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Whenever I ponder an upgrade, my first and foremost thought it "Will this save time without compromising quality?"

My next thought is always "Does this add more cables or fewer?"

Cables are bad, every time I can not hook one up is a victory.


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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
"Does this add more cables or fewer?"Cables are bad

necessary evil , but I hear you loud and clear


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Reviving this thread to hopefully get some decision making clarity. I'm some months off from actually making a purchase, as we will be moving late spring into new digs.

Over the years, I've shed equipment, gotten more into home studio recording, but have gone pretty seriously in-the-box. I'm down to three sound-generating instruments: Roland RD-800, Nord Electro 6 and Nord Stage 2EX. The Stage is primarily a rehearsal/gig box, and sees very little studio time. All other sound is done using soft instruments on my 2020 iMac 27" through a Steinberg UR22 (1st gen) interface.

All I/O is routed through a Behringer Ultrapatch Pro PX3000: sound sources connect to the A channels and route out the B channels to a Mackie 1202 VLZ4 mixer.

I have two pairs of monitors: older iKey Audio (now Gemini) M-808v2 and Presonus Eris E5. They are connected to the mixer's Main and Ctrl Rm outputs respectively via patch points. The only exception is the RD, which is directly connected to the mixer w/ XLR cables. I have found them to have less noise than the TS/TRS connections.

Cubase Elements is my DAW, and Kontakt and Arturia V-Collection 7 are the primary virtual instruments. When I want to record audio from the RD or Stage, I patch from the patch bay into the audio inputs on the UR22. It's rather rare that I do this, as most of the recorded tracks come from the VSTs.

I have a few microphones, but almost never use them for home studio recording, at least right now. I'd like to reserve the right to do so in the future. Also, this is personal studio space, and not a room where I bring in a band to record; expandability and a super amount of flexibility is not a requirement.

Since I'm down to only three sound sources, I'd like to explore taking the mixer out of the picture and replacing it with a multi-input interface that will allow me to route audio. Removing the mixer will help reduce the cable count and make for a more aesthetically pleasing environment. Something about the top-mount of the cables on the Mackie just seem to bug me, and lead me to think about the weight strain on the cable ends. I plan to keep both pairs of monitors.

Here are the use cases:

1. Simple practice/playing
Some days, I just want to flip on the RD or Electro and play through one of the speaker pairs without the computer. So the interface should have some sort of stored or default setting that will just route audio to the outputs.

2. Practice/playing using VSTs
Use the RD, Electro or Arturia Keylab 61 to control a soft instrument, again routed through either speaker pair.

3. Recording/playback with the DAW
I need the flexibility to record from any of my sources into Cubase, and again to route out to either monitor pair. Using the software to route instrument signals into he DAW would be a new experience for me to get use to, but I'm sure I could learn just fine.

These are not atypical scenarios I'm sure. I obviously need at least 6 inputs, two of which are XLR. Since two XLRs would be dedicated to the RD, it would be nice to have an additional pair for mics in case I need them. Given this, I've been looking at interfaces with at least 4 XLR inputs, 4 additional line inputs and 4 output ports. While I don't have a set idea of budget, I do not need high end as I'm only doing this as a hobby. Also, I've had a good experience w/ the UR22, and it would be nice to stick with Steinberg, but that is not a hard requirement. I'd also prefer a USB 3.0 or USB C connection.

So the first question really is: is this a common use in a home studio where the interface serves as a small mixer?

Second, the initial research shows two product popping to the top: Focusrite Scarlette 18i8 and the Presonus Studio 1810c. The Steinberg UR816c is at a slightly higher price point. I'm wondering:
a) Should I be looking at other models or alternatives?
b) what are people's impressions with the quality/usability of the controller software?
b) ease of software integration with Cubase?

Hopefully this rambling made sense. Thanks


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Originally Posted by Rusty Mike
. . . three sound-generating instruments: Roland RD-800, Nord Electro 6 and Nord Stage 2EX. The Stage is primarily a rehearsal/gig box, and sees very little studio time. All other sound is done using soft instruments on my 2020 iMac 27" through a Steinberg UR22 (1st gen) interface.

All I/O is routed through a Behringer Ultrapatch Pro PX3000: sound sources connect to the A channels and route out the B channels to a Mackie 1202 VLZ4 mixer.

I have two pairs of monitors: older iKey Audio (now Gemini) M-808v2 and Presonus Eris E5. They are connected to the mixer's Main and Ctrl Rm outputs respectively via patch points. The only exception is the RD, which is directly connected to the mixer w/ XLR cables. I have found them to have less noise than the TS/TRS connections.

There isn't much in the way of technical details of the RD-800 outputs on the Roland web site or in the manual, but I don't think you should need to use the XLR outputs, though it's a nice feature. The 1/4" jacks are balanced and are probably at the same level as the XLRs. You might get more noise from them if you were plugging them into an Instrument input on the mixer than on a Line input, however. Be that as it may, just about all the interfaces in the category where you're looking have mic and line inputs sharing the same hole, so either way, connecting it to the mixer ties up two inputs. But if you're not fussy about stereo piano, you could use the L/MONO output and that way you'd use only one input to the interface (or the mixer).

Quote
Cubase Elements is my DAW, and Kontakt and Arturia V-Collection 7 are the primary virtual instruments. When I want to record audio from the RD or Stage, I patch from the patch bay into the audio inputs on the UR22. It's rather rare that I do this, as most of the recorded tracks come from the VSTs.


The patchbay may not get a lot of use, but it sure saves time and confusion when you need to make a temporary connection. I'm all in favor of patchbays. You might want to keep it, particularly if you end up with a rack mounted interface with more inputs than you need at the moment.

Quote
Since I'm down to only three sound sources, I'd like to explore taking the mixer out of the picture and replacing it with a multi-input interface that will allow me to route audio.

One thing that you might miss by removing the mixer is the ability to play any instrument without having to start up the computer. The simplest of interfaces, generally those with just two inputs (and a couple with four) have what amounts to a small mixer built into the hardware that allows you to with a mechanical switch connect an input (all inputs, actually) to an output without a computer connection. Larger interfaces typically have a software mixer built in, which requires powering up the interface even when you're not recording, and they all require the computer to be up and running (and connected) in order to set up that mix. Some will remember the last setup before powering down, which could be handy on some occasions, but not all.

On the other hand, many people are working in mixer-less studios these days, but any time I can spend playing music without having to turn on a computer is valuable to me.

Quote
Here are the use cases:

1. Simple practice/playing
Some days, I just want to flip on the RD or Electro and play through one of the speaker pairs without the computer.

Well, there you go! Score one for me. wink

Quote
2. Practice/playing using VSTs
Use the RD, Electro or Arturia Keylab 61 to control a soft instrument, again routed through either speaker pair.

This will of course require the computer. It will also mean that you'll need a MIDI interface, which is a feature of many, but not all interraces.


Quote
3. Recording/playback with the DAW
I need the flexibility to record from any of my sources into Cubase, and again to route out to either monitor pair. Using the software to route instrument signals into he DAW would be a new experience for me to get use to, but I'm sure I could learn just fine.

That's what they're meant for. This could easily become your way of working, no matter what you want to do. Think so?


Quote
I obviously need at least 6 inputs, two of which are XLR. Since two XLRs would be dedicated to the RD, it would be nice to have an additional pair for mics in case I need them. Given this, I've been looking at interfaces with at least 4 XLR inputs, 4 additional line inputs and 4 output ports.

That's a good plan. What you're likely to find is four XLR-1/4" combo inputs for mic or line (and usually two which function as instrument DIs for guitars and basses) and four line-level only 1/4" jacks which may have fixed input gain with no knobs.

Quote
So the first question really is: is this a common use in a home studio where the interface serves as a small mixer?
Yes, quite common. But that doesn't mean everyone's as happy as they would be with a mixer, it's an acceptance, as a matter of budget, both dollars and space.

Quote
. . initial research shows two product popping to the top: Focusrite Scarlette 18i8 and the Presonus Studio 1810c. The Steinberg UR816c is at a slightly higher price point. I'm wondering:
a) Should I be looking at other models or alternatives?
b) what are people's impressions with the quality/usability of the controller software?
b) ease of software integration with Cubase?

Definitely look at alternatives, the more you can find within your budget (you should at least have one to think about) the better. I have liked Focusrite interfaces in the past, but the last generation that I saw in action had the mixer controls simplified to the point of confusing me. Also I've heard of more trouble reports with Scarletts recently, though this could be because it's probably the most popular interface in its class so there are more out in the population - and you only hear about the failures, not the normal functionality.

The TASCAM US-16x08, though and older model, is a real bargain now at $300, and the drivers and software mixer have been recently updated. It should keep you happy for a while, though I'm not sure if it remembers the last mixer setting on startup. That could get you into the ready-to-play mode quickly. It does have a scene memory so you could store a setup that lets you play your instruments with a starting mix, that's probably accessible with a few mouse clicks.

Mark of the Unicorn (http://www.MOTU.com) has a couple of suitable interfaces, but that'll get you up into the $700 range for the number of inputs you're looking for.

I'd like to recommend one of the mixers with built-in recording interface such as the new PreSonus StudioLive-AR12c, but I'm a hands-on mixing kind of guy. And it has most of its I/O connectors on the top panel.

Lots of choices out there. If you see anything you like, ask here. Someone will probably now something.

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Looking at your 2 choices, you can't go wrong with either.
Consider this though, while you won't be bringing a band in there to record, at some point you may want to collaborate with one more person.
I've done that a few times and the results can be nothing like what either of you might create alone.

So, hands down I choose the Focusrite Scarlette 18i8 because it has two headphone amps, each with their own volume control. That's a nice feature, I have that in my Presonus Quantum - 8 channels and 2 headphone outs.

Having extra channels so you can plug everything in and dial up some great tones ready to go is just such a huge time saver!

I've got a decent 2 channel, the Mk II version of the same Steinberg interface you have. It's a good piece of gear, I can't fault it. I do have to change things around all the time and 4 channels would only be a little easier.
It's important to get the Engineer out of the room as soon as possible so the Artist can get something done, bottom line.


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If you insist on being able to multitrack into your computer rather than simply sending a stereo mix to Cubase, then things get a little more tricky... but I am a big fan of USB mixers, which are perfectly fine working in the analog domain until you need them to talk to a computer. I only need two XLRs for my radio shows, so the Yamaha AG06 is my miracle drug for that - I can do a whole show with that and two iPads without breaking a sweat.

If I ever decided I needed two more channels with XLRs and the ability to record multitrack from my radio shows, I would look into the Zoom LiveTrak L-8, which has a very cool feature set and lots of flexibility that you might or might not need.

I am about to give the LiveTrak ecosystem a hard test, because I am about to install the LiveTrak L-20R as my main mixer. It's a very large rackmount USB interface/mixer that lets you do multitracking... it saves a ton of space and two tons of money to not have the actual physical mix surface, but I will have to see how facile I get with controlling it from an iPad or my Mac. Admittedly, it's basically going to be a summing mixer and A/D for a bunch of synths that I usually set to unity gain and just play, so it's not likely to be a huge thing for me if controlling the mixes isn't instantly intuitive.

I swear by the Yamaha and am looking forward to trying the Zoom. But even if you go for another brand, something like a Mackie etc., I consider the physical mixer with USB interfacing the best of both worlds. Look into them.

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I'm not really interested in multi tracking into the computer; I tend to record a track at a time. I'm just looking to simplify the setup by taking an item (the mixer and possibly the patchbay) out of the equation. I figured with a limited number of sound sources a mid-size interface will work just fine, and I can seriously reduce the number of cables and complexity. I'm sure I can adapt my workflow to manage signal routing through the interface. It looks like both products can store a configuration as default so I can play an instrument without the computer running.

Podcasting is not part of my repertoire at all. The LiveTrak stuff looks nice, but I'm not the target buyer for that product. The KeyLab mkII works just fine as a control surface and it's already on my desk. Besides, like I said, I'm trying to downsize the bulk.

There are occasions where I would like to play back a mix to my bandmates during a Zoom call, but I'm sure I have the equipment and ability to do that - it's just a matter of learning.

Kuru: "It's important to get the Engineer out of the room as soon as possible so the Artist can get something done" - sage words indeed. When doing a reconfiguration like this, I do a lot of planning. The goal is to make the workflow as intuitive as possible so the Artist get be creative and not worry about how to get something to work.

The current setup works just fine, but I want to reduce the clutter and improve the ergonomics.


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Originally Posted by Rusty Mike
I'm not really interested in multi tracking into the computer; I tend to record a track at a time. I'm just looking to simplify the setup by taking an item (the mixer and possibly the patchbay) out of the equation. I figured with a limited number of sound sources a mid-size interface will work just fine, and I can seriously reduce the number of cables and complexity. I'm sure I can adapt my workflow to manage signal routing through the interface. It looks like both products can store a configuration as default so I can play an instrument without the computer running.

I'm confused here. You say you aren't interested in multitracking into the computer, but that you tend to record a track at a time. How is that not multitracking? And in your earlier post, you said you use VST instruments, and that definitely requires a computer.

What do you feel is slowing you down with the setup that you have now? There may be a better way of connecting things than what you're doing now, but the mixer and patchbay are what provide the flexibility to do whatever strikes your fancy.

The multi-channel interfaces that have been mentioned here will take care of your connectivity - you can use its built-in mixer like a funnel to send any one or any mix of your input sources to your headphones or monitor speakers. However, since they assume that you're going to be using a computer as a multitrack recorder and for final mixdown of your tracks, the built-in mixer is designed for monitoring while you're recording, with the intent that you'll be using the computer (running a DAW program) to mix your recorded tracks. That built-in mixer can create a monitor mix all of the input sources that you have enough hands to play, and, in addition, add a mix of tracks that you've already recorded, that you use the DAW's mixer to create.

So - what's your real problem with the setup that you have now? Is it simply that you would rather have fewer cables? Or a few more square inches of desk space?

What would your workflow be in your wildest dreams? You're in a field where the usual attitude is "everyone does it this way" and you're trying to not be "everyone." There's bound to be a solution that's just right for you but it's not clear to me what you want to improve. TASCAM has a series of recording mixers that are more flexible than the Zoom that The Good Doctor suggested and maybe you'd find nirvana in one of those. But still - if it's the multitrack process of separating track-at-a-time recording and final mixdown that you're trying to simplify, something that better emulates the basic mixer-recorder paradigm might be what you need. You could always set up a junker computer to be your virtual instrument host and feed its audio output into your recording interface, but most people today would consider that silly. I'm not one, maybe you aren't either. But first, come up with a good way to express what you're really wanting to improve over what you have.

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I apologize for not being clearer, and for not understanding the questions. I interpreted Dr. Mike's multitrack question as recording multiple tracks (different instruments) into the DAW at the same exact time. Of course the DAW plays multiple tracks simultaneously; I guess I misinterpreted the term "multitrack".

The bottom line is that I just want to reduce the clutter. The mixer sits on a little bench below the work desk, and the access is not great. I don't like that all the cables plug into the top of the mixer, and then hang down over the back, which stresses the connections on both the cables and the jacks. Right now they run into a raceway hanging below the desk and above the mixer, but if I want to move the mixer to the top of the desk, either the cables hang down or I need to buy/build some sort of management. In addition, the desk is just not be enough for the KeyLab controller and the mixer. While the patch bay has been useful, it all just seems overkill for a relatively simple setup. It's just too many cables, and I'd like to take the mixer and the patch bay out of the picture if possible.

I have three sound sources (two hardware instruments and a computer) and two pairs of monitors. Sometimes I just play these instruments by themselves into the monitors, and sometimes I want to play a VST instrument. There are times I want to record the audio from one of these instruments into my DAW, times when I want to record a VST track into the DAW, and times when I want to have a MIDI track in the DAW play one of the hardware instruments. Finally, I want to use the DAW to mix audio tracks. I simply had the idea that using an interface with multiple inputs would be a simpler and neater way to address my uses. I'm not sure I can state this any simpler.

I asked here to see if this idea has some merit or what other people did in their studios. It's not about wanting to be different or the same. It's about simplifying a hobbyist's workspace.

Mr. Rivers I appreciate your response that validates my idea about the multichannel interface. Reading the manuals and watching a few videos on the products supports that. Thank you.


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Originally Posted by Rusty Mike
I apologize for not being clearer, and for not understanding the questions. I interpreted Dr. Mike's multitrack question as recording multiple tracks (different instruments) into the DAW at the same exact time. Of course the DAW plays multiple tracks simultaneously; I guess I misinterpreted the term "multitrack".

It's easy to misinterpret jargon when you aren't from the era that created it. "Multitrack" by itself doesn't mean much, but is often used in that way. "Multitrack recording" suggests that tracks are first recorded, then mixed. All the tracks might be recorded simultaneously, for example if you're capturing a live show or have a band that plays together in the studio. There may or may not be additional tracks added after the first pass. "Direct to stereo" (or mono) is when you use one or more microphones to capture the sound of the performer and the space (room) as well. If you have multiple microphones, you mix them before the audio hits the recorder. Conversely, with "multitrack recording" you may make interim mixes of the tracks during the recording process, but the final, finished mix isn't made until all the tracks have been recorded.

Quote
The bottom line is that I just want to reduce the clutter.

Don't we all!

Quote
I have three sound sources (two hardware instruments and a computer) and two pairs of monitors. Sometimes I just play these instruments by themselves into the monitors, and sometimes I want to play a VST instrument. There are times I want to record the audio from one of these instruments into my DAW, times when I want to record a VST track into the DAW, and times when I want to have a MIDI track in the DAW play one of the hardware instruments. Finally, I want to use the DAW to mix audio tracks. I simply had the idea that using an interface with multiple inputs would be a simpler and neater way to address my uses.

Aha! Multitrack recording. Yes, you can use a multi-channel interface for that, but be careful about what you read. With your hardware mixer, you probably have your instruments already routed to your speakers, so when you just want to play, it's ready to go. As you mentioned (I think it was here and not the other discussion about interfaces) some interfaces claim to be able to be used without a computer. Generally what this means is that it remembers the last routing setup before it was turned off. When it's powered up it will be in that configuration, but you won't have much control over the mix other than perhaps the master volume. You probably can't even select another saved setup if the last one you used isn't appropriate for what you want to do when you power up. It's not that big of a deal to switch on the computer, bring up the interface's built-in mixer, and set it up the way you want it, but it's an inconvenience that you didn't expect.

The sort of thing that I'm talking about is that, suppose you had the piano panned to the left, the synthesizer panned to the right, and your VST instrument panned left and right in stereo. Then you shut down and the next day you wanted to noodle on the piano. You'd probably prefer that to be in the center (coming out of both speakers) than to hear it come out of just one speaker. There's no knob on the interface that will let you change that - you have to go to the computer.

On a "podcaster workstation" like the Zoom that Dr. Mike suggested, you have all the mixer controls right in front of you. It replaces both the mixer and the interface, but it looks, and takes up space like a mixer, not a slim rack-mount panel. And, yeah, most of the connectors are on the top panel. That's been the style with compact mixers for the last 40 years or so. They do that so you don't need to go behind the mixer in order to re-patch something. Good for people with more gear than mixer inputs, a bit of a nuisance for those who have a setup that remains pretty much the same for long stretches of time. It's one of the reasons, I think, why many studio problems get solved by replacing a stressed cable, and why some don't because of the strain on the jack where that cable yanking on it is plugged in. But there are ways to manage cables. If you have cables plugged into the back panel of a rack mounted interface, they're pulling down on the jacks and on the downward bend of the cable, unless it's on a table top and the cables are supported by the table.


Quote
Mr. Rivers I appreciate your response that validates my idea about the multichannel interface. Reading the manuals and watching a few videos on the products supports that. Thank you.

I try to see things the way people wish they were. Sometimes their wishes will work out, sometimes they aren't such good ideas for one reason or another. But not everyone has the same reasons, too. I think a multichannel interface will work for you, and it might be almost as flexible as a real mixer if you find the right one. I think that for this, MOTU might be a good place to look first. I've seen interfaces from them that have a multi-function knob that, when you select the right function, can serve as a mixer level or pan control and will work without a computer. You don't have to worry about which make and model sounds best - they're all so good these days so that it's not something to worry about unless you're doing high grade mastering work. The place to look first is in controls, indicators, inputs, and outputs, and then worry about whether it sounds good.

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It seems like the new MOTU Ultralite mk 5 would tick your boxes: small footprint, multiple stereo line ins, multiple line outs for your two sets of speakers.


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