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Audio Interfaces


Six-string-man

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I was thinking of doing a bit of recording, and decided to buy an audio interface. I have a desktop PC, a windows laptop, and an iPad, none of which are hugely powerful, or in the first flush of youth.

 

I was willing to spend up to £500/$750 maximum on an interface, and although I would prefer not to spend out on a new computer, I would if I had to.

 

Firstly, there are only a handful of interfaces for iPads, and most of these seem to be 2 in, 2 out, unless I go well out of my price range.

 

Secondly, there are reams of pages, and indeed whole forums of people complaining of buying stuff that doesn't work as it should, and this is from well respected companies, and expensive gear.

 

For instance, Avid M box pro "does not work with Windows 8". RME Babyface. "Cables introduce noise spikes". Motu Ultralite "screeching glitches, altered pitch on playback, corrupted files". Focusrite Scarlett 6i6. "Computer does not recognise", and worst of all, Akai EIE Pro has a huge thread where people have been waiting FIVE MONTHS for updated drivers, and now Akai Support are - allegedly - deleting new posts on the subject.

 

In desperation, I turned to Apple systems, even though I'm not a huge fan. What do I see? Apogee Quartet has digital distortion at low volumes. This, in a £1100/$1600 interface.

 

Now, most of these complainants seem to be a lot more technically minded than I am, and go into several paragraphs about what they have done to try and fix the problems, but to no avail. A lot have support from other users with the same problems.

 

The other thing, some of these threads are up to three years old, and I have no way of knowing if things have been sorted out, but the latest post on the the Akai thread was in September this year, so it seems not in some cases.

 

I am very disillusioned, as obviously The last thing I want is to splash out big money (for me) on something that is going to make me tear my hair out.

 

I have almost decided to invest in a Focusrite iDock at £169/$250, and just record to my iPad. I know it's not as versatile and desirable as what I really wanted, but at least if it doesn't work properly, I won't be that much out of pocket.

 

 

SSM

 

Occasionally, do something nice for a total stranger. They'll wonder what the hell is going on!
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I did start out by looking at the 2 in 2 out boxes Sven, but GAS intervened, and I was soon reading about 6 in 6 out and a lot more!

 

I really liked the look of the Roland Studio Capture, but it's out of my price range :laugh:

 

 

SSM

Occasionally, do something nice for a total stranger. They'll wonder what the hell is going on!
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Why do you need 6 ins (and, more importantly) 6 outs?

 

If you need more than 2 (ie. you want to record stereo keys and a vocal at the same time, or two guitars and two vocals simultaneously, etc.), get the Quad Capture.

 

Don't let GAS interfere with what is, at most, a tool to capture the product of your real GAS (I mean your instruments, of course ;) ).

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You picked a bad day to ask me.

I own a Presonus Mobile Firestudio, that I bought about three years ago. At that time, it took weeks to set up. I later learned that the Windows 7 drivers that it shipped with were buggy, and was advised to use the "legacy" Windows driver. Presonus eventually released a driver that worked.

 

It worked great until about 3 weeks ago. The SPDIF inputs really make recording my Motif XF a snap. Then all of a sudden it quit working. I have spent over 25 hours debugging, fixing it. Long story short- it quit working on my 64 bit applications. I had to download, install 32 bit versions of most everything I own.

 

The tech service at Cakewalk (Sonar) has been excellent. They have not run into this problem before and have been very helpful. The tech service at Presonus basically said "not a driver problem". They have not responded to any questions since.

 

Not a fan of Presonus at the moment.

 

Yamaha Motif XF6, Yamaha AN200, Alesis Micron, Sonar X3, Arturia Microbrute, Behringer Model D, Yamaha UX-3 Acoustic Piano, assorted homemade synth modules
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use this

http://iconnectivity.com/images/iCM2plus/iCM2_new_header.png

 

or this

 

http://iconnectivity.com/images/iCM4plus/header_iCM4_new.png

 

for the iPad connectivity

 

I have the latter and just added this which works wonderfully

 

http://d3se566zfvnmhf.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/focusrite/products/S18i20PPBanner.jpg

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OK. First off, take those complaints you see online with multiple grains of salt. Most people are really stupid, and don't know how to use the stuff they buy (or know how to read the manual). Online, people are uncensored and will say anything, and obviously, if they are complaining on an online forum about something they bought, they are going to be hyper-critical and very complainy. And of course, it's NEVER their fault. (After doing this for a decade, I can tell you that 98+% of the problems I have with my recording set-up are between my ears - doing something wrong or not properly understanding something.)

 

The fact of the matter is that it is probably unrealistic to expect to record audio to computers without dedicating some effort to it. You will need to do some research before buying stuff. You will need to spend some time learning how to use your stuff. You will have to spend some time trouble-shooting problems. If you expect to be casual about recording, you will probably end up being frustrated.

 

The good news is that powerful computers are getting cheaper, the software can literally work wonders (compared to the very best analog recordings), and for PCs there are a lot of really good solid software and recording interfaces you can choose from. And setting up a cool recording system is getting less expensive all the time.

 

A) Choose an interface from a company that's been around for awhile, and that you think will be around 5 years from now. When Win 12 comes out, you will want to have drivers for your interface. For my money, I think Focusrite is a good choice. I myself have less confidence in m-Audio (but I love my m-Audio studio speakers, and have used them for 6+ years or so). Some other companies that (IMO) are good bets: Presonus, RME, Motu. I myself use a Mackie mixer with the interface built in (the so-called "firewire card"). I have also owned a Mackie 400F Onyx interface. They both work well.

 

B) The number of ins and outs you want will determine many of your choices. Here, more is merrier, but also costs more. How that interface connects to your computer is also important. Are you going USB, firewire, light-pipe, PCI bus, thunderbird? The capacities of your computer will determine some of your options.

 

C) Ask questions (you're doing this and that's smart). Go to the forum for your audio software. See what those people are using. Ask them if they recommend the interface they are using. Call the folks at Sweetwater and ask them: it's free and they are pretty knowledgeable. You don't have to buy anything from them unless you want to.

 

Don't forget to have fun. And let us know how it's going.

J.S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier

The collected works of Scott Joplin

Ray Charles Genius plus Soul

Charlie Parker Omnibook

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Weather Report Mr. Gone

 

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Oh, I forgot:

D) Your audio software probably has been tested for compatibility with a number of interfaces. Go to the software web-site and see what they recommend for use with their software.

J.S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier

The collected works of Scott Joplin

Ray Charles Genius plus Soul

Charlie Parker Omnibook

Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life

Weather Report Mr. Gone

 

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Most people are really stupid, and don't know how to use the stuff they buy (or know how to read the manual).

 

Exactly right although I prefer to use the word ignorant as in a lack of knowledge. If you're going down this path, first you must become a total computer nerd. The reason for that is people don't understand that what we hold near and dear is not even on the radar of computer manufacturers. They build pc's so granny can do email and skype calls to the kids and and the kids can live on Facebook. High tech stuff like digital audio is up to small third party companies and us. It's been a struggle for 20 years to get this stuff to work properly and nothing's changed. The small audio companies are constantly struggling to make pc hardware and the os do stuff it was not designed to do.

 

Then you must learn the language of a studio recording engineer. Ever had to go into Word and look at printer settings and see stuff like "print que", landscape, portrait etc, and don't forget all those crazy font names? Those terms are taken from the world of professional print shops and it's exactly the same when it comes to audio recording. The software uses the language of a recording studio. You must, repeat must learn all this stuff in order to set up your little home studio. If you're unable or unwilling to do that then stop right now.

 

You can completely change direction and look at stand alone hard disc recorders like what's described in this thread:

 

https://forums.musicplayer.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2637242/Tascam_DP_32_SD#Post2637242

 

A standalone recorder like these can be a very good way to go because once you've recorded your stuff you can easily transfer your tracks into your pc for editing. No glitchy interface required. Plus all these units have very capable editing themselves and you may not use your computer at all. That removes a very big part of the learning curve.

 

Bob

 

 

 

 

Hammond SK1, Mojo 61, Kurzweil PC3, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA06, Band in a Box, Real Band, Studio One, too much stuff...
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https://forums.musicplayer.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2637242/Tascam_DP_32_SD#Post2637242

 

A standalone recorder like these can be a very good way to go .....

 

Bob

 

I'll echo Bob's comment, especially considering you can get something like that Tascam for less than your current budget for an computer interface.

 

Greg

Kurzweil Forte, Yamaha Motif ES7, Muse Receptor 2 Pro Max, Neo Ventilator
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I find that whenever I need more than two or four, I need more than 8 inputs, and I never need very many outputs.

 

Most of us do these kinds of recordings:

 

1) One-Track-At-A-Time (OTAAT). For those of us doing originals at home, this is what we mostly do. For this, being able to record two channels for a stereo track is enough.

 

2) Live band or rehearsal recording for "internal" use. For this, we use a one-point stereo mic, or better yet, that plus a mix from FOH (mono or stereo, whatever the house runs). I use a field recorder (Tascam DR40) for this purpose; it's a lot less hassle than even an iPhone, and pretty affordable. These recordings aren't good enough for demos, but they're great for finding out what we're screwing up, or recording arrangements for subs to quickly learn our tunes, etc.

 

3) Full-band recordings (live or studio) for demos etc. We generally need at least 8 channels for this. Consider a minimum of 4 for drums (IMHO, 4 is ideal); that leaves only 4 other channels which is pretty thin especially if you like stereo keyboards or have many vocalists. I've always needed 10 or more.

 

It makes perfect sense to start out with a 2- or 4- channel interface and either add a biggie when you have an actual need, or better yet, borrow one! Folks who have them find them sitting in the rack unused a lot of the time.

 

Some field recorders (like the Zoom H4n) will work as audio interfaces.

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The problems with digital recording, besides the more obvious signal disturbances because of computer noise and ground noise, are in the fact that the Analog-to-digital followed by Digital-to-analog conversion by electrical design isn't perfect: even if the AD conversion went very high quality and according to the rules, the DA converter will to an extend create "block" like or grainy sound components simply because it will not perfectly render the samples back to an analog signal, no matter what the specs say.

 

In order for it to do that, it needs a very long "filter" and an output sample rate that is much higher than normal, say a mega Hertz, or an equivalent idea. In short, if you want to get away from certain always present distortions, you'd have to up-sample in very high quality and use a much higher than the standard 44.1/48 kHz sample rates for the DA converter.

 

Now, some people know certain signals sound ok on "normal" DA converters, and so they make sure a lot of recorded things sound ok-ish by cheating a little bit, which is only ok when processing in the computer is done in pretty high signal rate, and certain straightness is used for making for instance a CD sound ok. So most of the modern tricks that are used abundantly actually try to hide the imperfections in the DAC, even though nobody says so.

 

T.

 

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You should think about spending the extra $100 and get the R16 instead. Being able to record 8 tracks at once means you have a half-decent shot of recording a band with it, too.

Hammond: L111, M100, M3, BC, CV, Franken CV, A100, D152, C3, B3

Leslie: 710, 760, 51C, 147, 145, 122, 22H, 31H

Yamaha: CP4, DGX-620, DX7II-FD-E!, PF85, DX9

Roland: VR-09, RD-800

 

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Good point, Sven -- I had missed that functionality. That's a big bonus.

 

Another option to think about is the Behringer X32 rack mixer. They're like $1300 bucks now. Cheap!! Not only does that you give you an ass-kicking mixer with a remote tablet (no snake!), but you can also use it as a USB audio device with 16 inputs. Maybe more if you're creative.

 

Wes

Hammond: L111, M100, M3, BC, CV, Franken CV, A100, D152, C3, B3

Leslie: 710, 760, 51C, 147, 145, 122, 22H, 31H

Yamaha: CP4, DGX-620, DX7II-FD-E!, PF85, DX9

Roland: VR-09, RD-800

 

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Yes, I saw that. I have debating with myself to get the R16 instead. Just for that reason.

 

I don't know how the Zoom stuff is set up, but the Tascam models have 'X' number of channels set up as paired stereo inputs/tracks.

 

Not necessarily a problem, just something to be aware of.

 

Greg

Kurzweil Forte, Yamaha Motif ES7, Muse Receptor 2 Pro Max, Neo Ventilator
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The problems with digital recording, besides the more obvious signal disturbances because of computer noise and ground noise, are in the fact that the Analog-to-digital followed by Digital-to-analog conversion by electrical design isn't perfect: even if the AD conversion went very high quality and according to the rules, the DA converter will to an extend create "block" like or grainy sound components simply because it will not perfectly render the samples back to an analog signal, no matter what the specs say.
Analog signals aren't exact either.

 

In order for it to do that, it needs a very long "filter" and an output sample rate that is much higher than normal, say a mega Hertz, or an equivalent idea. In short, if you want to get away from certain always present distortions, you'd have to up-sample in very high quality and use a much higher than the standard 44.1/48 kHz sample rates for the DA converter.
But the sample rate actually is in the megaherts, using delta-sigma modulation which is then digitally filtered (using FIR filters, which aren't feasible in analog) and converted to digital.

 

Inexpensive digital converters are far more accurate than the best tape units any of us could afford. Nothing is perfect, but the converters are far closer to perfect than our speakers or most of our other gear. Today's 24-bit converters actually have 20 bits of accuracy plus 4 bits of intentional noise. They're bit-accurate to well over 16 bits -- that is, if you take the world's best scientific gear and measure the accuracy, they're better than CD quality, even for inexpensive ones.

 

It's a disservice to criticize A/D converters as imperfect, when they're probably the most perfect gear that any of us can afford, far better than any speakers, mics, mic preamps, or processors. So what's the point of pointing out that they're not perfect?

 

The reason "nobody says so" is because compared to all the other sources of crap in a recording, the converters are nearly ideal. If you get crap recordings, it's not because of the converters.

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I think folks are overinflating the complications of setting up a computer-based DAW.

 

Sure, hardware recorders are nice. They're convenient and quiet. If you're used to doing tape recording, they're very similar. If you're not, you have a learning curve anyway, regardless of whether you use hardware or computer.

 

In my experience, the time-consuming and complicated part of home DAW use is not in the initial setup to simply record tracks, but what to do with them once you have them. I had been doing recording with tape for 25 years before that, so at least I understood basic recording and mixing, which is a help.

 

The great thing about computer based recording is the low initial price.

 

SSM, unless you're planning to record a band, I suggest you get an inexpensive audio interface of just about any kind (M-Audio, Tascam, Focusrite, PreSonus, Zoom, or a few other brands) with built-in mic preamps. Don't pay more than $150 unless you have a good specific reason for it, and get started recording your own music.

 

You'll need more than just an audio interface. When allocating funds, keep in mind this short list of what's important in a good recording:

 

1) composition, arrangement, performance!

2) engineering

3) instruments

4) mics, monitors

5) processors & plugins (FX)

6) audio interface

7) DAW

 

A guy I knew said, "If you can't make a hit record with a stick mic and a Soundblaster, you probably can't make a hit record with anything." Words of wisdom.

 

Monitors are more important than most people credit, but if you can't HEAR what you're recording, how can you possibly make any judgments on what mics, FX, and techniques to use? They're critically important, yet most people have them pushed against the wall, rendering the most expensive monitors less than half as good as they should be.

 

DAW is last on the list but that's a bit misleading. First, DAWs come with plugins, which is higher on the list. Good sounding plugins are important. But they can be replaced, and every DAW should sound exactly the same if you're using the same plugins, because addition is addition. However, a DAW that works smoothly for you, that matches the way your brain works, is a godsend, so that's what to focus on for the DAW.

 

Other than that, differences in audio interfaces are the least important things on the list, and your budget should be concentrated on the things higher on the list: mics and monitors. If you have any interest in OTAAT recording, just get ANY interface and then focus on the important stuff.

 

If you're more interested in recording bands, then the computer vs hardware recorder will take a lot more consideration. But you'll still need monitors, mics, and a DAW because (trust me on this) you'll want to do the mixing on a computer, not on a hardware unit.

 

Another issue to consider on hw vs. software, if you do record on hw and mix on sw, you'll often want to do some overdubs partway through the mixing. If so, it's nice to be able to just do that on the computer (possibly using the hw DAW as an audio interface).

 

When comparing hw vs software for recording lots of tracks, I suggest you consider the Tascam US1800 as the minimum kit for the computer. The focusrite above adds a couple of channels, which is nice, but 16 is usually ample. (We recorded an 8-member soul band and didn't use all of 16 tracks. But as I said above, I'm a fan of 4-mic drum recording. That's suitable for lots of genres, but not all. If you're interested about the ideal 4-mic setup for drums, just ask.)

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The DA converter needs to do a reconstruction of the analog signal. Even if it is "true" 24 bits, and has a noise floor that suggests 16 bits or more accuracy (I have one that sure is more accurate than that in the respect of bit accuracy and linearity), it *still* ISN'T overall as accurate as that it WILL make signal reconstruction errors that even are audible in a crappy audio chain. Theory dictates it makes those errors, and practice (if you're honest and don't mess everything up) proves that is so, and that isn't known much.

 

The "perfection" of the other part of the recording chain, the Analog to Digital converter is not impacted by the signal reconstruction theorem if it samples at accurate time intervals and doesn't mess with the signal. However, the oversampling the AD converter does, is to make sure the signal is frequency limited, i.e. frequencies higher than half the sample-rate (the Niquist rate) must be very much filtered out, which at CD rate implies very heavy filtering, which brings along with it incredible phase distortion and signal group delay issues that again are not reflected in the measurements/specs but are easy to hear in many cases, and certainly can easily be demonstrated to have effect, all the more when you process the signal.

 

T.

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I haven't dabbled in this area much, and I'm clearly no expert on it.

 

I have an old Delta Audiophile 24/96 card in my PC that has a pigtail that hooks in that gives midi and audio I/O. It's been bulletproof and is probably 10 years old. I also have an M-Audio Fasttrack Pro that is a 2 in/out audio interface along with midi. I bought it to do midi on a netbook, and now on a tablet. It works fine for that.

 

My drummer is more into this kind of thing, and we've done some nice demos at his place. He has an old (windows 2000) pc that he uses with an old interface. Flawless.

 

He also has this http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/US1800 that he uses with a Dell laptop he bought that we tweaked for recording. Flawless.

 

He also has a Presonus board with the firewire interface. He's spent over a year trying to get it to work, and it simply doesn't want to do what it's intended to do. I'm sure it's a driver issue. He uses the same laptop. The intent was to be able to record the band live. He can't record 16 tracks at once with it. Thru troubleshooting, he found that if he did 12 or less tracks that it'd work, but even that is not consistent. It will give digital spikes and stutters in the sound. He's really frustrated with it- he spent a lot of $$ on the laptop with dual high speed disks, with one dedicated to audio, and we spent a lot of time geeking on it, turning off services and tweaking the bios, to little avail.

 

Our guitar player has the same board and a Mac, and can record as many tracks as he wants with no problem.

Live: Korg Kronos 2 88, Nord Electro 5d Nord Lead A1

Toys: Roland FA08, Novation Ultranova, Moog LP, Roland SP-404SX, Roland JX10,Emu MK6

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keep in mind this short list of what's important in a good recording:

 

...

 

Monitors ... critically important, yet most people have them pushed against the wall, rendering the most expensive monitors less than half as good as they should be.

 

learjeff,

 

You sort of implied it here, but another thing for your list is

 

- "good enough" spaces to record AND mix in

 

You're right that all the gear specs in the world won't matter if you're not hearing your stuff in its best possible light...er, space. I'm not talking Ocean Way here, but something a cut above the spare room next to the washing machine. :)

I make software noises.
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When I got my first "good" audio interface I made the mistake of getting a MOTU system with more inputs and outputs than I needed. That money could have been better spent. For outputs the real question for me is stereo or surround sound?
This post edited for speling.
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Lexicon isn't on the list, if you are sure you onlyneed 44.1/48 kHz sampling rate, the Omega is interesting.

 

There's an Asus USB audio ouput box, for some form of HiFi audiophile audience, which besides good audio output quality (stereo) and things like a volume knob has what you might want if your notebook is running from mains: ground separation and a non-switched supply on the audio output side!

 

T.

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Ok, without analyzing every post since my last one, it appears the people here who talk about how simple it is have been doing recording for years. And years. I certainly don't know for sure but it appears they were early adopters of computer recording. Of course it's simple. Brain surgery is simple once you learn it and have a few years under your belt. We're talking about a total noob here.

 

It ain't simple at all but having said that it certainly is doable and the latest stuff makes it easier to start than it used to be. It wasn't easy but I did it.

 

I was one of those old farts who resisted computers thinking they were strictly for nerds who I really didn't like. I was too cool for that crap. I finally embraced all of it because about 20 years ago after not playing a lick for 5 years I had to make a decision. Give up gigging entirely or buy my first digital keyboard, a Kurz K1000, and start to get into it. I did that and then got into Band In A Box somewhere around version 5 on discs and using a whoop de doo super hot Pentium Pro with 256K of memory and wound up being a beta tester for PG Music and now I kinda sorta know what I'm doing.

 

This stuff is a long and winding road and for any noob's reading this yes it's worth it if you have patience and a willingness to learn. Don't succumb to the temptation to throw your pc/iPad/tablet out the second story window.

 

SSM, mixing with headphones is probably the worst way to do it but you have to start somewhere and you can at least learn how all the things work together. Quick tip, take your latest recording that sounded decent on your cans and take it to your car. That will be a real experience.

 

Bob

 

 

Hammond SK1, Mojo 61, Kurzweil PC3, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA06, Band in a Box, Real Band, Studio One, too much stuff...
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