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Audio Interface Advice?

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by Todzilla, May 7, 2012.

  1. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    I am about to buy the following gear, in order to have a great sounding, versatile and portable live keyboard rig (occasional recording):

    MacBook Pro 13" 16GRAM, 128G SSD + 750G HD (in the optical drive slot)
    Komplete 8

    I need an interface that meets the following requirements:

    RELIABLE on Mac
    STABLE on Mac
    Sounds pretty clean (this is for live, so studio cleanliness is overkill)
    2 channels of mic pres
    2 additional line level inputs
    A guitar level input (nice to have)
    MIDI I/O ports
    FW or USB (I mildly prefer FW)
    Physical knobs
    At least four line outputs
    Headphone outs
    $250 max
    Low latency

    I'm looking at:

    Focusrite Safire pro 14
    Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
    MOTU MicroBook II (not super excited about my old HD896)

    Any recommendations among these three? Any other models I should be looking at?

  2. Ethan Winer

    Ethan Winer Active Member

    I've been totally satisfied with my Focusrite Scarlett. This is with Windows, but I assume the rest of the Focusrite family works just as well with Macs.

  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    It doesn't matter whether it's studio use or live use you want something that's professional overall. Scrimping on a product just ends up costing you more when you need something to do the job right. Ethan is extremely accomplished, very knowledgeable person, known the world over. Focusrite is an offshoot from Neve and you really can't get much better than that. Most of their stuff has been designed to be cross compatible between Mac and PC. Others not so much so.

    Currently the computer world is in a state of change from offering FireWire interfaces to USB 3.0 & Thunderbolt. Manufacturers are scrambling to come out with products that are compatible with those new interfaces. So it really depends on what kind of computer you have that will determine what kind of audio interface will best suit your needs. And you really can't judge audio quality by marketing hype and specifications. You just have to try it, learn it and accomplish with what you have. Recording drums, for instance, generally requires 4 or more microphones and inputs. And that only covers the drums. So if you are recording an entire group, you'll need 8 or more simultaneous inputs. And not all of these devices offer much more than 2 simultaneous outputs. It varies with your equipment selection and interfaces. Some mixers made by companies like Mackie offer just as many inputs as outputs. But their computer audio connection, in the past, has been through FireWire 400 which conflicts with Macs that have FireWire 800. FireWire 400 is also disappearing from most laptops. Which is causing people Lots of confusion in their purchasing decisions. And for good reason. For instance, you may have invested hundreds of dollars in computer audio interface. Then you get yourself a new computer and there is no way to plug it in your computer audio interface. And there are no adapters nor workarounds that will enable you to do so. This is a huge Catch-22. Sort of like Detroit's history of planned obsolescence. The same is true in the computer world. Because every 18 months, computers have been improved exponentially. The computer manufacturers want to take advantage of the improved performance features that are now available and considered state-of-the-art. So even if you purchased a $500 or more computer audio interface last year it may not be usable nor compatible with the computer you purchased yesterday. So some of us are trying to keep our slightly older computers from completely dying on us because we don't have any intention nor even have the financial capabilities to replace some of our computer audio interfaces.

    Welcome to the land of progress
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  4. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    Wow, Remy,

    That's some pretty comprehensive advicing!

    I'm not seeing any interfaces w Thunderbolt yet. None in my price range w FW800, and since this is for my live rig (not studio), I assume FW400 is my most practical solution. I don't see the need to pump a gazillion soft synths through the FW and just one MIDI feed in, so I doubt I'll be taxing much. Focusrite seems to be the best performer in that price range, although I'm curious about the NI box.
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member


    So that Presonus Fire Studio device would also work out nicely for you with its 8 combo XLR inputs. Those inputs allow for XLR microphones or, 1/4 inch devices to be input. And their Class A microphone preamps are very smooth sounding. They don't necessarily have the aggressive quality that Neve & API have. But they're sweet sounding just the same. I couldn't advise you on the N I box. I have no knowledge or experience with that device.

    Good luck on that
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Don't forget that Focusrite Scarlett, Only has 2 XLR preamps in it. While it might be nice, I think it's impractical for recording an entire band. And if you do any location recording, surely you'll want more than 2 XLR inputs? Screw the software and all of the rest of the gobbledygook. You'll get that with the other unit. Their marketing hype is misleading. Oh wow... 6 1/4 inch inputs. You'd need six additional microphone preamp to plug-in to record an entire band. It might be fine for Ethan? I think it's limiting. Sure, I have a Digi/Avid M-Box 2 which gets used for virtually nothing. It can accept 4 simultaneous inputs but two of those have to be from an SPDIF secondary converter output device. So I utilized a crappy old DAT recorder to do that all of once. So not quite sure what you're thinking? Or thinking about? Even if you think you don't really need more than 2 inputs, it's for beginner BS. And then you'll want more inputs that will accept more XLR outputs. I can virtually guarantee it. Why limit yourself? You're reading into the marketing hype unless you're the only person is going to be recording yourself and even then, it's impractical to record an entire drum set. If you're going to go that route, why not just get yourself a crappy Barringer mixer with a USB output? Of course that only allows for two channels worth of record because it's USB 1.1.

    It doesn't add up
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    Sorry for my lack of clarity. The proposed setup is for live performance, not recording. Mostly hosting virtual keyboards, maybe for playing a couple stereo backing tracks and a click. I've got a MOTU 896HD, not the greatest interface out there, but good enough for whole band recording. Our sound tech has a 16 channel Onyx board and mobile DAW if we want to complicate things.

    Yes, but the scarlet is a USB device. Probably sufficient, but I've gotten such solid performance via FW (in my MOTU 896HD) my inclination is to go with the "robuster" comm standard.

    As for preamps, I'm using the proposed setup for live work and only occasional field recording, so uncolored preamps are ideal. Plus, I've got Second Circle Audio Neve and API clones (N72 and A15s, respectively) and a generous next door neighbor with a real API 512, so if I need cool color, I've got that covered.
  8. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I understand the virtual synth aspect of this rig, and the guitar input to use amp modeling software I'm guessing - but what did you envision running into the mic inputs?

    I'm just trying to visualize what you want to accomplish with these other inputs, before I decide if it's pure genius or over-complicating your thought process. (I'm rooting for genius)

    I'd worry about latency in any device primarily designed for recording. You can compensate for latency when recording, but live even a few milliseconds would be maddening. The Native Instruments software is phenomenal, I'd want to hear their purpose-built interface too - if it meets all of your other needs.
  9. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    Thanks for the reply! At most I would want to route my vocal mic through an amp sim for outrageous effects, but presumably that would be on occasion, otherwise vox would go straight to board. Latency isn't too bad on my nine year old G5, so im hoping this newer and considably better endowed MacBook pro will be even tighter.

    As you suspect, I may find these live processing dreams are foolhardy, but I'd at least like to spend the marginal extra bucks on an interface to allow them, should they prove valuable.

    As an aging rocker (I have an AARP card) with a bad back, the prospect of hauling a laptop with amp sims and VIs vs. a big rig is mighty tempting, indeed.
  10. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I can relate Todd. The AARP people having started hounding me as well. [you know the R stands for 'Retired', right?] I don't see ever retiring from the audio work I enjoy doing, or playing live gigs.

    Anytime I'm working with younger guys, whippersnappers if you will... (pardon me while I pull my pants up a notch) they say things like, "I can't believe how heavy this is." and "What's in here lead?
    Where guys more my own ... uummm ... 'vintage' are more likely to say, "I can't believe how light your stuff is." and "How can a speaker this light, sound SO good?"

    My live rig weighs half what it used to, but I'm still more comfortable putting wheels on a heavy case than adding 10-20 pounds of copper wire to interconnect 5 smaller devices to a fullsize MIDI keyboard or two. But then again, I'm already pulling a trailer full of PA & lights, so another case here or there for my guitar and keys rig is no big deal. And most of my synth needs are pretty simple; piano, electric piano, clav, organ, a few basic synths, and strings - and I'm pretty happy.

    I use a Mac laptop live all the time to record, but if necessary I can also have double or triple-redundancy recorders in place. The last live recording I had a RAM module go bad just 15 minutes prior to start-time. Luckily I recognized the symptoms from an earlier episode, and had a small screwdriver in my toolbox to remove the bad 2GB of RAM. I still managed to take out the RAM, get rebooted, and re-start the capture software with time to spare.

    I've loved recording with the NI plugs. If it simplifies your life in live performance, that's great. I see a lot of touring acts with multiple Macbooks, where trailer space and weight are at a premium. There's definitely a lot someone as creative as yourself could do with all that computing power.
  11. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    Yes, but getting old beats the alternative, eh?

    My plan is to use a weighted digital piano (Roland RD-300X) as controller, patched in to amp/PA w volume on zero. Any live glitches and I quickly go from Flock of Seagulls to Art Tatum, or his talentless cousin with the withered arm.

    I wish I was a harmonica player...

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