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Q. Which audio/MIDI interfaces can I use with my laptop?

By Sam Inglis
Published January 2001

The WaMi Rack features a PCI expansion card and a 19‑inch rackmounting case.The WaMi Rack features a PCI expansion card and a 19‑inch rackmounting case.

I work in the motion picture industry and need a portable recording rig to use for composing and recording music in my hotel room when I'm on location. Which audio/MIDI interfaces are available for use with a laptop PC? Which ones offer bit‑for‑bit transfer when mastering and, if I'm burning a CD using Wavelab on said laptop, does bit‑to‑bit transfer even matter? During the production of the motion picture which I am currently working on I tried and subsequently returned the Tascam US428 because of poor driver performance and lack of support from Steinberg for Cubase VST 32 5.01r.

I'm considering the Ego Sys WaMi Box as it is PCMCIA‑based, and USB in its current version seems flawed to say the least...

Michael Davies

Assistant Editor Sam Inglis replies: We've had a lot of interest in the question of how best to get audio and MIDI working on laptop computers — for more detailed information see this month's PC Musician.

I tend to agree that USB is not an ideal option, particularly for audio; some USB chipsets seem not to work properly with music devices, and even when USB does work properly, asking it to carry stereo digital audio plus MIDI means that you push the bandwidth to its limit.

We have yet to test the Ego Sys WaMi Box, but Martin Walker reviewed and liked their WaMi Rack in SOS September 2000 (the larger PCI‑based equivalent). He did find, however, that it added dither noise to digital audio transfers, so assuming the WaMi Box is similar, you won't be able to do true bit‑for‑bit digital audio transfers (although the added dither will be inaudible in most circumstances).

The only other PCMCIA audio product I'm aware of is the VXPocket from Digigram. This provides stereo analogue and digital audio I/O, but no MIDI (though you could use it in conjunction with a USB MIDI interface). We reviewed it (using a Mac Powerbook) in February 2000, and found that it worked very well.