Echo Indigo I/O review
These days, you don't need a PC powerhouse to run music software, which is why many people use a laptop to compose music on. With a notebook, a little USB MIDI keyboard and a decent pair of headphones, you can make music wherever you go.
The only problem is that the sound cards built-in to most laptops record audio that sounds pretty horrid. Worse still, they don't have the all-important 'low-latency' ASIO drivers that allow you to play software synthesizers and samplers (virtual musical instruments that run on your PC) without introducing a delay between you hitting a note and your PC registering that sound.
Fortunately, Echo has spared a thought for the laptop musician with its Indigo I/O. This sound card plugs into the PC Card slot at the side of your laptop. A sturdy-feeling volume knob is positioned on the top of the device, which also includes one analogue input and one output.
Echo is also good enough to provide the mini-jack-to-phono lead that's necessary to connect the Indigo to an amplifier and speakers. Also supplied in the kit are two phono-to-quarter-inch jack adapters - essential for connecting to professional music equipment like mixers and outboard effects units.
Installing the Indigo is hassle-free. Simply run the drivers from CD, insert the Indigo IO into your laptop's PC Card card slot when prompted and that's it. You can start making music straight away.
On our 1.3GHz Intel Pentium laptop, we were able to get the Indigo to run at a latency of 11 milliseconds (ms), even when processing several tracks of audio, a bunch of plug-ins and three software synthesizers. This is quick enough to use a MIDI keyboard to play back software synthesizers. Any slower than 11ms and you wouldn't be able to play notes in quick succession without having them overlap.
If you don't have loads of programs running in the background, or you own a faster laptop, you'll be able to lower the latency even further. The Indigo also made a massive difference to the sound quality of our laptop. The light hissing and buzzing we'd noticed when using its built-in audio disappeared when we used the Indigo. Even MP3s sounded cleaner and clearer.
The Indigo sound card isn't cheap, but if you want to make music on your laptop, it's well worth the outlay. It's simple to install, sounds absolutely great and is perfect for turning a laptop into a fully-fledged music production machine.