After dealing with a variety of frustrations with various audio interfaces, I decided all I really wanted was for my audio interface/soundcard/whatever to act like a good woman. I wanted reliable I/O (in/out), a large quantity of I/O and I wanted route the I/O to wherever I chose. (har har)
I decided that I didn’t care about preamps, headphone outs, DSP, or any other feature they are thinking of right now. In fact, I’d be content with a good ol’ PCI card. To some this is going to be a foreign concept but as my rig has evolved over the years, I’ve found out more and more that I’m rarely pleased with integrated features (especially when those features die) and it would be best just to have an interface that let me do whatever I wanted.
I’m cool with PCI because I decided a while back that I DO NOT want portability. All that does is opens the door to hours of wasted time hauling gear and every time I end up breaking something. It’s not worth $1,000 of broken gear for me to go record drums in a castle. That’s another issue, but basically I like recording at home. If the band wants to rent a big ol’ drum room, great. We’ll use that studio’s computer.
I’m happy to say that the RME HDSP9652 is the ideal mate for me.
What Is The RME HDSP9652?
The HDSP9652 is a PCI card (with an extender that allows for the last ADAT in and out) that has three ADAT Lightpipe ins, three outs, S/PDIF ins/outs, and MIDI. That’s about it. (It has some other digital options that I don’t use, so you may want to take a look at the manual if that’s your bag.)
Latency is super low. CPU usage is super low. Reliability has been ultra-high. The damn thing just works. There isn’t much to say. In fact, I think I had a glitch that required a restart one time on the first or second day. Since then I’ve had zero problems with it. It’s a great product.
I can’t explain why this product just works, but I have to say I am impressed. Maybe it’s RME and all their gear is rock solid. Maybe it’s because I went the PCI card route. Maybe it’s because the HDSP9652 has been around a long time.
It has no sound, so I can’t really comment on that. It simply passes digital signals to it and from it. That’s kind of the idea.
Either way, I should have went with RME a long, long time ago. Their drivers are outstanding. The control panels allow you to do whatever you want. I can route any signal anywhere I’d like. They were designed to be totally modular. This means you can give whatever mix you want to whatever output you want. For beginners, this may seem like a bit much. Personally, I find it much more frustrating to need to do something and then find out this need is impossible than to have to tinker/read a bit to understand to solve a problem.. So when in doubt, go with the gear that let’s you do everything in recording land. You can always not utilize those features.
What About The Missing Features?
For all those other features, I rely on my hardware gadgets. With the ability to send signals where ever I want, I’ve found I can always change my system around to suit my needs. For example, on previous interfaces I’ve owned, it’s been hell getting X signal to the headphone output. Only specific signals were available at specific times.
The RME HDSP9652 doesn’t work that way. It just says, “Here are all the signals, do whatever you want with them”. So I just send a stereo signal to my trusty Behringer headphone amp (9+ years without a hitch). Headphone mixes are a breeze whether I choose direct monitoring or monitor from Cubase.
Headphone FX are also a breeze. I use the control panel to send the vocal to my hardware reverb, a Kurzweil Rumour. Done. This allows me zero-latency headphone mixes that the singers love. It rarely takes me more than 8 seconds to find the right reverb using the Kurzweil. Plugins were never so quick for me.
Because direct monitoring is latency independent, I can use higher latency times in my recording software. In the event that I’m using a ton of virtual instruments, I can simply use direct monitoring, crank up the latency to ease up the CPU usage, and go. This isn’t much of a factor when recording live rock bands as they use minimal plugins. However, when I’m doing a techno production (particularly when we are arranging it as we record the vocals), it’s nice not having to freeze or render the wav files of the synth tracks. Direct monitoring is nothing new for most interfaces. It’s just that only a small proportion have effects or even ways to get effects in there.
I Love Modular!
No, that’s not a French dude. I love the fact that I’m not stuck when using the HDSP9652. For example, I actually started out with Behringer converters. They didn’t sound bad at all, but I had the opportunity to score an Apogee AD-16x and (2) Apogee DA-16 converters at low, but still unreasonable prices. It’s great being able to easily swap the converters in my entire system without dealing with the interface in any way. Not being forced to use stock converters has been great!
If I decide I want to ditch this old PCI version of the 9652, it won’t disrupt my system either. I’ll just toss in the new PCIe version, plug in my ATAT cables and be done with it. If I decide to ditch the Kurweil reverb, I can. I’m not forced to use anything. For me, that has huge value.
This method costs a little more, but it has other benefits. I know of zero interfaces that allow for four headphone mixes without buying new gadgets. I know of zero interfaces that have effects anywhere close to my Kurzweil Rumour (and that thing has been GREAT during mixing, too, btw).
Off hand, I can’t think of any. Maybe price. New, this card is the price of many full-featured mid-grade interfaces and that doesn’t include the converters, headphone amps, or reverb. That could put off some of you. I bought it for $330 used on Ebay. For those on a budget, it should be easy to put together an ultra, reliable system using 8-channel ADAT Lightpipe preamps for under $1,000.
Other than the fact that this card isn’t free, I can’t think of one disadvantage. I’m finally happy!
I’ve always been a bit skeptical about RME. People have talked the company up so much that I tended to write it off as excessive hype. I decided that I would put my limited funds into stuff that made a greater impact in sound and toughed out any reliability issues. I should have went with RME from day one. I would saved myself a ton of frustration and time.