ESP 1010 from ESI

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Takin' a look at ESI's 8 analog/2 digital input sound device.

Well it's been a long time for this review, but it did offer me the chance to use the ESP 1010 in many different situations. My apologies to those who waited so patiently for the review.

Overview

The ESI ESP 1010 has 24bit/96khz converters on 8 analog input/output and 2 S/PDIF digital input/output channels. The unit is does run 24bit/192khz converters in full duplex mode on all 10 channels, allowing for use in almost any studio situation. Also a 24 bit/96khz optical output and 2 separate midi I/O ports allowing for 32 channels of midi I/O.

The system gets along with all the available software today. As with all the ESI products it installs with their exclusive E-WDM drivers as well as ASIO, MME, DirectSound and Microsoft's WDM Standard drivers.

Editors comment: It should be noted that recently they released new drivers that support GSIF2 for Gigastudio3 in addition to all their other standards already supported.

It is compatible only with Windows XP/2000/2003 and it comes with a boat load of software in their ultimate tools bundle including, but not limited to Tracktion, from Mackie, a special eddition of Tassman and a load of plugins and softsynths from Khaerhus Audio, Steinberg, PSP, AudioNerdz and more.

Hardware

The ESI ESP 1010 is a complete package which includes the PCI card which has the S/PDIF I/O, the optical output and 1 of the midi I/O ports onboard. Again like all the other ESI cards a very good looking, sturdy card all on its own. The unit thankfully comes with a 7 foot cable to get the rack unit into your rack even at a bit of a distance. The S/PDIF and port 1 midi are done via a breakout cable attached to the PCI card as well. The rack mount breakout box is a nice sturdy steel unit, built very well with no cheap pop rivets in sight. All connections are gold as would be expected on a high end unit. The front of the unit contains 2 XLR mic inputs with switchable 48 volt phantom power, when used are through inputs 1 and 2. Also on the front are 1/4" TRS for inputs 1-4, as well as 1/4" TRS outputs for 7 and 8. These 2 outputs also function as a pair of headphone outputs which are controlled by the ESI panel in windows.

On the back of the unit are the I/O connections for the second midi port, 1/4" TRS inputs for channels 5-8, and 1/4" TS connections for outputs 1-8, as well as the 25 pin sub-D connection for the interface cable to the PCI card. There is also a connection for a 9-15 volt DC 300ma power supply which is used for powering the 48volt phantom power on the XLR jacks out front. Be warned however, they do not supply the power supply with the kit. So you will have to pick one up at a local electronics store.

Installation and setup

Again as with most units, this is very straight forward. The PCI card is a good solid card with gold connections, and the fit is very good. To get the most out of the unit and make it easy to get at the back connections I would suggest using a patch bay if you're installing the unit in a rack. This will allow you to get at the outputs and the inputs 5-8 without fiddling around. It's a good idea to plan out your use of the unit and cable it all up before screwing it into you rack.

Once in you can fire up Windows and it will find it and ask for the location of the drivers. I suggest looking for the current drivers on the ESI website, (they are at version 1.14 as of June 2005) although the CD may have the most recent version already. ESI has streamlined the driver install for this unit; you no longer have the 7 or 8 separate driver loading packages as on the Waveterminal. It is a simple 2 step install and you're done. As with all their driver installs, this one was speedy and without any issues. Then it is simply a matter of setting up your system and software for using the ESI as the it's audio interface.

As always, driver names may vary in certain applications so be aware of this when looking for the E-WDM drivers.

Performance

Again this is where the interface shows its worth. Pitting it against some other 10 channel interfaces in a higher prices range, it performed as well, and sometimes better. The noise floor is very acceptable, even during quiet passages there is no noticeable added noise. As with the Waveterminal I ran the interface on an older PIII 667 as well as a newer AMD Athlon XP 3200. It performed stable on both machines. Although latency was a bit higher on the older box due to CPU and RAM limitations. On the newer setup it was as expected, latency was down below 1ms on ASIO and just a bit above 1ms using the E-WDM drivers. It was rock solid as far as timing and midi using various software. I was very impressed by its performance running several soft-synths alongside a large audio track load as well, with no drop-outs caused by the interface at all.

The mixer/control panel section of the ESP 1010 is very straight forward again and offers control over every parameter just a click away. Setting up for surround out to 7.1 is a snap and the controls are very intuitive and stable as well. Mouse wheel resolutions can be set for user convenience for controlling level functions. The panel is well laid out and easy for even a beginner to understand, everything is well marked as to its function. Access to latency setup as well as DirectWire 3.0 is all here as well.

The control panel as well as DirectWire 3.0 both install at the same time as the drivers so there is no need for separate installs of either bit of software.

Again the unit ran alongside both a SB interface as well as an onboard sound chip without any ill effects. So using it alongside an alternate audio interface should be without problems for the most part. The unit performed well under pressure at pretty low latency settings, although as with most units moving the latency up a bit for heavy softsynth and live FX use would be recommended.

As well the digital portion of the interface worked flawlessly, both I/O on the S/PDIF and output only on the optical. And using DirectWire was again a very pleasant and a time saver for several different applications.

DirectWire

DirectWIRE is ESI's amazing software that allows you to virtually patch all of your digital audio internally between various software programs.

What is DirectWIRE? DirectWIRE is a driver technology, developed by ESI, which can be used for routing audio streams internally within applications using E-WDM Audio MIDI Drivers exclusively developed by ESI. With the DirectWIRE router, an application can record from other application's audio outputs without external wiring or any loss of data when they are running at the same time. DirectWIRE also allows you to easily rip any audio stream in real time by transferring data thru DirectWIRE from MP3s, live On-line Broadcast and On-demand content, and more.

DirectWIRE Panel Click on DirectWIRE on the console. The DirectWIRE panel window as shown below will appear. DirectWIRE digital virtual wiring technology, developed by ESI, routes audio streams internally within applications using standard audio drivers such as WDM, ASIO and MME, even when they are running at the same time.The number on the row represents the input or output port. The columns represent ins and outs(on and off) of the respected drivers. Patch the virtual cables from one point to another as you drag your mouse point.

Input : The Input section is a new feature of DirectWIRE 3.0. It's used to route signals from the card's hardware inputs.

MME : The MME section represents the normal stereo I/O of an application, for example WinAmp, WaveLab, and etc.

WDM : The WDM section means SONAR, PowerDVD, WinDVD I/O, etc.

ASIO : The ASIO section refers to I/O from Cubase, Logic, Reason, and other ASIO supported programs. Recording from DVD software to an ASIO based software using DirectWIRE routing.

GSIF : The GSIF section stands for GigaStudio I/O as of version 2.42 or higher (note that Gigasampler is not supported).

DirectWIRE 3.0 automatically installs in your Control Panel and can be easily activated by a simple click of the mouse. DirectWIRE 3.0 is currently available for ESI's MaXiO series, ESP series, Juli@, 192 series(driver v.5.01 or higher) including the WaMiRack 192 X, and L and Waveterminal 192 X, L, and M

E-WDM Driver Technology

E-WDM (Enhanced Audio MIDI Driver) from ESI perfectly accommodates the original concept of WDM technology from Microsoft. It's the one true "One for All, All for One" driver among the many audio drivers utilizing the WDM name for today's various Windows OS environments. Unlike those other drivers that only took their name from WDM but offer limited performance and compatibility in WDM based operating systems, E-WDM adopts all the features of WDM technology and beyond. Our own unique driver model, the E-WDM, adds functions and features that meet the requirements that professional digital audio demands. Here are a few fantastic features of E-WDM.

Conclusion

Pros:

Again, this unit installs easily both hardware and drivers. The latency and audio are more then expected at this price range. Bottom line is this is a very high-end interface for the price.

Comparing to a few others at this level, they might have an added feature such as ADAT interface or other, but for most home studio users this unit is as good or better then most.

Cons:

No power supply included for the phantom power, although they are easy enough to find. No Pre-Amp section for the included XLR mic inputs. In my case its not a big loss, but for others that might be a big selling point.

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User-submitted comments

sam5
Nov 29, 2010 07:57 pm
esi1010e midi incompatibility issue
this is a warning about potential midi problems.
i bought this card and experienced the following:
Some notes record then theres big dropouts. Playback from the sequencer is fine. Initially the interface was creating spurious controller info and notes from random channels even though i had set the controller to transmit only data on one channel.
ESI's uk support is as follows:
"I am sorry to inform you that.
The ESP1010e has MIDI incompatibility issues with some of the major brands of MIDI controller models.
We are not able to test with all controller models and MIDI keyboards available .
And the issue you show looks to relate to the known MIDI issues.
However, There is not an overall solution to this issue.
And the only way to make it work for the moment is to find and use another MIDI controller that will work with the ESP 1010e.
Or use a MIDI controller connected to the PC without using a MIDI connection but via USB (if the MIDI controller is a USB controller).
I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you."
so if you are thinking about buying this interface check whether your controller is one of the "major brands" that are affected by this "known issue".


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