Emu 1212m Review

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Review by:- Ivan Milenkovic
Brand: E-MU
Model: 1212m
Type: PCI Audio Production System
Price: ~140$ (31.3.2009 reference)
Image:Emu 1212m.jpg



Sample Rates: 44.1, 48, 96, 192kHz from internal crystal or externally supplied clock (no sample rate conversion)
Bit Depths: 24-bit I/O, 32-bit processing
PCI Specification:
- PCI 2.2 Compliant
- Form Factor: Universal Keyed, Short PCI Card
- 3.3V I/O, 5V Tolerant
- PCI Bus-Mastering DMA subsystem reduces CPU usage
E-MU E-DSP™ 32-bit DSP with 67-bit accumulator (double precision w/ 3 headroom bits)
Hardware-accelerated, 32-channel mixing, and multi-effects processing
Zero-latency direct hardware monitoring w/effects
ASIO 2.0, WDM/MME/DirectSound Drivers
EDI (E-MU Digital Interface) proprietary 64-channel audio link over CAT-5 cable
Anti-Pop speaker protection minimizes noise during power on/off
Ultra-low jitter, clock subsystem: < 1 ns in PLL mode (44.1kHz, Opt. S/PDIF Sync)


This unit is a PCI audio card that serves for semi-pro to even (some forms) of professional audio production. The package actually includes two PCI cards, E-MU 1010 PCI card & E-MU 0202 I/O daughter card that are connected internally via flat cable. 1010 card is the actual heart of the system, and it has DSP chip onboard, while 0202 serves as expansion card where I/O and MIDI section is. This system doesn't have any external parts, but it is possible to upgrade it with outboard gear. E-MU sells the external module for 1616m system that is usable for this card as well.
As said, 1010 card has onboard sound processing (DSP). This means it has it's own hardware accelerated processor for (it's own) sound effects, which can serve as FX plugins both for monitoring via cards mixer or as VST FX plugings without the need of CPU processing.


  • USB 1.1, USB 2.0, FireWire/IEEE-1394, CardBus/PCMCIA, PCI, PCI-E, PCI-X? If PCI/PCI-E/PCI-X, breakout box included?

As mentioned this card is PCI interface. There is an EDI link that serves for connecting EMU external module if needed, but that has to be bought separately (EMU 1616m chips with such a module that looks like this:
Image:Emu 1212m 2.jpg


This card has:

- 2 servo-balanced analog inputs, DC-coupled, low-noise,with gold plated 1/4 jack connectors and AK5394A A/D converters (same A/D converters used in Digidesign's ProTools HD 192).
- 2 Balanced analog outputs, low-noise, gold plated 1/4 jack outpupts with 3-pole low-pass differential (anti-pop) filter.
- Digital I/O section:
- 2 in/2 out coaxial (transformer coupled)
- 2 in/2 out optical (software switched at ADAT)
- AES/EBU or S/PDIF format (software selectable)
- 8 channels, 24-bit @ 44.1/48kHz
- 4 channels, 24-bit @ 96kHz (S-MUX compatible)
- 2 channels, 24-bit @ 192kHz


1 in, 1 out

Send return options are available with this card, with PatchMix application that comes shipped with the card. It is very flexible when it comes to patching the signals, but PatchMix software it is not too user friendly (which means you have to go through manual several times to get the hang of all the possibilities).

This card has no surround capabilities, or headphone outs. If you want to monitor the sound with your headphones you will need a separate headphone amp.

- This unit has NO microphone preamps, nor HI-Z (hi output instrument) inputs. You have to get separate outboard gear if you want to connect instruments/microphones to this card.


This card supports several resolutions&bitrates, ranging from 44.1- 192kHz. However, cards functionality depends what resolution are you using. On higher resolutions, performance is reduced:

- Effect processors are disabled. (Output sends & returns are still available.)
- ADAT is reduced to 4 channels at 88k/96k, and 2 channels at 176k/192kHz.
- ASIO channels are reduced to 8 ASIO (4 stereo) channels at 88k/96k, and 4 ASIO (2 stereo) channels at 176k/192kHz.
- At the 176.4kHz & 192kHz sample rates, the number of physical inputs and outputs is reduced.
- At the 176.4kHz & 192kHz sample rates, S/PDIF optical is disabled.

What this means is that although card is perfectly capable to carry the 24bit, 192kHz professional grade signal that is needed in high profile studios, it can do it, without DSP and with only 4 channels available. So if you need for example 16 channels of 192 audio, you will need 4 of these cards to work in parallel. But if you are content with [email protected]/48kHz, which is the industry standard these days, this system is enough (12 channels are in general enough for most small projects - example would be a drum set that needs ~10 channels).

The device supports ASIO 2.0, WDM/MME/DirectSound Drivers, and has direct monitoring, and they are rock solid.
The ASIO latency of the card is great as well! I get 7ms in Nuendo, and using any inserts and FX channels is a breeze even with DAW channel monitoring. It is rock solid, and it will not give away easily under pressure. I have found that the card (and my PC) will crash in a project loaded with:
3 FX tracks (inserts on 1&2: Amplitube Fender & PSP Vintage Warmer, inserts on 3: Altiverb 6) VST Instruments (Superior Drummer 2, Trilogy, Grand 2), which is pretty demanding, but I will see how it behaves on a better machine than mine when I get a new one ( current one is Athlon X2, 3.25GB RAM, 32bit XP) Another thing that I've noticed is that Guitar Rig 3 is performing very good after I got this card. Before (with Toneport UX1) I couldn't load some of the more demanding presets, and now none of the presets goes higher than 30% in CPU usage. I don't know the reason for this, but it is obvious that card raised the performance of GR3 on my machine somehow.


This system comes with great (free) software bundle that includes:
- Cakewalk SONAR LE
- Steinberg Cubase LE
- Ableton Live Lite 4 for E-MU
- Steinberg Wavelab Lite
- IK Multimedia AmpliTube LE
- IK Multimedia T-RackS EQ
- Minnetonka diskWelder BRONZE
- SFX Machine LT
- E-MU Proteus X LE (over 1000 sounds included)

This was in my opinion awesome thing from EMU, and they indeed bundled a lot of useful stuff to make sure that user can produce audio out-of-the-box.

The product also includes:
- Windows XP and XP x64 Drivers
- E-MU PatchMix DSP
- E-MU Power FX
- E-MU E-DSP Effects Library
- Owner's Manual and Tutorials

The way I see it, PatchMix application is great but not a user-friendly tool from where you control your card. It is made to resemble an analog style console that is used in studios. Here's an example of how it looks like:
Image:EMU 1212M 3.jpg

I personally think the GUI is a bit old fashioned looking and acquad compared to mixers from Steinberg from example. I think EMU could have done a better job designing this app, but it is not a big deal. Mixing won't be done from this app anyway, only routing, so it is more of a set-it-and-forget-it app, specially with save/load session option, that enables you to load or save your settings for future projects.


The direct competitor of this card would be something like M-Audio Delta 1010LT:
Image:M Audio Delta 1010LT.jpg
but it is a different beast that requers different outboard gear, and it doesn't have such a great software bundle like this product. Also analog I/O section is HQ on 1212m, compared to port&RCA inputs on Delta card. However Delta has 2 micpreamps & all 10 inputs available straight away, but it costs more, and don't deliver such a good sound as 1212m. Everything has it's own pros&cons, and this is just a short comparison - for more detailed analysis go to manufacterer's sites.


All this looks fine, but how this system behaves in real world situations? What are pros&cons?

Well, when I first got the card, I knew that it is outboard gear dependable. This card basically represents a better choice than entry level EMU 0404 PCI, and worse choice then EMU 1616m with external dock. However, the price of this card is lot less than 1616m system, more closer to 0404PCI - how come? Well, it is basically a stripped down audio system for semi-pro/limited pro audio production, and because the price is low, they didn't install any preamps, HI-Z inputs, nothing. In essence - you will need a LOT of outboard gear for it. Anything you want to do with this system, you have to buy external components. For example, if you wanna record microphones - you will need 2 channel mic preamp for 2 analog inputs that this card has. If you say, wanna record more inputs, like 8 microphones for drum set - you will need external ADAT converter with mic preamps. Since these converters are pretty expensive, you can see why this card has such a low price - it doesn't have them!

This card however is really good for someone who needs 2 great analog inputs right away, and the possibility to upgrade to 8 more. The choice of outboard gear is huge, so I can say that this card is actually quite flexible! Since you don't have anything on it and it is cheap, you can spend the rest of the money on various combos. It is there only to get the job done from the PC side. For communication with outside world (via mics/instruments) you will need something along side 1212m.
Now I'm using 2 channel preamp with this card it is M-Audio DMP3 preamp (there will be a review on this device as well), and what this preamp gives, the card delivers - period. Since it has great converters for its 2 inputs, you can rest assure that sound you feed in the card will be as-is from the outboard component (specially if you use higher resolutions).

This device is not really intended for musicians that need an easy plug&play solution. Since you have to buy lots of external stuff with it, you have to be an informed buyer. For someone who is seeking plug& play solution, I think getting Line 6 gear, like POD Studio models would be better. I've used Line 6 Toneport UX1 before this, and I find it great for the price. It's simple and plug&play.

BOTTOM LINE - If you are a user who likes gear, likes high quality stuff, is really careful about his sound quality, and likes modular approach - than this card may be for you. You will need at least 2 channel mic preamp with it, good set of monitors, and later on more converters, but all in all - you will be satisfied. Onboard effects are usable, once you get the hang of them, and the quality of the card built is really awesome.
--Sensible Jones 17:59, 14 April 2009 (CEST)