What audio interfaces should I look at?

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by Tommy Smith, Jan 31, 2019.

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  1. Tommy Smith

    Tommy Smith Active Member

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    Hello,

    I've just purchased a MacBook Pro 2018 with two thunderbolt 3 ports. I am new to this whole recording process and have Logic on my Mac. My question: what do you suggest as an audio interface? Does Thunderbolt 3 offer the lowest latency? Should I be purchasing an audio interface that can directly connect to my computer, or are adapters an acceptable solution? If I was to use adapters to say USB A - would this cause a dramatic change in latency?

    I apologize for the many questions but I am very, very, very lost.
    Any help is appreciated.

    Thanks
     
  2. Makzimia

    Makzimia The Minstrel Well-Known Member

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    Hi Tommy,

    Unlike a windoze PC, Mac OS X uses a core audio api. The advantages of that are many. For your purpose of discussion most importantly you’ll want to worry about bandwidth, as manufacturers have gotten better USB is not a horrible solution. That being said, thunderbolt is by far more robust and latency friendly.

    By robust, I mean bandwidth and speeds. Budget will ultimately determine your choice, universal audio makes amazing interfaces with large variations of cost. We then have RME and others. Most good brands allow direct monitoring through their hardware. That means near zero latency as you record and playback. Gone are the days of needing software monitoring.

    That’ll give you plenty to mull over :).

    Tony
     
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  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

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    As Tony has indicated, I would not get hung up on latency. What exactly are you planning to do that would demand low latency via the computer?

    There are many other factors that also determine the model of audio interface that you should purchase. If you feel obliged only to consider Thunderbolt (2/3), then your options are more limited, but nevertheless your should give weight to at least the following:
    • Cost
    • Number of microphone input channels needed for your type of work
    • Number of line input channels needed (not routed through pre-amps)
    • Pre-amp gain if you are considering certain dynamic microphones such as ribbon and low-output moving-coil
    • Number of output channels, both for monitoring via speakers and headphones, and for feeding external effects units
    • Expansion inputs and outputs via ADAT optical or via S/PDIF optical or coaxial
    • Internal routeability within the interface, e.g. send an amplified microphone input to an analogue output

    Can you tell us a little about what you are wanting to record, and what other equipment you have (microphones etc)?
     
  4. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Distinguished Member

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    Hi Tommy and welcome to RO !!
    To add to my friends excellent info. It could be nice to tell us your expectations regarding quality and level of diffusion (Radio, CD distribution or Demo. Recording others or just for fun...)
     
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  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    Like what?

    Bandwidth really isnt a concern since a typical audio interface doesnt saturate even a usb 2 audio connection. It isnt until you get upwards of 24 simultaneous i/o that bandwidth becomes a concern.

    Fwiw the current crop of TB2/3 interfaces arent posting latency specs much (or at all) lower than usb, which are all around 3ms at 96k on the better designs. Some UAD pluggins also add latency as well.

    Adapters may work, if they do you will be reduced to whatever the lowest speed connection is in the chain. Its best to have an adapter free connection to avoid potential incompatibilities and flaky connections. If you intend on using one its essential to verify with the manufacturer that it will work.
     
  6. Makzimia

    Makzimia The Minstrel Well-Known Member

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    Like not needing drivers, like true multi device support.

    Bandwidth includes recording khz rate and bit rate. E.G. Newest standards of 32bit native (new steinberg) 384khz. Yes if we look at a software issue, it's a different thing. On live recording, and monitoring, there is no extra latency, in my experience (hardware monitoring). And as I already stated, USB has come a long way :). I still wouldn't trust all USB controllers to behave together though along with a USB audio interface, issues of mouse movement noise etc still exist from what I have seen. If you are fully in control of all your bits, well then as you know Kyle different kettle of fish.
     
  7. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

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    Welcome to RO, Tommy. If you're looking for an interface that is native to your MBP's USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, Universal Audio and PreSonus (and probably others) make interfaces that can take advantage of the data transfer rate of the USB-C. Again, not much more to add without knowing more about your goals - as pcrecord has said. (regarding level of production, budget, number of channels, etc.).

    Best of luck.
     
  8. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    Hardware monitoring is the same absence of latency regardless of connection type.

    Asio4all allows aggregation of devices, and drivers arent really a much of a big deal, they can be veiwed as a good thing in some cases since it gives manufacturers a way to improve device performance, without an OS update.

    When you said "many" advantages i thought maybe i was missing something good lol.

    Yeah USB audio devices are still best plugged into a port that has is on its own bus to the motherboards usb controller.

    Im actually surprised TB isnt performing better than usb since its directly connected to the pcie lanes, and the usb controller has a lower priority to the cpu. Hopefully in short time it will be performing as well as pcie cards.
     
  9. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    Ive read the presonua quantum has some of the lowest latency available right now.

    Also another option, is to use a TB3 chasis connected to the macbook and using a pcie card based interface or connection. This allows things like pro tools hdx, burl, and other card based systems to be used.

    Dante and AVB are also worth mentioning since its a simple ethernet connections.
     
  10. Makzimia

    Makzimia The Minstrel Well-Known Member

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  11. cyrano

    cyrano Active Member

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    Asio4all isn't comparable. It's a bandaid if all else fails. It's just a wrapper around another driver.

    Core audio offers a lot of things, like on the fly resampling. Suppose your DAW is set to 48 kHz, but you want to listen to another application that plays back at 44.1. Core audio resamples without any user intervention. Most ASIO drivers on Windows don't even allow several programs to play back at the same time, let alone at a different sample rate.

    You've probably never tried aggregation. It barely works on Windows, except with quality gear from a few manufacrurers and provided you use interfaces that use the same ASIO driver. It doesn't always work on Macs either, but it works in 95% of the cases.

    I can switch audio device, channel or sample rate from the command line. Which means I can do it from any macro tool, or scripting language. And even remotely, from another machine on the network. Good luck with that on Windows.

    I can also send audio and/or video to any other Mac, iPad or even a router with audio output.

    Ethernet AVB works out of the box with every Mac.

    In general, it's a relief to have one audio system that works, in stead of 5 to try (Windows) or 2 to choose from (Linux).

    Also, drivers are a very big deal. Win 10 was released without a UAC2 driver. Because of that, many people bought a new interface after upgrading to Win 10, only to find out later Microsoft changed it's mind and did release a driver. By then, it was too late and the mountain of obsolete hardware got a bit higher. The wallet a little flatter.

    I could go on, but you probably get the drift :D
     
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  12. cyrano

    cyrano Active Member

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    Don't wory about latency. As Boswell said, it's about the number of simultaneous channels you need.

    A big consideration, at least for me, is longivety of drivers. If the manufacturer is known to drop support soon after production stop, you'll need to buy new or you won't be able to upgrade your operating system. That might be fine, I'm one of the dinosaurs known to be always behind, but sooner or later you'll find some piece of software forcing you to upgrade. In my case, it was the browser forcing me from Mavericks to El Capital.

    Whem it comes to drivers, RME is king. Their entire product line runs the same version. There's no other manufacturer that still supports even their oldest gear from 15 years ago. Yes, they're expensive, but they last longer than any other brand, so they get cheap in the long run.

    Ten years ago, when I needed occasionally to work with RME gear, I hated it. When I boughtone myself and invested the time to learn how to work with Totalmix and Digicheck, I loved it. Today, I can't miss it. It isn't only the recording part, it's also replaced most of my measuring gear. None of the interfaces I've owned before were suited for measurements. The FF400 with Digicheck allows for 90% of the measurements I need, because of the digital gain control of the preamps. 54 dB is exactly 54 dB.

    Don't worry about USB-C adapters. Get the Apple ones, these always work for audio. Don't let Thunderbolt guide your decision.
     
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  13. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    My experience with it is it worked fine. I know several others who have had good experience with it.

    No issues streaming youtube while monitoring amp sims via reaper learning cover tunes on a core 2 duo latop in windows XP, m-audio fw610 interface.


    Never needed to on windows machines.

    Remote desktop??

    Let the buyer beware. Obsolensence isnt relagated to just windows. Ever pay 1k to upgrade an apogee card to go 64 bit? What about avid forcing new hardware for 64bit os. Ever pay 4k for a mac thats non upgradeable and overheats, or 2k for a brand new imac thats 2 gen behind? That's a great way to flatten wallets.

    You sound like a hater sir. Ive had no issues with windows besides the notoriously terrible pro tools 7.3 le. Ive used mac pros daily and pcs as well. They are equally useful, relaible, and buggy. From the days of g5's to sony 900hz sony vio pcs, to a 500mhz celeron, to an 8 core mac pro, ive made records with all of them just fine. A comparable mac vs comparable pc, will work just as well. Your statement is a blanket critisism that does not reflect my experiences. Im not a computer programmer, but i am a pro audio engineer and studio builder. Perhaps you missed the interview with Hans Zimmers right hand man (junkie xl) where he employs a 4x mac minis, and 10 core intel slaves, in his rig to compose for film.

    Ive run samplitude, ozone, and BFD 3, on an AMD a6 laptop, and a 60$ windows 10 tablet, and blutooth speaker.

    The notion that macs work and pcs dont is obsolete. By the time windows 7 came about, and macs went intel, the main difference became whats a better value financially speaking, and does your favorite software work on the platform. The latter not being an issue since windows and osx work on either type of machine.

    When the 2nd mac g5 blew up in 08, it was cheaper to replace the entire computer than replace the power supply. What about the days of overpriced server memory that did nothing for audio, and increased memory latency.

    Considering the system im brewing is a 16 core master, 2x 8 core slaves, and 6 core mastering machine, with combined 288 gigs of ram, and all nvme storage, cost less than a coffee scam mac pro, ive hedged my bets that a 4x Pc audio system is grossly superior to any mac in every way. Audio wise, value wise, and future upgradability wise.

    I humbly disagree with your notion.

    This is a confusing stance you and boswell share. Using an extremely low latency system is critical to many musicians. From a cue fx built into the interface, to dsp driven digital mixers, to analog, to hardware monitoring, there is never a case where latency is a good thing. Tolerated is one thing, but "dont worry about it" is a bit extreme. Maybe you meant most new interfaces and drivers (if needed) have reasonable latency? Or maybe you meant dont worry aboyt latency if your just mixing?

    Low latency at any stage of the project is esssential for tracking, regardless of how its acheived. Nobody wants to try and negotiate with a 512+ buffer size to overdub audio or vsti during a mix, or record flat via hardware monitoring.

    Its my experience that low latency is essential in a professional scenario, and highly preffered in all others.
     
  14. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

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    For live performance, I would wholeheartedly agree with you.

    For studio use, and especially overdubs, I use whatever buffer size is needed to guarantee no glitches or dropped samples, both on the record and the replay tracks.

    I used to do much of this work on Alesis HD24s, and working with them spoilt me for what was possible, and what sample-accurate overdubbing meant. It has taken years for DAWs to catch up reliably with the HD24 performance, but now most of them can not only give zero latency for overdubbing, but they can also test-measure a round-trip through external effects units, and take any additional delays in them into account when generating the necessary negative time figures.
     
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  15. cyrano

    cyrano Active Member

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    When buying a new interface, don't get obsessed with the numbers you see for latency. Even more than other specs, these are not very trustworthy, as they depend on the system the interface is connected to.

    That's all I meant to say...
     
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  16. cyrano

    cyrano Active Member

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    I never said it didn't work, just that it isn't a driver, but a wrapper for another driver. It adds a number of possibilities, like aggregating devices. However, some ASIO drivers don't work with it.

    I don't know how many work or don't work. I do know however, a lot of Windows users don't seem to get it to work.

    In macOS, OTOH, it's a part of the system. And most users are able to get it to work. There are a few interfaces out there that don't work with aggregation, but these are rare cases. The only manufacturer that doesn't support it explicitly, is Tascam. It doesn't mean it doesn't work, it just means "don't call Tascam if it doesn't work. Despite that, I've gotten some Tascam interfaces to aggregrate without a hitch.

    Again, I never said it couldn't be done. It's just something that doesn't work out of the box for some users.

    And it's funny. The latest Windows system that I got to troubleshoot had just that problem. The user was knowledgeable and had a workaround, so it took me a while to go see.

    When I got there, I was baffled. All settings were OK. I figured the interface might be dead. But it wasn't.

    I was going over the Windows sound system. So I took a peek at the mixer. All faders were up. No sound. I moved one fader down a bit, and yahoo! Sound. Moved it back and the sound was still there.

    It's hundreds of cases like this, over the years that make me say the Windows sound system is less solid than Core audio.


    That's why you THINK it works well. Usually, it doesn't.

    LOL.

    I never said obsolescence was a Windows thing. I was saying that about drivers in general.

    I'm sorry if you got that impression.

    I've been dealing and building computers for over 40 years. I don't care what system they use. I've also managed fleets.

    It's not because YOU have no problems that problems don't exist. We weren't talking about Windows in general, but about sound systems.

    I've built literally hundreds of servers with all sort of OS'es. For servers, I prefer Linux or BSD. Of course, servers don't have a sound system, so it's hardly relevant, is it.

    I've also done years of user support and trouble shooting, including a lot of AV systems. And that's including Silicon Graphics workstations, Atari's and Commodore. But that's the past.

    Good for you. My G5 died a week ago. The G4 I use for data recovery with SCSI disks is still going strong. I hope. Haven't fired it up in over a year :D


    Nope. Haven't seen it. But I've built systems like that. Including a 256 Linux server farm for rendering. In 1998.

    Mmmm... I'd never use BT speakers. But that's not really relevant either, is it?

    I've never said that. Where did you read that?

    It was about Core audio. Of course, Windows and Linux sound systems work too. It's the amount of work that's needed to keep them running that's wildly different. When you compare Core audio to the other systems, it's like comparing a VW beetle to a Lotus. Sure there's millions of beetles out there, and they'll get you to your destination, but it's not the same drive as a Lotus, is it?

    Again, I never said anything about that.

    I've managed fleets of several hundred machines. 70% Windows, 25% Macs, 5% Linux, roughly. Costs were comparable, because Macs outlasted Windows machines. I never could figure out why, as it's roughly the same hardware. But they did. I always figured it was because Mac users treat their machines better, but it could as well be some Windows users got so frustrated with their machines, they literally threw them out the window.

    Mind you, I'm equally critical of all platforms. And the three major OS'es all seem to have lost a lot of reliability the last 5 years or so. They seem to need our data, or so I've been told.

    If you to Apple repair, you'll get robbed. Sad fact, but a fact. I've done computer repair for a few years, for Apple and other brands. They're all bastards. We had to sue HP, fi, to get screen cables for laptops. HP only wanted to sell us complete screen assemblies. But, hey, that was last century. No longer my problem :D

    I spose you mean ECC memory?

    Because of what it is, ECC ram will always have a higher latency and be slower and more expensive. But it was only used in the now defunct Xserve.

    If you mean the Mac Pro's strange setup, yes that will give you higher latency, unless, of course, you RTFM.

    It all depends on your needs. If your time is very cheap, you might want to tinker. If, OTOH, your time is expensive, you might want to buy off the shelf.

    It's true that a lot of AV professionals no longer look at Apple as the only solution. Apple has ^#$%ed up royally, lately. Too busy selling iPhones, I guess. And they seem to have the ambition to turn into a bank. Well, that's life.

    It's also why I'm pretty excited Linux is finally, finally getting somewhere for audio. Reaper is available for Linux these days. And since nothing is more configurable and scriptable, I'll be setting up a Linux box. I'm a little sad it couldn't be BSD, but hey, that's life. Can't always get what you want.

    There's even a Puppy/Slackware USB stick out there with Reaper, configured for very low latency audio. It's 49$ and runs on (almost) everything. I'll be testing that too, if time allows.

    Yep. It's a personal thing. I don't record rock bands. I don't need to supply monitoring, or the monitoring isn't important. In my case, latency doesn't matter at all. But I understand that for some live setups, it is very, very important. I was under the impression, however, that the OP was just recording. Maybe I'm wrong?

    There's still a world out there. Nobody recording classical, commentary, or jazz, fi, would even think about adding effects WHILE recording. You can do that in post.

    In fact, it's quite funny how these worlds differ. With classical music, vocal mics are usually SDC's, not LDC's. They're usually omni, not cardio. And they're usually at least half a meter from the vocalist. Makes the engineer's job a lot harder. Of course, autotune isn't needed :D

    I think that should read "opinion" in stead of "experience". Unless you always rock, of course... :D
     
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  17. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    I wish ive had no problems. My point was problems gave been equal with both platforms. Different problems, but similar levels of reliability.

    I did it mainly for a test to see what the breaking point of an under powered system was. BT speakers can be fun, try it some time :)

    I was referring to your comment about rather having a machine that works (mac) than 5 windows and 2 liniux that didnt.

    Fair enough. I think most if the issues however stem from user error, or unqualified machines. A person has to know how to handle there beetle or lotus. So in that regard core audio is more convenient.

    My time is average price. Off the shelf is fine if it does the job. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Cost, power availability, parts availability, service ability. Its nice to not need some overpriced eh hem, apple brand tool, just to swap out a psu.

    Much depends on the scale and scope of the buisness.

    Me too!

    If your Al Schmitt your not even adding effects in post.

    I do always rock, but my engineering experiences stem from anything from top 40, blues, pop, folk, to hip hop. Pretty much everything but jazz and classical. I like classical and jazz, just havent been behind the boards for it.

    My preference for recording myself/my bands, is live off the floor, no headphones. When doing my own demos and mixing i lean on the computers power for vsti ect.

    I loved tbe ability the mackie D8B allowed to added effects/processing, in realtime, whenever the moment of inspiration occured. It allowed mixing happen during tracking, in the moment.

    Since my time is average price, im expected to work quickly, so mixing as i go is a great benefit when i have a digital mixer w dsp, a powerful computer, ect. I feel that working hard on cue mixes can be wasteful, when its possible to apply the processing directly one way or the other.

    I can see if your just doing purist recordings, with no Vsti, and vocalists in either natural ambience, or those who prefer dry, then latency is a non factor. I would say it is my opinion, based on my experience (lol) and research, that this would be more of a niche, than typical workload for a commercial studio. Id always want to be able to supply low or no latency vsti, cue mix effects, watever, if i was required. Id rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Theres nothing worse than telling a client i dont know how, or explaining the systems limitations dont allow their preffered methods. Thats no fun.

    As an aside, i want to mention i dont claim to know it all, or be a computer guru either. My main point was that with regard to audio neither platform has much of a distinct advantage especially when comparing equal machines. Imho there about the same, small differences aside.

    Maybe the OP will respond with more detail about their intents, to narrow down what would work well.
     
  18. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    How can a person verify that my daw is doing sample accurate overdubs? Would this change if i alter the session settings, or if cpu usage gets above a certain threshold, or if an effect is zero latency or not? Or if an effect is just added to an insert?

    My whole design philosophy on the new rig was to allow a native system to have the convienience of a dsp based system, and perform on vsti at any point in the project. Things like ozones vocal synth effect have some super cool creative possibilities for vocal mangling.

    Sorry to OP if ive sidetracked the thread to much.
     
  19. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

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    A simple method is to replay a single track and feed it back (in the digital domain) into a recording track with a polarity change. Then sum the two tracks. They should be identically zero.

    If you alter anything in the chain for a track, you have to re-calibrate the latency compensation for that track. Most DAWs do this automatically for anything internal to the DAW.
     
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  20. cyrano

    cyrano Active Member

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    Funnily, I am playing around with BT. My recording rack has input for landlines. I need to add inputs for smartphones. Looks easy, over BT. But it isn't smooth sailing yet if you want to add 2 or more.

    But we'll see. There's no hurry.

    Sorry, badly written.

    Again, it was about sound systems. macOS only has one. Windows has 5 of them (ASIO, Wasapi...). Confusing for the non-techie.

    I suspect most of the issues with working sound systems come from updates that change some preference somewhere. Strangely, that started happening on macOS too, but not for the sound settings. It started when Apple took to the cloud. And it's ruining the macOS experience.

    I don't add effects a lot of the time, even in post. I believe 99% of the magic is in the recording. And I've seen a few of the big names in mixing either also not doing it, or coming back from using a lot of effects.

    Of course, if the vocalist is out of tune and you need to deliver, you've got not much of a choice.

    I hope to record John Fairhurst on sunday, if the contract allows for it. The people organising the gig hadn't even considered recording it. It'll probably end in a disagreement about licenses, I'm afraid. For the rest, I'm just assisting the FOH engineer, as it is our gear they're using.

    That's one Mackie I've been looking at. But they're scarce here.

    I've got a digital mixer. A 20 year old one from Korg. It's mainly used to route things around. And to provide real faders if someone else needs to work my system.

    Oh, it's a niche allright. It's also non-profit. We provide advice, services and gear for all kinds of art happenings. Can go from something as simple as sound for a movie projection to full out FOH for several stages. And anything in between, like theater.

    Since I don't need VST's (while recording) and never do VSTi, I can get by with a "meager" machine. The one I currently use is just a ten year old Core2Duo.

    That's what I was waiting for too.
     
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