also note they're wired so you can use just the "send" connection if you want to tap the preamp out and send it somewhere for a direct out, or just the "return" connection if you want to bypass the internal preamps with preamps that have more "character" or "color" (the io preamps aim for transparency).

 

Also note that there's a gain control for each input, and the first two inputs have a mic/line - guitar switch so you can use these as instruments inputs.

 

There are two schools of thought about having inputs on the front panel: One is that it's convenient, the other is that it's a drag to have cables dangling all over the place. But given the form factor, and all the connectors on the back panel, the inputs sort of had to go on the front unless you were willing to have a much larger box.

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But.....how does it sound?

 

Patience...I think it's important to cover what the thing does first before we start doing the listening tests, because if it doesn't have particular features people want, they're not going to care about how it sounds. Besides, I didn't take all those pictures for nothing :)

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I've been in limbo for the past few months because, although I know what laptop to get for my new portable rig, I can't friggin' decide on an interface. Waaaay too many options to figure out what will be right for my price-point..( $4-700)


Although, exhausted by the possibilities, I've pretty much decided on the Focusrite Pro 10. But now I hesitate again upon seeing you're going to da a review.


I WAS really looking at these units but hesitant.....that being driver support and quality in the coverter/pre dept. Also being that Alesis is owned, I believe, by one of those lower-end equipment companies, its cause for pause. There's also no other reviews on the web yet.


So yes, I also look forward to what this thing sounds like. Also, could you please look into what kind of driver support you can expect from Alesis nowadays.


Thanks

 

I'm using the AlesisFirewire16 Mixer to record @ church, so far no problems with drivers or anything else.....I'm getting the i/O26 next week....;)

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I checked out their FireWire mixer in the process of reviewing their Podcasting kit for EQ magazine, and was impressed by two main things:

 

1. The documentation was bulletproof -- possibly the best "how to install a Windows driver" manual I've seen.

2. It worked with no problems whatsoever, although honestly, I don't experience the same Firewire issues with my computer other people seem to experience with theirs.

 

Focusrite makes great stuff, but understand that there are some significant differences. If you think you'll need more mic pres, having two ADAT inputs with the io26 means you can add on units like the Presonus DigiMAX FS, MOTU 8pre, or even a digital mixer with ADAT out. The Saffire can't do that. On the other hand, it has built-in DSP with plug-ins you can insert into the mix, and while the io26 has a mixer applet for zero-latency monitoring, it doesn't have DSP to support plug-ins internally.

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Okay, now that we've looked at inputs 1-4, let's look at inputs 5-8. as shown in the picture. They're pretty much the same as 1-4, with a few differences:

 

* There's no instrument input option

* You can switch inputs 7 and 8 between mic/line and phono.

 

Yes, there's a turntable RCA phono input on the back (with grounding post, natch!) so DJs and those into sampling from vinyl are accommodated.

 

Note that the io14 does not have the phono input; this is unique to the io26. I'm trying to think of other interfaces with a phono input; the E-Mu 1820 comes to mind.

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The XLR ins have phantom power available (see the picture). Although phantom power can't be enabled for each input, it can be enabled for pairs of inputs, which is an improvement over devices that enable for groups of four or eight inputs.

 

However, there is no indicator for phantom power, other than the relatively small pushbutton position (in means phantom power enabled, out means disabled). If you have a mic inserted that could be damaged by phantom power (admittedly rare, but possible), be very careful to check the position of the switches. Fortunately, they're positive-action switches; just brushing against them wouldn't be sufficient to change their position.

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Alesis just posted a driver/firmware update, so I guess that answers the question about whether they're continuing to refine the drivers. However, do note that Windows drivers are for XP only; Vista is not yet supported. The Mac drivers are for Power PC Macs and MacIntels.

 

Okay, back to the hardware.

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Here we're dealing with four knobs. The upper two control levels to two separate sets of headphones, and with the update mentioned in the previous post, they are now independent of monitor levels.

 

The Mix/Blend control works for zero-latency monitoring, as you can set a blend of signals coming back from your DAW with signals present at the digital and analog inputs. Panning, levels, etc. for the various levels are set using the software applet, which of course, we'll get into later on as it's a significant part of the package.

 

The Main Level control affects the master stereo output level. (The two gain controls toward the upper left and right of the picture are associated with a couple of the inputs, not the output section.)

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I know I should probably ask this when you've posted a bit more about these units, but want to ask before I forget. Any major differences in the quality of components (build quality, preamps, etc.) compared to the Alesis MultiMix mixers? Looking at the system requirements for each line, I'm personally more inclined to go with the MultiMix FireWire so that I can move between a well-equipped desktop PC and more modest notebook without running into performance issues, plus I can think of several situations where having basic EQ controls built into the mixer would be preferable. Features like the Hardware Direct Monitoring and phono capability of the io26 don't offer me much for my limited needs, but getting the best preamps I can in a small budget mixer/interface would be very attractive.

 

Don't need an immediate answer, but if you could do some sort of io/MultiMix comparison later in the review, that would be helpful!

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I have the Saffire (not Le) and it works very well. I was looking to add another unit with 8 in's to do acoustic drums. I tried the Presonus and didn't like it. Seemed finicky and all sorts of PC issues. Alesis is a budget system but I've used quite a bit of Alesis gear in my days.

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I have the Saffire (not Le) and it works very well. I was looking to add another unit with 8 in's to do acoustic drums. I tried the Presonus and didn't like it. Seemed finicky and all sorts of PC issues. Alesis is a budget system but I've used quite a bit of Alesis gear in my days.

 

I need a little more data here...IIRC the Saffire doesn't have an ADAT in, were you talking about the Presonus DigiMAX FS? Wasn't finicky here with a PC...and if you're doing ASIO, you couldn't run two interfaces simultaneously unless you were using hte CEntrance utility...more data, please!

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I know I should probably ask this when you've posted a bit more about these units, but want to ask before I forget. Any major differences in the quality of components (build quality, preamps, etc.) compared to the Alesis MultiMix mixers? Looking at the system requirements for each line, I'm personally more inclined to go with the MultiMix FireWire so that I can move between a well-equipped desktop PC and more modest notebook without running into performance issues, plus I can think of several situations where having basic EQ controls built into the mixer would be preferable. Features like the Hardware Direct Monitoring and phono capability of the io26 don't offer me much for my limited needs, but getting the best preamps I can in a small budget mixer/interface would be very attractive.


Don't need an immediate answer, but if you could do some sort of io/MultiMix comparison later in the review, that would be helpful!

 

We have the Multimix 16 @ church, the faders are kind of toyish and very fragile IMHO, I don't think is designed for the road, unless you protect it very well, the fader knobs[??] can be easily pulled..It works well for what we need it for, but it's fragile.

 

I got to see the iO/26 in "person" :) and it's heavy and very well built the knobs feel very good.

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I bought the io26 about a month or so ago and love it. I got it for $350 out the door from GC. Apparently it's the first one they sold because the sales guy keeps calling me and asking me questions. :D

 

I can vouch for everything Anderton has said so far about the build quality and features.

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