Gina 3G Sound Card Review

Consider this: The average computer motherboard with integrated audio sells for approximately $6.47 more than the identical card without audio.

So, if you've ever wondered why the sound coming out of your expensive (or even inexpensive) powered speakers is tinny, noisy and of brutally lower fidelity than the same tracks heard through the headset of your portable player, the answer is simple: You're processing your music through a six-buck pre-amp.

And if you think the output quality of those systems is bad, just try recording through them.

Fortunately, the solution is as simple as one, two, three. One: Open your computer case. Two: Mount a quality sound card into any available PCI slot. Three: Close the computer case.

OK, the process is a bit more complex than that. You also have to install the drivers for the new card. But saying something is as simple as one, two, three, four just doesn't sound right.

There are, of course, sound cards and there are sound cards. Some aftermarket cards sell for several dollars, others for several thousand. If you're serious about quality audio and intend to do any audio/video recording and/or editing, figure on spending $250-$500 for a card capable of supporting sampling rates up to 96k and maintaining full 24-bit resolution throughout the signal path.

For my money, Echo Audio's hot Gina 3G is the top-performing value-leader in this very elite category.

With a street price of roughly $275 to $350, the Gina 3G is one of the lowest-cost "breakout box" pro-quality sound cards on the market. What is a breakout box? In simplest terms, it's an external junction box that let's you make all your audio input and output connections without crawling around behind your computer.

In reality, however, convenience is the least of the breakout box's advantages. Their real importance lies in the fact that they contain a lot of electronics the A/D and D/A converters in the case of the Gina that would otherwise reside inside the computer and be subject to interference and RF noise generated by everything from the hard drive, to the network card, to the power supply, to the fan motors.

Using the breakout box and, of course, top quality chips and other components, gives the Gina 3G a superb 110db dynamic line input range, 114 db dynamic output range, and 112db dynamic range from the mic pre-amps (with an astounding -128 dBu EIN equivalent input noise).

Gina's other specs are equally impressive: Two auto-sensing universal connectors (1/4") for balanced TRS or XLR inputs (48V software selectable phantom power on XLR inputs), six balanced quarter-inch outputs, optical-TOSLINK-Lightpipe and coaxial digital I/Os supporting 32-96kHz sample rates,  one-click selectable +4db (professional) or -10db (consumer) nominal output, 128x oversampling converters,  56-bit/100 MHz DSP processing, and MIDI time-code synchronization.

Like virtually all computer peripherals, sound cards are only as good as their drivers. Echo's extremely low-latency Gina drivers are kickass, supporting virtually all consumer and professional audio-editing software packages.

In addition to being ASIO 2.0, GSIF low-latency MIDI, WDM and Core Audio and Core MIDI compatible, they offer 5.1 and 7.1 surround output with delay management, AC3, DTS and WMA9 output via the S/PDIF port and Super/Channel resource sharing for splitting the inputs and outputs between multiple applications.

None of those, however, is my favorite Gina feature. My personal fav is called Pure Wave, which is a proprietary, mixer-panel selectable driver for bypassing the Windows Driver Model (WDM). The problem with WDM is that it can only handle 24-bit audio if it was created with Microsoft's extensible wave format, which, unfortunately, is not supported by 90 percent of the world's prosumer- and professional-grade digital audio workshops.

Even if you're not using a DAW or even recording through the sound card at all, you'll love Pure Wave. Among many other things it does, WDM imposes lots of sound-degrading processing steps between your audio files and the speaker output on your card. Enable Pure Wave in the Gina mixer panel, play some favorite tunes in Winamp or another player and you'll be surprised how much better they sound. Play them in Foobar or another player that offers 24-bit output and they'll sound better yet.

In addition to its excellent driver package and state-of-the-art mixing panel software, the Gina G3 ships with Mackie's Tracktion .music-production software and 25 plug-ins including Final Mix.


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