The Aark 24 is a professional-quality audio interface designed to turn any capable PC into a serious Digital Audio Workstation. The package includes the Aark 24 PCI Host card, the Aark 24 Interface box, a 6 foot shielded 25-pin cable, a software disk with the Aark 24 drivers and the Aark Manager Control Panel software, a CD-ROM containing Sek'd Samplitude Basic digital multitrack recording and editing software, and a very complete manual. The Aark 24 has 10 inputs and 10 outputs of 24-Bit audio. The Interface box includes 8 analog I/O (balanced or unbalanced, +4 or -10), 1 stereo S/PDIF coaxial I/O, 1 optical input and output which is selectable (via the Aark Manager Control Panel) as either TosLink stereo digital I/O or ADAT 8 channel digital I/O. The Interface Box also has connections for ADAT Sync, MIDI I/O, and Word Clock I/O. If 10 inputs aren't enough, multiple Aark 24 cards may be installed and linked together, all sharing the same clock. The Aark Manager is a software control panel that controls the functions of the card. This is where you monitor the input and output signals and control the channel routing, the monitor buss, the clock sync, the ASIO buffer size, and all the other functions of the card. The Manager is really what makes the Aark 24 special. It allows you to set up zero-latency cue monitoring without the need for an external mixer. You can control the levels and panning of the various inputs (independent of what is being recorded) and rout the monitor mix to any of the 10 outputs. This flexability to set up complex monitor mixes sets the Aark 24 apart from most other audio cards. Now here is what really sets the Aark 24 apart from the vast majority of audio cards currently available; the SOUND. Recordings I've done with the Aark 24 have been some of the best sounding digital recordings I've ever heard, and are certainly the best I've ever recorded. The increased resolution of 24-bit recording has to be heard to be believed. The analog sections of the card (the converters, etc.) are some of the quietest I've ever heard, no doubt due in part to the fact that all the analog signals are safely contained in the metal Interface box, away from the noise that lives inside the computer. And if that weren't enough, the Aark Host PCI card is also shielded, something I've never seen on any of the other audio cards. When combined with a high-quality multitracking program like Samplitude 2496 or Cubase VST, the Aark 24 system is hard to beat. The custom ASIO drivers that come with the Aark 24 make it especially impressive when used with Cubase. When run on a fast computer, I'm willing to say that the Aark 24/Cubase combination will give any Pro Tools system a run for its money. Sound-wise, I believe it annihilates Pro Tools. I never got that flat, "I've been recorded on a computer" sound. The sound is always natural, clear, and uncolored. My recording technique actually makes a difference with the Aark 24. When I record drums with a room mic, you can really hear the room; the differences between a Strat and a Les Paul become obvious in short, the Aark 24 doesn't homogenize the sound like so many other lesser computer interfaces. My only complaint is that right now it doesn't include DirectSound drivers. While this doesn't make any difference with most multitracking and editing applications, it does affect it's performance with most software synths which are designed to have much faster performance with DirectSound. Fortunately, I was told that DirectSound will be included with the next driver update. At a street price of $599, the Aark 24 is a bit more expensive then most of it's competitors, but that little bit more really makes a huge difference, and it's still about a tenth of the price of a tricked-out Pro Tools system. The Aardvark Aark 24 system brings host-based workstations to a new level. Aardvark also has several new interfaces that will be released in the coming months as part of their new DirectPro series. If the Aark 24 is anything to judge by, these new cards are going to be incredible. (

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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