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The E-MU0404USB audio/midi interface is a prosumer external soundcard targeted at musicians and composers. It features 2 XLR/TRS inputs for microphones, guitars and Line level sound sources. There are also 2 optical inputs, S/PDIF, MIDI in and out and more.
The E-MU0404USB features very high quality 24-bit/192kHz Anlogue<>Digital converters and Class A low noise preamplifiers for the inputs. There is phantom power, which is required to power certain condenser microphones and other specific audio equipment. There is a ground lift switch, which means, if you have any ground loop noise from where the interface is plugged in, these switches will cancel out the noise.
There are 2 XLR/TRS inputs that can be used, simultaneously if you want, for recording instruments that are plugged in directly or microphones. These inputs will function like Direct Injection (DI) boxes if you need them to. Usually when recording electric guitar, you'll need to convert the audio signal from a high impedance, line level, unbalanced signal to a low impedance, mic level, balanced signal. This is traditionally done with a separate piece of equipment, a DI box which works as the middle man between the guitar and the recording input. However, the E-MU0404USB handles this directly, so there is no need for a DI box. In fact, DI-functionality on audio interfaces is not uncommmon these days, however, the quality is very variable, and the E-MU0404USB is very high quality, offering the same input impedance as a guitar amplifier. I asked about this in a recording/production forum online, and was assured the DI-quality of the 0404USB is capable of recording professional quality DI signals direct.
The unit can also be used without a PC as an amplifier. Let's say if you want to connect your mp3 player to it and use it as an amplifier for your speakers, or if you wanted to use it for live monitoring when playing an instrument. You can do that. I very seldom use this feature, although I love the fact that it is an option. Whenever I decide to upgrade my audio interface, I may very well use this as an amplifier for my hi fi system.
The E-MU0404USB interface is my 3rd audio interface. My first one, an Edirol Ua-20 interface, couldn't keep up with the increasing demands of my usage. My second one, a Tascam US-122, didn't work on my previous PC when I got it, for some reason, so I got an E-MU0404USB in the beginning of 2009. The interface has been with me for almost 2 years, and I am using it daily. The interface is connected to my speakers, a pair of Tascam VL-5x monitor speakers.
I am daily recording electric guitar and bass direct (I add amp simulation to this in my Digital Audio Workstation). I also monthly record vocals using a phantom powered microphone. The analogue-to-digital converters in the E-MU0404USB are very clean and transparent, and recordings appear to be free of any noise (other than what might be part of the source you are recording of course).
I also use the E-MU to control all my PC sound. I have disabled my onboard sound card, so when I play games, watch films or surf on Youtube, I always use the E-MU for playback. The quality is always great, and I have a volume control knob right on the interface, which is very handy since monitor speakers often don't have volume controls in the front.
Operation of the E-MU unit has always been more or less flawless, although I do have some occasional issues. Sometimes when switching between sound sources in different sample rates, the unit will get stuck on one setting and hance not be able to play back the other sound sources, and I have to manually enter the unit's control panel and change the settings to the corresponding one. The unit is supposed to be able to handle this automatically, and most of the time it does.
I believe I read the unit has a 1 year warranty. After a bit less than 2 years, one of the inputs stopped working. I'm not sure why, as I can't recall having done anything wrong. Anyway, so I e-mailed E-MU support to find out how much it would cost me to get it fixed, and they said the warranty is in fact 2 years. All I had was a receipt from eBay, and that was fine with them. I returned my item to E-MU, and within one day of receiving my item, they sent me a brand new replacement in original packaging, and with express shipping. I only had to pay the shipping costs for having my old item sent to them. Their support always responded within one or two days. I am very impressed with E-MU support! There are still no Windows 7 drivers (September 2010), although E-MU claim the Vista drivers work fine. They do appear to do so, although I would feel a lot more comfortable if they could make Windows 7 drivers available. Apparently they are in the works.
The unit tends to be sold for about £150. When comparing the E-MU with other units in the same price range, I can't help but think the E-MU seems to offer the best value for money.
The E-MU0404USB has been my audio interface of choice for about 2-3 years. If you only need 2 simultanoeus instrument inputs, this does a fantastic job for the price. You will have to pay significantly more for better audio quality, so within the price range, this is very competitive in terms of the quality of the converters and preamplifiers. I've been using this interface for work on music for film content that has been screened at the cinema.