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Advice on buying an audio interface

Hi,

I have just joined! I would like to surprise my other half with an audio interface for Christmas. We haven’t really used them before so I have had a lot of reading to do! I will be buying Cubase as he has used it before.
We would like to be able to use any mike, don’t really understand the gain thing, I sing so vocals important and the ability to record acoustic pianos and have the facility to record bands, in the future. We need midi, would like ADAT for future expansion, 2 headphones, do I need a clock? Not sure what it does. Budget would be max price of Steinberg 816c as would need to get Cubase if I didn’t buy that.

I have been looking at the following:

Steinberg 816c comes with Cubase AI but pricey. Would then wait to get Cubase Pro 11 Education.

Focusrite 18i20 2nd and 3rd gen: I can get 25% student discount so price is excellent! Would need to then get Cubase Pro 11 Education.

PreSonus Studio 1824c: know nothing about them but read good reviews.

Also looked at the Arturia Studio which looks nice but also expensive.

My focus is on quality, is one better than the other? I get that the Steinberg gear will probably work well together if I didn’t buy that would I really miss anything?

Any help would be appreciated, thank you!

Comments

Boswell Mon, 12/14/2020 - 04:18
Hi, and welcome!

Of the two audio interfaces you mentioned, the Focusrite is in a class above the Steinberg for sound quality. Go for the 3rd generation if you can. Do you need suggestions for other models, or are these two the only interfaces you are considering?

No interface or pre-amp will cope with "any mike". Audio interfaces of the type mentioned expect to be used with microphones that have a 3-pin XLR output connector, which rules out most of the cheaper microphones that have two-pin connections or need "plug-in" (5 Volts) power. The XLR sockets on an interface usually provide 48 Volts of power to the microphone when enabled, so both professional-style capacitor (condenser) and moving-coil (dynamic) microphones can be used.

Microphone choice is a very important part of what you are proposing to do, as are the acoustics of whatever room you are planning to record in. Come back to us when you are at the point of purchasing microphones and tell us what type of piano you will be recording and also describe the acoustic space the piano is sitting in.

For your vocal+piano and also the band recordings, will you be recording all the parts being performed together, or is the need for two headphone outputs an indication that you might be recording the various parts separately (dubbing)?

Don't worry about the clock. All interfaces have an internal clock (usually of adequate quality), and you don't need to complicate things by using external clocks unless you are running multiple pre-amp/converters and interfaces.

Punkyfish Mon, 12/14/2020 - 04:39
Hi, thank you for the quick reply!

I was also looking at the Presonus 1824c and Arturia Studio.

I will be recording an acoustic upright piano in my lounge! I was looking at some rode NT5 condenser mikes to record with, but suggestions for something not to expensive would be good. I have an SM58 for vocals if that would do.

I keep reading about latency, do I need to worry about this with the interface above?

With the headphones, initially I will be dubbing.

thank you!

Boswell Mon, 12/14/2020 - 05:22

Being a UK product, the Focusrite interfaces tend to offer a bit more for your money to UK purchasers than imported products such as the Presonus models. The Presonus 1824c is in a similar quality bracket to the Focusrite 18i20, possibly with Focusrite having the edge, but it comes down to a matter of opinion for the type of material you are recording. I have never used an Arturia interface, but note that, although they get good reviews, they appear to be expensive for a 4-input box.

I shuddered a little when I saw you write "upright piano"! Uprights are not easy things to make acceptable recordings from, particularly in a domestic setting where they are usually pushed up parallel to a wall. Here's a link to a Sound-On-Sound (SOS) article about general piano recording that may be of help to you. There's a specific panel about recording an upright.

Latency (delay) is another thing that you do not need to be overly concerned about, at least at this stage. A DAW such as Cubase can be set up to compensate for latency, so the already-recorded tracks that you hear in your headphones will line up in time with any new tracks you are recording. It's important to use an audio interface that has controls to vary the balance of new versus recorded material in the headphone mixes. The ones you have been looking at have these for both of their headphone outputs.

Boswell Mon, 12/14/2020 - 07:09
It would only be an issue if you had to use some of the XLR inputs for non-microphone sources such as line-level audio signals from (say) a keyboard, as the 48V power would almost certainly damage the source device. In these cases, routing the cable via an XLR-TRS adaptor would mean that you could send these signals to the TRS jack inputs instead, and these never have the 48V phantom power on them even when it's enabled on the corresponding XLR input. The alternative would be to guarantee to route these types of signals to XLRs in whichever bank of 4 channels did not have phantom power enabled, but that's a bit risky as it's prone to mishaps.

There's a secondary concern about use of ribbon microphones. The general advice is that the simple ribbon microphone (i.e. without an internal buffer) should not be used in a phantom-power environment, as a cabling or connector fault could put currents through the ribbon that would damage it. The same argument could be applied to moving-coil (dynamic) microphones, but they are usually robust enough to withstand the phantom power short-circuit current.

Boswell Mon, 12/14/2020 - 09:26
I forgot to comment on your microphones.

The NT5s are a good starting pair for the piano, although you may find the result a bit shrill or slightly harsh. This can be tamed somewhat by the equalisation in CuBase. The SOS article suggests an X-Y microphone configuration for an upright piano to avoid the "hole in the middle" effect. It will take a fair amount of experiment to position the microphones to capture the important sounds from the piano, reducing the unwanted clunks and creaks and minimising room reflections.

The SM58 is fine for vocals, and is what I would have recommended as a starter vocal microphone. A lot of vocalists (even top professionals) use it for recording.

Punkyfish Mon, 12/14/2020 - 09:29
pcrecord, post: 466267, member: 46460 wrote: I agree the Scarlett is a nice product for the price. Unless I missed it, I don't read any channel count requirement or budget.
If you want to go a step over the scarlett, I'd check Audient or RME (more expesive but their offers are superior..)

Welcome to RO Punkyfish !!

hi thank you! Thank you for the advice, unfortunately both above my budget! I got the focusrite with 25% student discount so a steal really. When we have had it a while we will know more about how everything works. Just lovely to get such great advice so quickly!

Punkyfish Mon, 12/14/2020 - 09:31
Boswell, post: 466268, member: 29034 wrote: I forgot to comment on your microphones.

The NT5s are a good starting pair for the piano, although you may find the result a bit shrill or slightly harsh. This can be tamed somewhat by the equalisation in CuBase. The SOS article suggests an X-Y microphone configuration for an upright piano to avoid the "hole in the middle" effect. It will take a fair amount of experiment to position the microphones to capture the important sounds from the piano, reducing the unwanted clunks and creaks and minimising room reflections.

The SM58 is fine for vocals, and is what I would have recommended as a starter vocal microphone. A lot of vocalists (even top professionals) use it for recording.

great thank you! My other half is going to be so surprised, he has no idea!

Boswell Mon, 12/14/2020 - 09:42
Punkyfish, post: 466270, member: 52145 wrote: Haha, don’t be surprised if the next post is on Christmas Day and starts with “ how do I?” Thank you so much!
That's OK. I can quite believe a lot of members here on RO spend Christmas Day staring at their computer screens waiting for posts to arrive.

paulears Mon, 12/14/2020 - 10:17
Some good suggestions here and I found myself nodding with Boswell on the upright recording. Your first recordings may well sound 'odd'. Grand pianos always seem to have a pretty solid individual sound that doesn't change very much in average rooms, but uprights are very sensitive to siting - in particular how they sit in relationship to the walls. Most get pushed up against the wall don't they! Grands get stuck in the middle. You will need to spend some time experimenting but usually there will be a magic place. The trouble is finding it.

Punkyfish Mon, 12/14/2020 - 11:33
paulears, post: 466273, member: 47782 wrote: Some good suggestions here and I found myself nodding with Boswell on the upright recording. Your first recordings may well sound 'odd'. Grand pianos always seem to have a pretty solid individual sound that doesn't change very much in average rooms, but uprights are very sensitive to siting - in particular how they sit in relationship to the walls. Most get pushed up against the wall don't they! Grands get stuck in the middle. You will need to spend some time experimenting but usually there will be a magic place. The trouble is finding it.

yes mine is against a wall! Looking forward to experimenting! Thank you

Boswell Mon, 12/14/2020 - 23:31
The headphone outputs on these interfaces are designed to drive most types of phone. What may vary is how loud they sound at a given volume setting.

The thing you should consider when buying phones for use during overdubbing is their acoustic leakage, as the microphone that is recording your voice will also pick up the leakage. The type that cup your ear are usually better in this respect than the open-cup types.

I find that I can't use the same type of phones for dubbing as I use for checking mixes. These days, so many tracks are only listened to through ear-buds and fashion phones that you have to get your mixes to work with them.

paulears Tue, 12/15/2020 - 02:44
Yep - only recently have I started to check all my mixes in my in-ears, which I now know so well, and I keep spotting mix errors. Usually bass that my studio monitors seem very happy to handle that the mid-price in-ears struggle with. Oddly, it's not level - it's often a clarity thing. I use lots of real double bass, and my preferred speaker EQ just doesn't have the impact. Where you play with your right hand, and how you 'twang' the string can be heard on speakers but sometimes it doesn't work in the in-ears. I end up having to add a little HF and lighten up just a bit at LF, which is sort of counter-intuitive?

kmetal Tue, 12/15/2020 - 12:09
pcrecord, post: 466287, member: 46460 wrote: The least expensive I found with fair isolation are the Audio-Technica ATH-M20X. I would not mix on them but for recording, are very good for the price.

+1 on AT, also senheisser has some in that price range that are decent too. The model # escapes me but they are around 30-50$.

Sony has some that are a bit more about $100, that are long time studio staples.

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