Does the quality of the audio interface matter if you have an external preamp?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Faraz, Dec 21, 2018.

  1. Faraz

    Faraz Active Member

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    Dec 21, 2018
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    California
    Hello, I’m an aspiring audio engineer and I am looking to build a home studio for Rap/HipHop. I have a few questions I couldn’t really find anywhere online, the first one being that does the audio interface matter if I’m purchasing the preamp. I am aware that there are preamps built into the audio interface, but i want to achieve a cleaner and better sound by buying the pieces separately. So I’m curious if I purchase a preamp separately, does it even matter what preamp I purchase? What is the benefit of having a better interface with a separate preamp other than translating vocals into line format before it hits my DAW. I want to spend more money on a better preamp if that is the case. Thank You so much!
     
  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    The quality of everything involved in recording matters. In your case with an external pre amp, your using the interface as an AD/DA analog to digital / digital to analog converter. So say youve got a good mic (shure sm7), good pre and good speakers, and an acoustically treated room. The converter is in charge of how accurately your audio you record is translated into binary code (digital), and translated back to analog thru your speakers.

    Conversion is a very critical part of the chain, and one place where better is always more expensive. Mics can be cheap or expensive and still be tbe optimal choice for a voice.

    One thing to consider when using an external pre with an interface (as opposed to a standalone converter) is even the line inputs may still go thru the interfaces pre amp circuitry which will alter and/or dimminish the sound from the pre amp. This varies by make and model so make sure you verify this before you by an interface.

    The advantage of an external pre is generally higher audio quality, relative to what you get with the built in pres. Some interfaces have good to very good pres, others dont. Not all external pres are great. A focusrite ISA is a great pre amp with relatively low cost. The presonus eureka is a nice unit that has a pre as well as eq and compressor. Those are my top two recommendations for high quality low cost pres. Most others in their price range arent worth it, and are little or no better than a basic built in pre.

    If your just starting out, youll want to have a good dynamic mic like an sm57 or sm7, good monitors like yamaha HS 5's/8's, and some room treatment panels. This along with tbe best interface you can afford is where to start. Once you get the hang of it you can then add pres ect. Since all your audio goes thru the interface on the way in and out, the interface is a critical part. That said the room treatment, speakers, mic, and pre are all considered essential, and are equally important.
     
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  3. Faraz

    Faraz Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2018
    Location:
    California
    Hello, I’m an aspiring audio engineer and I am looking to build a home studio for Rap/HipHop. I have a few questions I couldn’t really find anywhere online, the first one being that does the audio interface matter if I’m purchasing a preamp. I am aware that there are preamps built into the audio interface, but i want to achieve a cleaner and better sound by buying the pieces separately. So I’m curious if I purchase a preamp separately, does it even matter what audio interface I purchase? What is the benefit of having a better interface with a separate preamp other than translating vocals into line format before it hits my DAW. I want to spend more money on a better preamp if that is the case. So my question really is if i purchase an external preamp thats decent does the quality of the audio interface matter, does it matter if i get a good or bad audio interface if the pre amp is doing all the work? Like can I just get any interface if i have a good preamp? Thank You so much!
     
  4. Faraz

    Faraz Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2018
    Location:
    California
    Wow thanks for the help! I've actually been mixing and recording for about 6 months now and I actually want to upgrade my current studio that has an M-Audio Interface its cheap and doesn't provide the cleanest sound and also has a little delay while reocording. I also have a Blue spark SL microphone currently which I also don't think is very great, so I'm looking to upgrade my mic to a Audio Technica 4050 which I heard is an industry standard for rap/hiphop & I also considered the Neumann TLM102
    but it is a little on the pricey side. I wanted to get an external preamp for around $300 which I was planning on getting the Golden Age 73, I even considered the 73 JR because I'm only ever going to use one microphone so I was wondering if i get the JR is the quality the same? I don't know if the interface will matter if I get a good pre amp, that was essentially what I was trying to ask if not I was going to go with a simple focusrite with a good pre and compressor. Do you recommend anything better for me? Thank you so much!
     
  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    The AT 4050 is generally regarded as good for female vocals. The shure sm7 is on more hip hop records than most mics. The 102 is a great mic too. The sm7 will stand up better to agressive vocals, and pick up less of the room tone.

    The interface and pre work hand and hand.

    The golden age 73 wont improve your sound in any meaningful way.

    Start with the best interface you can. Then get a pre amp like described or one of equal cost and quality.

    Less is more most often in audio. Two medicore peices of gear dont add up to good gear. And one good peice running thru a mediocore peice adds up to mediocore. The chain is as strong as its weakest link. A good interface and good mic is a good place to start.
     
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  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

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    Kmetal has given you excellent advice and information. To expand on one aspect of the recording chain, the input route has three main components: the pre-amp, the analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) and the computer interface. You can buy any one, either of the first two or second two, or all three of these parts in one box at a variety of price levels.

    Along with room acoustics, the choice of microphone and pre-amp are the most important factors when recording rap. A Shure SM7 coupled to a pre-amp from the Focusrite ISA range that kmetal mentioned would be a great combo. You can also get the ISA range with built-in ADC, and then almost any low-cost computer interface would work, as most can pass digital information into the computer without changing it and hence affecting the quality. If your existing M-Audio interface has an S/PDIF digital input, then that may be a place to start when looking for a pre-amp/ADC combination.

    If you are not intending to carry out much or any acoustic treatment in your recording space, I would advise against condenser microphones such as the AT4050 or the TLM102, and instead consider dynamic microphones like the SM7 or the SM57. Be warned that the SM7 ideally needs a pre-amp with around 60dB of gain on the microphone input.

    In terms of output from the audio interface, the headphone output from the M-Audio would be adequate quality for cueing while recording, but maybe not for driving monitor loudspeakers for mixing. You may also run into latency problems if your interface model does not allow mixing of the microphone input with the replayed output for monitoring.
     
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  7. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    I'm always mystified by people being steered by technical difference often so small that they rely on EVERYTHING else you have and use to be of a standard where the small improvements can be heard. if you have the ever popular SM57 and a cheapish condenser, there's a BIG difference in how they sound. Maybe not good vs bad, but a huge difference. The mellow, warm Shure will suit some things, and the brightness and maybe even harsher sound of the condenser might suit other sources. I'm not totally sold that the big difference in interfaces and pre-amps is 'quality' - with many of the tools we use introducing what are technically negatives, but negatives we like. Call it colour, or depth or other descriptive stuff - but is tube warmth an increase in quality? Nope - it's technically destructive, just in a nice way.

    The thing Boswell said is one of the critical things for me. Noise. I have an SM7 - bought when I was feeling a bit flush and 'wanted one'. It performs quite poorly on my Tascam interface that I use every day. It just cannot provide the gain without the noise. I'm 100% happy with it's sound for my work, but having to bring out a 2 channel interface to use the Shure means that in practice, I don't use it - I have an EV, that is also quite deaf, but not as deaf as the Shure.

    I can't imagine me using the 'better' interface for it's gain, plugged into the line ins of the Tascam. There would be no point, and I doubt the less noisy preamp benefit, would be better as an end product when cascaded through two device.

    For all my musical career, I have upgraded on a need basis. I go to do something and find the sound is underpar, compared to my expectation - that's when I upgrade. reactive, I guess that's called. I spend money happily when I hear a problem money will solve. I never get involved in a quest for audio purity unless I hear something that is not right. At some point, the Tascam won't cut it any longer - but I bet it will be because Windows 12 won't work on it's old drivers that are not being updated rather than it sounds 'bad'. I appreciate I'm stuck in the historic mud and perhaps alone here, but I look at the forum sections where people are using old wonderful gear that distorts and hisses and are happy with it from the musical sense. They cannot chuck it away and buy a less noisy preamp, or wow and flutter free gizmo. They still have high quality, but it's a very different high quality. If you are doing vocals that are heavily surrounded by low bass, often vicious top end drum metalwork and killer rhythms I'm not sure the vocals are exposed enough and of a style where the tiny differences actually make a difference. A folk-ish recording with a single guitar exposes everything and you can't compare it with a metal track from a quality standpoint at all. I don't do Rap or Hiphop, but if I did - I'd spend my money very carefully in things that would make a big difference - so better samples, better synths, and I'm not certain if the singing style responds to the subtleties of pre-amp/interface nuances? even with a few dB of extra hiss at the bottom of the s/n of the mic, would that actually be hearable in the mix?
     
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  8. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Distinguished Member

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    Like my good friends say it, everything matters. Room, performance, mic, preamp, converters, interface, drivers. Monitors, ear training and a lot of know how !
    Most affordable interfaces have ok converters and preamps, but if you intend to buy an external preamp, you should know that not all interfaces have direct path to the converters.
    Chances are, your super sweet mic and preamp sound will be modified by a part of electronic circuit if you don't put a special attention on this when buying your interface.
    All interfaces inputs that have a gain knob are not direct paths to converters. So you sound will be modified by the interface.
    If you buy an interface with inputs that don't have physical adjustments, you are one more step toward better sound.
    But as mention earlier, if you buy a preamp with an included digital converter then you bypass this risk right away. The ISA one is a great choice for this with it's optionnal converter card. That way the signal enters the interface in digital and is not modified by the interface.
    We like it that much not because it's the best choice for every sources but specially because it has a lot of clean gain. This help this preamp producing a clean signal even with the most quiet mics, like dynamics and ribbons.
    One thing that not many will tell you went they praise the SM7 or SM57 is that they have low output and need a preamp with enough gain.
    In theory all affordable interfaces have enough gain for those mics but when you put the gain more then their 3/4 they will add noise. The ISA won't.

    So there you go, find an interface with direct path to converter or a preamp and interface with digital conversion.

    Here's 2 videos I did with many mics and the ISA preamps : (bare with me I'm not a signer...)

     
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  9. Guelph_Guy

    Guelph_Guy Active Member

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    Sep 2, 2013
    Location:
    Ontario Canada
    Ive gone through a number of intrrfaces.. m-audio, focusrite and have changed to the new motu avb series .. when I bought an interfave I bought a monitor 8 .. which provided 6 headphone monitoring outputs , 2 sets of mains outputs and 8 channels of line in.. it wss basically a studio in a box eithout preamps .. I scored 2 x 4 channel ssl vhd4s of the used equipment boards and built up a mini 8 channel studio with a bit of the ssl vibe . And As stated its tge combination of your preamos a/d conversion quality and daw processing. As I upgraded interfaces , the subtle differences began to show over multiple tracks ..
     
  10. miyaru

    miyaru Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2016
    Location:
    Zaanstad, The Netherlands
    I can add that the Sm7 is a perfect microphone. I use it in our broadcast studio where I do my weekly show on thursdaynight. The Sm 7 is warm but clear in can handle almost every voice handed to it. You see them some cheaper these days then they used to be. And you can use them for many things and sources. Nowadays if you look around you find them for around €375,= in europe.
     
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  11. Guelph_Guy

    Guelph_Guy Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Location:
    Ontario Canada
    I'll second the sm7 , a very capable microphone .. but has high gain requirements..
     

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