E-MU Systems 1616m PCIe by gehauser
For analog I/O, the Emu 1616m has 4 balanced line ins and 2 mic (combo) inputs with Class A preamps, along with 6 balanced line outs plus headphone and several 1/8" speaker outs. For digital I/O, it has ADAT in/out and SPDIF (switchable to AES/EBU). Also MIDI in/out. The converters are excellent (120db dynamic range on the line ins/outs) and the preamps are great-sounding, clean, with very low-noise (-129dbU EIN). The Patchmix software is cryptic but useable, and quite capable after your initial learning curve.
BUT… here is the rest of the story…
My love-hate with Emu interfaces started with a Emu 0404 USB that I got in Dec 2009. I flat-out loved the natural sound of that little box (better than the sound of my RME UFX). Unfortunately, the Emu 0404 USB lasted less than 2 years. It still works, but it occasionally adds a terrible random screech to the playback, and of late it started producing similar artifacts during recording, something I could no longer tolerate.
But I liked the sound of that Emu 0404 USB so much that when it started misbehaving in summer 2011, I got interested in the Emu 1616m PCIe. With its “mastering grade” converters, I figured the 1616m could be as good or better than the 0404, and might be more reliable. About that time, Emu ran a half-price special on the 1616m, so I snatched one up.
Well, the Emu 1616m sounded pretty decent (not as good as the 0404 USB), but it had a real problem with noise on line in #1. Regardless of the mic/external pre combo I connected to line in #1, when the external preamp was turned up above about 40db, I could hear crackling and hiss in the headphones. The other channels were very quiet in the same tests. To their credit, Emu promptly sent me a replacement 1616m, but it had the same issue, only less severe. Aside from line in 1 noise, this second Emu sounded better overall than the first, so I am going to keep it and will just avoid use of line in 1 except at low levels. Since both 1616m devices had the same issue, I think it might be a design deficiency.
Now that I have worked with it for awhile, I can say this second Emu 1616m sounds great, and its sound is very close to that of the 0404 USB albeit a little more crisp. Like the 0404, I prefer the 1616m sound to that of my RME UFX in A/B tests (with matched mics into line in on each interface simultaneously). But I have no big expectations that the 1616m will last very long, based on my Emu experience as described here. Contrast that to the RME UFX which continues to work away flawlessly, producing good results in its ultra-reliable, glitch-free fashion.
So, there you have my Emu love-hate. The 1616m is a good sounding box that is feature-rich and relatively easy to use, but… I express my disappointment in its reliability by low marks in the Ease of Use and Features categories.