Yet another Noob... Interface questions



Hi all...

Apologies in advance, 'cause I'm sure you've seen these questions before. I've done research (to the point where my head is spinning), so I need a bit of a reality check.

To complicate things, I'm getting into recording many after years of being away from music. Last time I did any recording/sound reinforcement, it was *all* analog, and as long as you could plug "in" into "out" and work some sliders, you could do a decent mix.

I'm in the process of putting together a small home digital studio; I've been picking up stuff piece by piece (usually on eBay), and I have a lot of older "outboard" units I'd like to continue using.

Here's what I want to accomplish: record multiple tracks simultaneously onto my computer, then mix them down to something that resembles music. Sounds simple - until you start to look at the hundreds of components/brands/etc., all with their own bells and whistles and included software.

I'd like multi-input capability (the more the merrier), and this is where I'm having a disconnect. For my DAW software, I'm using (will use) Sonar 7 Producer. It's supposed to offer as many digital and analog audio tracks as the workstation computer can handle. The workstation is a Dell 3.8 Ghz Intel Quad-core, Windows XP, 4 GB RAM, 1.5 TB hard drive. I've got various outboard equipment (DSP units, compressors and the like) I'd like to keep using (at least until I decide I don't want them). To add some more confusion, I'm also using MIDI instruments such as an Ibanez IMG2010 MIDI guitar controller and a variety of sound modules (one module at a time).

Now, here's where I think I may have made a bad call: I *thought* the entire mess could be controlled via a control surface that would play nice with Sonar, and recently purchased a Mackie Control Universal off eBay. Well, I'll certainly be able to do mixdowns in the computer, and control Sonar, but I'm still flapping in the wind for analog input.

And now we get to the main question(s): do I dump the Mackie MCU and get a digital mixer instead (as was recommended to another Noob on a different thread), or do I keep the MCU and purchase an I/O interface? (Recommendations? I've read good and bad about every major brand - Mackie, Tascam, PreSonus, M-Audio, MOTU...)

Again, confusion on my part: I thought an I/O that had 'X' analog inputs would work as long as it had 'X' corresponding digital outputs (via firewire or USB). At least that's the way it looks to me when I look at the descriptions of things like the MOTU 828: 'X' inputs > digitized > streamed into computer > decoded into 'X' outputs/channels and controlled via the DAW software. It looks like the I/O units are complete mixing solutions - so would I need to set up and balance the I/O box, then set up and balance the MCU?

Sorry this has been so long. Also, instead of you typing out yet another explaination to yet another confused Noob, if you could just point me to an information source (book, website, You Tube video, etc.) where I can teach myself, that's cool. I'm just an old dog trying to learn some new tricks.

Thanks for any info or recommendations you can make!



Apr 19, 2006
Confusion reigns!

If you want to mix your tracks in your DAW software using the MCU as a control surface, all you need is some way of getting the raw sounds into the computer and a couple of channels of analog output for monitoring. So, in principle, a straightforward decent-quality multichannel digitizing interface would see you through.

BUT, you talk about using your existing external analog outboard gear for effects, EQ and compression during mixdown. If you insist on doing that, you will need additional output channels that can be routed through the outboard gear and then re-digitized during the mixdown. All possible, but a rather cumbersome way of working, and not one that retains maximum sonic quality due to the additional D-A-D conversions.

You haven't written anything in your post that would make me say "go and get a digital mixer". I think an interface would be the best next step, and it comes down to the number of simultaneous channels that you need. Lots of choices for 4 or 8 mic channels, some being expandable by adding more boxes. There is also one good 12-channel unit. Come back here for specific recommendations once you have made a decision about your way of working.



Thanks for the reply! At least I get the feeling my investments have been (dare I say it?) sound (ok, couldn't resist!).

While I'd *like* to use the outboard gizmos, there are enough compressors, EQs and effects plugins in Sonar (and available) to keep me confused for a long time.

So, I think I'm looking for an interface. I welcome any suggestions. While my desire far exceeds my budget, I've learned that a little more spent now can prevent a lot more spent later.

I like the "expandable" concept. I think 8 mic channels would suit me very well for now.