Akai EiE Pro Review (Blue Screen, Crashing, Driver Problems)


The Akai EIE Pro audio interface is one sexy piece of kit, there’s no arguing that. But it’s plagued with problems. I mean, it works great. When it works.

 

Akai EIE Pro Box

Akai EIE Pro Box

Here is the video review of the Akai EIE:

 

I will start with the usual: The specs, good stuff, and then griping about the bad stuff.

A quick rundown of the features. This is the Pro version, the non-pro version retails for about $50 less and is limited to 16 bit and 44khz (And is red). The pro version sports:

  • USB 2.0
  • 24 bit/96khz recording
  • 4 Audio in/out combo jacks
  • 4 FX inserts
  • Phantom Power
  • Switchable VU Meters
  • 4 Outputs
  • A USB Hub (For some reason)
  • And another plug for your power bar. (Power supply included, does not run on USB power)

The whole unit is built in a very reliable and sturdy feeling metal enclosure.

Akai EIE Pro Front

Akai EIE Pro Front

To give you an example, the unit feels as sturdy as a guitar pedal. Not that I advise stomping on it.

The addition of another power brick to my ever expanding array of outlets is a minor inconvenience for me, although some have complained about it. I bought this knowing that I would be taking my computer with me to record anything on location, which means I’d be plugging things in anyway. (Taking my desktop – not a laptop)

If you’re concerned with portability however, a smaller unit powered by USB may be a smarter choice.

But it won’t have sexy toggles and VU meters.

Akai Line Level/Mic Input & Hi Z

Akai Line Level/Mic Input & Hi Z

 

Akai EIE Pro Box Contents

Akai EIE Pro Box Contents

Inside the box you’ll find the unit itself, a USB (2.0) cable, power brick, and a cd/quick start guide. Which should be put back into the box because you’re going to go to Akai’s website and download the latest drivers instead, because they have some…issues…with drivers.

The box also boasts a copy of Pro Tools Express:

Pro Tools Express - Akai version

Pro Tools Express – Akai version

The catch being that you have to go to a shoddy looking website (that makes you wonder how long it will exist), fill in your name and serial number, and then wait for them to mail you a cd and USB dongle.

From my understanding, Pro Tools Express is a crippled version of Pro Tools 10 – which makes it perfectly usable for a lot of people in a lot of situations, and aside from the inconvenience of waiting for them to mail it to you (Still haven’t received mine), it is actually a very a nice addition imho.

You get four channels in this unit, but they’re sort of split into stereo pairs by virtue of the phantom power switches.

There are two phantom power switches and each one turns on phantom power to inputs 1 & 2, or 3 & 4 respectively.

Akai EIE Phantom Power 1/2

Akai EIE Phantom Power 1/2

You can record each input to it’s own track, giving you four inputs total, but phantom power is only available in two pairs – not individually. Which isn’t a big deal for me, but something worth knowing ahead of time.

Akai EIE Pro Line Level / Mic / Guitar Inputs

Akai EIE Pro Line Level / Mic / Guitar Inputs

Each of the four inputs is switchable from line level input/mic input to a hi-z guitar input. The jacks are combo jacks – so to go through the mic pre-amp you need to use an XLR jack, the TRS jack is strictly for line level or guitar input when selected.

I found the preamps to be perfectly acceptable for a unit in this price range.

Akai EIE Pro VU Meters

Akai EIE Pro VU Meters

Probably the most attention getting feature of the Akai EIE Pro are the two prominent VU meters on the front of the unit. It’s hard to deny the sex appeal of the whole thing, with it’s toggle switches, VU meters, overall design… It feels like a piece of gear from my youth. Which was surely the intended goal of Akai.

And I have to admit it worked – the looks were a part of my decision to buy this interface over others. (But not a deciding factor of course)

The VU meters light up red when you clip, but other than that are not very useful except for telling you that you’re getting a signal.

Akai VU Meter Peaking

Akai VU Meter Peaking

You’re more likely to watch your DAW to set your levels than the VU meters. Still, every now and then they are a nice feature.

Back of Akai EIE Pro

Back of Akai EIE Pro

On the back of the unit you’ve got audio inserts for each channel (A nice touch), four outputs, your midi in/out, and your power and USB. And three USB ports. Which would be really handy I suppose if this wasn’t something obviously intended for a desktop computer what with it’s power adapter – and I don’t know about you, but since I built my computer myself (and it’s HUGE, to accommodate 200mm fans and the quietest CPU cooling I could find) I have no lack of USB ports.

AKAI EIE VU Meter Selection

AKAI EIE VU Meter Selection

You can have your two VU meters measuring inputs 1/2, or 3/4, and measuring the input to the unit or output.

Akai EIE Master Level

Akai EIE Master Level

Next to that is the master level – this controls the volume to the rear outputs, and a toggle between mono/stereo output that effects the rear output and the headphone output.

Akai EIE Pro Headphone and In Out Mix

Akai EIE Pro Headphone and In Out Mix

Below that you’ve got your headphone volume (On the left), the middle is a toggle that lets you monitor the 1/2, 3/4, or all inputs simultaneously through the headphones, and to the right is a knob that will roll between the latency free input monitoring of the unit itself, and the output coming back from the computer, which is useful for monitoring your voice while recording.

And that’s the ins and outs of the Akai EIE Pro (Haha – get it? I kill me).

Now for my gripes. And there are plenty.

Akai EIE Pro Review

Akai EIE Pro Review

Drivers:

If you have a Mac, just walk away.

Seriously. Unless you’re very patient and never update your OS or software. From what I’ve learned, Akai is extremely slow on releasing drivers, and chances are good there will be a new version of the Mac OS and suddenly your Akai will be a paperweight for an unreasonable amount of time.

Also from what I’ve gathered, there were a lot of problems with the PC drivers before the current incarnation – very high latency being one of the biggest problems.

I myself had problems right out of the box. The Akai drivers would cause my system to BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) – I’m running Windows 7 64 bit, on an otherwise healthy PC. It took 3 days and many many hours of research and experimenting to get everything working.

My BSOD’s all had in common that they all featured “NTOSKRNL.EXE” in the report somewhere.

First, tried the Akai on a fresh install of Win7, then updated Win7, then updated Mobo drivers, then downloaded specific updated drivers for USB, toggled firewire/usb 3/lots of other things on and off in Bios, uninstalled and reinstalled everything a few times, double checked power settings for USB, etc.

I finally nailed down the most predictable ways to get a BSOD. I downloaded the Windows Debugger kit: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/libra… ( If you’re having similar problems, follow the instructions. Download the SDK, just install the Debugging Tools For Windows) which allows you to open the BSOD crash dump files and read them to see what caused the crashes.

Then I activated Verifier. I backed up my entire system first, and made a restore point before the next bit of work…

If you have similar problems you might try doing what I did.

From the start menu, I typed verifier.

This opens the Verifier window, I selected:
Select Create custom settings (for code developers)
Select individual settings from a full list

Checked all of these options:

Special Pool
Pool Tracking
Force IRQL Checking
Deadlock Detection
Security Checks (Windows 7 & 8/8.1)
DDI compliance checking (Windows 8/8.1)
Miscellaneous Checks

Then on the next screen hit select driver names from a list, and checked off everything that isn’t Microsoft. Restarted and grabbed a coffee and a 4 hour video of Karl Pilkington on the Ricky Gervais show to watch while the next part of the equation takes place.

Activating verifier is going to make a lot of BSOD’s happen –  I can’t claim to be computer savvy enough to know the details, but as far as I understand it, driver verifier will BSOD at the first sign of a driver behaving funny.  This is a useful troubleshooting tool because you can eliminate things until you find what is causing the specific problem you’re having.

After a BSOD, open the debugger and open the crash dump file, and open the latest one. Look for anything that vaguely makes sense.

Often there will be a dll or sys file.
Google it if you don’t know what it is, look up what it belongs to, and if possible, uninstall that thing. In my case it was never a case of a broken file or improperly installed or not updated driver – it was simply incompatibility.
I learned quickly to turn off Verifier to uninstall things (because launching the uninstall program may BSOD with verifier on, as it accesses the file to uninstall it). To turn it off just launch it in the same way (start: verifier) and hit “delete existing settings”, finish and reboot.

I did this over and over, rebooting and turning it on and rebooting and launching stuff, crashing, rebooting and look at the dump file, turning it off and rebooting, uninstalling the thing, turning it back on and rebooting, open everything I can until I crash, etc.

Ultimately I ended up uninstalling the drivers for a few features of my Gigabyte motherboard – including USB controllers, BIOS control software, and what I believe to be the main culprit: A feature called On/Off Charging, which kept the power to the USB ports turned on even when the computer was turned off, so you could change devices while the computer was off.

I can’t say why this caused problems with the Akai EIE Pro – it didn’t seem to cause the unit to “hang” or stay connected, because you could disconnect it completely and see in every hardware display on your computer that it was disconnected, and the problem still occurred.

But whatever the conflict was, it was resolved once I uninstalled all the Gigabyte motherboard features.

Now the Akai works as intended – after many many hours (30?) of work and research and testing.

So what’s my final word on the Akai EIE Pro?

  • It’s sexy.
  • When it works, it works as advertised and without complications – when it works.
  • With updated drivers the latency has gotten much better on PC’s. Previously there were many reports of it being almost unusable.
  • They have, since purchasing my Akai, released a driver for Mac OS 10.10 (3 months after the release of the OS)
  • Their driver support seems very slow and raises serious concern about the longevity of the product – will it continue to be supported? Will new firmware be developed in the future?
  • Will the Akai EIE Pro and Akai EIE support new operating systems that come out in the future? That’s a serious question to ask yourself, as Akai does not have the track record with audio interfaces that other companies have.
  • The concern that they may instead simply release a new product and discontinue support for the EIE series in the future is something to consider before purchase.
  • It may require considerable effort on your part to get it working and integrated into your system – although I have heard of many people who’ve had no problem at all, they just plugged it in and it worked straight out of the box.

Would I recommend it?

If you have a Mac:

No. Look somewhere else. Get something reliable and proven to work well and easily and save yourself the hassle, unless you really want the aesthetic of the Akai, because that’s all you’d be buying for your trouble.

If you have a PC:

If you want a simple plug and play option, I might suggest looking at alternatives.

While my unit caused me significant problems, having worked them out and knowing that I am not likely to update my OS or system in a very long time (thus making the forward compatibility and longevity of the product less important to me, personally), I enjoy it.

It works for me, it now does everything it promised, and it is damn sexy. I got what I wanted in the end and I’m happy with it. If you don’t mind the possibility of having to wrestle with it to get it working, then by all means go for it – but maybe avoid registering the serial number or applying for the Pro Tools until you get it working in case you have to take it back. And who knows, you may be one of the people who is lucky enough to just have it work, with no problems.

 

I am happy with my Akai EIE Pro, it’s a quirky piece of gear and it seems to me (discounting the initial problems getting it working) to be very feature-rich for the price. I still, having gone through everything I’ve gone through, would not swap it for another interface in the same price range.

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