Audio Interfaces

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Audio Interfaces

Postby HeuristicsInc » Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:55 pm

I've had this old laptop since who knows when (at least 2004), and my desktop almost as long... and they're not working so well any more.
So I have a new laptop/docking station on the way. My old PCMCIA audio card won't work in the new machine, since it doesn't have that kind of slot, so I'm looking into getting a new interface, but I don't really know what to look for. Any suggestions?

Here's what I know I need:
Windows 7
USB 2.0/USB 3.0/ExpressCard
Balanced ins
I don't need a crapload of inputs since I have a mixing board, but maybe 4 or so is good for playing "out"
MIDI In/Out

The RME ExpressCard ones look nice but it looks like that would cost more than the computer.
I hear you could use some sort of adapter to use the old PCMCIA card in the ExpressCard slot, but it doesn't do MIDI and this is a good time to upgrade.

Is there a place that does (unbiased) reviews/comparisons? Any suggestions of ones to look at?
Thanks!
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Sober » Wed Jan 16, 2013 11:19 pm

It's a few years old, so there's probably something better/newer out there, but the M-Audio Fast Track Pro has been serving me well for a long while. My left input got damaged on its way back from Afghanistan, so I may buy another one. It's bus-powered, so with a laptop you can record anywhere.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby foobar93 » Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:15 am

I got by for years with the FastTrack Pro, I think it's really nice for the price. I only recently replaced it with the new Avid Mbox Pro. I found the Harmony Central reviews especially helpful. here's one for the mbox:

(Argh, the newbie spam filter wont' let me post real URLs, so you'll have to google for these)

acapella.harmony-central-dot-com/showthread.php?2762705-Avid-Mbox-Pro-Computer-Interface

Here's a pretty decent top-ten list that seemed to agree with my research:
squidoo-dot-com/my-top-10-computer-audio-interfaces

But honestly, most of the Amazon reviews have been pretty accurate for almost everything I've bought.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Caravan Ray » Thu Jan 17, 2013 2:58 am

I used a Tascam interface for about 7 years and it was fine.
Then it died so I replaced it with its later model:


http://tascam.com/product/us-144mkii/

And it is fine too.

It is something I never really think about. So that means it is a piece of equipment that never causes me any trouble (except for that one time the old one died).

I am happy with it. And I am a very fickle person.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby HeuristicsInc » Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:50 am

Huh, I went to Harmony Central yesterday because I'd had good luck there before, but when I clicked on Audio Interfaces it said there were no reviews. Maybe it's a tagging issue. Anyway, I will check these out. Thanks for the tips!
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby ken » Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:40 am

I have had a ton of interfaces over the years. You don't mention what your budget is, but if you are considering RME, it must be pretty good. Certainly, RME is pretty top of the line pro/prosumer gear. They do make some good USB interfaces.

I'm a pretty big fan of Mark of the Unicorn and have two MOTU 828mk2s. One is Firewire and the other is USB 2.0. BSS uses the USB model to do all the basic tracking for our songs. I'm happy to send you raw files if you want to hear them. They make a newer hybrid model as well. http://www.motu.com/products/motuaudio/828mk3

I used to use the M-Audio Fast Track Ultra with BSS before I got the 2nd MOTU 828mk2. I really liked it. I thought it worked and sounded great. I appreciated the 4 built in preamps and the ability to add two more inputs via spdif. I'm a pretty big fan of spdif these days because of it. I have read really good reviews of the M-Audio Fast Track C600 USB Audio Interface, which also has 4 inputs and a cool desktop style that includes transport controls. Definitely something to consider on the cheaper side of things.

In general, buy used if you can.

You don't say what software you are using, and I imagine you will have to upgrade this as well.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Billy's Little Trip » Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:57 am

I really liked my PreSonus FireBox. It came very inclusive with a great software bundle, like Cubase and great FX, ready for any level of recording knowledge to get your music to a finished stage. I'm so happy that's what I started with when I made the change from analog recording to a DAW.

When my FireBox died after about 5 years of almost daily use, I was ready to buy the new model, but a friend at Guitar Center talked me into a Focusrite. He really liked the unit and it has features the FireBox didn't. My main requirement was firewire and the Focusrite had it, so I gave it a try. At first I didn't like it as much as the FireBox, mainly because I don't like change. But as I started using it more, I got used to it. The pre-amps in the Focusrite are bigger and cleaner (no bleed from distortion), 16 in and 8 out jacks, loop backs and a little wider so the knobs are spread out more, so I can turn knobs on the fly without hit other knobs.

The ONLY thing I miss on my FireBox is that the knobs had that soft click in small increments as you turn the knobs. So when I'm recording right and left guitar they are exact. Or even just a bass track so that I can record in different sessions and keep the original recording at the same level. The Focusrite knobs are smooth turning, so you have to just eyeball a tad over 6 or a little under 8, etc. Probably no biggie to anyone but me, but I do miss the click click click as I turn the knobs on the FireBox, for what it's worth.

My Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP is comparable in price to others in it's class at $249. I got mine for less with my friend deal.
Last edited by Billy's Little Trip on Thu Jan 17, 2013 10:18 am, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Generic » Thu Jan 17, 2013 10:04 am

I feel your pain, Bill. I did all my laptop recording on a PCMCIA audio card between 2004 and 2007, and I was really frustrated to find out that my new laptop didn't have a slot for that card anymore. My IO card basically went obsolete overnight.

I wound up replacing it with a Lexicon Lambda, which I would describe as a massively positive experience, but there are a few caveats:
It connects via USB 2.0, so for my desktop system with USB 3.0 points, I'm missing out on some transfer speeds. I assume this has manifested in small amounts of delay or lag, but it hasn't been enough to be noticeable.
It doesn't have 64-bit drivers, and Lexicon has no plans of releasing any. This means I can't use it with the 64-bit versions of my DAWs (it made Reaper crash my computer something fierce; I made a thread about it), but it runs fine in any 32-bit software or any software with a "compatibility mode."

Other than that, it's been great. 2 XLR inputs, four phone jack inputs plus an extra on the front, 1/8" speaker cable output, phantom power, and pretty much just does what I tell it to. I bought it on sale for $80 new, and I bet it would be cheaper now, though a similar doodad would probably be about the same price point factory-new.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Generic » Thu Jan 17, 2013 11:09 am

The thread with the discussion that led me to buying the Lambda: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=6267

The thread about 64-bit Reaper crashing my computer: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=7894

Hilariously, I actually said, "If I have driver issues, I'm taking it out on Sober." I forgot that I had written that by the time I ran into driver issues a year later.

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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby HeuristicsInc » Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:18 pm

ken wrote:I have had a ton of interfaces over the years. You don't mention what your budget is, but if you are considering RME, it must be pretty good. Certainly, RME is pretty top of the line pro/prosumer gear. They do make some good USB interfaces.


Yeah, the budget's pretty open. I have some moneys in my music budget that could be used. I was looking at all levels to see where I wanted to be, and the result of that was "less money than RME".

ken wrote:You don't say what software you are using, and I imagine you will have to upgrade this as well.


I'm using Acid 7, which is supposed to be compatible with Win7, so I'm not planning to upgrade that.

Generic wrote:I feel your pain, Bill. I did all my laptop recording on a PCMCIA audio card between 2004 and 2007, and I was really frustrated to find out that my new laptop didn't have a slot for that card anymore. My IO card basically went obsolete overnight.


Well, mine was pretty obsolete anyway, given that it didn't support MIDI at all; I have had that thing since at least 2006 and probably much earlier.

Re: USB 2.0 vs 3.0 - I have not found a 3.0 interface yet, but they may exist.

Re: Lambda thread, I figure any thread about computer stuff that's from 2009 is totally outdated :)

Edit: Also noticed that there is no FireWire on the computer, so anything with that is out.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Mike Lamb » Thu Jan 17, 2013 5:11 pm

I've always liked the MOTU gear, but it leans towards the pricey. I use an Ultralite Mk-I (firewire) and it's worked well for me on both Mac and PC, and it's well supported by drivers.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Manhattan Glutton » Fri Jan 18, 2013 9:54 am

M-Audio + 1
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby fluffy » Fri Jan 18, 2013 4:30 pm

I love my PreSonus FireStudio Project, but it's not particularly portable, and unless your laptop has Firewire you'll have to get an ExpressCard for that.

I've had a few different Tascam devices with varying levels of annoying, although their simpler interfaces are pretty good. I also have a Line 6 POD UX2 which has been nothing but trouble (yet another piece of hardware that has an overwhelmingly user-unfriendly software registration system, and when you finally do get everything activated - which felt like a grueling 3-hour process even if it was probably much less - you have to spend so much time tuning things to even get a recording that's not full of clicks and pops, if you even get anything at all). I've never tried an M-Audio interface but people keep on saying how good they are so maybe I'll give one a try if I ever need something portable and don't have firewire available for my Inspire 1394 (which isn't that good and I don't think it's made anymore anyway).
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby HeuristicsInc » Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:31 pm

Like the sound of the MOTU, but it turns out it is beyond the budget at this time. Bummer.
I have acquired a Tascam for very very cheap so we will see how it goes. I hope it does not have various levels of annoying. I did not see fluffy's post before deciding on that. My plan is to try this one out, and if I want more then save up for the MOTU over time.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby fluffy » Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:44 pm

The newer ones are probably way better than the US224 I had 10 years ago. That was only their second USB device and there were definitely rough edges around it. It was actually generally pretty good aside from needing a custom driver, but the DACs eventually died on it so it became useless to me. (The rest of the device, including the MIDI control surface and the S/PDIF outs, kept working, but that didn't really work in my setup anymore.)

Since the current ones are bus-powered and supposedly class-compliant, it's probably nothing to worry about. Also the much-more-recent Pocketstudio DP-008 I got a few months ago works pretty well as a standalone recording device, although the built-in USB interface is kind of doofy (but it's not intended to be an interface to begin with).
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Generic » Sun Mar 17, 2013 1:36 pm

I'm getting some bonus money soon, and one of the many things I'm considering doing with it is adding some redundant elements to my recording setup, so as to reduce the amount of schlep I need to undertake when switching from my downstairs laptop (which records the piano) and my upstairs desktop (which records, well, everything else). That means moving my Lexicon to the downstairs computer permanently and buying a new audio interface to replace it on the upstairs computer.

I've noticed that the plug standard appears to have changed since the last time I went shopping for one of these. It seems that every item mentioned in this thread uses sockets that look like the sort meant for large amplifiers. Do these systems also take XLR, or do I need to get new microphone cables, too?

EDIT: I've attached an image for clarity. This is from the M-Audio M-Audio FireWire 410. The label reads "Neutrik Combo XLR/1/4" output," which I guess answers my question... But it sure doesn't look like an XLR cable would fit there. Could someone offer me some reassurance?
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby fluffy » Sun Mar 17, 2013 1:55 pm

Those plugs accept both XLR and 1/4". That's what's on my FireStudio Project. It's pretty clever.
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Oh, and while they superficially resemeble Speakon plugs, they're completely different.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Generic » Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:01 pm

That is pretty clever. Thanks, fluffy!
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Billy's Little Trip » Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:10 pm

Jon, do you have firwire on the desktop? If so, do yourself a favor and get a Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP or PreSonus FireStudio Mobile. They both have a USB equivalent. The PreSonus is a AudioBox USB and the Focusrite is Saffire 6. If you record more tracks at once, then just bump up to the next model with more inputs/outputs. But I get the impression you record 1 or 2 tracks at a time like I do.

If you listen to me just once, choose one of these units and don't think about it, don't analyze it, don't be cheap, don't stab your hand. Just go buy one of them without thinking and enjoy a trouble free recording experience. (I'm not opposed to a good used deal on one of these units if you can't sleep at night not knowing that you got a deal. but "I" prefer new equipment without other peoples cooties on it)

At this point in my music recording life in the digital world, I've been with a number of people home recording and I can't believe the issues they have to endure while recording. But every experience with PreSonus or Focusrite, there are no issues AND they bundle everything you need. (with the exception of jb just recently)

edit: I see you said you do have firewire, so take advantage of that.
Also, what fluffy said about the XLR
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby jb » Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:50 pm

I SERIOUSLY SERIOUSLY SUGGEST YOU AVOID THE FIREWIRE 410. IT FUCKING BLOWS.

Save yourself some heartache.

Get a USB interface. Get a Scarlett 18i6: http://us.focusrite.com/usb-audio-inter ... rlett-18i6

JB

P.S. Focusrite finally responded to my support ticket, with a firmware updater that fixed my problem. Though they took too long to respond, they did have a fix for my problem. But I'm never going to buy another firewire interface after this one.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Generic » Sun Mar 17, 2013 3:06 pm

I'm not wild about Firewire, though I did notice that when I looked around for an audiobox, most of them were Firewire.

Not sure where Chris saw that I have a Firewire port; I don't. At least, I'm pretty sure I don't. I'll double check when I get home from work. If I need to, I can get a PCI Firewire card. I've got like three unused PCI slots, and the Firewire cards run for about $15-$30. Still, I have a preference for USB, since it's less likely to disappear anytime soon, and I wouldn't have to buy an expansion card for my computer to use it. EDIT: yeah, I was right. I've got 1394a (4-pin), eSATA, and Optical, but no Firewire.

JB (or anyone, really), can you recommend a good modern USB audio interface with at least two XLR inputs and at least two phone jack inputs (the hybrid is cool, but one of my primary use cases is stereo input 1/4" cables for my piano plus a single XLR for vocals)? EDIT: my reading comprehension needs work. That Scarlett looks like exactly what I need. Thanks!
Last edited by Generic on Sun Mar 17, 2013 3:15 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Audio Interfaces

Postby Billy's Little Trip » Sun Mar 17, 2013 3:08 pm

jb wrote:I SERIOUSLY SERIOUSLY SUGGEST YOU AVOID THE FIREWIRE 410. IT FUCKING BLOWS.

Save yourself some heartache.

Get a USB interface. Get a Scarlett 18i6: http://us.focusrite.com/usb-audio-inter ... rlett-18i6

JB

P.S. Focusrite finally responded to my support ticket, with a firmware updater that fixed my problem. Though they took too long to respond, they did have a fix for my problem. But I'm never going to buy another firewire interface after this one.

So it wasn't a bad firewire board as I expected. That's good to know.
But I'm wondering why it would make any difference if it is firewire or a USB interface? It sounds more like a dislike towards Focusrite's support. My only experience with Focusrite support was right when I bought my unit. They answered the phone right when I called and forwarded me to tech support, which walked me through a setup issue I had. I had my PreSonus as as my default and just needed to change the default to the Focusrite.

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