Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

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fluffy
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Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Mon Sep 24, 2018 3:24 pm

So, my trusty Presonus Firestudio Project is starting to give up the ghost, and it looks like the new macOS Mojave won't support it anyway. And it's my last bit of Firewire hardware so I'd might as well come limping along into the USB era, right?

What are peoples' recommendations for an audio interface?

Here are my requirements: (note that the Firestudio Project had all this so I'm not being unrealistic here)
  • At least six inputs and six outputs, with separate monitor mixes to each of the outputs (note that the monitor mixes rules out M-Audio, which AFAICT only supports a single thru mix for all inputs)
  • At least two of the inputs need to be XLR with phantom power, and at least four of the inputs need to be 1/4"
  • Decently low noise floor
Nice to haves:
  • 19" rackmount form factor
  • At least two of the inputs on the front panel, one of which is XLR and one of which is 1/4"
  • At least one hi-Z/instrument/DI input
  • The XLR inputs being combo plugs (i.e. take both XLR and 1/4") or at least having an ancillary 1/4" jack for when I don't need XLR
  • Costs under $400
  • USB class-compliant or otherwise not likely to stop working due to lack of driver updates
Things I don't really care about:
  • MIDI (as I already have a separate 4x4 MIDI interface and most of my shit is USB now anyway)
  • Ultra-high sample rates (44/16 is enough, although I wouldn't turn my nose up at anything higher)
  • Optical/SPDIF/ADAT/etc. is completely unnecessary in this day and age and I really don't get why so many interfaces provide those except as a way of boosting their input/output count
Right now my (very short) list of contenders is the TASCAM 16x08 (with the caveat that I'd need a bunch of XLR to 1/4" adapters, but those are cheap), the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, and the PreSonus Studio 1824. All of those meet all of my requirements (I think, I can't get a straight answer about monitor submixes on the Focusrite) and some of my nice-to-haves. But there are other manufacturers out there which I think have stuff like this that I just haven't heard of, maybe?

There's also the Behringer U-PHORIA UMC1820 but again I can't figure out if that one supports monitor submixes and also I've had very poor luck with Behringer quality in the past.

Also the reason I need monitor submixes (even though I work alone in the studio) is it makes things a lot easier for streaming my work, and it's also nice to have my microphones get monitored to my headphones but not to my studio speakers. Sucks to have to remember to mute them when I switch to monitors and unmute them when I go back to headphones. So even without the streaming setup stuff, monitoring submixes are a really nice workflow thing that I wish more people recognized the usefulness of. And of course in a multi-user setting it's great to be able to e.g. let the guitar player hear drums more and the bass player hear guitar more, and the drummer only hear themself and the vocals, or whatever.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by ujnhunter » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:09 am

Just because this might not even be on your radar... seeing most people think it's just a Guitar FX/Modeling rig. Not sure if it meets all your requirements, but I've recently switched over to using Avid's Eleven Rack as my AI as it has 8 in 6 out (not sure about all the separate mixes though, you'd have to research that... I only use headphone out on the front or the XLR output on the back to powered monitors...) only 1 mic pre, but I use a cheap Behringer mixer with 2 additional mic pres that I run into the 11R's Line inputs if I need more... Hi-Z 1/4" input on the front as well as the previously mentioned Mic Pre input w/ phantom power and pad... Digital I/O, Line I/O and XLR inputs in the back... doubles as a Re-amping box too and it's only $300 these days brand new from Sweetwater. I actually have two of them now with one in a portable gig rack bag that I can take with me. Did I mention it's a full featured Guitar/Bass Amp/Modeling/FX rig too? Again... check your requirements, but I doubt it was on your radar... and it might just be the best bang for the buck I've ever purchased in regards to audio stuff. Oh... it has Midi In/Out and Expression Pedal in too... I went from 2 in 1 out AI's my entire life to this and it's the best change I've ever made in regards to recording. So yeah... best kept secret... Avid Eleven Rack.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:25 am

Hmm, I’ll look into it but I have no use for most of those features and I’m doubtful that it will have the monitoring stuff I need. Any chance you could see whether it does since you have one?

The monitoring stuff is basically configuring which inputs go to which outputs at which levels.

Also does it work with things that aren’t ProTools? Avid doesn’t have the best track record in that regard.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Wed Sep 26, 2018 10:23 am

Oh good, looks like the Firestudio Project still works in Mojave, so I can keep on running this 10-year-old interface into the ground.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by ujnhunter » Wed Sep 26, 2018 12:51 pm

So you're all set then? I don't know if the monitoring would work for you, but I'd spend some time trying it out to find out... but if you're all set with your old interface still... I'll spend my time recording instead. ;) It does work with other DAWs, I use Reaper which it works with perfectly, I don't use Pro Tools at all.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Wed Sep 26, 2018 12:55 pm

I’m set for now. I figure that by the time it really dies on me there will be new stuff on the market anyway so I guess I’ll keep up with what’s coming out but not worry about actually finding a replacement just yet.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Wed Nov 20, 2019 3:47 pm

Mojave worked fine but Catalina doesn't and while PreSonus have said they're going to update the drivers after all, I'm not holding my breath.

I'm not happy with any of the 8x8+ interfaces I'm seeing out there. What does everyone else use?
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by grumpymike » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:26 pm

I, too, have noticed a dearth of options in this product segment. It seems everyone wants to make smaller units that hook up to iPhones. I had to upgrade from my M-Audio because computers don't have firewire anymore.

My undocumented research in 2017 led me to the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. I bought this pack (2nd gen, not 3rd, if that matters...) so you can definitely get it in a sub $400 variety. Add in dat sweet 5% Amazon cash-back card. /ducks

Can't remember why I ruled out the M-Track Eight - probably because it was an I/O downgrade. The Focusrite is basically what I had just with USB now.

I was a little concerned because I'd never dealt with Focusrite, but I am pleasantly surprised. It's reliable - no issues across the board. Drivers are solid and non-intrusive - just the way I like them - possibly the best of all the audio units I've ever owned. I leave it on almost 24/7. I can't speak for the pre-amp quality (I'm not a pre-amp connoisseur nor care to be) or Mac drivers (I would assume they're just as solid), so YMMV there.

(Way, way at the beginning of time, I bought a Presonus Firepod and it died in about a week and the drivers were not great. Returned it, and the experience was so traumatic I probably wouldn't consider their audio interfaces today yet.)
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:34 pm

Thanks. Do you happen to know if it supports hardware submixes? Whenever I've asked people about that, they just get this blank stare, and when I explain what it is and why I need it, they're all, "Why do you need that?" When I... just... explained...

Also the other thing that I worry about on that is how almost all of the inputs are on the back panel instead of being accessible in front. I assume I could use a snake to get around that but that's another annoying thing to have to deal with.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by grumpymike » Wed Nov 20, 2019 10:26 pm

fluffy wrote:
Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:34 pm
Thanks. Do you happen to know if it supports hardware submixes?
Yes. Each of the outputs lets you select its routing settings, and one of them is 'custom mix' where you can set all the levels to get hardware monitoring and whatnot. I dabble in it but I haven't gotten into the weeds. Eg: I'll use one setting for recording vocals and one for mixing. You'll see in the screenshot below that I can take any combination of hardware inputs and DAW outputs and mix it up into a specific headphone jack. My M-Audio interface had this too (but I think the Focusrite software is a lot more intuitive...)
focusrite-mix.png
focusrite-mix.png (183.32 KiB) Viewed 102 times
fluffy wrote:Also the other thing that I worry about on that is how almost all of the inputs are on the back panel instead of being accessible in front. I assume I could use a snake to get around that but that's another annoying thing to have to deal with.
Can't please everyone, I suppose. I like having exactly two and no more on the front just in the slim chance I need to hot plug - wouldn't mind them all on the back. I try to have a cohesive strategy so I don't have a nest of wires all in my face (try being the keyword...) At least I don't have a bunch of 1/4th in my face - it's all USB garbage. :D
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Wed Nov 20, 2019 10:31 pm

Okay yeah that looks pretty great. I think I know what I'm buying myself when I have a steady income again. Thanks!
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by grumpymike » Wed Nov 20, 2019 10:37 pm

I should also note that I've only done probably 3 or 4 input channels @ 24bit/48k simultaneously, and maybe two submixes, if even, in a setting where I don't care about latency. So, YMMV there. Overall I'm pretty pleased given how flakey audio interfaces tend(ed?) to be. Not sure if that's a side-effect of time and standardization (Firewire seemed to break devices easily) or if Focusrite actually excels.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Wed Nov 20, 2019 10:44 pm

It's probably a bit of both.

For what it's worth I'm usually only recording 1 or 2 channels simultaneously, and I mostly like having lots of inputs so I don't have to keep on plugging/unplugging everything. Most of the time all I have actually plugged in is a microphone, a guitar, and my electric drum kit. And I usually record at 44/16 or 44/24, which is like... tiny compared to the amount of bandwidth USB2 provides.
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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by Æpplês&vØdkã » Thu Nov 21, 2019 11:06 am

Here's a question: here in several months I'm looking into trying to get an 8x8 audio interface for use in recording my drums. When it comes to the "budget" options (not that a set of mics and an interface come cheap at all), what would you say would be my best bet?
I'm afraid this one fails on pretty much every level for me. - Jim of Seattle

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Re: Audio interface recommendations? (2018 edition)

Post by fluffy » Thu Nov 21, 2019 12:32 pm

probably focusrite or m-audio.
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