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Reader Review: Echo Indigo Audio PCcardReturn to News Page

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Echo Indigo Audio PCcard review
by Ryan A. Hall
Published: 2/4/2003

Mike,
Here is my review of the Indigo stereo sound card by Echo Digital Audio Corporation. Let me start off by saying I am, by no means, an audio expert. I had been searching for a better audio solution for my PowerBooks for some time. I was tempted by the Sonica by M-Audio, but couldn't afford to give up a USB port. I found other cardbus solutions, VXpocket by Digigram. They offer features I don't need and cost more than I wanted to spend. Finally, I stumbled upon the Indigo ($99), by Echo Digital Audio Corporation, www.echoindigo.com. This is a 24 bit, 96 kHz Type II audio card that fits in the cardbus slot of PowerBooks and offers full MacOS X compatibility, supporting CoreAudio. It took about two weeks for the card to arrive from the time I initially placed the order on Echo’s website. The website originally stated the card would ship on Jan 14th, but didn’t arrive until Jan 31. I should add that because of the delay, Echo did not charge me anything for shipping, which I had selected as second day UPS. This was a nice surprise, showing good customer service. I tested the card in both a PowerBook G3 400Mhz (Pismo) and a Titanium PowerBook G4 1Ghz SuperDrive. (Note — Echo clearly states that the card will not work in a Lombard PowerBook. Lombard owners will have to look elsewhere for an audio solution.)

indigo card pix

Here's the info from the Echo Indigo Specs page:

    "Echo Indigo is a high quality stereo output device for laptop computers. It is ideal for listening to CDs and DVDs on the road, mixing professional audio and live performance applications.

    Specifications:
    Type II Cardbus interfaceStereo Headphone Output, 1/8" mini jack (x2)
    Supports true 24 bit, 96kHz audio
    High quality digital to analog converters
    Motorola DSP
    High quality headphone amplifier
    Analog volume control knob
    Greater than 111dB Dynamic Range (A-weighted)
    Better than 0.003% THD+n @ -3dBFS, 1 Vrms output level
    Frequency response of 10Hz - 22kHz, +/-0.25dB
    Windows: Supports WDM, Wave/MME, DirectSound, ASIO, and GSIF
    Mac OS X: Supports CoreAudio

    Macintosh Requirements:
    G4 Powerbook or G3 Powerbook with Cardbus slot (excluding Lombard G3 Powerbook) Mac OS X"

Installation:
The installation was straightforward and painless. Just pop in the CD containing drivers for Mac OS 10.1, 10.2, and Windows, install the drivers, restart the computer, and plug in the Indigo. No problems whatsoever. Selecting the Indigo is a simple process of going to "Sound" in "System Preferences", selecting the "Output" tab, and clicking on "Echo Indigo". Then, plug in your speakers or headphones and you are set to go. While you can insert the Indigo while the PowerBook is on, you can’t remove it while the PowerBook is on or asleep. You have to shut down the PowerBook. To be honest, I have not needed to use other PCMCIA cards, so I’m not sure if this is the case with other cards. With the advent of OS X, this is a minor annoyance. I often go several months without a restart. And even then, I do so only when I install software that requires it. Although, you can choose to keep the card installed, if your PowerBook case allows the fitting (my case does not). In the user manual on the CD, it states that Echo and Apple are working together to find a solution to the problem.

About the Tests:
Of course, these are very subjective tests. I am not an audio expert and do not have the first clue as how to objectively test sound. I’m just a regular guy looking for better sound. Ever since I bought the 1 Ghz TiBook (which I use to run my business), I do not have much need for the Pismo. The Pismo now has two main purposes — scanning and digital jukebox, making this a perfect solution for that PowerBook. I performed 24 tests on each PowerBook:

Source

Output

Listening Device

iTunes low quality mp3 (128k)

PowerBook built-in audio

Monsoon computer speakers

iTunes low quality mp3 (128k)

Indigo

Monsoon computer speakers

iTunes low quality mp3 (128k)

PowerBook built-in audio

Headphones

iTunes low quality mp3 (128k)

Indigo

Headphones

iTunes low quality mp3 (128k)

PowerBook built-in audio

Bose home theater system

iTunes low quality mp3 (128k)

Indigo

Bose home theater system

iTunes high quality mp3 (320k)

PowerBook built-in audio

Monsoon computer speakers

iTunes high quality mp3 (320k)

Indigo

Monsoon computer speakers

iTunes high quality mp3 (320k)

PowerBook built-in audio

Headphones

iTunes high quality mp3 (320k)

Indigo

Headphones

iTunes high quality mp3 (320k)

PowerBook built-in audio

Bose home theater system

iTunes high quality mp3 (320k)

Indigo

Bose home theater system

iTunes CD

PowerBook built-in audio

Monsoon computer speakers

iTunes CD

Indigo

Monsoon computer speakers

iTunes CD

PowerBook built-in audio

Headphones

iTunes CD

Indigo

Headphones

iTunes CD

PowerBook built-in audio

Bose home theater system

iTunes CD

Indigo

Bose home theater system

DVD

PowerBook built-in audio

Monsoon computer speakers

DVD

Indigo

Monsoon computer speakers

DVD

PowerBook built-in audio

Headphones

DVD

Indigo

Headphones

DVD

PowerBook built-in audio

Bose home theater system

DVD

Indigo

Bose home theater system

There is no need to get into the complexities of each of the 24 tests on both PowerBooks. The results can be summed quite easily. As far as I could tell, there was no difference between PowerBooks. As the quality of the source increased (DVD vs. 128k mp3, for example) and the quality of the listening device increased (Bose system vs. computer speakers) the difference in sound quality was more noticeable. With a lower quality source (128k mp3) and lower quality listening device (computer speakers), there was hardly any noticeable difference. This is the first test I performed, and I was slightly disappointed. I emailed Echo about this and got an almost immediate response:

"Ryan-
Glad to hear you'll be reviewing Indigo. About the only thing that I can think of that isn't on our website is that of all laptops, the Macs clearly have the best audio. When we do A/B tests (Indigo vs. internal audio) with PowerBooks, the difference is not as significant as with all the other Windows-based machines we've tested. Other Mac reviews have been quite favorable, so I hope you're results will be comparable. We are relying on reviews and press releases to get the word out on our new product, so your interest is definitely appreciated.
Let me know if any questions come up.
Sincerely, Bill Adler"

It’s nice to know that the standard sound in our Mac notebooks is better quality than PC notebooks. However, by the time I got to the DVD test connected to the Bose home theater system, it was clear that I was dealing with a much higher quality product. The sound was much better than the PowerBook’s standard sound, and provided an amazing DVD experience, considering that it is not Dolby 5.1. I tested the same scene of the same movie (XXX with Vin Diesel, where he jumps the Corvette off the bridge, crashing to the ground, while he parachutes to safety) on both PowerBooks, in order to be as accurate as possible. With the PowerBook’s built-in audio, I can only describe the sound as being small and muffled. The audio seemed to blend together. But with the Indigo, each aspect of the movie’s sound had separation and clarity. I could hear the difference in the music, the explosions, and the voices. Even the little clicks of metal against each other as they put equipment into the back seat were definitely more noticeable. In a different seen, where Agent XXX first starts the GTO, even the exhaust note was much closer to reality.

Game Audio:
Playing games that use CD audio was more immersive with the Indigo. While the game may be outdated, fragging bad guys in Quake 1, while listening to "War Machine" by KISS, with the Indigo through the Bose system was way cool. Other games exhibited similar benefits — WarCraft III, Hexen II, Heretic II, Quake II, and Quake III.

Conclusion:
The final questions are, "Should you buy it" and "is it worth $99?" For me, the decision is easy? I’m getting more enjoyment out of my PowerBook since adding the Indigo. If you mainly listen to lower quality mp3s through computer speakers, the Indigo might not be for you, since Macs have better quality standard audio. However, if you listen to higher quality mp3s, CD quality music, and especially DVDs, you should consider the Indigo. The difference in sound quality over the Mac’s built-in sound is clear, no pun intended.
Peace,
-Ryan A. Hall


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