Four years ago, Digigram made laptop and desk-bound computer users stand up and take notice with the introduction of the first professional-grade audio recording interface on a standard Type II PC card.
Designed to enable audio production on a laptop computer, the diminutive two-channel VXpocket offered portable performance on par with its full-sized PCI card counterparts.
Digigram engineers have outdone themselves with the recent release of the more powerful four-channel VXpocket 440 recording interface ($650).
The Digigram VXpocket 440 features four balanced analog inputs (at microphone or line level), four balanced analog outputs, S/PDIF digital input and outputs, and a SMPTE (LTC) time-code input.
Product CapsuleThumbs Up
Professional I/O connections
Multichannel full-duplex operation
Only one stereo set of digital I/O
Limited to four total I/O channels at 24-bit/48 kHz
For more information: contact Digigram in Virginia at (703) 875-9100 or visit www.digiram.com
Input/output connectors are located on a heavy-duty breakout cable that clips in to the top of the VXpocket 440 card. The cable is outfitted with eight XLR connectors for the analog I/Os, three phono (RCA) connectors for S/PDIF digital I/O and SMPTE input, plus a stereo 1/8-inch jack for headphone output.
The VXpocket 440, like the updated version of the stereo VXpocket (VXpocket v2) card, offers 24-bit performance with Windows-compatible applications. Direct Sound and Wave drivers are provided for Windows XP, 2000, 98/95 and NT4. In addition to working with applications under MAC OS9 and MAC OSX, cross-platform ASIO drivers are provided.
As with the original VXpocket, the VXpocket 440 can record and play at the standard sampling rates found between 8 kHz and 48 kHz.
Although the card is capable of bidirectional four-channel operation, the actual number of channels is determined by the performance of the host laptop computer and by the sample rate/bit-depth selected. Only bidirectional two-channel operation or four channel record are supported at 24 bits at 48 kHz.
The analog inputs can be switched internally from line level (0 dB) to microphone level (+30 dB or +48 dB) for direct use with dynamic microphones. There is no built-in 48-volt phantom power to enable use of condenser microphones, though several manufacturers sell reasonably small battery-powered phantom power adapters.
Digital input levels can be adjusted internally. The line-level analog and S/PDIF digital output levels are adjustable.
Line-level inputs and outputs can handle a maximum level of +10 dBu; the SMPTE input can read time code levels ranging from -20 dBu to +3 dB and features a capture speed tolerance of +/-15 percent.
After downloading the latest drivers from the Digigram site, installation of the card into a Pentium IV 1.2 GHz Dell Latitude C810 (with 256 MB of RAM and a 45 GB internal hard drive running Windows 2000) was reasonably simple.
The software I evaluated the VXpocket 440 with included the Cubase audio and MIDI sequencer from Steinberg and Sound Forge from Sonic Foundry.
The Digigram Wave Mixer application is used to set input and output levels, record source, analog input type, phones level and digital format (AES or S/PDIF). The control application can also switch the card into a “Data” mode, which disables all digital level processing to ensure digital data integrity when outputting non-PCM audio data such as Dolby AC3.
For ASIO operation, a separate control interface is launched from your recording application, allowing control over the card plus the advanced ASIO recording and monitoring settings.
I took the notebook recording system on several remote recording expeditions including press conferences and multi-person interviews. I even took the system with me on my beach vacation to continue working on a personal production.
While typical radio and newsgathering recording traditionally uses two-channel recorders (MD, cassette, DAT, etc.), the extra input channels afforded by the VXpocket 440 came in handy on several occasions during my testing.
At press conferences, for example, the extra channels can be used for coverage microphones in addition to the direct pressbox feed. Having the ambient microphones on separate tracks provides both an auditory safety net and the ability to feed in audience questions not usually available through the press box.
For multiperson interviews, separate channels for each interviewee allows for later mix control and easier editing of difficult transitions.
Physically, Digigram made the VXpocket 440 card to be as flexible and as portable as possible. As such, a separate hardware breakout box was ruled out in favor of the provided multiconnector breakout cable.
While this approach makes the laptop recording system self-contained and self-powered, care needs to be exercised regarding the use and anchoring of the breakout cable. It is easy to see that a breakout cable consisting of eight metal XLR connectors and several smaller connectors hanging off of the top of a PC card is a potential recipe for trouble.
To this end, Digigram provides an innovative anchor system that significantly reduces strain on the card by attaching the body of the cable to an empty port (parallel, serial, external monitor, etc.) via two large thumbscrews.
Of course, if someone trips over your cables, your computer is still at risk, but that is hardly the fault of Digigram. It is a good practice with semi-expensive and fragile portable recording equipment to take appropriate precautions, such as using gaffer’s tape, tying long cables to table legs, etc.
Overall, I experienced no troubles and was pleased with the sonic performance and the newfound mobile recording freedom I discovered with the VXpocket 440.
The Digigram VXpocket 440 brings professional multichannel audio performance to the mobile computing market. The convenience and expedience of recording and editing in the same box while on the road is worth the price of the card, especially for busy newsroom operations. It doesn’t hurt that the price recently dropped almost 25 percent, to $650.