ExpressCard slots on new Mac and PC notebooks look tantalizing, but buyer beware: adding FireWire audio can be perilous. Multichannel FireWire interfaces work beautifully with the proper drivers and controller, but get some element of that equation wrong, and you may find your high-end interface is rendered unusable (think glitches and dropouts). The chipset in the controller and in the laptop can have an impact, but having a TI (Texas Instruments) controller in your ExpressCard seems to be a good start.
Speaking of Rain Recording, Rain is about the only vendor I’ve found that offers a 2-port FireWire ExpressCard known to work well with audio interfaces. Now, your mileage may vary depending on the chipset in your laptop, but based on what I’ve been hearing, this looks like a good option. I’ve also seen a cheap (US$30) card floating around some random Internet vendors; it’s so cheap, I’m probably going to buy one just to see if it works. I’ll report back.
2 Port FireWire Express Card (formerly ADS Tech PYRO1394a) [Rain Recording]
I get nothing out of this, for the record; Rain actually hopes you’ll get this card with one of their laptops, but I’m just as curious to hear how it works on other machines. Of course, this would be a nice add-on not only for PCs, but also potentially for MacBook Pro users wanting dedicated FW400 ports and the TI controller – theoretically, at least. Let us know what happens if you take the plunge.
If you’ve had experience with different chipsets and ExpressCard slots on Mac or PC, we’d love to hear it. And I hope to offer my own tests soon.
Updated: The StarTech EC13942 also shares the TI chipset and is available from a number of vendors if that’s a vendor you prefer. It’s the only one endorsed by PreSonus aside from this former ADS Tech card that Rain sells — and may give you better results with other, non-PreSonus hardware, based on reports I’ve read. See PreSonus’ official word on the matter: