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Need opinions on an interface for playing live with laptop


musicbysterling

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I'm getting ready to begin to incorporate my MacBook Pro into my live gigging, and after doing some initial research into what hardware is available on the market, I'm confused more than ever.

 

So I would greatly appreciate opinions and suggestions as to what I should be looking at. USB, FireWire, rackmount, or not, and reliability are all the questions (and probably more) I need input on. Thanks!

 

 

�Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!�

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

 

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It looks like all the suggestions are strictly for getting audio out of the Mac. I'm not sure exactly what the OP is asking about though... you may also need a MIDI interface, if your keyboard doesn't have MIDI over USB, or if you may need to attach any other sound modules...

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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I have used the TC Electronic Konnekt24D for years with my Macbook (not a pro) in live use with excellent stability. I use Ableton Live, not MainStage. One reason I went with the Konnekt is that you can strap a DSP-powered reverb on to the final output without impacting CPU and there was a time I needed that. It's firewire, has multiple I/O plus MIDI. I had two, one for home and one permanently installed in my rack. A few months ago I traded one of them in at American Music Seattle. They might still have it if you're looking for one to try out. Ask for Matt Blair for a good price.

 

Busch.

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I hate to sound stupid, but I've always been told there is no dumb or stupid question, what is a MBP?

When I played live with a Dell I just used a USB connection, firewire is no faster than USB period, they are even working on USB 3. I used the USB with a controller and an OUT connector with a MIDI unit when I needed to turn off a board main sound engine. It all always worked great, never any problems. The guys in the band called me a geek since I knew how to do and understood how it all worked and more. All of my connections were always far more complexed than anyone else's. Even tri-amping the fronts or the bass players rig was simple. So many musicians don't want to read manuals, they just want to start plugging cords in and you can not do this but there is now a days always a way electronically to make what ever it is work, even for Mac's. Mac's are used way more for music production than any other pc or laptop period and I know plenty of people may disagree from their poin of view but I know of too many studio's in the Houston area and too many of the touring bands sound guys/women depend on them.

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I've started using a PreSonus FireStudio Mobile with a MacBook, live. I'd been using that interface for mobile recording work with Logic; so I started trying it on gigs.

 

Prior to that, I did use the 1/8" out on the MB. It worked, but not all of the time. When calling up certain softsynths/patches there were instances of audio overload, and the audio output was affected by white noise bursts, clicks and pops.... I did notice the CPU meter showing an overload; but that, plus the noise issues had never occurred while recording using the interface (using some of the same softsynths/patches).

Being relatively new to using software instruments live, I spoke with a Logic/audio specialist here in Ft. Collins who suggested that I use an audio interface live; in his opinion I was overloading the audio outputs of MB. Since using the FireStudio Mobile there have been no problems. It's a very clean interface, and works well for live performance. Plus it has a MIDI In/Out breakout connection, and additional inputs/mixing options; pretty feature packed. I had to pick up a 15' Firewire cable - as the interface is currently in my rack. Those can be pretty pricey, but I found a local computer shop that sells them way below any other source.

 

Perhaps the audio processing capabilities of the MacBook Pro are more heavy duty than that of the MacBook. In that case, Sven's suggestion may be the most cost effective, and still offer clear sound. Or, possibly his suggestion of a high quality DI is what would do the trick for any 1/8" computer audio out. My knowledge of tranformers, computer audio, etc. is still a bit like a swiss cheese. So as further suggestions come in for the OP, this will be a learning process.

I'm aware that Apogee, and other companies make interfaces of premium quality. But for live work, the PreSonus Firewire box seems to do the trick. The FOH engineers that have mixed my rig find the Firestudio's outputs to work well in the mix.

 

 

'Someday, we'll look back on these days and laugh; likely a maniacal laugh from our padded cells, but a laugh nonetheless' - Mr. Boffo.

 

We need a barfing cat emoticon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If all you're doing is running stereo (or mono) mix outs from the MBP, grab yourself a Radial JPC DI and an 1/8" male stereo to 2x male RCA cable, and use the headphone output from the MBP.

 

I often do this. For my purposes, the sound quality's fine.

 

Biggest thing I miss playing sans interface is having its volume knob easily within reach. I run the mb headphone output through a volume pedal instead - sometimes as much trouble as bringing an interface.

U1 | NP | NS3 | NE3 HP | K10
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Firewire is preferred. Although on paper, USB 2.0 is "faster," firewire is more reliable for streaming data. Bottom line, you'll usually get lower latency using a firewire sound card compared to USB. That said, USB is still adequate for most purposes. There are still a lot of USB sound cards on the market even today that aren't USB 2.0 though.

 

Or you could just take the line out from your headphone jack like Sven suggested. An interface is more important when recording.

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If I were to go that route right now I'd probably opt for the one of the Mackie Onyx mixers. They're affordable and have firewire built-in. Minimizes set up hassle.

 

If the sound quality is as good as the older Mackie VLZ's than you've got a kick-ass mixer/interface!

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I hate to sound stupid, but I've always been told there is no dumb or stupid question, what is a MBP?
MacBook Pro

firewire is no faster than USB period
Not exactly true for stustained rates, but immaterial except when running lots of channels (16 or more channels at 24/96) or attaching a disk drive, which doesn't apply here.

 

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If you need a separate MIDI adaptor, I highly recommend M-Audio MidiSport UNO. It's a MIDI - USB cable with a wart. The wart is conveniently located making it easy to double-over into a roadie knot, and it speeds setup: rather than two cables and a box, you just connect one cable and bingo. $80 last I checked.

 

Of course, an audio interface with built-in MIDI would be just as convenient, and possibly cheaper.

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Apogee Duet is fantastic.

Metric Halo ULN2 is the ultimate.

Both are Firewire. Both are extremely stable/reliable.

I would definitely +1 these suggestions,and would look into the solution Sven suggested.

 

If you need a MIDI interface, I recommend a MOTU Fastlane over the M-Audio, I have experience with both and have far fewer problems with MOTU's MIDI drivers. There are also devices that combine audio and MIDI, like the Ultralite.

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A buddy of mine gave me his MBox2 last night as he just purchased the new MBox3 (very sleek!), so I think that my issue has been solved for the moment. It's USB powered, so I can avoid hanging another annoying wall wart in my rack, and I can mount the unit right underneath my Ashly line mixer.

�Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!�

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

 

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FWIW, I use a MOTU UltraLite as a lynchpin in my laptop-based live rig. It has been rock solid. It's FW, bus-powered, provides MIDI and has way more I/O than I need. I'm guessing in the studio, both Apogee and Metric Halo provide better D/A, but for live use does any additional resolution translate to the audience?

 

I've been very pleased with the UltraLite.

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I'm getting ready to begin to incorporate my MacBook Pro into my live gigging, and after doing some initial research into what hardware is available on the market, I'm confused more than ever.

 

So I would greatly appreciate opinions and suggestions as to what I should be looking at. USB, FireWire, rackmount, or not, and reliability are all the questions (and probably more) I need input on. Thanks!

 

 

Actually I have a Tascam FireOne FireWire audio interface that I got to use with my MacBook and Korg M50 88. But since I can hook up MIDI via a USB cable from the keyboard to the laptop, I connect direct audio from my Behringer mixer L/R 1/4 cable into the mic port with a 1/8 jack. So that way I get audio and don't have to use an external interface.

 

I'm not saying that is the ultimate way to get the best direct audio into the MacBook, it seems to work ok on what I'm doing, mainly just recording using GarageBand '09/

 

If I had an extra $500, I would go with the Apogee. It has always gotten good reviews and seems to be a well built system for direct audio.

 

katt

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I'm looking for basically the same thing.

 

I've been using an adapter hooked up to my MacBook's headphone port, and it's definitely not ideal. One of the biggest issues is simply the precariousness of a tiny, flimsy plug connected to a loud sound system.

 

How different is the live audio output quality really in these different devices in practice? Some of the devices recommended (like the Apogee Duet) seem to be around $500 USD, while the Tascam FireOne looks like it can be had for roughly $150.

 

Not mentioned here, how about the NI Audio Kontrol 1? It's going for $230 right now, and it certainly looks nice (although it's USB).

 

The devices I mentioned all have at least audio, MIDI, and a couple simple controls. Out of these options, the FireOne actually seems the most practical, although of course I'd worry about the reliability of a slightly older device.

 

Any suggestions? Thanks.

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As I said above, I can recommend the MOTU UltraLite without reservation.

I guess my question is this: the MOTU costs $550. I don't really need many features, so what I don't understand is, what am I losing aside from ins and outs if I buy one of the similar audio interfaces in the range of $200?

 

Thanks.

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I've been using an M-Audio Firewire 410 live for several years, and it's been great. I also run MOTU stuff in my studio, my main interfaces are a MOTU 828 and an 8Pre. I think the MOTU stuff sounds better, but the FW410 sounds perfectly fine for live use. The only problem I have (very occasionally) is that my laptop doesn't always recognize it on startup, so before launching my software VST host, I always launch the M-Audio console, and if the 410 doesn't show up at first, I replug the firewire cable, and that has always worked (so far, at least). This happens maybe once a month at most. Once it's connected to the laptop, it's rock solid. I like the multiple outputs, I have several sets running to my mixer and it's generally faster for me to set levels on the analog side than in the software. I got mine for about $200, and it was a few years ago.

Turn up the speaker

Hop, flop, squawk

It's a keeper

-Captain Beefheart, Ice Cream for Crow

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what am I losing aside from ins and outs if I buy one of the similar audio interfaces in the range of $200?

 

Thanks.

 

In my layman's opinion, your audio interface money buys you:

 

1) Features (# of I/O, flexibility, etc.)

2) Preamp quality (if it has mic preamps)

3) Stability / roadworthiness (does it crash, glitch, break)

4) Overall sound quality (D/A conversion)

 

I haven't had the pleasure of using the more expensive stuff (Apogee, Metric Halo), but people I trust tell me the Apogee preamps are much nicer than MOTU and the overall sound quality of Metric Halo is far superior.

 

Folks who have tried low-end interfaces tell me horror stories about stability (but then, some percentage of horror stories are hyperbole or statistical outliers). Lots of folks tell me that MOTU stuff sounds better (overall sound quality) than the really inexpensive stuff.

 

I've never A/B'd different audio interfaces. I chose MOTU years ago based on reputation and what I could afford. Upgraded from 828 to UltraLite and have always been satisfied.

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I will say most newer interfaces sound very good and it's getting harder to distinguish between many of them if all you are doing is listening to program material through some near-fields. There has been steady improvement over the last 15 years.

 

This site below is interesting in that he actually bench tests some interfaces. The Metric Halo Mobile I/O is mediocre at best in these tests. The TC Electronics Konnekt 24D (which I recommended above) performs much better. The Digidesign 192, which I also own, is the benchmark.

 

http://rhythminmind.net/1313/?p=313

 

The site has lots of excellent comparisons and shootouts. I wish more published magazine reviews included bench tests. Subjective opinions are fine, but what are they really worth nowadays?

 

Busch.

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In my layman's opinion, your audio interface money buys you:

 

1) Features (# of I/O, flexibility, etc.)

2) Preamp quality (if it has mic preamps)

3) Stability / roadworthiness (does it crash, glitch, break)

4) Overall sound quality (D/A conversion)

 

Don't forget latency. I use a MOTU UltraLite for my MacBookPro and have a much bigger MOTU on the MacPro. Very stable and sounds great but I wish I got better latency. That is one of the big reasons I went with an RME on my new PC DAW.

 

As others alluded to, FireWire can have a much more consistent stream of data than USB. It has long been a complaint of programmers that you cannot assign priority of data across USB. For a long time the only serious audio interfaces were firewire. Now that is starting to change. Not because USB is getting butter, but because firewire is getting worse. The problem with firewire is cheap non-TI chips that are being put in laptops. TI is the standard but even Mac had a batch of notebooks released with non-TI firewire chips that did not want to get along with many firewire audio devices. It is almost impossible to find a windows notebook with true TI chips. Im afraid that is going to kill the future of firewire audio.

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I appreciate all the advice everyone! (Sort of hijacked a thread, but I don't feel too guilty, since the OP has solved their problem).

 

1) Features (# of I/O, flexibility, etc.)

2) Preamp quality (if it has mic preamps)

3) Stability / roadworthiness (does it crash, glitch, break)

4) Overall sound quality (D/A conversion)

3 and 4 are what I care about.

 

The site has lots of excellent comparisons and shootouts. I wish more published magazine reviews included bench tests. Subjective opinions are fine, but what are they really worth nowadays?

That's excellent! I completely agree, more reviews should look like that.

 

Don't forget latency. I use a MOTU UltraLite for my MacBookPro and have a much bigger MOTU on the MacPro. Very stable and sounds great but I wish I got better latency. That is one of the big reasons I went with an RME on my new PC DAW.

Interesting, especially since everyone else here who has the MOTU seems to reports liking it quite a bit. Is it noticeable in practice? For comparison, I seem to get useable latency out of my MacBook's integrated sound as long as I'm not going too wild with Omnisphere.

 

The problem with firewire is cheap non-TI chips that are being put in laptops. TI is the standard but even Mac had a batch of notebooks released with non-TI firewire chips that did not want to get along with many firewire audio devices.

Until you posted this, I was not aware that there were Macs with non-TI firewire. So I checked, and lo and behold, Lucent! Damn it, not cool. Well, thanks for making me check! Does USB now become the better option? That's annoying, especially since my next laptop (this one's from 2007) will probably be a MacBook Pro, but I'd like to at least get another year out of this one if I can.

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The problem with firewire is cheap non-TI chips that are being put in laptops. TI is the standard but even Mac had a batch of notebooks released with non-TI firewire chips that did not want to get along with many firewire audio devices.

Until you posted this, I was not aware that there were Macs with non-TI firewire. So I checked, and lo and behold, Lucent! Damn it, not cool. Well, thanks for making me check! Does USB now become the better option? That's annoying, especially since my next laptop (this one's from 2007) will probably be a MacBook Pro, but I'd like to at least get another year out of this one if I can.

Does anyone happen to have a good quick reference source for which firewire is in which models?

Maybe this is the best place for a shameless plug! Our now not-so-new new video at https://youtu.be/3ZRC3b4p4EI is a 40 minute adaptation of T. S. Eliot's "Prufrock" - check it out! And hopefully I'll have something new here this year. ;-)

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Apple hasn't been putting TI chips in their Macbooks for a few years now, I think. That still doesn't necessarily make USB the better option, but unfortunately, compatibility is a bit of a lottery depending on how the driver for the interface reacts with your particular firewire chip. For instance, an interface from one manufacturer might work fine out of the box, but another one from a different manufacturer might give you nothing but headaches.

 

Sometimes there are workarounds too. For example, I recently purchased new PC laptop for recording, and my Mackie interface wasn't jiving with the laptop's garbage generic firewire chip (cut-outs, latency problems, etc.). It had previously worked fine on my older laptop, which also had a generic chip, but for whatever reason it wasn't agreeing with the new one. Using a third-party firewire expresscard with a TI chip cleared up the problem for me, and now it works like a dream.

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