words & image source/photographer : Eksovichea Tito Hak

- 33/41/48/88/96Khz audio sample rates

- 4 stereo (otherwise 8 mono) ASIO channels

- Don't buy this if you need or want to record or monitor audio from an external source. It has no physical audio inputs. (Look for the Echo indigo IOx xpresscard audio card instead) 

- Buy this if you intend to DJ or produce using midi or audio files from your laptop via your chosen DAW.

- Buy this if you want a tidy and compact solution that provides vastly better audio quality for DJ and production purposes then the default built in audio card of the laptop where your main external audio device might a little awkward to use. (Or even just for better quality sounding generic audio playback).

Generally the default built in audio card on many laptops are fairly limited for professional and/or enthusiast digital audio production and DJ purposes. Also the default signal output on such built in audio cards tend to be lacking in the DAC department which can leave sound a little less clean than it could be if not a little lifeless.

The DJx (the 'x' part signifying xpresscard) was the replacement for the much slower PCMCIA buscard version. Originally I had wanted to acquire the IOx version and not the DJx version. The difference being that the IOx version has one physical set of stereo inputs for recording (via a 3.5mm jack input) and one set of physical stereo outputs (again via a 3.5mm jack input). However its pretty much near impossible to get them any-more since they're no longer being produced, plus they generally command a slightly higher price then the DJx cards too. The IOx was said to be geared towards the music producers.

The DJx card on the other hand doesn't have any physical inputs for recording or monitoring external audio sources. Instead it has two physical stereo 3.5mm outputs (one for headphone monitoring and one for line out). However both the DJx and the IOx are capable of 8 x mono (otherwise usable as 4 x stereo) ASIO at a potential maximum of 96KHz depending on your machines capabilities. ASIO channels 1 and 2 are binded to the physical 3.5mm stereo outputs labelled as the headphone monitor output on the card, and ASIO channels 3 and 4 are binded to the stereo physical 3.5mm outputs labelled as the line-out output on the card. ASIO channel 5-6, and 7-8 are internal channels which can be re-routed via software as required whether within the bounds of a singular software DAW or multiple software DAW on the same machine.Despite the DJx card lacking a physical external source input for recording and monitoring of an external audio source, the DJx card can pretty much be used in the same way as the IOx if you're producing entirely from midi and audio files on the machine.

Why did I want an xpresscard audiocard to use with a laptop and not a USB 2.0 audio device? Because the xpresscard port can potentially allow for a dedicated data transfer speed of up to 2.5GB/s as opposed to the shared 480MB/s of USB 2.0 between however many USB devices you have connected to your computer with their particular device data bandwidth requirements. In pro digital audio applications we're always talking about trying to achieve the lowest possible latency timings in order to avoid audio crackle, pops and drop-outs as well a more natural feeling midi instruments or midi controller to sound output response times that don't have an unnatural delay/lag.  The vastly higher potential dedicated data bandwidth of the xpresscard port should allow for a much higher potential for achieving low latency performance. This is all fine in theory, but there's still the potential issue of poor device driver implementation that can still cause problems to result in high latency and/or poor audio streaming despite the huge data bandwidth advantage of an xpresscard audio device. More on that later.

Build quality

I couldn't imagine this card being able to take too much punishment when dealing with any potential rigours of life on the road. So it might be best to be careful with it. ie...

-  removing it from your machine and putting it in some sort of protective case whilst transporting your laptop in a bag whilst on the move. Which will no doubt go a long way to prolonging its functional use.

- not dangling heavy cables off it will no doubt go some way toward helping to keep the audio jack inputs in tact as well as reducing weight stresses on the protruding connection fob of the card as the card doesn't sit flush with the side of the machine. Constantly being exposed to such weight stresses over time will no doubt have a cumulative effect in terms of any potential damage.

Varying performance with the most recent v8.5 manufacturer sound drivers downloaded from Echo depending on system capability... This is where it gets quite inconsistent, but here are the test hardware scenarios I tested it with. In both instances of the M6400 with different processors installed, the machine has had everything removed or deactivated from the machine, device list, system registry and start-up which has nothing to do with audio production.

On a Dell Precision M6400 with a 2.69GHz Intel core2duo 6MB cache processor installed (limited to a 1066Mhz system bus and memory)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 41kHz without any sort of crackle - 3 x stereo(otherwise also 6 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 48KHz without any sort of crackle - 2 x stereo (otherwise also 4 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 88Khz without any sort of crackle - not possible (just resulted in speaker shredding noise)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 96KHz without any sort of crackle  - not possible (just resulted in speaker shredding noise)

On a Dell Precision M6400 with a 2.53GHz Intel QX9300 quadcore (4 threads) 12MB cached processor installed (limited to 1066Mhz system bus and 1066Mhz matched memory)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 41kHz without any sort of crackle - all 4 x stereo (otherwise also 8 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 48KHz without any sort of crackle -all 4 x stereo(otherwise also 8 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 88Khz without any sort of crackle - not possible (just resulted in speaker shredding noise)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 96KHz without any sort of crackle  - not possible (just resulted in speaker shredding noise)

Even stranger was the fact that I have a firewire audio device built into a mixer that is capable of streaming audio on 4 x stereo (8 x mono) ASIO channels via a firewire port (maximum potential of 400MB/s) at 96Khz without a single hiccup thus far in more recent testing at extremely low latency times of 2ms on this exact same rig (when using it with the recently installed QX9300 processor on the M6400). This suggest to me that what might be holding the Echo indigo card back will probably be related to poor OEM device driver implementation for the card.

On a Dell Precision M6600 with a second gen 2.72GHz Intel i7 dualcore (4 threads)  4MB cached processor installed (1333MHz system bus speed currently dictated by the 1333Mhz memory speed)

In this instance there was no specialised hardcore optimisation for dedicated DAW use here. The result were unexpected but certainly welcome to say the least. Again this was using the most recent Echo indigo v8.5 device drivers for the card. But keep in mind it has the advantage of having a much faster system bus speed and memory with better implementation, as well as a faster processor even at the physical manufactured level of its data channels, as well as a direct memory controller built directly into the main CPU.

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 41kHz without any sort of crackle - all 4 stereo(otherwise also 8 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 48KHz without any sort of crackle - all 4 stereo(otherwise also 8 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 88Khz without any sort of crackle - all 4 stereo(otherwise also 8 x mono)

- Maximum number of stable ASIO channels at 96KHz without any sort of crackle - all 4 stereo(otherwise also 8 x mono)

Trouble shooting the audio latency issues on the Dell precision M6400 with an Intel QX9300 quadcore processor installed

In practical terms the QX9300 processor in the M6400 should be much better at crunching numbers and multi-tasking than the much newer second gen i7 in the M6600. For one thing the QX9300 has 4 physical processing cores that handle one processing thread per physical core. The i7 on the other hand has 2 physical processing cores that handle 2 processing threads per physical core. In fact the QX9300 in the M6400 (limited to a memory speed and system bus speed of 1066Mhz) scores 7.2 out of 7.9 in terms of calculations per second, and the second gen i7 in the M6600 (with a 1333Mhz memory speed and 1333Mhz system bus speed advantage)  scores 7.1 out of 7.9 in terms of calculations per second.

I was still thinking the latency issues on the M6400 with the QX9300 for the Echo audio card is caused by poor audio device driver implementation based on how perfectly the Zero4 performs with the M6400 machine since installing the new QX9300 processor. So to test my theory I decided to use the most recent version of a free third party ASIO driver called ASIO4ALL with the echo indigo xpresscard soundcard on the M6400. ASIO4ALL doesn't replace the manufacturer audio card device drivers, it works in conjunction with it to take over some of the core processes that would otherwise have originally been performed by the OEM device drivers. It pretty much proved my hunch to be correct. I was able to get the Echo audio card to stream all 4 ASIO channels perfectly/flawlessly at 96Khz at a very low latency sample rate of 256KB via the ASIO4ALL audio drivers on the M6400 with the QX9300 processor.

How did it sound?

General sound quality was excellent with the DJx xpresscard audio card. However it depends how you want to use it. Although the Echo DJx is said to be for DJ purposes and the IOx for production, as far as ASIO channels are concerned regarding audio channel output they can be used in exactly the same way with the exact same audio quality. Obviously the DJx card has the advantage of having 2 stereo ASIO channels (otherwise 4 mono) binded to 2 physical out outputs, ie. 1 and 2 headphone monitor with 3 and 4 for line out. However you could also route and assign them as 2 separate line outs too if you wanted or even 2 seperate headphone outs depending on your software DAW or DJ software. However when working with multiple audio channels in a software DAW such as Ableton the degree of track definition isn't quite as pristine with the same level of clear signal output as what I've been used to working with when using something like the Korg zero4's built in internal firewire audio card. As a result, the headphone monitor output on the echo indigo card also suffers in making it sound much more crowded when working with a multi-track projects. Turning the volume up on the headphone monitor out to try and get more clarity only causes unwanted  distortion from too much signal output.When working with muti-track projects the sound on the korg zero4 via the headphone monitors is much crisp, clearer and defined at lower volumes and also has a much higher threshold of audio distortion negation at higher volumes to still sound clear and defined for the main part. Even the low end and subsonic frequencies for multiple channels remain perfectly reproduced and controlled without causing any distortion at higher volumes on the zero4 whilst staying crisp at the top ends.

Generally when working with the Echo audio card any productions (or even DJ mixes) have to be very carefully engineered or tweaked to keep the mix from sounding crowded. Sound quality for headphone monitoring is good but only at low volumes, which doesn't necessarily fully deliver the full impact of all that's actually going on across the mix soundscape. Turning the volume up to compensate more often than not caused unwanted audio distortion from too much signal whilst making the soundscape more crowded. 

For general uncomplicated single track audio playback, audio quality is excellent with the DJx expresscard.

Would I recommend it? 

In terms of sound quality its certainly a better option for working on audio projects whilst on the move in your headphones than the built in integrated sound card on most if not all laptops. Also because its an xpresscard and entirely bus powered its generally a much more tidier solution than having a USB audio device dangling from one of the usb ports of your laptop, which more often than not will also require power from an external mains source too. For the current prices its certainly a "steal" so to speak, since these cards are no longer manufactured. If you can actually find somewhere to buy one brand new you'll find that they now retail at under half of the price of their original RRP. Despite it being a device to use in situations where its not possible to use your main system/setup, you might best be warned that the DJx card isn't the most robust of devices for its intended on the go purpose, so it might be wise to remove the card altogether from your laptop whilst your laptops not in use and being transported in a bag. This is the reason many professional see it as a home studio use device rather than an on the go use device.

Trouble shooting tips...

I'm guessing there's a bunch of people who might have had a few problems with trying to get this card to work properly on the windows platform based on my experience of it thus far. So here's a few tips that should get it functioning the way it should.

- To get maximum performance out of the DJx xpresscard audio card it should always be plugged in before powering your laptop up. Believe me you will notice the difference in terms of performance. Plugging the card in whilst windows is loaded will more than likely cause greater amounts of device latency that causes the dreaded speaker shredding buzz at much lower audio sample rates, possibly due a different priority assignment being given to it with so much other crap already being given system resources before it and other discrete unwanted access to your system as far you are personally concerned. 

- If you want to remove the card during a logged in session of windows you should safely remove it via the task bar notifications first before physically ejecting it (which will no doubt also significantly help in pro-longing its functional useful life).

- if you're using a dualcore processor based machine and are still suffering serious latency issues with using the default OEM system drivers for the card, I'd recommend downloading and installing an audio device driver called ASIO4ALL. Its free to download and use. In testing so far I'd say that the most recent version of ASIO4ALL is a damn sight more stable than all the previous version I've used, and it will most certainly give you much better performance then the default Echo audio device drivers alone. You should definitely be able to achieve stable higher quality audio frequency sample rates at much lower/faster latencies.