Which audio interface to get
August 11, 2008 9:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an affordable recording interface and I think I have it narrowed down to these two M-Audio products, this one and this one. From what little I know I heard that firewire is the way to go with an interface, less lag or whatever, is this really that important and what does this mean when it comes to recording? What's the big downside to a USB interface because from what I've noticed is that they're generally cheaper.

People told me about this interface, it looks pretty simple and it's cheap but it's USB powered. I plan on just using it to hook up a guitar to and eventually a mic but it doesn't have an XLR jack, I would probably just use one of those XLR to 1/4 adapters to hook up a mic. Is USB really that much worse than firewire when it comes to an interface? I'm not looking for super high quality recordings but I wanna make sure I'm getting a product that isn't too crappy. I don't really want to spend more than 70$ (I can ebay the solo for about that and the toneport for about 50) but if someone can give me a good reason to shell out the bucks for the 410 I might consider getting it or something else. Sorry I kinda posted a similar question a few months ago but now I'm trying to get to the bottom of this whole USB vs. Firewire issue.
posted by BrnP84 to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When you're recording something you often want to be able to listen to the tracks that have already been recorded as well as the part you're currently playing. The latter is referred to as monitoring. There can be latency involved in the playback and monitoring process. Firewire is faster than USB, so a firewire interface should have less latency issues. However, the USB interface will be fine for your purposes. I use a shittier USB interface and an ASIO driver and record guitars and vocals without latency problems.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 PM on August 11, 2008

The M-Audio Audiophile USB works fine for me, dubbing LPs to digital through a USB 1.1 (13 Mbps) connection. Even with such a slow connection, think of a CD. There are 44100 samples per second per channel on that. Each sample is two bytes wide, and there are two channels. This comes to a bit rate of 1.4 Mbps. There's almost a ten-fold difference between the width of the USB 1.1 channel and the rate you need to get stereo CD quality.
posted by jet_silver at 9:49 PM on August 11, 2008

That Line6 Toneport has an XLR in right next to the guitar input. I've never been a fan of Line6 stuff in general though. The website says it requires an adapter for XLR which is weird considering i can see a XLR in on it. Also I can't seem to determine how many inputs it can handle simultaneously. However, it's only $80, so it's not a huge hit for a quick solution right now.
posted by knowles at 10:10 PM on August 11, 2008

Oh and as far as USB vs Firewire, bigger pipe = more simultaneous channels in and out. If you're only doing one or two inputs at a time (guitar + vocals) USB should be fine.
posted by knowles at 10:15 PM on August 11, 2008

it really depends on your utility, if you're looking to just record some guitar into the computer, almost any interface is as good as another ( a/d d/a converter quality concerns aside, but then we're talking much more money ).

For the money's worth, I think the 410 is pretty versatile, which is why I have one myself. At one point, I was doing an aux send of the bass to my 2x15", guitar to the half stack, and synth to the monitors. If you're looking for a center piece to a home studio, I don't think you can go wrong with a behringer mixer and a 410. Of course, that goes over your price point. If you're considering dropping the bux, look at MOTU for the next step.

happy tracking
posted by emptyinside at 10:51 PM on August 11, 2008

I've got a few M-Audio interfaces. The FastTrack Ultra routinely handles 16 channels (8 in/8 out) over a USB2 connection without any problems. USB will be just fine for what you're doing.

The FastTrack USB is very basic, 1 - XLR, 1 - 1/4" inputs, headphone and RCA outputs. It works just fine for guitar and vocals, provided you don't need phantom power.

If you want phantom power or proper stereo input, the MobilePre isn't too big a jump in price.
posted by jjb at 10:57 PM on August 11, 2008

There's almost a ten-fold difference between the width of the USB 1.1 channel and the rate you need to get stereo CD quality.

Except that in the real world, you rarely get the maximum rated speed -- especially in USB (due to a few reasons linked below). If you have a USB 1.1 bus shared with other devices, it gets even worse. USB 2.0 is marginally better, but again, the real-world situations have proven to be much different than expected behavior.

I have a MobilePre USB, and for most things it works great. I can monitor live input channels (even through VST plugins) and have latencies as a low as 3 ms for other applications -- this is especially crucial if I'm using my MIDI keyboard or I'm using an amp sim on a directly plugged-in guitar.

However, it is buggy at times and M-Audio's drivers aren't perfect. They're picky about which USB root hub you've attached it to, it randomly corrupts the buffers somewhere in the path, etc. I don't know how many of these problems are related to the interface (USB vs Firewire), and which aren't, but I'd be willing to bet the Firewire devices are smoother and less touchy to work with on the virtues listed here.

Now, to your specific use case: the TonePort should be adequate if you have a fast enough computer and a USB 2.0 port that's directly connected to the motherboard's USB controller (i.e. not through a hub or a separate PCIe, PCMCIA card, etc.). If any of these conditions fail, spend the money on the Firewire -- I'd bet my money on it just being less of a pain in the ass.
posted by spiderskull at 12:59 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you using Windows? I've had a lot of luck tweaking my OS for audio (still using 2000 on my music computer.) Just google - tweak 2000 for audio - (or XP, Vista, etc). There is a guy named Black Viper who put up a list of all windows services and says which ones can be turned off, which ones are vital. That has made a huge difference for me.

Good luck.
posted by ian1977 at 3:59 AM on August 12, 2008

I've not used a firewire audio interface but I do have a chunk of experience with USB ones. Much of your performance will depend on the specs of your computer and what USB things you have plugged in to it additionally. Watch out for printer drivers that constantly query your printer to find out if it's OK and create hiccups for your audio card etc. As ian1977 suggests there's a large amount of info and advice out there for tweaking your system to get best results. That said, I have an old Tascam US122 for recording and it works great.
posted by merocet at 4:42 AM on August 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the info, this is good stuff. JJB I had to look up what phantom power was, so from what I understand some mics need to be powered and this comes from the mixing source, in this case it would be my interface box? About what percentage of mics need something to power them? Does this mic need phantom? The specs sheet said it had some power requirements, I think I'm planning on getting a USB interface now, probably that fastrack and could the fastrack handle this mic?
posted by BrnP84 at 1:55 PM on August 12, 2008

About what percentage of mics need something to power them?

All condenser mics do. Dynamic mics generally do not (I suppose some of them could have a preamp or something, but your common or garden SM-58 type mic does not).

Does this mic need phantom?

Yes. As it says: Power Requirement: 48 +/- 4V. If it lists a power requirement, it needs phantom power on a balanced XLR jack.
posted by kindall at 4:43 PM on August 12, 2008

in this case it would be my interface box?

Yeah, and it gets it off of the USB's bus power. This is something you have to watch out for too -- the USB root has to be capable of providing enough power for both the device and the mic.
posted by spiderskull at 4:51 PM on August 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks guy for the advice, I'm gonna use this to weigh my options now.
posted by BrnP84 at 5:34 PM on August 12, 2008

Response by poster: Don't know if anyone is still even reading this but here's what I ended up going with. I wanted that mobile pre because of not needing a power supply for it but this one was 100$ and included 2 condensor mics, from the reviews I was reading the mics are decent and the interface gets the job done. Thanks again guys for the help.
posted by BrnP84 at 7:48 PM on August 12, 2008

That is a heck of a deal! I bought the audiobuddy by itself for $70.
posted by ian1977 at 6:14 AM on August 13, 2008

Of course, what you bought isn't actually a USB audio interface. You're still going to need a USB audio interface, assuming you want to plug it in to USB. (Of course, you could use your computer's line-level inputs.)
posted by kindall at 11:43 AM on August 13, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for bringing that up kindall, I just kinda assumed it had usb on it somewhere and than I looked at it again and saw it didn't. I just got a Toneport UX2 off ebay for 130 so if anybody needs an audio buddy.....
posted by BrnP84 at 8:10 PM on August 13, 2008

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