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Silly question: Analog and digital ins/out


Hello. I am planning to build a my first DAW, but I'm a little confused on a few basics:
First, I have a Macbook Pro 17" (latest i7). I cant use an interface that requires a PCI card obviously, so it'll have to be Firewire or ExpressCard. The Apogee Ensemble looks fantastic. I've heard nothing but great things about the Ensemble, and it should suffice for my needs quite well.
I will be pairing this with 1 Euphonix MC Mix and the MC Transport (not the touchscreen one, too expensive). Finally I think I may settle on the Focal Solo6's, or perhaps the Twin6 if I can just wait a bit longer and save up.
I have an old Roland XP-60 synth and a Kurzweil K2000r, but will be getting the new Kurzweil PC3K8 along with the Akai MPC5000.
Ok, here is my silly question: How to multiple digital out/ins work? I mean, I've seen many interfaces that offer say 8 optical in or out. Now Im pretty sure what analog in/out would do. If an interface as 8 analog ins, thats where I would input my older synths or mics. And I think with 8 analog out I could put those into an analog mixer if I so choose. Then with the analog outs on the mixer, put those back into the analog ins on the interface?
But what about digital ins/out? The Ensemble says it has 8 channels if I/O via ADAT. This is what throws me off. How would I use 8 channels exactly? I mean how do I connect to them. I.e. how can I connect an MPC5000 and the Kurzweil, plus perhaps a few more devices via ADAT if there are only 2 plugs on the back, input and output? The MPC5000 has 8 channel ADAT, so if I hook that up to the ADAT in on the Ensemble, I have no room for any other ADAT device? So I would have to disconnect the MPC if I wanted to play with other devices thru ADAT?
But I've seen interfaces with 16 optical ins like the Symphony I/O modules but only 2 plugs in the back. If its 16 channels of ADAT input, how could I physically connect multiple devices? Heres an example:
MPC5000 has 8 channels of ADAT, which comes thru 1 optical cable. Now I have 2 seperate synthesizers each with stereo ADAT out. Thats 4 channels combined from the Synths, plus the 8 from the MPC5000. So 12 channels total. However its 3 cables, 1 from the MPC, 1 from each synth. But how do you hook this up to an interface with only 1 ADAT in jack? Or am I wasting my time as this isnt possible in the first place, and I'd have to switch cables no matter what?
If you have a digital mixer with 8 channels, and your interface has 8 channels of ADAT out, then you just need 1 cable between the 2. If its analog, you'd need 8 individual cables between mixer and interface though. Am I correct or way off on this?
I've tried searching on google and reading as much as I can find but its kind of confusing to find an answer. Sorry for such a noobish question but I would like to know. I think what I'm looking for is the easiest way to connect multiple synths without having to constantly swap out connections. I know there are summing mixers I could use to hook up a bunch of synths via analog, but many/most synths today have SPDIF and ADAT and would just like some clarification on how these relate to the digital ins/outs on modern interfaces. Like I said I *think* I understand how to connect devices to and from via analog cables, but its the digital cabling that throws me off. Thanks!
September 15, 2010 @09:13am

These are great questions to call up and talk to our sales engineers about. They help people configure systems like this every day.
The quick answer is that to use digital ins and outs you will need some type of external interface to change from analog to digital and/or back again. This can often be built into other products, like mic preamps, mixers, even some keyboards, etc.
September 15, 2010 @03:41pm

If you have a device sending 2 channels over 1 fiber, there's a good chance it's S/PDIF and not ADAT. (S/PDIF can run over both fiber and wire, like on home theater receivers.) Technically ADAT is "up to" 8 channels, but it's rarely not all 8.
I just looked at the back of the Kurzweil PC3K8 and the only digital out I see is S/PDIF over wire.
Anyway, S/PDIF and ADAT are incompatible without a box translating between them, so going with analog is the easiest solution. I would get an 8x8 converter, a box with 8 analog inputs converting to an ADAT output and an ADAT input converting to 8 analog outputs, to expand your Ensemble.
September 15, 2010 @03:42pm