Excellent Compact Audio Interface, Digital Mixer, DAW Control Surface, & Portable Recorder
I've been interested in building a small portable studio based around two laptops running 32-bit Windows Vista and 64-bit Windows 7 both with Cakewalk Sonar Studio 8.5.3 running many different VST and VSTi's. All of my Windows PCs are optimized for audio, using tools such as Thesycon DPC Latency Checker and Resplendence LatencyMon.
For Live DJ and small gigs, I wanted an audio interface with enough inputs to connect one hardware synth, one hardware guitar processor, one acoustic or bass guitar direct, and a mic. So I needed a multi-channel audio interface with good audio quality and rock-solid drivers with low latency since I also use several software-synths and effects plug-ins live.
After owning and testing a MOTU 828 mk3 Hybrid, MOTU UltraLite mk3 Hybrid, and a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1, I found that the MOTU units had excellent audio quality, but the Windows drivers were not acceptable regarding latency and stability. The NI interface didn't have enough I/O plus I couldn't get acceptable stability at low latencies either. I never could get my hands on a RME unit, they are supposed to have rock-solid drivers.
So I bought this Cakewalk VS-100 and it really surprised me - the drivers, which Roland calls "VS-Streaming Technology" are indeed rock-solid with very low latencies when running multiple soft-synths and effects plug-ins simultaneously. With Cakewalk Sonar set at 24-bit 44.1kHz, the drivers are much more stable with lower latency compared with the MOTU and NI interfaces. It's D/A converter audio quality isn't quite as clear and pristine as the MOTU units, but it's noticeably better than the NI Audio Kontrol 1, plus the frequency response is on par with the MOTU units.
As a multi-channel audio interface, it doesn't have as many I/O as the MOTU units plus there is no complex routing for the digital mixer when used without a computer like the MOTU units have - it seems you must have a computer attached and your DAW running to use Outputs 3/4 and 5/6 on the VS-100.
In addition to the multi-channel audio interface, there is a small control surface for Sonar and other DAWs with a motorized fader, transport controls, track select buttons, track arm, mute, solo buttons, marker and loop buttons, plus ACT which allows you to assign the hardware knobs to control software parameters. All of these hardware controls work flawlessly in Sonar and really do increase productivity.
The digital mixer section has just enough knobs for control over your audio input levels, plus there is a separate compressor and EQ each for Inputs 1 through 6, and a global reverb with send levels. When disconnected to your computer, it can function as a 2-track recorder using SD-HC cards - I am using a 16GB and it works like it should and the audio quality is good.
The mic preamps are pretty good, on par with the MOTU units and the hardware compressors and EQs are pretty good as well. The reverb is usable, but doesn't have very many parameters to fine tune it's sound.
All in all it's a great device and it's driver stability with low latencies really did impress me. I will keep the bigger rack-mounted MOTU 828 mk3 Hybrid for recording live bands who have no need for real-time VST effects processing, but for smaller gigs and Live DJ, the Cakewalk VS-100 is the best choice for me.