Music Player Network
Previous Thread
Next Thread
Print Thread
Demystifying Interfaces
#3032942 03/12/20 04:31 PM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Gold Member
OP Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
A recent question over on Keyboard Corner prompted me to do some thinking about interfaces and what we can expect from them. Here are some initial thoughts, to be followed by more later.

In my opinion, the most important way to pick an interface is to go backwards -- look at your actual needs, make a comprehensive list, and then start investigating the hardware. This is very important, because it's in any manufacturer's best interest (in the short term) to convince its audience that its latest product is the best thing since the invention of sex, regardless of whether the match between user and gear is appropriate. Whenever you see hype that says "the product for just about anyone", take a step back... it may be a great thing for some people, but very few audio products are fabulous for everybody. (Except M-Tron Pro. M-Tron Pro is fabulous for everybody. Sorry, it just IS.)

I'll give some examples in a bit. Stay tuned!

mike


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3032946 03/12/20 04:46 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay

In my opinion, the most important way to pick an interface is to go backwards -- look at your actual needs, make a comprehensive list, and then start investigating the hardware.


Nothing backwards about that - I always tell people to figure out what they need right now, what they might need a couple of years from now, and then see what will work for them for at least a few years. The thing that needs demystifying is what they need to know. For example, if you want to have more than one monitor mix, you need an interface with more output jacks than just one (or a pair) labeled "monitor" or "control room." And you need to understand that, unless there's more than a single stereo output stream, the headphone jack, while it might have its own volume control, caries the same signal as the monitor output. And you have to understand under what circumstances a hardware mixer or its built-in DSP near-equivalent for monitoring is important. Stuff like that.

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3032950 03/12/20 05:33 PM
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
We learn as we go!!!! Apologies for the ramble, I do get to the point below if you want to skip to the end.

My first recording interface was the original MOTU 896. Functionally, it was fine for my needs at the time, learning how to get stuff done.
My first DAW was also MOTU - Digital Performer 3 or 4.

I reached a point where I just stopped being interested, partly distracted by buying a place to live in WA and moving from CA and partly once I got to WA I realized that I just didn't like my DAW or my interface.
The DAW interface was messy, overly cluttered and seemed to be an attempt to offer EVERYTHING all at once when I really wanted to only see all the options if/when I needed them.

The 896 sounded pretty OK but it just was not inspiring to me. I wasn't learning about Recording Studio World or reading Tape Op or getting the idea that I could add more interesting mic pres. I might still have it if I'd known that stuff then, so it goes.

Then I got a rack mount Mackie Onyx interface, which came with Tracktion (see my thread on Tracktion/Waveform). The mic pres did sound better plus 2 of them had inserts so I added an FMR RNC. All the XLR plugs remained on back, don't like that. Worse yet, Mackie never updated the firmware or supported the unit for long term use. Even more worser, all the mic pres had cheap pots soldered to a circuit board for adjusting the gain. They got scratchy, I HATE scratchy pots and especially ones that are difficult or impossible to service. It reached a point where I would record something and the track would be out of sync with the rest of the recording, probably a firmware update issue.

So thinking less is more and liking the digital controller idea I went with a MOTU Audio Express. There was a lot to like on that, it was small, simple, could be controlled from the computer. On the other hand, only two XLR mic inputs and two 1/4" line inputs. So I added an FMR RNP.

Then an opportunity came to buy a MOTU 896 Hybrid Mk III from a local rich kid who had moved up and didn't need it. I kept the Audio Express for a "spare" and switched. Both of them had incredibly LOUD monitor outputs, I had to turn my monitors way down to avoid having my face blown off.

While I liked that MOTU has kept firmware updates fairly current, used all digital controllers instead of pots and sounded good, I disliked the interfaces, the loud outputs and the lack of a simple 2 headphone set up (which the Mackie had). My 2008 Mac Pro started getting intermittently goofy, Firewire was becoming obselete and I thought it would be nice to at least have the potential to go mobile.

So I moved from one obselete system to another - 2014 MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 2.

I'd learned that I wanted my recording interface to have the following.
8 inputs
Digital rotary controllers
A computer driven software controller in addition to manual controls
Support from the company for updates
More than one interface connection port so it could "hub" for a dedicated hard drive
2 simple headphone jacks with volume knobs ON THE FRONT
At least a couple of combo jack inputs ON THE FRONT
A complete set of outputs so I could use the live mics on location as recording mics and pass the signal along as needed.
Thunderbolt and/or USB 3.0/C

After considerable research, I got a Presonus Quantum, it ticked almost every box. I like it, the preamps sound great and so does playback.
While the Main Output control and Headphone jacks are adjusted with pots, I can live with that. Scratchy pots on the output side will not compromise the sound quality of the recording process.

Only took me many years and some $$$ to learn all this stuffs, education is never free!!!! Cheers, Kuru


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3033019 03/13/20 12:37 AM
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 9,823
Likes: 75
MPN Advisory Board
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MPN Advisory Board
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 9,823
Likes: 75
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
very few audio products are fabulous for everybody. (Except M-Tron Pro. M-Tron Pro is fabulous for everybody. Sorry, it just IS.)


yeahthat keys


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
davedoerfler #3033038 03/13/20 03:05 AM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Gold Member
Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Originally Posted by davedoerfler
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
very few audio products are fabulous for everybody. (Except M-Tron Pro. M-Tron Pro is fabulous for everybody. Sorry, it just IS.)


yeahthat keys
Despite the fact that I've been gently perusing interfaces as my wife and I prepare to move into our new house with its dedicated studio space... this thread just left me wanting a better Mellotron VST. roll


Samuel B. Lupowitz
Composer. Arranger. Musician. Food Enthusiast. Bad Pun Aficionado.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
SamuelBLupowitz #3033162 03/13/20 10:35 PM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Gold Member
OP Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Originally Posted by samuelblupowitz
Originally Posted by davedoerfler
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
very few audio products are fabulous for everybody. (Except M-Tron Pro. M-Tron Pro is fabulous for everybody. Sorry, it just IS.)


yeahthat keys
Despite the fact that I've been gently perusing interfaces as my wife and I prepare to move into our new house with its dedicated studio space... this thread just left me wanting a better Mellotron VST. roll

There aren't many better than M-Tron Pro. Super easy to use, stupid-efficient on CPU load (it was invented for PowerPC processors, for heaven's sake), and a freaking gigantic library of sounds, covering nearly every tape rack ever made for the original. Omenie's Streetlytron Pro for iOS is the best for that platform and has a decent library, but nothing like M-Tron Pro's.

But I digress. Back to interfaces! grin


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3033194 03/14/20 03:24 AM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Gold Member
OP Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Mike R has pointed out a couple of places where folks trip themselves up. I want to go into detail about one or two of them right now.

The first thing you need to know (about any interface ever) is: how many channels of actual conversion does it have? Not how many inputs or how many outputs, although that information comes in handy later... how many actual CHIPS stand between the analog and digital realms. You can assume that most or all of them will be 2-channel and might operate in dual mono or stereo, but that's as far as you can assume anything.

It is quite common for interfaces, especially the moderately-priced ones with lots of connectivity, to boast about how many ins and outs they have. Here's the thing they don't tell you: often, even most of the time, some of those ins and outs share one conversion channel pair. That means you can't actually use all of them at once unless you sum them before sending them to conversion. If you only have four ADCs, you can't encode more than eight channels of audio at a time, no matter how much you squint and try to read the manual sideways.

On the other side of the divide, if an interface only has one DAC (and many do), then you will get a grand total of one stereo output from your DAW, no more. You might have multiple physical outputs, but they'll all be fed the exact same signal. This is not always a bad thing; for example, the Yamaha AG06, which is my sets-the-bar standard for a small desktop interface, has two stereo outputs, one for a fixed-level signal and one for a pair of control-room monitors, plus a stereo headphone jack. Each of these signals can be set independently, but they all pass the same two channels of audio. On Behringer minimixers and those who use a similar signal flow diagram, this is even more useless because the same analog audio line taps the mains and the headphones in order instead of feeding them separately. That means you can't control your main output level and your control room or headphone levels separately. Mess with one, you're messing with all of them.

So what do you look for to get at the truth? On the input side, look for phrases like "X channels of simultaneous recording" or "X analog inputs". That's an accurate number for how much conversion you can count on. On the output side, ignore phrases like "both monitor AND headphone outs" and focus on phrases like "independent headphone mix" or "independent cue mix". That indicates that you actually have two stereo DACs to work with, not just the one, and you can route two different signals to them.

Look for numbers of converted channels, not total I/O. For example, a USB-equipped mixer might say "stereo USB to your computer" or "main mix with loopback", or it might say "independent recording capability on the first 16 inputs". See the difference?

Another place where you can get tripped up is with interfaces that offer many different independent cue mixes. In most if not all cases, this is because the interface itself has a digital mixer built in that creates these mixes for you based on the channels available to it from the digital domain. Same audio out of the DAW, treated and mixed and rearranged differently in the DSP hardware on the interface before going to the outside world. Still useful, but not necessarily what you were expecting.

One place where you can maximize your I/O (at the cost of some extra hardware) is with digital ins and outs. When you see a tiny half-rack interface boasting 20 or more inputs, at least 8 of them and possibly 16 will be digital, with no conversion chips at all. An optical cable feeds the interface with eight channels of digital audio, or four at 88.2 or 96 kHz. If you have two cables, you can do 16 or eight channels. The same goes for outputs. To use these ports, you need to have something that provides a digital signal; this can be, for example, an 8-channel rack preamp with digital output, or an 8-channel distribution amp with digital input. Those are real independent channels, but you can't get to them in the analog domain without extra hardware to do your conversion.

More soon!


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3033327 03/14/20 07:28 PM
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
Great stuff Dr Mike!

I wanted 8 inputs more because I like to plug in a few essentials and have them ready to go than that I want to record 8 channels in simultaneously, although the Quantum can do that (probably 2 chips as stated above).
Always a work in prorgress, as I find my sounds I can dedicate inputs. I do have a stereo pair dedicated to my Roland Handsonic now, that is hit the On switch, arm the tracks and go.

Tangent Warning!

Some points in my workflow may always require fiddling about since I have to compromise "best possible convenience" with "Keep It Simple, Stupid".
For example, I really only have one "character" preamp and am not on the hunt for another one. That is both a mic-pre and a DI and I love the sound of both of them. It is possible to use them both at once, two seperate channels. But, I do use different mics (sometimes with an FMR RNC inserted, sometimes not), different basses/guitars etc. So I do have to tweak a bit anyway.

I am still considering getting a Neat Beecsster for mobility, that plus headphones and a laptop would be a convenient mobile "studio."
My main reasons for recording elsewhere would be a bigger, better sounding room and a live track of drums, bass and guitar.
Instead of putting mics on everything one could find the best sounding point in the room for drums and then adjust bass and guitar positions/volumes accordingly.
I am not super fussy about bleed as long as the performance is good, in fact I don't care much at all about it. Parallel processing can provide options to address most shortcomings in a mix like that.
I don't have to make everything sound "just so and no other way", I am very open to "this feels good and it sounds just like it sounds."

Back to interfaces!!!!
The software that is free for the MOTU 896 I had provided busses as you describe above. It also allowed adjustment of built-in effects and EQ that could be sent to Cue Mix only for making a singer happy with reverb among other things. Or you could record he track with the effects, something I prefer to avoid.

I found the GUI for that to be a bit cryptic and fussy. It's gone now anyway.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3033333 03/14/20 07:53 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay


It is quite common for interfaces, especially the moderately-priced ones with lots of connectivity, to boast about how many ins and outs they have. Here's the thing they don't tell you: often, even most of the time, some of those ins and outs share one conversion channel pair. That means you can't actually use all of them at once unless you sum them before sending them to conversion. If you only have four ADCs, you can't encode more than eight channels of audio at a time, no matter how much you squint and try to read the manual sideways.


Seems like a long time since I've seen that, but what I warn people about when looking at the advertised number of inputs and outputs is that a lot of them don't go through A/D or D/A converters. An interface claiming 26 inputs is likely to have 8 analog inputs (usually with combo XLR connectors for mic, line, or instrument DI inputs) 2 8-channel ADAT optical inputs (which become 4 channels each at 2x sample rate) and an S/PDIF input, usually on an RCA phono jack. Those ADAT inputs can be really handy, but if you want to record the whole band and some room and audience mics, you'll need a couple of outboard mic preamps with ADAT output. And then, there are outputs. Sometimes they include the headphone jack(s) in the count even though they carry the same signal as the "main" or "monitor" outputs.

Quote
So what do you look for to get at the truth? On the input side, look for phrases like "X channels of simultaneous recording" or "X analog inputs".

You look at the box and count the holes in it. wink

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3033913 03/18/20 06:06 AM
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
N
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
N
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
This is a solid thread. It is especially true once you need more than 8 channels. There are a LOT of 8ch over USB/Thunderbolt/whatever boxes. But if you need 24 or 32 or more channels, the field thins tremendously (and there are no budget solutions). The input/output list is critical, along with anything else you need done - monitor control, etc. You start getting into situations where there aren't "all-in-one" solutions and you have to plan outside of built in digital mixers, volume controls, etc. Running surround speakers is another example of a requirement that most interfaces can't solve without external help for volume offsets, volume control, etc.

I had worked up to an RME UFX, which had all the expected driver stability benefits. Over time, I used all its inputs, then all the inputs on an ADAT expansion, the AES inputs were in use, most of the outputs were in use, and I was noticing that the length of the USB2 cable mattered, and which one I pulled out of the drawer.

The upgrade took careful planning. I was done with USB. I wanted something that didn't have to live 6' from my DAW. I wanted something expandable that I could grow over time. I settled on a Focusrite Dante setup. I put the PCIe card in one of the motherboard slots that directly connects to the CPU - not even a trip through the motherboard bridge chips! 128ch of I/O at minuscule latency. My studio went from all kinds of analog snakes and cables to simple Ethernet runs. I could put any box anywhere. I can add boxes 8ch or 16ch at a time whenever I want. I finally got to where mic pre's hit converters and the signal is digital all the way to my Genelec speakers. The improvement in imaging was not subtle - my whole family noticed the clarity when all the analog stuff went out of the monitor chain. (And I had been using a high end Grace Design monitor control box). I went with a Midas M32 to run monitor mixes to Dante headphone amps (Focusrite AM2s), that was later upgraded to a Allen & Heath SQ-5 which lets me run the whole studio at 96Khz if desired. At any given point in time there are just shy of 40ch of audio routing into the DAW and it is rock solid.

But to your point, this is a "designed" system. It was carefully assembled, tested, and deployed. All the hardware is "off the shelf", but it didn't come "assembled" if you will. Dante has become a digital patch-bay for me, and I can put any signal in the studio anywhere, which is very cool. An analog patch bay would be faster and easier, but the digital one is more flexible. Until I can afford a real analog console, this has been a wonderful setup. I'm sold on Ethernet interfaces, the expansion and scale is fantastic. The latency of the transport itself is sub 1ms, so I've essentially got ProTools HDX kinds of latency, even in the monitor path. One AD and one DA - all through FPGA hardware and no software drivers. So drummers have been happy. It is possible, but it took thought, and there are definitely other ways..

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3035476 03/28/20 03:48 PM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Gold Member
OP Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Nice posting, Nathanael. Sorry it took me so long to reply! You make a couple of important points here, one large and one deceptively small.

One is that we are now entering the era when even relatively small home studio setups can see the benefits of Dante and other networking protocols. You've pointed out how much tighter your timing is and how much more straightforward the wiring can be, and I think we'll see more people discovering these benefits even when they aren't doing as much I/O as you are.

Along with that, we'll be seeing more and more different network boxes for small setups to go alongside the big layouts that are built by companies like Focusrite Pro. We're already starting to see home-studio-oriented stuff from ESI, and MOTU has been working in this space for quite some time. This is a topic that will continue to expand rapidly in the entire recording space as well as in live and install sound...

My one gripe here, of course, is that the wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them. Dante is only one way to network gear over Ethernet cabling; there are at least two other standards out there, and each one has its proponents. The problem is that a lot of the terminology at that level tends to leave beginners in the dust; one guy claims Dante is superior while another supports AVB, but it's hard for a newbie to understand their positions. Probably a topic for a new thread.

The other point: USB cables come in all shapes and sizes and lengths and build qualities. If something that used to work stops working, or if something that usually works isn't working now, the first thing to do is to swap USB cables and see if that helps. grin

mike


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037231 04/07/20 06:23 AM
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
N
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
N
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
While I have worked as a professional network engineer and held bunches of Cisco certifications, I never cared a bit for the small technical differences between Ethernet audio transport systems. At anything less than massive scale, I don't see it mattering for any typical studio. If you are wiring a college campus music facility or something, then yes, one might have technical needs that define the solution.

I just went for the fattest, most developed part of the market. Live sound is essentially all moving to Dante in the new products - it "just works". Sure, they all have legacy proprietary solutions, but I wouldn't buy any of them. I have a separate Ethernet switch and just plug the Dante stuff into it - no configuration. It is all 169.x auto configured IP addresses. "It Just Works". Because all Dante devices use a chipset from Audinate, there are ZERO compatibility issues between vendors. I changed out from Midas M32 with Dante to the Allen & Heath SQ-5 with Dante, re-patched the channels in the Dante matrix, and was back in business. This ease of switching things out is probably a corollary of the "simple cabling". Getting stuff to talk is as easy as MIDI.

I am with you on USB cables. I found the UFX to be cable sensitive once I was using all the channels and full ADAT expansion. No 15' cables worked. One 10' did, the 6' seemed most consistent.

I grew up fantasizing about the big mix rooms with $1m SSL consoles on the cover. But those rooms can't even stay open anymore. Every year, I think, "Maybe I should get a console" and double my converter inputs.... It lasts about a month. I always end up the same place - I work exclusively with digital audio. Everything is digital from right after the mic pre to the Genelec speakers, and I end up just choosing to optimize my existing workflow and tools. I am lurking around Avid's Dock + S1 - it looks like the best option for hardware assisted mixing, but I'm pretty used to using the mouse at this point....

But getting back to interfaces - audio is essentially a solved problem. Gear is readily available that exceeds the limits of human perception. The analog input electronics and clocking do improve to a point, but once at the mid-priced professional solutions like Focusrite, UAD, AVID, Lynx, Apogee, and lots of others, there isn't really anything to choose except ports, interfaces, modularity, inclusion of digital mixers, onboard FX, etc. There is a very high end group of interfaces from Merging, DAD, Prism, etc at about 3-4x the price of the standard professional interfaces. I do have a Sonosax SX-R4+ recorder (that I am eagerly awaiting the Dante card for) that is in this upper class. It is the best recording quality that I have personally experienced. Professional rechargeable batteries provide power , and therefore it has ZERO mains contamination. It is like a Leica camera - few controls, almost no features or options, but the essentials are all done as well as they can be done. Is there a difference in musical meaning? No. Are the files extra nice with extra nice microphones and then played back on extra nice speakers? Oh yes. But there is no difference in musical meaning - that comes from the playing.

That has been my maturing over the last several years. "Is there a difference in musical meaning?" Synths, pianos, drums, interfaces, plugins.... There's lots of "different", and I do have my preferences, which I honor, but try not to obsess over. The filter of "musical meaning" has been helpful to me. There is definitely a point of professional excellence beyond which it is all personal preference - there isn't a difference in musical meaning. We might all disagree a little about what that is, but no one listening to our music would ever know.

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037494 04/08/20 02:33 PM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Gold Member
OP Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Hi folks!

This is a repost of an answer to a question on a KC thread (which fortunately has references to this forum, for which I thank folks, as I am getting tired of referring KC people here and I think people there are getting tired of me doing it grin )about interface choice. The OP is an older guy who's worked with analog gear all his life and is just dipping a toe in the DAW waters; I was very concerned -- okay, horrified -- with the interface recommendations he was getting, and this was my response:

***

Interfaces can be very simple or very tricky, and your choice should be decided by "use case", meaning what you want to do and how you want to do it.

In your case, I have a particularly strong recommendation.

A lot of folks here are used to doing everything "in the box" (ITB), and favor small tabletop or rackmount interfaces that just get all your I/O into your computer with no extra hardware or fuss. They can be very powerful and are very compact. However, I think that you will be very ill served by this approach.

One thing that ITB folks sometimes tend to forget is that for someone who has little DAW experience and a ton of hands-on background with analog mixers, a rackmount interface can be a fucking nightmare that's enough to put you off music for life. You either have to mix on screen, using a mouse, or install a dedicated MIDI/USB control surface to attach to your DAW, and even then you're doing more configuring and jumping through hoops to do what should be instinctive and quick. Do not underestimate the importance of being comfortable and familiar with the workflow as you get into the DAW world!

What you want is an interface that is actually built into a real mixer. You will have actual channel strips, knobs to turn, very few new features to learn (and those are analogous to what you're used to), and some extra features that you may find handy. Buried inside this mixer will be a USB or Thunderbolt interface that does all the talking to your computer, and it's usually placed in such a way as to work seamlessly with a conventional workflow.

The Live L20 is an excellent example of this. It's a small but powerful mixing console that allows multitrack recording and playback in a familiar format: think of mixer-to-tape direct outs and flipping the console for multitrack mixdown from tape playback as analogies. It has some built-in effects, and a way to record direct to a memory card in multitrack format, so you can transfer your tracks from a live session to the DAW later (and have a built-in backup that's separate from your iMac). There are a lot of these products out there, ranging from 3 channels up to 32, at varying price points and sizes and feature sets; most of them will do the job for you and leave you feeling fairly comfortable about the experience.

One word of warning! Some of these mixers, even big ones, don't actually have multitrack input to the DAW, or full multitrack output. Depending on what you're doing, you might be able to get away with a single stereo return from your computer for monitoring purposes (I do), but having the mixer boil everything down to one stereo master mix before recording it to your DAW can be a huge pain in the tail. The new Korg mixers are like this; I actually mentioned this to the developers when I got a sneak peek at it at NAMM over a year ago, and they stated that their use case simply didn't entail multitrack playback at all, and they wanted to keep costs down. Their choice, but not that of most folks.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents' worth. I will probably cut and paste this into the above forum. Good luck and don't hesitate to ask more questions as you go, either here or in the Studio Workshop!

***

I hope folks find something here to help them along.

mike


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037516 04/08/20 03:46 PM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Gold Member
Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
As I'm low-key shopping for the interface that's going to serve as the recording hub and rehearsal PA/headphone mixer for our new home studio space (whenever we're able to move, that is), the Zoom L20 is now grabbing my attention... I'm an in-the-box guy sort of out of necessity; something that functions as both an interface that can multitrack a whole band AND a standalone mixer, for under a grand, is not to be sneezed at.

Edit: of course, it weirdly can only record 96k to an SD card; when running as an interface, it caps at 48k. Now, I record at 48k a lot anyway, but it did make me raise an eyebrow.

Last edited by samuelblupowitz; 04/08/20 08:19 PM.

Samuel B. Lupowitz
Composer. Arranger. Musician. Food Enthusiast. Bad Pun Aficionado.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037741 04/09/20 05:32 AM
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
N
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
N
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
The interface as mixer as interface is a fantastic thing. A drummer friend of mine uses a Behringer rack mixer exactly that way - drummers need a LOT of channels and that is $$$. You can't get more capability for less $$. And it sounds fine.

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037744 04/09/20 06:02 AM
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
I've done sound at an open mic that has a Midas MR18 and an iPad.
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MR18--midas-mr18-tablet-controlled-digital-mixer
The room sounds really good and there is a tuned and maintained Steinway baby grand.

I liked the Midas, I figured out the basics on the iPad over the course of the evening. Everything you need is really easy and fast to access.
Would be fantastic in a home studio, even if you mostly worked by yourself.
That and a one channel Presonus Faderport to turn the DAW on and off and you could easily track 15 feet away from your computer.

I'd be happy to have one. Looking at the photos I see it only has one headphone out, be a workaround to have more. Not a deal killer but a consideration.

I've got 2 headphone outs and that is a bare minimum even for me. My space is pretty small though.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037836 04/09/20 04:43 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
One word of warning! Some of these mixers, even big ones, don't actually have multitrack input to the DAW, or full multitrack output. Depending on what you're doing, you might be able to get away with a single stereo return from your computer for monitoring purposes (I do), but having the mixer boil everything down to one stereo master mix before recording it to your DAW can be a huge pain in the tail.

My side of that story is that I want to do my mixing on the console. Most of that is because of the kind of work I do (and don't do). My recording projects are entirely of live musicians playing, mostly, together. Sure, i'll add a couple of extra parts with overdubs or fix things with punch-ins, just like when working with tape, and I still have the 16- or 24-track mindset. I can't remember ever having a project that required more than 24 tracks (=24 mixer channels), so as long as I can get 24 tracks from the DAW, or, more likely, from my trusty Mackie hard disk recorder, playing back into the mixing console, I'm a happy boy. And if the console has automated faders so I can save the mix, I'm even happier. I can, and do, use the computer DAW as an editor, and will occasionally apply a signal processor on a DAW track, or make a submix or a new edited track of related tracks in the DAW to feed to the mixing console.

For me, having a real console in front of me, that I can put my real hands on, gets me involved with the music. Without that, I'm involved in the mechanics, but never really get all of the real feeling.

I keep trying to convince myself that I can get an inexpensive digital console like a PreSonus StudioLive and just use the computer as a recorder and, if necessary, editor and signal processor, but I'd be working hands-on with a digital console, and I'm just not sure that I can forget that it's a computer, and that if I want to EQ a track, an equalizer (or a dizzying choice of a dozen) is only a few buttons and menu selections away. But it's not as easy as just turning a knob that's always right in front of me.

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3037841 04/09/20 05:19 PM
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
N
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
N
Joined: Jan 2015
Posts: 487
Likes: 20
I do all monitor/headphone mixes on a digital mixer (Allen & Heath) SQ-5. I am very familiar with the X32/M32 mixers. Honestly, they are just as fast and immediate as an analog console - with WAY more control. They work conceptually just like a standard desk, and have dedicated knobs for the main things. Select the channel, and then all the knobs are right there. You think, "I want to adjust EQ for the bass", and by the time you are done thinking that, you've hit the bass channel select button and its up on the screen already.

It doesn't break flow for me. I never feel like, "oh I'm doing tech". But I have spent a LOT of time mixing on digital mixers in a live setting. The extra control is really nice if you know how to use it. I know that IEM mixes can be absolutely CD quality and excellent. Necessary? Maybe not, but sure nice to be playing in that environment!

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3047054 06/02/20 04:39 PM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Gold Member
Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
I'm reviving this thread in the hopes of zeroing in on what products I should be looking at for the core of my new home studio (yeah, I'm pretty pumped about that). The general approach of the space is as a single room studio (no separate control room or, at this time, iso booths), lots of capturing multitrack live performances (drums, bass, keys, guitars, some scratch vocals) in addition to one-person overdubs. It will also be a rehearsal space, where I hope to use the same headphone/in-ear monitor setup that we use for recording, so we basically have a creative space we can capture, blurring the line between rehearsal and studio time. Sometimes there will be a separate engineer; often one of the musicians will be pulling double-duty.

So I'd like an interface that can capture at least 12 simultaneous audio tracks, preferably 16 or more. A console/mixer layout would be great if find the right thing, but isn't a necessity; something that's just I/O and conversion that I can control in the box and/or remotely by iPad would be fine, too. Six or more individual monitor mixes and outputs would also be ideal, since, again, we'll be using headphones and in-ears, even if some guitarists or horn players also have a wedge going in certain situations.

As I noted in a post above, a lot of the interface-as-mixer-as-interface-s cap out at 48k recording (or, in the case of the Zoom L20, allows 96k but only when recording to an SD card, adding an extra step between performance and DAW). The Behringer XR18 appears to have this issue, which is a bummer, since one of my bands has been using it live and in rehearsal, and it would be an excellent solution for what I plan to do with our music space.

To be clear, I often record at 48k and have no issues with it as far as sound; I often sync recordings to performance video anyway. But I'm also often in a position where I'm overdubbing to someone else's pre-existing session, and 96k is pretty common. It would be inconvenient to have enough inputs for a live band, but not be able to overdub a synth to my friend's studio track using the same setup.

As a related note, at my studio at work (I do audio and video work for a university) I have the four-channel Apogee Element, which is great, but even the largest version of it has eight XLR inputs, so I'd be looking at at least two of them connected via optical cable if I go that way, and I'd still have to invest in an additional solution for multiple headphone mix outputs.

So, I'm interested in folks' thoughts on what gear, or what combinations of gear, might be the best value as far as quality and price. I don't have a particular budget in mind yet (gotta get some work done on the roof of the house, replace the heating unit, that sort of thing first); I'm willing to spend a few grand for the right setup, but obviously I'm not investing in building Abbey Road here and don't want to start getting into tens of thousands of dollars. I have a realistic idea of how much my music returns on my financial investments at this point. wink


Samuel B. Lupowitz
Composer. Arranger. Musician. Food Enthusiast. Bad Pun Aficionado.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
SamuelBLupowitz #3047087 06/02/20 08:31 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Originally Posted by SamuelB.Lupowitz
I'd like an interface that can capture at least 12 simultaneous audio tracks, preferably 16 or more. A console/mixer layout would be great if find the right thing, but isn't a necessity; something that's just I/O and conversion that I can control in the box and/or remotely by iPad would be fine, too. Six or more individual monitor mixes and outputs would also be ideal, since, again, we'll be using headphones and in-ears, even if some guitarists or horn players also have a wedge going in certain situations.

A PreSonus StudioLive mixer mixer sounds like it would be a good match for your dreams. It looks and feels like a real console (albeit a digital one so it doesn't have all the knobs for every channel strip). They have models with 16,24, and 32 inputs, a "main" pair of outputs and 10 other outputs, plus it functions as a multi-channel USB interface. Auxiliary outputs can be configured as mono or stereo pairs, so you could have five stereo headphone mixes if you need them. There's an Ethernet AVB network connector which can be used for additional inputs and outputs. For stage or install use, they have a series of AVB "stage boxes" so you can use a single Ethernet cable to connect the mixer to the stage or from the control room to the studio. There's even an SD card slot for capture and playback of all the channels - a backup for your USB-connected DAW, or if you take it on a gig, a simple way to capture the show. Everything can be controlled from a computer application and just about everything can also be controlled by an iOS or Android mobile device. The only thing that you'd like to have and that these don't is higher than than standard sample rate of 44.1 or 48 kHz.

$3,000 will get you a full sized 32-channel one and they have some smaller sizes. There are alternatives in the same ballpark but, while none of them are really studio consoles (Live sound is where digital consoles have almost completely taken over the market), the PreSonus makes a fair amount of sense as a studio recording console.

1 member likes this: SamuelBLupowitz
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Mike Rivers #3047219 06/03/20 03:03 PM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Gold Member
Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
A PreSonus StudioLive mixer mixer sounds like it would be a good match for your dreams . . . The only thing that you'd like to have and that these don't is higher than than standard sample rate of 44.1 or 48 kHz.

$3,000 will get you a full sized 32-channel one and they have some smaller sizes. There are alternatives in the same ballpark but, while none of them are really studio consoles (Live sound is where digital consoles have almost completely taken over the market), the PreSonus makes a fair amount of sense as a studio recording console.
I'd also been eyeing some of the other PreSonus gear -- the Quantum line is looking like a good fit as well. I do have a big Mackie analog console gathering dust that could pair with the 4848, but I'd probably be better served in the long run by the built-in preamps in the Quantum or Quantum 2626 (though something about the ultra-low price tag on that one gives me pause) and doing optical expansion for more inputs ... all things to chew on!


Samuel B. Lupowitz
Composer. Arranger. Musician. Food Enthusiast. Bad Pun Aficionado.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
SamuelBLupowitz #3047223 06/03/20 03:22 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
You have to be careful with input and output counts on those interfaces. The PreSonus 4848 does really have 32 line level analog inputs and outputs, so that's enough to work with your Mackie mixer, but the Quantum has only eight mic/line inputs so you'd need another A/D/A converter with ADAT optical I/O to add more I/O capability. And remember that the ADAT I/O is only the full count of eight at standard sample rate - half that at 2x.

Which Mackie console do you have? They made some pretty rocky ones, but they also made some that are quite good, even by today's standards.

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Mike Rivers #3047263 06/03/20 06:38 PM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Gold Member
Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Which Mackie console do you have? They made some pretty rocky ones, but they also made some that are quite good, even by today's standards.
I have one of those 24-channel 8-bus consoles. I'll be thrilled if you tell me "oh the pres in that are actually pretty good," but I got it for the ultimate price (free) so you won't break my heart if you encourage me not to use it for recording. wink A good deal and utilizing the gear I already have is helpful, but I do want to make long-term investments, ultimately.


Samuel B. Lupowitz
Composer. Arranger. Musician. Food Enthusiast. Bad Pun Aficionado.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3047273 06/03/20 07:05 PM
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Sep 2019
Posts: 2,051
Likes: 106
I have a Quantum, the 8 channel Thunderbolt 2 model. It works very well for me but your needs are different.
They have a new version now, I think it runs USB C? Only one USB socket, the Thunderbolt version has 2 and Presonus mentions that you could chain up to 3 of them together for 24 channels.
I dont think it is quite as simple to chain up some of the newer ones, probably as Mike Rivers mentions above.

There are plenty of the Thunderbolt-2 8 channel models on eBay right now, new or open box for around $850. 3 of the would be a substantial investment for a "modern legacy" network system -$2550 - so there are probably lots of options at that price point (assuming it's a feasible price in the first place).

The Mackie could be useful if you have a fair amount of gear that can be "preset" and left, you could run a variety of sounds through it that way and just plug into 2 interface channels for stereo.
I don't know about the preamps, I've used some things that are not top of the line and gotten good sounds. I think you have to respect the headroom and gain range of the item in question to get the best from it.
Anything can be made to sound bad, I bet I could get a worse sound out of a Neve Shelford Channel at it's worst by far than the best sound I could get out of your Mackie board.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
KuruPrionz #3047284 06/03/20 08:03 PM
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Gold Member
Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Aug 2017
Posts: 981
Likes: 73
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
The Mackie could be useful if you have a fair amount of gear that can be "preset" and left, you could run a variety of sounds through it that way and just plug into 2 interface channels for stereo.
Yeah, and it has a lot of buses and outputs for analog monitoring, which is cool. I could get away with the analog-mix-to-two-digital-inputs-for-a-stereo-recording in certain instances, like mixing a live-in-the-studio performance as it happens (and I may wind up doing that for awhile depending on how long it is before I can get up the scratch for a new interface). But it's ultimately not how I want to make a record, even if it's more or less how they made Sgt. Pepper.

I'd say having a tactile mix surface, whether pure analog or something that controls my DAW over MIDI, is a much lower priority for me than the quality of my conversion and the amount of I/O. A lot of times, it will be the drummer or me dealing with the mix from our tablets behind our respective rigs anyway.

Edit: I should also mention that if it comes down to it, I have 4- and 8-channel interfaces and optical cables at the office I can borrow if I want to do a 16-or-more-channel session, so if it makes more sense to invest in a solid 8-channel interface and build up a modular system gradually, I'm definitely open to it ... again, I'd just want to make sure I can get enough aux feeds for individual monitoring sooner rather than later.

Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Anything can be made to sound bad, I bet I could get a worse sound out of a Neve Shelford Channel at it's worst by far than the best sound I could get out of your Mackie board.
Ain't it the truth! We've all been there...

Last edited by SamuelB.Lupowitz; 06/03/20 08:07 PM.

Samuel B. Lupowitz
Composer. Arranger. Musician. Food Enthusiast. Bad Pun Aficionado.
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
SamuelBLupowitz #3047313 06/03/20 10:27 PM
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Senior Member
Offline
Senior Member
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 497
Likes: 12
Originally Posted by SamuelB.Lupowitz
I have one of those 8-bus consoles. I'll be thrilled if you tell me "oh the pres in that are actually pretty good,"

The preamps are actually pretty good. They're very close to the VLZ, which was a lttlle better. But the design of the console is excellent. It's really a recording console, not a live console that you can record with. It has real tape returns, so anything that comes into an input, whether it's a mic or a the output from a DAW interface can be routed to the monitor path at the push of a button. The preamps are fine for general purpose work as long as you don't need to push them to their maximum gain. Fine for drums, amplifiers, brass, but you might want to find a better preamp for a quiet acoustic guitar. The world is full of preamps, each one having someone who loves it for something particular.

Haul it out of the closet and see how much of it still works.

1 member likes this: SamuelBLupowitz
Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Dr Mike Metlay #3047507 06/05/20 12:21 AM
Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4,799
Likes: 4
A
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
A
Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4,799
Likes: 4
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
In my opinion, the most important way to pick an interface is to go backwards -- look at your actual needs, make a comprehensive list, and then start investigating the hardware.

I´d say NO,- but it depends ...

For me, the rule is,-

1.)
use the fastest available you can connect directly to processor !

2)
as a consequence,- this is only possible w/ PCIe and/or Thunderbolt (because Thonderbolt IS PCIe) !

3.)
Now, it depends on the computer motherboard´s chipset !

Actually, I ´m using again, a outdated DAW machine.
Intel Z97 chipset based motherboard and a PCIe card based "interface".
Brand doesn´t matter because it´s just only an example.

With Intel Z97 chipset, there are only TWO (2) PCI-E slots offering direct connection to processor,- the PCIe X16 slots, normally used for graphics cards.
All the other PCIe x4, x1 and whatever runs thru chipset,- which in fast machines is now the "bottleneck"(and somewhat comparable to former "south bridge" not existing on today´s motherboards anymore).
So,- I use,- in my case Intel 4600 iGPU graphics making a dedicated graphics card obsolete,- and inserted the PCIe x1 card of my interface into a PCI-E X16 slot of the computer´s mainboard.
It works WHEN the card is inserted properly and is been locked the way there´s no chance to slip out slightly,- p.ex. by transport ( I use rackmount PCs).
(I´m on PC, not Mac anymore,- but i also believe, there´s not much difference between Mac and PC since Mac uses Intel processors)

The PCIe card and driver of that interface got it´s dedicated IRQ that way.
When I inserted into any of the PCIe x1 slots,- it shared IRQ w/ 5 other motherboard related components,- incl. a USB controller (which is the worst!).
On a PC, you´ll find ou only when using MSinfo32 > shared devices/conflicts.

Actually,- It´s the fastest I´ve ever had and I´m on Win7 Pro SP1.

Up today,- I don´t trust Win10 much,- it´s an OS I use for office, but it calls home always and doesn´t like all the tweaks I´d want to make for audio/MIDI use.
In fact, I prefer squeezing out every CPU cycle for the purpose I have in mind.
BUT,- I only can imagine, what´s possible w/ PCIe based interfaces and Intel chipsets beyond Z97, offering far more than 16 PCIe lanes.

USB 2 and 3 is 3rd row anyway.
While MIDI works halfway "fine" w/ USB2, it´s not naturally the same w/ USB3.
There are USB3 audio interfaces not offering MIDI at all by that reason.

I´d don´t even think about using USB interfaces for realtime audio work,- but with laptops,- there´s most often not any other chance.
You find countless of these USB products out there, and there´s only ONE reason,- ..."connect and forget".
It has to be simple for the average user, period.

But there´s nothing faster than PCIe and/or Thunderbolt for the time being,- minimal clock jitter included !

Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
This is very important, because it's in any manufacturer's best interest (in the short term) to convince its audience that its latest product is the best thing since the invention of sex, regardless of whether the match between user and gear is appropriate. Whenever you see hype that says "the product for just about anyone", take a step back... it may be a great thing for some people, but very few audio products are fabulous for everybody.

YES !

Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
(Except M-Tron Pro. M-Tron Pro is fabulous for everybody. Sorry, it just IS.)

That´s software,- not interface.

A.C.

Re: Demystifying Interfaces
Al Coda #3047530 06/05/20 03:33 AM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Gold Member
OP Offline
Gold Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 683
Likes: 42
Originally Posted by Al Coda
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
(Except M-Tron Pro. M-Tron Pro is fabulous for everybody. Sorry, it just IS.)

That´s software,- not interface.

A.C.

Nevertheless, it's still fabulous for everybody. grin

As to your other points: you are taking a strictly performance-first approach, with all of the attendant technical fiddling that goes with it. You will indeed have far less jitter and less latency and more throughput than many people!

However, the average user that you point out above is perfectly happy with USB 2, which you consider third-tier at best. Your solution will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to do right, and requires a fair bit of knowledge on how to get under the hood of a PC and wrench it to perfection. For someone just getting started with making music on a computer, your approach would almost certainly scare them off. So I maintain that application must come first, before any tech gets involved.


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job

Moderated by  Dr Mike Metlay 

Link Copied to Clipboard
Powered by UBB.threads™ PHP Forum Software 7.7.4