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Audio interface, what should i be looking for

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by sirchick, Mar 14, 2014.

  1. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member


    So i've been doing some searching for audio interfaces and have settled for USB given my PC doesn't have firewire, and I don't want an internal audio card this time around.

    I found this:

    Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Audio Interface

    But i am wondering what are important aspects of the device that makes sure the sound quality is excellent? The specs are:

    Main Features of the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Audio Interface:

    • Eight Focusrite mic preamps
    • Phantom power, up to 60dB of gain
    • 18 inputs
    • 20 outputs
    • 24-bit/96kHz A-D/D-A conversion
    • USB 2.0 Connectivity
    • iPadĀ® Compatible (requires the Apple Camera Connection)
    • Dual headphone outputs and comprehensive monitor control
    • Word Clock
    • 1 x Midi in & Out
    • 1U Rack
    • Ableton Live Lite
    • Scarlett VST Plug-in bundle
    • Novation Bass Station VST Synth
    • 1Gb Sample pack from Loopmasters
    Although i'm not too happy about the 1 x Midi in & out.

    Is this a high end product? I don't really know what makes a good high quality audio interface.
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    it's in the middle as far as "quality". certainly no slouch but not in the domain of RME, Antelope, Appogee and others. it's a very nice interface though.
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Ditto to what Kurt said. I've worked with these a few times and they are very nice pre's for the money. Focusrite has a long history of making very solid and good sounding audio gear.

    Yeah, as Kurt said, it's not an Apogee, but then again, it's not $400 per channel, either. ;)

    I would say that in its price class, it's possibly the best model in terms of the number of discreet channels, build quality, fidelity and features. And, it's expandable via lightpipe, so you could add additional Focusrite pre amps (or any model of pre that will support a lightpipe connection) to increase the number of discreet inputs, if you would need to.

    If you really feel that you need more than one midi I/O, then you'd probably be best served by getting into a standalone USB midi interface. They aren't very expensive, the average cost of a 2 in/2 out - something like an M-Audio MidiSport - is around $89, at which point you would have three midi I/O's, if you include the one that comes with the Focusrite.
    If that's still not sufficient, the MOTU 128 Midi Express offers 8 in/8 out for around $225.
  4. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    I'm guessing you guys have used the products by Focusrite to know the quality. But as i have not, are there ways to know what will be good quality. I mean youtube is one i guess but compression does ruin the sound quality there.
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I've not used this so I cannot give a hands on opinion but from my general experience, most of these combo's (converters with pre's) with the exception to the Orpheus, Lavry Blacks, maybe top end RME to name a few of that level (I know there are others) aren't the best sounding but they get you by as long as you don't push the levels.
    Majority believe the best way around this is to always be sure never to record too loud, (with a signal level averaging around -18 or -20 dBFS). This is the Golden Rule. :)

    The Lavry Blacks are by far the choice in combo's to me but they also cost $1700.00 USD for 2 channels AD/mic pre, and $1500 USD for the DA. USB

    The difference between higher end in both converter and pre combo products is a more smooth, deep, wider image as you step up your game. Everything seems to blend with other tracks "easier" opposed to tracks sounding either too loud or too soft all the time. As track count increases, this all becomes more apparent to my ears.

    There is also latency and driver compatibility which is a HUGE factor for those needing more than a AD tracking system. Midi and round trip processing are another things to consider when choosing a converter and interface.

    If my main concern was sound quality and I didn't need more than 2 tracks of ADDA at a time, I would without doubt choose a really good 2 channel combo like Lavry.

    If I needed more than 8 channels of pre and AD and I was on a budget, doing project etc, I would forget the entire low to mid level rat race and buy a StudioLive 24.4.2 and be done with it. The thing is a beast and all even I at times think its all I need.
    StudioLive consoles are better than majority of these budget 8 channel combo's any day of the week. And you can track 16/24 or 32 channels (depending on what version you get) and have tons of processing available. They are great for live and studio work and... they look really cool!

    more opinions, more to think about ... ;)
  6. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    I'm bit confused what a pre does? I understand converters are to digitalise the sound for the computer and vice versa for speakers. But not the pre =/
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    they prepare a small electrical signal for further amplification or processing. This is a good start.
  8. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    Would i need a preamp for a midi keyboard?

    I also do guitar > amp (which has its own pre amp) > mic

    So is another preamp after the microphone necessary? Unless im confusing a pre amp of a guitar amp to a pre amp in this discussion...
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Does the midi keyboard have sounds in it or is it a midi controller? I'm assuming it is a controller so no, you don't need a preamp for a controller as the sounds are in your DAW (VSTi)

    Your guitar needs a preamp/ thus, you run it into a guitar amp, then, a typical thing to do is "mic" the guitar amp and from there, you go into a pre-amp as described below.

    A preamp is necessary after the mic. A typical chain would be: Source> Mic > Pre-amp > Converter > Interface > DAW
  10. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    Do you know any good websites where they do audio comparisons of different hardwares. Its very difficult to find detailed reviews/information on the varieties of these hardwares.

    Youtube doesn't seem to have many hardware comparisons for them.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Most comparisons are subjective, not worth much more than entertainment imho. I don't trust reviews or youtube or dealers. Most comparisons are corrupted by something else. In fact, I even know world class engineers who believes his method is the gospel.
    I'm more along the lines of, what's good for me, is not necessarily best for you. There are so many parts to a chain. So many reasons why one opinion is not the same as the other.

    However, we all agree that good gear is usually worth owning. the question is, do you need it.

    Your best bet is to ask questions and study it all.
    What do you want to record and how great do you want your recordings to sound?

    Find out, step by step how the pro's get there. It starts with talent and a great sounding room(s). The best mics and preamps in the world will all sound like crap if the talent and the room sucks for the task.

    Most of the pro's here are long past telling young talent to go out and buy something until we know what you are doing. We would much rather educate you about why rather that buy.

    As an example, I'm currently producing a large play. I'm recording about 18 voiceovers and adding music to this in the end. Its growing in popularity and each year they add more people. I don't even want to do this but I do it so well, they keep banging on my door and its growing. BUT! My studio is too small. My studio is actually a control room awesome for voice-overs but its terrible for example drums or acoustic guitars.

    Last night I finally had enough of the crowd (making me very nervous around all my mixing gear) I set up another room to hold the next group coming. I set up my $20000 mic package and pre-amps (cause I knew they would want to see it in there) and did a few lines. The overflow room isn't treated like my control room is. Well, the voice-overs sound like a cheap bedroom studio. My lush recording gear only made them sound worse. This overflow room isn't worthy of my expensive gear. So, a few dynamic mics did the trick because they aren't as sensitive. They don't pick up the sound of the walls bouncing around like my expensive mic.

    Follow me?

    So, you invest in gear right for what your are doing. You don't buy gear because someone said it was the best in a shootout.
    kmetal likes this.
  12. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    Well I'm a bedroom studio. But i have money to spend! And kinda want my to treat myself to some higher end gear.

    My inputs at moment are guitars through microphone (rarely direct line in) and my keyboard (Korg m50) which is a workstation.

    I would like room for future inputs which is why i don't really want only 2 inputs (plus if the socket breaks some how i have sockets to spare).

    $20,000 might be a bit steep for me but $1,000 + for each pre, converter and interface would be decent high end for a bedroom i feel.
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I would absolutely invest in room treatment, bass traps and such.

    Then, assuming you have a room good enough, I might buy a console of some kind and an Antelope Orion 32.
    Or, I might buy a StudioLive 24.4.2
    or, I might buy an Orpheus and a few flavours of pre's ( GR MP 2NV, Millennia HV3, John Hardy),to name a few gems.

    Hope that helps. I'm sure others will chime in.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Can you be more specific about what you want to do? What you hope to accomplish?
  15. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    I am mainly trying to setup a decent quality home studio with good quality sound. Currently i just use guitar > amp > mic > line in which is bad.

    I have not yet set up my midi as i have no connection to do so. So i need a good pre amp, converter and interface.
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    This is extremely important to know. How many channels do you think you need at one time?

    It sounds like you basically need 2 channels at a time (vocal and guitar) but could use a few more, especially if you add keys and/or are stereo tracking and/or are tracking a group of people.

    I would also focus on adding a newer midi keyboard that has USB MIDI.
    I would find a converter with 8 channels of ADDA and built in mic pre's . Something like a used FF800 or the new FF 802 would be excellent but this is only 4 pre's: Once you add more pre's in one box, I would start looking for individual preamps.

    Until you have more need , an AD/ Preamp combo is all your need then.

    But, I would still look at a used ( or new) PreSonus SL 16.4.2 and start having fun. Have you looked at one yet? They have 16 ins, 16 preamps, 16 converters and all the effects you need and you could buy a used one for about $1000. That $1000 would go a long ways compared to anything else up to about $5,000/$10,000, that I can think of.

    (SL) Studio Live's are being replaced by the AI now, take a look:
  17. sirchick

    sirchick Active Member

    Well the korg m50 i just recently bought =/ so it'll just have to be Midi rather than USB for that unless i can find a midi > usb converter.

    But yes i mainly just have guitar (or rather the microphone) and the keyboard for inputs.. but want some spares.. so something like 2 with 4 spares is more than adequate.

    I also have two studio monitors which would be for output.

    So the PreSonus is all 3 built into one piece of hardware? Is the AI series worth getting over the SL's ... it seems SLs will be cheaper now AI's are replacing?
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Exactly, but, if you want simpler there are many other options for you.

    The StudioLive is more than you need but I personally don't think you will get better for the money spent by choosing a 2 or 4 channel system. The convince of having your keyboard, guitar(s), vocals and maybe something more all ready plugged in while inspiration writing is happening is really nice to have. No need to be plugging in and out, setting up levels and changing the patchs for each time you change an instrument if you had the SL. It would be ready for all your parts.

    But, to be honest, I don't know enough about this budget direction to advise you on more details, I'll pass this off on other members that are more familiar with your needs. I'm filling in while time providing. Hope it helps more than confuses you.

    There are monitor outs, headphone outs, AD that you need plus the DAW, computer and cabling so don't forget it all.
  19. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    As someone who's built a few studios, and treated a couple of my own residential rooms, I am a huge advocate for room treatment. When I bought my akg 414 I was ver excited, then thoroughly disappointed when I did my first recording w it to hear it sound worse than my previous recordings w an sm57. What it did was make a really good recording of a really poor room. Mic placement, and eventually some absorption panels/corner traps really made the mic do what it should.

    As far as interfaces, I recently installed a UA Apollo in my cousins home studio, and i was very happy w the sound quality of the pres. W the built in real time effects, for 2500 it's tough to beat as an all around investment. It's got high quality effects, and very good sound quality, it's personally what I would get if I were looking for an upgrade to my personal setup. The only reason I haven't is I use the studios I work at instead of my home system, which (when I set it back up.) is just for quick idea capture.

    The only thing w the Apollo is it doesn't have midi, so you'd need a midi interface like Donny suggested.
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    nice one.~!

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