USB 2.0 for audio. Does it matter?
September 27, 2010 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Trying to buy a mixer with a usb interface. Is 2.0 that much better than 1.0?

I'm trying to get a better setup for recording a podcast I'm working on. I've been running a couple usb headsets right into my laptop running audacity.

In short, it sucks. No amount of high pass filter can fix how crappy it sounds. Right now I'm shopping for a small mixer than I can run into the laptop instead.

I've been looking at ones with a usb interface so I don't have to buy two things, and found some cheap ones that are cheap because they are 1.0 and not 2.0. Well, does that matter? Isn't realtime, realtime?

Guitar center tried to sell me a $250 usb interface with 6 mic ins so that I would multitrack it and use audacity as the mixer. Is this a better idea?

Price is really a factor here, so don't tell me I need a $500 rig because it's not going to happen.
posted by lumpenprole to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get a USB 2.0 mixer. It's worth the speed. If you're willing to wait long enough (I wouldn't), you can wait for a USB 3.0 mixer. Up to you.
posted by antgly at 11:08 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: But how does the speed matter if I'm recording realtime? That's what I can't figure out.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:13 AM on September 27, 2010

The speed matters exactly because you are recording real time. You are recording sound data, which is quite large, and you are then expecting your hardware to put it on to your computer without any problems. If you don't have sufficient speed, it can't transmit your audio as fast as you are making it and there will be problems. USB 1 is very slow and should have died a death already.
posted by tumples at 11:15 AM on September 27, 2010

When it comes to Audio, USB 2.0 is barely enough to keep up with real-time audio. FireWire is the recommended audio interface, however most PCs don't have it, so USB is the next best thing. For low-bitrate Audio recording (spoken voice) it should do just fine, but I wouldn't do a 1.1. Also, you sound like you're getting Mixer and Interface confused. An Audio Interface will route Mics/Instruments into the PC...but not really do any mixing, a Mixer will do the same, but would have many more options on the board. The Mixing stuff could be accomplished by software...Audacity is good for recording audio, but for actually mixing it, you may possibly want to try a DAW like Reaper..

Also, for a simple podcast, how many mics are you really going to ever use? 6 inputs sounds like about 4 more than you will really need....but you may want to get a 4 input one just for growth...but 6 is going to cost you and you may never use a couple of those ports.

Hope this helps,
posted by AltReality at 11:15 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can hold off on this purchase, USB 3.0 stuff is around the corner in about 6 months.
posted by Brent Parker at 11:16 AM on September 27, 2010

Use Firewire for the audio adapter, if you can, and also record to an external Firewire hard drive. Your laptop's hard drive is probably not fast enough for reliable recording; most aren't, unless a faster, custom hard drive is installed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 AM on September 27, 2010

Response by poster: I'm not getting the two confused, I understand the difference. But part of what I'm trying to figure out is whether I should buy a mixer with an interface built in (like the Alesis MultiMix 8) and do the mix externally or should I just get an interface with multiple ins (like the Tascam US800) and do the levels in Audacity, which I'll be using either way.

I do need at least a 4 input, as we'll be having guests from time to time.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:23 AM on September 27, 2010

USB 3 might not help the user because the bus speed for most PCMCIA or ExpressCard slots will become the bottleneck. An exception is if the laptop is very new, in which case it could be using the newer ExpressCard 2.0 bus that claims to support USB 3.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:25 AM on September 27, 2010

Response by poster: Hm. Okay I have a firewire in on my box. So, now do I find a mixer with a firewire interface?
posted by lumpenprole at 11:25 AM on September 27, 2010

If price is such a factor why not buy an analog 2 or 4 channel mixer and plug into your mic input on your soundcard? Get your levels straight before recording and record as one channel. Sure, you lose some flexibility here, but you'll get a real cost and complexity savings.

If must have a digital mixer then you can try Alesis MultiMix 4 USB, which floats around $80.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:26 AM on September 27, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, I looked at the MultiMix 4, but I need more than two channels.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:28 AM on September 27, 2010

Response by poster: So, what would be the downsides of running the audio in through my 1/8 in audio in? Would that be better/worse than running it via a digital in?
posted by lumpenprole at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2010

Best answer: I'll play devil's advocate here and say that USB1.1 is fine for the devices it sells with. That 4 channel I linked to earlier is USB1.1. 11mbps will cover what it outputs, which seems to be a single 16-bit 44khz stereo channel. If you look at the 6 or 8 channel version of the MultiMix, you'll see it uses USB2.0 but outputs a 24-bit sample instead of a 16-bit one.

>So, what would be the downsides of running the audio in through my 1/8 in audio in?

None that I can think of, considering we're talking voice-quality recordings. Buy an analog mixer from somewhere with a generous return policy and see how it goes. Arguably, depending on the chipset your soundcardcard uses, you might be better off with a USB device with a higher quality analog to digital converter, but without testing you'll never know. The digital-in just removes your soundcard from the equation.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:38 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with damn dirty ape. USB 1.1 is plenty fast for CD-quality 16 bit 44.1kHz stereo. In fact, the top speed of USB 1.1, 12Mbps, is almost 9 times faster than the 1.411Mbps of CD-quality audio.
posted by zsazsa at 12:56 PM on September 27, 2010

The problem not addressed is latency. Are you recording and mixing in realtime? Applications like Ableton Live are extremely latency dependent.
posted by tmt at 1:23 PM on September 27, 2010

music-recording-wise, firewire is fading off into the sunset. usb2 may be worth investing in for your future needs, it is not necessary for the current setup.

built-in audio interfaces, especially the mic inputs, are generally of very low quality, although this is not known in your case (you are using usb mics).

a mixer, analog or digital, will generally include preamps which help take the relatively low level signals from the mics and amplify them to usable levels.

you don't mention if you have any microphones other than the usb ones, that will affect your budgeting. also would be good to know pc/mac/linux and processor/ram.

this alesis mixer might work for you
posted by kimyo at 1:28 PM on September 27, 2010

The USB 1.1 mixer is probably the preferable approach for quality on the cheap, unless you want to get a cheapo analog mixer and shop around for a USB soundcard with a decent line in, which is pretty much equivalent anyways. At any rate, you'll have to get new mics, unless the USB headsets have an analog output.
posted by neckro23 at 2:26 PM on September 27, 2010

Response by poster: Well, I've got a soundcard with a line-in, so I might go that way. And yeah, if I buy a mixer, I'm going to get xlr mics to go with it.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:41 PM on September 27, 2010

The quality from your 1/8" stereo line in will depend on the quality of your sound card and how well it's isolated inside your computer. On my crappy computers, the line in always has chirps from electrical interference. Do a test recording of silence and it should be obvious whether yours has the problem or not.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:58 PM on September 27, 2010

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