The Best DAC? Echo Audiofire 8 Firewire Interface

Need a good firewire interface? An Echo Audiofire 8 review is just what you might need… I have read a lot of reviews on the ECHO Audiofire interface in the last year. I did so because I needed a new DAC to get audio out of my PC. A firewire interface is the best way to get audio out of your PC. Every Echo Audiofire 8 review I had come across was a positive one so I purchased my own about a year ago. I have to say that this DAC/ firewire interface is an excellent product to be sure. For the price; I’m not sure it has an equal. Yeah, I realize there are better quality devices around. But that is really not the point. For less than $500.00 USD this thing is a vital component to anyone pursuing multi-channel audio from a computer or PC. It can output 8 channels or take 4 stereo set of inputs, or 8 mono inputs. And the ECHO does so using the ASIO protocol of the better Media Players.

How I use the Echo Audiofire 8 DAC

I use the ECHO so that I can output 6 channels individually for my stereo speakers. I use an all-digital crossover network using a personal computer. The ECHO unit is the last step in the chain before exiting to my amplifiers which directly power the speaker drivers. This works incredibly well. I could use an extra Audiofire 8 if I wanted to do the same thing for a full surround sound system. You just set which channel of the Echo unit you want the software crossover to output into and the Echo does the rest.echo audiofire 8 review

Excellent Digital to Analog Converters

Just for reference there have been some tests that show the Echo unit compared to much more expensive firewire DAC units. It has been compared to the RME Fireface 800 which is a very good interface DAC. It has also been compared to the Apogee Ensemble and Apogee Duet, among others in the Apogee lineup. All told the sound quality may not beat some of these more expensive units. But fair to note was that it was hard to tell them apart. My experience against the M-Audio firewire 410 was a no contest. The Echo was much better. An important part for me too was that it would not crash as the M-Audio was known for. I can’t say the M-Audio really had ‘bad sound’, it certainly sounds fine. The problem was its constant crashing. And the Echo is known for being rock solid and stable with good drivers. As far as recording goes, I don’t have much to report. I don’t use it this way. I use it for an output DAC for my PC. For this use, you can’t beat it for the home theater speakers and surround sound speakers

ASIO support

Using ASIO to route the signal within my PC allows me to use all sorts of plugins and software programs that provide ASIO support. The Echo unit never failed to deliver high quality results here. I use J River Media Center for my music and movie playback which can use ASIO. I output the signal from J River using the up-sampling option in the ‘Audio’ output section of their menu. I up sample all red book CD’s that have been stored onto my hard drive to 88.2Khz. This is exactly twice the sampling rate of regular CD’s. To me this sounds better than regular playback of the WAV file. The J River program reads the WAV file and outputs the signal to an ASIO compatible sound card. I output the 88.2Khz signal to an ESI Juli@ soundcard specifically going to the SPDIF coax connector. (you can set this from J River menu also) Then the coax cable runs from the digital out on the Juli@ and into the coax input on the Echo Audiofire 8 (it has both coax and toslink connectors) The upsampled digital signal is now present at the digital inputs on the Echo sound card. Now I tell the Thuneau Allocator Lite speaker crossover software (on the PC) to take its input from the digital inputs 1 and 2 on the Echo Card. And set the Thuneau Alloc Lite outputs to output to channels 1,2,3,4,5, and 6. You will have to set up your crossover according to the Thuneau instructions for each of your speaker drivers. But this is basically how it works. The Echo unit outputs the signal to each analog output according to how you have set up the crossover. I use channels 1,2 for my bass drivers, channels 3,4 for midrange, and 5,6 for tweeters. I use the J River media Player to adjust for volume.

Miscellaneous Settings

If you use more than one digital input like I do. (I use the fiber-optic input for movies) You may/will need to switch from coax to optical in the Echo interface that shows on your desktop. I did find this a bit annoying. It would have been nice if the digital inputs would auto recognize and switch to the live input. But the Echo doesn’t do this. If you only connect one device you often still have to toggle from Coax and back to fiber optic, or vice/versa.

My Complaints about the Echo interface

If I have one complaint during the Echo Audiofire 8 review, this is it; I wish the digital inputs would auto set themselves. If they did, I would never have to open up any program except the Media Player and start the Thuneau crossover. As it is, I have to switch to the output I need to use from within the Echo interface. This isn’t any harder than switching inputs on a receiver, and I guess it’s really the same thing, but auto would be better.

How good does the Echo Audiofire 8 Sound?

The Echo unit offers very good sound at even twice its price. It’s not the last word in resolution and scale; those awards would go to a DAC like the Berkely DAC. But the Berkely unit is only a 2 channel DAC that cannot work with a multichannel crossover, or multichannel audio like the Echo can. A good comparison would be to a DAC such as the Dave Lavry Blue Multichannel DAC. The Dave Lavry DAC is about 8 times more expensive at around $4000.00, and if you need 6 or 8 output channels it would be worth a listen. The Dave Lavry DAC is better than the Echo in pretty much every area. But the Echo unit is not embarrassed. It just has slightly less resolution, is not quite as smooth, and has less dynamic resolution and scale. It feels a bit smaller, if you will. A little less imaging and less dynamic too. But it still sounds really good, not strident, or harsh, or grainy whatsoever. The Echo sounds much better than its low price might indicate. It plays music very well, has a warm and involving character, and is basically faultless unless you compare it to much more expensive units. This Echo firewire DAC has been compared to firewire interfaces at prices up to $2000.00USD and for good reason. It can compete in that price class. It may give up a few features those more expensive units from Apogee offer, but is sonically neck and neck with most of them at least as far as sound quality (in my experience). I consider the Echo Audiofire 8 DAC to be a very good bargain and high quality product. I own one personally and it is my reference for firewire DAC interfaces under $1000.00 USD.

Speaker Crossover (other ways to use the Audiofire 8 DAC)

crossover network using the PC
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speaker crossover
speaker crossover

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