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German manufacturers RME are well known for their highly regarded and expansive range of soundcards and converters. This new PCI soundcard incorporates the latest generation of kHz, bit converters and claims a pretty respectable dB signal-to-noise ratio.
As you might expect, all of the inputs and outputs through the card a maximum of 16 channels can be used simultaneously, and there are a variety of optional expansion units which can be added using a simple ribbon cable link system to extend the interfacing. These add-on cards see box, left do not require additional PCI slots, but do take up backplate spaces in the computer, which will usually prevent the corresponding PCI slot from being used anyway. Of course, at such high sampling rates clock stability is paramount and the HDSP features a brand new clock recovery circuit called Steady Clock.
This bespoke clock technology is designed to provide the maximum jitter suppression of external digital sources, yet retains full varipitch capabilities. The specification claims better than 1 nanosecond of jitter in its PLL mode ie.
The card plugs into a standard PCI 2. Two breakout cables are included with short tails extending from the D-sub connectors to conventional audio connectors.
On the review model, the analogue breakout cable provided balanced stereo analogue inputs and outputs on XLRs, plus a headphone output in-line socket, and MIDI In and Out sockets.
The XLR cables are actually a cost option, and the basic version of the card comes with unbalanced breakout cables using phono connectors. This is a neat and pragmatic solution which will negate the need for an external monitor mixer in most situations.
The mix can be auditioned on any selected main outputs or the headphone output, as appropriate. The arguments for and against the FPGA alternative to a standard DSP are too involved to go into here, but RME believe that this approach provides a more flexible solution in this specific application.
The latest version at the time of this review was v2. Although not supplied on the CD, Mac drivers were available from the web site, including the v1. Although the software and hardware seemed perfectly stable during the review, the inevitable driver updates can be downloaded from the company web site. However, to complement the high-sample-rate facilities of the HDSP , two new cards have been added to the range.
These interfaces are balanced and can be configured for three different operating levels in the same way as the main board. To take advantage of the Steady Clock system, a dedicated word clock module is also available, which provides a transformer-isolated to avoid ground loops word clock input and two word clock outputs, all connected via BNC sockets. Software Configuration The configuration menu is the same as that for other HDSP cards, and is very clearly laid out, with simple radio buttons to select the various options in a kind of multiple-choice menu.
All of the settings are adjustable in real time and can be accessed from the icon which resides in the taskbar of the host PC. The clock mode and preferred sync options are next, followed by the input, output and headphone operating levels.
Status areas at the bottom of the menu window show the selected input signal, clock mode and sample rate, to provide at-a-glance confirmation that all is as it should be. Support software supplied with the card included the HDSP Meter Bridge with its scalable metering facilities, and Digicheck — a suite of analytical tools including a spectral analyser, two, eight and channel metering with an oversampling mode in the pre-release v4.
The card is easy to configure and use, and performs admirably, at least at the base and 2fs sample rates I tried it with. Personally, I have a hard time justifying kHz sample rates from either a technical or an acoustic standpoint, but if you feel it is important, this card is one of relatively few that currently supports the format.
Other than the sample-rate facilities, the main deciding factor for a card like this is the amount and configuration of its interfacing. For those interested in surround sound, adding the optional AI4S and AO4S expansion cards to the will even provide full 5. Pros A high-performance soundcard with kHz support. Dedicated headphone output. Sophisticated zero-latency monitoring through updated Totalmix software.
Superb suite of analyser tools included. Safe firmware update facility. Mac support still not as advanced as Windows. Summary The new Hammerfall DSP soundcards are all impressive, and this version offers a blend of features and facilities which differentiates it clearly from its siblings, supporting sample rates up to kHz.
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RME HDSP 9632
RME HDSP 9632