Adventures with a Mackie 1640i, Windows, and hardware

While researching my new recording setup, I eventually settled on a firewire mixer solution for recording using Cubase 5. After checking out a number of different options, the Mackie 1640i rose to the top for the following reasons:

  • Up to 16 simultaneous inputs to computer (for recording)
  • Up to 16 simultaneous outputs from computer (for mixing out of the box, external effects, re-amping, etc)
  • Kept everything analog as long as possible, specifically the EQ.
  • Simple – Didn’t spend a lot of energy/space on internal effects processing
  • Ability to function as studio mixer or as a live board with lots of routing and monitoring capabilities
  • High quality pre-amps

Too good to be true? Well, I started to think so after almost a month of unsuccessful installation attempts, learning way too much about computers, about 200 system restarts, and 8 system restores.

I eventually got a system running that has minimal issues and I’m writing this to share in case anybody out there is thinking about what PC computer system will complement the Mackie 1640i.

Final setup:

  • Sonics PowerPC from Computer Sonics in Lynnwood, WA.
    You can check out the specs from the links above. Though I’m pretty sure that if you get the right Operating System and Firewire card, any modern desktop will do.
  • Running Windows XP Home Edition. My first attempt was a Best Buy based PC running Vista64 – all Vista64 did was cause a whole lot of crashing!
  • ADS PYRO PCI 64R2 API-315 Firewire Card from www.firewire-1394.com. Important, it is a full size PCI slot card – NOT a PCI-e, see below.
    This was the tricky part. The card that came with the PC had two problems

    1. The chipset was not compatible with something in my system. I was able to get sound in, but not out, or vice versa. Either way, not stable with Cubase either.
    2. The original card was a PCIe card, one of the short slots that are designed to work with the slim desktop cases. The problem here is that all the PCIe slots were on the same IRQ as the Video card. This means that even if the card did work, it would be competing with the video card for processor resources. You can check your IRQ settings by going to “Control Panel > System > Device Manager”. In the “Device Manager” window, click “View > Resources by Type” and look for the section on “Interrupt Request”. If you see an IEEE 1394 controller sharing the same number as something else on your system, try using another slot. Enough detail, there’s plenty written about this stuff in relation to other PC audio recording optimization techniques.
  • Installing the Updated Mackie Drivers. At this point, they are on release 1.7. I’m running 1.6 successfully right now.

Notes:

  1. The above is my setup for home recording. For live recording, I’ve been using my wife’s laptop running Windows Vista64. In this case I capture the audio files using Mackie’s proprietary DAW Tracktion and then import the .wav files into Cubase at home. Tracktion is much more stable than Cubase on Vista64 and it’s just fine for these purposes.
  2. Always turn on your board before starting up Cubase. And preferably close Cubase before turning off the board. This will free you from any potential Device Manager/Connection issues specific to cubase that will only slow down your workflow.

Life is now good. And I hope this is helpful to anybody else tearing their hair out ;)

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