Show 158 – Audio Interfaces revisited

This week we revisit the topic of audio interfaces and make some recommendations for your next interface in 2012.

Our guest this week is Björgvin Benediktsson from Audio Issues.

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This episode is sponsored by TC-Helicon

LINKS
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Björgvin’s book Mixing Strategies

25 thoughts on “Show 158 – Audio Interfaces revisited

  1. I just finished listening to all of the archived shows and I think that your podcast has finally undone all the damage created by the various home recording forums. Thanks for all the useful information.

  2. Great/depressing show. Depressing cause i just realized I’ve been doing digital “recording” since around 2002… a decade. This is depressing cause for the time lapsed, I’ve learned jack. The silver lining is that ever since i started listening to your show a few months back I think i have progressed by leaps and bounds.

    I bought a audiophile 2496 a long time ago as a means to record rehearsals. This is great cause our drinking band has a music problem and every time we got together we couldn’t remember what we had done previously. Its been a solid little card. It may not be a bad starting point for some people who already have equipment like preamps or mixers laying around. I think you can pick them up for about $50 used these days. They are stack able too, i have now got three of the cards for a whopping total of six inputs… but you have to make sure your DAW can use them all… I bought the last one bundled with protools 8 on an impulse buy and protools 8 wont (insert expletive) launch with more than one card installed in the box…

    ps
    “Phone’s ringing, Dude.
    Thank you, Donny.”

    Ride the chicken

  3. Good show, fellas. Remember how everybody went crazy after the guitar re-vamp show with Jeff Brooks (#128)? That’s kind of how I feel listening to this show. I’m a musician, and I appreciate the tone of a good instrument. But something about the über-tech side of audio really gets me going.

    Here’s a question, and I think I already know the answer. There’s a lot of talk about upgrading guitar amps and/or preamps. Is it possible to upgrade the converters in an interface? What’s a DIY project that could bring an interface up a few notches.

    Chickens are so “ne m’intéresse pas…”

    Ride the Lightning!

  4. For what it’s worth, my first interface was the Presonus FireBox like Jon’s. It was stable enough for me and built like a tank. However, the 2nd channel ended up developing a hum around 1k, and I barely even used it (channel #2). I had a Lexicon Omega for about a week, but it was too plasticky for me.

    Next I picked up an Alesis IO 26 and was really impressed. There are a lot of features that make it feel like it has a pro pedigree (even though I’m sure it doesn’t). It has LED monitoring for each channel; so you can tell what rough levels are without the need for any software. LED monitoring for output too. It has a pretty complete software mixer for zero-latency monitoring, although I usually monitor through the DAW. And the housing and knobs are aluminum, not plastic.

    A cool/useful feature is that it has a phantom power switch for every 2 channels. There are 8 pres; so that means 4 phantom power switches. My other 8-channel interface has 1 phantom power switch for all 8 channels. That’s a pain if you want to pair a ribbon mic with a condenser for blumlein config on acoustic instruments or sound FX. I paid $300 for the Alesis new; and it just a crazy good value.

    To open up the Pro Tools door I bought an M-Audio ProjectMix IO which is the 8 channel Firewire interface. It works well enough; and I like having a physical/tactile surface to grab when I’m working.

    I’d like to re-do the pres in the “broken” Presonus and make a high output, “ribbon” prepamp. A friend of mine has a degree in electrical engineering; so he can hold my hand and make sure I don’t blow anything up.

    I’ve forbidden myself from buying any more interfaces (it’s a sickness, really) until I have acoustic treatment in my mix area and a vocal room/booth. It’s GAS sufferers like us who are bringing the global economy back.

    Ride the Lightning,

    -James

  5. I’ve been recording with various interfaces by ECHO Audio for the past 10 years. My current setup is the ECHO Layla 3G (24/96) – a PCI based interface. 8 in/out and 2 built in, decent, universal preamps. Rock solid unit, great drivers, and you can stack multiple units (and they all sync up internally).

    Right now I use the S/PDIF to connect my JBL4328P monitors, but I’ve always been curious if this was the best connection method. The ECHO unit is FAMOUS for it’s converter shootout with an Apogee (I’m referencing a blind test done a few years ago on Gearslutz). Basically, even seasoned pros couldn’t determine the difference between the two. So with an interface that has such great converters, am I ditching those and using the JBL converters by using the S/PDIF connection? I think I may…and I’m not sure I want to.

    What would you recommend I run my connection with? A good set of balanced analog cables, or stay in the digital realm?

    Thanks, great show as always dudes.

  6. Great show! I am currently looking for a mobile recording interface solution to track my wife’s youth choir so this was really timely. I recently replaced a presonus firebox ( was never really happy with it) with a firestudio project. While I could use the firebox, the preamps really done do it for me. I plan to look at the Focusrite Scarlett line, per your recommendation but want to see if you or anyone here have any experience with this new interface from akai? http://www.sweetwater.com/mobile/detail.php?itemid=EIEPro

  7. To AbeLincolnStudios re show 156:
    Abe, I would be more inclined to give you credibility if you actually commented on what I said instead of making irrelevant and frankly petty personal insults. Whether I know who Winer is or not is pretty irrelevant to the comments I made. As to my credentials, well, I’ve posted them before but considering you not only don’t offer any of your own and don’t actually refute what I said, my credentials too are essentially irrelevant to the discussion. Based on your specious and pointless insult, I am wondering if you actually even read what I posted as your apparent ignorance of what I actually said seems to indicate.

    My comments were regarding Winer’s claim that there is no need or benefit to recording at anything higher than 44.1k. I provided very specific reasons reasons why I disagree with him, again points you neither referenced or provided any counter argument to support your “opinion”. But you don’t have to take my word for it, regardless of my credentials. While I may not know who Winer is, I am very familiar with UAD, RME, Apogee, MOTU, Focusrite, Lynx, Metric Halo, Avid, etc. and all the other mid range to premium interface manufacturers and it is they that firmly believe recording at as high a sample rate as possible is better. It is the engineers at those extremely capable, competent, and extremely knowledgeable companies that have designed and engineered their products to work at sampling rates as high as 192K, which by the way is considered the studio archiving standard. I would take the collective credentials, experience, and qualifications over Winer’s any day.

    And as I pointed out, if you plan to do ANY video or film work that is to end up on DVD and not just some amateur youtube video, the standard for DVD is 48K, 24bit and 44.1K, at 16 or 24 bit will not play as a DVD, period. So if you want to bitch about my comments, question my credibility, and make juvenile and ignorant as well as meaningless jabs at me, you are sorely misguided. I suggest if you want to be taken seriously, you actually make a counter argument to mine giving the specifics of why you think my comments were in error. But in doing so, be sure you also contact the audio interface companies listed as well as the Motion Picture and Film Industry recording standards organizations because it is really their credentials and knowledge you are challenging, not mine….either way, the fact you made your insult without offering any argument, logic, or rationale of your own to refute my comments and validate your insult doesn’t necessarily make you a troll, but it does make you appear ignorant and petty.

    PS: I almost forgot to add, your insult would also appear to be aimed at both Jon and Ryan, as they both not only agreed with my comments, they made it clear they and others have had similar arguments with Winer on the very same subject in the previous podcast….just thought I’d point that out to you….

  8. Jon and Ryan, I know we don’t always agree, but I have some excellent examples of mid-side recording I would like to share with you as well as some examples of just how good “amateur” acoustical treatments can work if one uses sound principles and takes advantage of the peculiarities of the room itself. I have some excellent acoustic guitar, violin, and accordion as well as vocal recordings that were done in my “home treated” room. I think they would be of great benefit to listeners as they pretty much show that you can get incredible results without having to spend millions, thousands, or even hundreds of dollars if you take the time to do a little research and follow some general acoustical theory and principles. Let me know if you are interested.

  9. Ok, I’ve casually discussed this with Ryan once, but I’d like to get some more feedback on the concept of what I guess would be called “live PA monitoring”. I’m talking about the idea of using a live PA in the room for monitoring while tracking, instead of using headphones. The concept was really brought to my attention when I downloaded the latest Neil Young off itunes which includes a quick documentary called “the making of Le Noise”. From it, here’s a direct quote from producer Daniel Lanois: “…the worst thing you can do to a musician is, squash a head with a pair of cans, and what that does is they don’t annunciate words as well, they get a little quieter, everything sounds brilliant, so you get less brilliant with your delivery, but if you’ve got a PA, you’ve got loud amps, and the sound is sweet, and the house is thundering, then you will deliver like you do on stage.”
    OK, so I understand what he’s saying, and I love practicing that way, but for a recording, it seems so incredibly problematic. Personally, I’m finding these days that some really good ear buds with workshop ear muffs over them gives me the most intense and accurate monitoring while completely eliminating click track bleed etc. (I find this even better than my 2 different pairs of Extreme Isolation headphones by the way.) I realize that Daniel Lanois might have just a FEW more tricks up his sleeve than me, but I see that this live monitoring stuff would cause major headaches for a home recording set up, and it would completely change the plan of attack in a recording session…
    “DO-YOU-AGREE??”

  10. A few shows ago I asked if anyone could give me the whole set of podcasts as I lost them. Stephen Currington from New Zealand has kindly put them on a memory stick and mailed them to me. Big thanks Stephen, I really appreciate it. This is what communities like this are all about. Jonathan

  11. Guys, long as it was, I just realized that in my discussion of sample rates, somehow the paragraph about the exponentially higher resolution you get with higher sample rates and that more than compensates for anything dithering might do. And dithering should only be done when exporting/rendering out of your DAW with a gig quality algorithm. Ideally you only want to render once. But enugh about that.

    I too have a Saffire Pro 40 and would highly recommend it to anyone that can spend as much as $500. It has been bullet proof and has performed flawlessly with both XP and Window’s 7. Two things however: much of the problems with firewire had to do with the chip on the card. When it was figured out the TI chip worked fine, the problems pretty much went away if one switched to a card with the TI chip. However, in Windows 7, you need to set the firewire driver to the legacy setting for the unit to work without hiccups. It has one of the best mixer software packages going. And regardless of how technology changes, because it is a standalone unit also, as long as you have eight inputs you will always be able to use it as a really nice 8 channel pre/mixer. My only complaint is I wish it had two ADAT ports so you could run all 8 channels at 96K.

    I also have a MOTU 828MkIII Hybrid interface. It too has worked flawlessly on Windows 7 running either firewire or USB, and that is recording 16 tracks at once. There is no latency or quality difference I can hear. I do tend to run it in USB mode because I can then have the Focusrite ported using firewire and can get access to the settings while using the MOTU in USB. I generally send the Pro 40 into the MOTU via ADAT. The MOTU adds a second ADAT prot so you can run 16 channels of ADAT simultaneously at 44.1/48k and 8 channels at 88.2/96k. Part of why i bought it is because while it only has two pre amps (remember, I have 8 on the Pro40), it also has 8 balanced/unbalanced line in/outs which I use for my ISA 1, Langevin DVC, and my other pres. And of course it comes with the full complement of SPDIF/AES ports. And again, it has performed flawlessly.

    What sets the MOTU apart, on top of its high resolution converters, while it may not be UAD stuff, it has a built in DSP with a really, really nice 7 band EQ that has four different filter settings, both a peak/rms compressor and an LA2A comp/limiter, as well as a very good quality stereo reverb. All of these can be accessed on the inputs, the outputs, the monitor mix, or all three making it easy to add EQ and reverb to the vocal monitor that is independent of the record/output settings. I often route tracks out of Sonar through the MOTU EQ and then back in. Another nice feature of the MOTU is when in stand alone mode, it has full access to all the settings from the front panel, no computer connection required. My one complaint there is the knobs are tiny!!!! I guess you can’t ask for everything….If you can afford the $750, buy one!!!

    Either one of these interfaces will give you years of service without losing utility, especially considering they can work as stand alone pre amps/mixers. I highly recommend both.

  12. As a reply to C. Randall and on the subject of reducing lip smacks here’s a tip I got from an engineer on one of my voice over sessions for Disney: Try to lower the pH value of the saliva of the person your recording. A couple of bites of a sour apple, the green ones, before and perhaps during the session will get it down in the low or mid 6’s. This will save you a lot of time in editing.

  13. One more thing to know about the Saffire Pro 40 (and probably the whole Saffire line) is that is has known compatibility with Motherboards using NVIDIA nForce4 chipsets. I toiled endlessly with different firewire cards but always had dropout issues. Only after I got a new PC did the problems go away. I was then researching F/W adapters for my laptop, when I saw information about this incomapibility as a side note on in the F/W compatibility document found here: http://www.focusrite.com/answerbase/en/var/attachments/Focusrite_IEEE_1394_compatibility.pdf

  14. Another fantastic show in the books! Ryan, you briefly mentioned something about “cloning” monitors or the lack there of. Check out this website from Parts Express, I know first hand that the manufactures of speakers they carry are often used by pro audio manufactures. They have a complete DIY section and are very helpful. They have everything from drivers and crossovers to cabinets. And did I mention “All at rock bottom low prices!” http://www.parts-express.com/ Perhaps if you have enough interest in the company, you could possibly swing a sponsorship from them? They seem like a good candidate for that.

    On a different note, a co-worker showed me a video using this band as a sound track. I couldn’t believe what I heard, proving real musicians still walk the planet! Check it out, and let me know what you think. What would be amazing is if you could get a hold of the studio behind the track and get them on the show talking a little bit about how they got that sound. Rival Sons “Pressure and Time” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MA0m1K2jW4

    Thanks for all the effort you and Jon put into such a great show.

    Matt

  15. For what it’s worth, I did a little shootout between my Alesis IO 26 (firewire) and a CI2 from Steinberg (USB) that I have lying around. For some reason, the firewire interface seemed to provide more juice to my powered monitors than that USB. The Firewire interfaces that I tried run pretty loudly at 30-40% volume; whereas the USB interface was cranked all the way up in order to be heard. They were all running off bus power; so I wonder if that’s an inherant difference between Firewire and USB. I want to see if I can round up another USB interface to test my theory.

    I’ll report back with my findings.

    Uh-oh, I feel another bout of Gear Acquisition Syndrome coming on. Like I said originally, it’s a sickness. Let’s saddle up ‘n ride, Craigslist!

    Cheers,

    -James

  16. Great show as always. In regards to drivers, strange to say but Presonus stepped things up in recent years. Their drivers were their biggest flaw for years, and then they took the Nvidia route. Essentially they use one driver for all of their interfaces, which hopefully will keep my firestudio supported for a long while. Other companies may do this as well, so it’s something worth checking into when buying an interface, especially used.

    Keep it up guys,

    Dan@maxspl.com

  17. John.. Re mobile recording interface solution…

    Have you checked out the Motu Traveler MkII? http://www.motu.com/products/motuaudio/traveler-mk3
    I like mine but depends on how many mics etc you need! My first one had a hardware fault but was replaced under warranty with a brand new device so big thumbs up to MOTU support.

    Firewire bus powered but has an alternative wall-wart style power if you prefer and even a standard field battery pack (like used in the movie industry etc) power option. So has most power sourced covered

    Built in DSP etc means you can Compress, EQ, Limit etc in the box should you wish.

    28 inputs 30 outputs (Dependent on a few factors). Individual Phantom power on each mic input.

    Lots of info on the website.. Check it out.. Might do what youyw ant?

    Steve

  18. At the risk of sounding like I’m beating a dead horse, I wanted to say one more thing about the Alesis IO26. One feature that I haven’t seen on other basic 8-channel interfaces is an insert for each of the 8 channels. Alesis put a send/return loop on each channel so that you could actually hit hardware (compressor etc) before the converters with a Y cable that goes TRS to TS~send – TS~return. Also, if you wanted to, you could put the 1/4″ TS~send into a 1/4 input of another interface (with better converters) and get access to 8 more preamps.

    I know Alesis might not be the first name that pops into your head when thinking about trusted tools of the trade; but they were pretty thoughtful when they made this device. I wonder if their market price will pull an F98 on eBay.

    Cheers,

    -James

  19. I am also using the Motu 828 Mk3. I love this interface. I have used MANY interfaces over the last 10 years and this is with out a doubt the most solid. I use it with Logic, Studio One V2. I run it with the glyph drive via FW800. Rock Solid. Love it.

  20. Hey Guys,

    Fist time comment. Hey I know this show has been out a while but I would like to say that I use an M-Audio 1010 and I love it. It fills all the needs I have in my studio. I mostly do Rap, Singer/SongWriter and Church Video Projects and the sound quality is amazing. I also have a Mackie ONYX 1620 as the front end with a 25 Pin D-Sub Connection to the back of the 1010. My DAW is Pro Tools M-Powered and although Pro Tools states you can ONLY use one M-Audio PCI card, I also use a M-Audio 24/96 card to add addtional channels and it works fine with the same Delta audio drivers. Keep up the great work. I commute 74 miles to my day job and I love listening to the podcast while driving. Thanks….You can see a picture of the studio at http://www.grannysstudio.com/studio.html

  21. My 2 cents on recording a large women’s choir:

    – it’s pretty much the same as if you were recording small women 🙂 ….. or chickens….. or other things that squawk.

  22. Thanks for the info on USB interfaces. Very useful in making my first USB Interface purchase. Will you give me your thoughts on The Roland Quad 4-channel USB Audio/MIDI Interface with 2 VS Mic Preamps and S/PDIF I/O – 24-bit/192kHz? And, the Steinberg UR22? My Sweetwater rep suggested the Roland Quad. A friend suggested the Steinberg.

    lf

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