I went out on a limb. It was the NI KA6, or the Roland Quad Capture. I wont go into details of why I decided to go for the KA6, but I went with it. And heres my review:
Core i7 quad core CPU @ 2.0ghz
All USB 2.0 ports
Newest ASIO drivers.
Windows 7 with service pack 1, all latest drivers installed
KA6 firmware version 42, with latest drivers.
Monitors: A Pair of Yamaha HS80M's.
Basic KA6 specs:
2 preamped inputs in front
2 inputs in back
4 1/4" main out puts
separate headphone function.
Two more inputs or outputs via SPDIF
Price I paid: $229
1. Sound Quality (output)
The main-out sound quality coming through my HS80m's was pretty damn good. Definitely better than my previous interfaces (lexicon's, and a tascam us 800.) It was spacial, and sounded pretty on point. Although, even with good monitors, unless the track you are playing is extremely well made, or high quality, its going to hard to judge in this category. It was better than my other interfaces, but not by much.
As far as the knob goes, and the gain, I get a decent volume for mixing/music lisening around 11 o'clock on the dial. Sound works fine out of the headphone jacks too. Could use a little more gain, but Im not complaining, its bus powered.
2. Sound quality (input).
This device has 2 front inputs, that can either be Line or Instrument inputs. I will be recording some vocals tonight to upload (along with a picture or two) using an SM57, and a couple of cheap condenser mics.
So far the only inputs Ive really tested are the instrument inputs on the front, for guitar, and the two unbalanced inputs on the back to hook up my record player.
The front instrument inputs sound pretty good. By that I mean they are decently sterile (not perfect) but they dont really distort the sound, and hardly add any warmth to it. I did notice the TINIEST bit of noise coming through (mainly when it was set to HIGH gain.) but I could also attribute that to my guitar/cables. The sound was good, but not great. Hopefully you understand what I mean by this. Its up to YOU to take your recording and make it sound good in the DAW.
The two back unbalanced inputs worked great for my record player, they capture even audio at a good quality.
The drivers definitely have their draw backs, and Ive read people on the forums, and online with even worse problems then me.
Ill sum it up with bullet points:
-Got KA6, plugged it in, it worked (USB light was NOT blinking). I installed the firmware updater, it froze my computer, and it would no longer recognize my KA6. Id go into details, but trust me when I say I know my computers, and I tried EVERYTHING.
-Returned it, got a new one, fresh from Native Instruments. My computer wouldnt recognize it. So I tried another laptop, didnt work, it gave me the same blinking USB light, which means its not being driven by the drivers.
-Tried it on one more laptop, and one more desktop. It worked on both, so I decided it was my computer that needed cleaning, not the KA6.
-Reformatted and reinstalled windows 7. Plugged in the KA6, installed the drivers, and presto! It worked.
Now for the more confusing part:
Ive been trying to recreate this event over and over, but I still havent completely narrowed it down yet. Regardless, it seems my KA6 drivers dont like Itunes and/or flash player. When I have lots of flash player tabs open at once, and I also have itunes open.... after about 10-15 minutes I start getting pops and clicks in my songs. Checking the KA6 control panel showed zero I/O errors and zero buffer underruns.
It seems one of the programs is messing with the clock on my KA6....tisk tisk. However, if I close my flash windows, and close and reopen itrunes, the problem is gone. Remember, these are NOT buffer IO errors or underruns, it seems to be a weird driver/communication problem. Who knows.
Another "driver related" problem Ive had, is when my computer has been on for multiple days straight, and I plug my KA6 in, and begin to listen to music I sometimes will start getting USB I/O Errors, one every minute or so. This sounds like a 2ms "drop" of all audio coming out of my KA6. Its annoying as hell, and even closing, and reopening itunes doesnt help. The only solution in this scenario is to restart my computer. This is unacceptable, however I do not know if it is Native Instruments fault, itunes fault, or my motherboards fault, perhaps microsoft too? Again... who knows.
4. Build Quality:
With part aluminum, a tad of plastic, and a glass? top, its a sleek looking interface. It feels like a tank, and seems built that way too. However it is heavy, and I have no clue what the insides look like. For all I know everything could be taped down. I have yet to drop it, so I cant vouch for if dropping it breaks it. Its a nice form factor though, the buttons and knobs are sturdy, its small and seems decent for travel. The glass may get scratched though, just a heads up.
5. Performance (DAW)
I use Propellerhead Reason as my main DAW. When using the KA6 drivers with Reason, I occasionally get buffer underruns and IO errors, however this is possibly attributed to the problem I mentioned above. However, usually I dont have any problems in reason.
When monitoring a live track, that has FX on it, my latency (with 128 samples, 1ms USB buffer) was damn near zero! And I dont mean the normal sense of monitoring. I mean round trip, into my DAW, through the FX, and back out my DAW into the KA6. I was recording guitar live (with FX and monitor on) and I swear my brain was NOT fast enough to determine how much latency there was. Part of this is attibuted to my fast computer, however the KA6 definitely plays a role.
The thing is, I was getting too many underruns in Reason, enough that I was about to send back the unit for a refund. However, I found that if you change your driver that reason uses, from the KA6 to ASIO, and then change the settings within ASIO, not only can you achieve MUCH better sampling rates and latencies, but I get basically NO buffer underrruns, at least not NEARLY as many.
Tisk tisk on native instruments part for that one, hopefully a driver update soon will help that, but mine works just fine so I really cant complain. This is a slightly expensive piece of equipment, not just consumer level junk.... at least to me it is.
Never really had any problems with my KA6 and Reason, except OCCASIONALLY on a CPU heavy track, while using the KA drivers, and not the ASIO drivers. Using the ASIO drivers, a CPU heavy track doesnt really cause too many problems. Which is good, because I eventually want to use this bad boy live, and getting IO errors live would crush me.
As far as MIDI goes, I connected my Roland TD-6v electronic drum kit up to the KA6 via MIDI, and I never lost a note, even on SUPER fast rolls and fills. This was definitely great, that I could play as fast as I wanted and have every midi note register (that is, unless youre having I/O errors or underrun problems.)
6. Performance (not DAW)
It performs fine in video games, it sounds great! Never really had a single issue playing games through the KA6.
6. Other features:
The separate monitor function is a nice touch. It works well, with zero latency, however you CANNOT monitor unbalanced inputs 3 and 4. Only 1 and 2. I dont know why, but I can assure you this is the way it is.
Also, having the headphone separate from the main outs, was another good feature. Something the roland quad capture did NOT have, and also a strong selling point for me.
There are some cool lights on the top, they arent TOO distracting, but then again they arent really in my vision. They help you understand whats going on, and being able to switch inputs 1 and 2 from Mic to Inst is good.
Overall its a pretty damn solid interface for the price. And if you can get the drivers to work 100%, Id say its well worth its weight in gold, AND THEM SOME.
The preamps might not be the greatest, but they are still good, and I get great latency times on it.
Note: Sometimes the KA6 doesnt like to be plugged in AFTER my computer has woken from sleep mode, or if my computer has been on a LONG time. This is what starts causing the USB IO errors. Im still trying to pin point the problem, but I may have fixed it with an earlier driver install, we shall see.
-Good preamps for the price, pretty sterile and get the job done.
-Plenty of IO for the price
-Looks sleek and cool
-Output sounds great
-Separate monitor, and headphone knobs/switches
-Can Have Very fast latency
-Drivers can be a bit buggy, depending on your computer knowledge, and hardware. This is still annoying me, even though Ive got it almost under control. It annoying me to the point of almost wanting to return it, but Ill have faith!!!!
-No monitoring inputs 3 and 4, even though they say you can. While not a deal breaker for me, that still sucks.
-Not a ton of gain on the mic output, and even on instrument inputs. Im not saying that the gain they provide doesnt suffice, but that its less than its peers on the market.
-From what I hear, no USB 3 support. Hopefully a firmware or driver update can fix this. Lucky for my I have USB 2 only, but soon Ill be getting a new computer with USB 3.
-No ability to adjust the levels for inputs 3 and 4, you can only do it digitally in your DAW, and even then its not technically the same thing.
Side notes and rumors: Apparently RME helped with the components and preamps? Not sure if thats true.
Apparently, the KA6 cannot power two high end condenser mics at the same time via phantom power. I do not know if this is true (because I dont own any high end condenser mics). Ive read some places that they fixed the issue with a firmware update, Ive also read that they havent fixed the issue. Maybe someone can chime in? Any questions, comments, or things I left out let me know. Im only posting this to help future buyers decide what to get. I will upload some images later tonight, along with a couple of recordings so you can hear the sound quality.
Updates as Ive used it more:
Sometimes it doesnt like to play nice if the computer has been on for a long time. Sometimes it doesnt like to play nice with ASIO, and after Im done using reason, I have to log off then log on again to get my audio working (or restart.)
Still, Ive been up all night using it and it hasnt really messed with me yet so Im crossing my fingers!
Heres a tiny little guitar clip recording I made, just three different chords. No FX, no compression, no mastering, no normalization, no low pass or any sort of filter..... nothing..... just the straight up dry recording. I went from my guitar ---> straight into the KA6, using the instrument input. Gain on the input was about 1 oclock, maybe 2 on the dial. I have the Dimebag Darryl guitar, its about $200-$250 bucks. I dont know the exact model. KA6 guitar demo recording.wav - Tindeck MP3 Download
I uploaded it as a wav, so youll have to download it to listen....sorry.
Next Ill upload some more complex guitar, I realize Im not the best at it, I like to have one around even though Im not too good. Also Ill be trying to upload some vocal recordings soon.
Still I give it the same rating. If it keeps working solidly with little-to-no glitches for another week or so, Id mark it up 5-10%. We shall see.
More updates: Its been giving me a lot more trouble recently. All day it just produced static, or silence, even when audio was being pumped through it. I was scared I friend a circuit, because I had it plugged in when I turned on my computer, and the KA6 started spazzing out like CRAZY. The input monitors were spazzing, the blinking lights were spazzing, and all I could get out of the KA was static.
And interesting side note: to check to see if it was my computer, the KA6, or both, I plugged it in to two separate computers, each one the KA6 wouldnt produce any audio, It wasnt until about 10 minutes later I finally plugged it back in one more time (I must have hot swapped it more than I can count.) and ta da! It started working like normal. Its almost like something inside of it went out of whack, or got disconnected? Who knows.... still a great interface! Its very stable with my DAW, so live performance shouldnt be an issue I hope.
I dont know how exactly I got it working again, it was almost completely random. However I do know (and this is the case with a lot of other people as well) that my wireless drivers were getting in the way.
So I downloaded the latest drivers for my wireless card (not the software bundle, just barebones drivers) and ta da! So far not a single problem with my KA6.
Not we can only just pray it eventually gets USB 3 support.