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Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

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Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby H. Tea » Sat Nov 02, 2013 11:26 pm

Is there a newbie guide, web page or whatever around which explains what to look for in an audio interface (sound card), practical setups and so on? I'm trying to figure out what to get and what's available but am a bit confused after reading a whole lot of specs and reviews.
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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby GaryM » Sun Nov 03, 2013 12:11 am

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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby BJG145 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 7:44 am

(Good general intro, though note that it's 5 years old now, so if you're looking for specific recommendations it would be best to post up a quick summary of budget, current gear and intended use, and you'll get some pointers.)
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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby ef37a » Sun Nov 03, 2013 11:22 am

Hi Tea,
It is probably easier to pick an AI today than it was 5 years ago! For one thing the Firewire/usb debate has largely been resolved, you want usb.

Then the major players now fit very acceptable mic pre amps with a decent level of gain and low noise. They are (almost!) all now much more transparent and less confusing about the ACTUAL analogue audio connectivity they provide. Driver issues and general PC interfacing issues are also now largely a thing of the past.

Some issues are still not as clear as they could be. "Realworld" latency is still a bit of a minefield (and if you don't know about latency you haven't finished your homework yet!) but then super low latency is not a concern for every user.

So, work out how many analogue inputs you need. If you are a "one man band" and are just going to build up tracks, two inputs is all you really need but two spare tracks can be handy. Do you need MIDI?(more homework?) And of course budget is most important.

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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby H. Tea » Mon Nov 04, 2013 1:30 am

Yes, it'll be for a "one man band" with several MIDI hardware synths, modules and drum machines, so I suppose 8 line inputs would be a good compromise. For the time being I don't need any mic/guitar etc. inputs but you never know if that might change (then again I haven't seen an audio card without mic inputs). I also need MIDI.
I reckon with 8 inputs I could record a multi-timbral synth module or drum machine in one go with a track for each sound source in the DAW.

I haven't quite figured out what the best way to connect everything together would be (there's obviously more than 8 audio sources in total with all my synths), for an efficient workflow and less need for re-arranging all my audio cables, but I do have a 48-input line mixer (Roland M-480, not the "V-mixer" currently available with the exact same model number (!!!!) -mine's from the early 90s) and a Behringer audio patchbay (48 connection points I think). It's been years since I was active making music so my apologies if the solution turns out to be elementary :?

As for budget; this will be for hobby use so I don't want to spend an overly amount of money on this, but am willing to pay a little extra for quality and possibly wait a little longer so I can afford that. The Behringer FCA1616 seems like a good deal but I've heard an awful lot of bad things about the company, at least in the past. Having read some forum comments and review though it appears to be a good piece of gear though. Then again I don't understand all the terms and specifications...

Most of these 19" rack audio interfaces with a decent number of inputs seem to go for around £ 200-400 or even 500 which makes buying a cheapo 2-input interface very tempting, but I believe that would be a very short-term investment.

So USB is the way to go, even if you record 8 channels simultaneously along with MIDI? I always thought Firewire was superior to USB.
Are drivers not an issue any longer because current AIs use the built-in native support of the computer OS? I've been reading about hardware like this becoming obsolete when people upgrade their OS since the manufacturer won't update their drivers. I'd want to avoid that if I can.
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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby ef37a » Mon Nov 04, 2013 7:11 am

Morning Tea,
That mixer looks as though it might have the connectivity you need so you are looking at an interface with 8 line inputs.

As you say, there is virtually nothing without mic/line inputs so you will have to got with what the market offers (there are of course dedicated 16 input recorders, e.g. from A&H but a bit out of budget?)
The Behringer? Well they have produced some remarkable gear recently but that AI does seem very cheap? I, like many before me I guess, have had good and bad experiences with Berries. I would not consider that AI until it had been through these hallowed pages!

You could consider an all in one multitrack AI such as the Focusrite 18i20 or look for something with a lower basic track count but ADAT capable and then buy the new Behringer ADAT unit in the future. Then you might find a second hand Tascam US 1800 unit that will solve your problems?

And yes, usb is now the way to go. Firewire is becoming very rare on new computers.

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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby H. Tea » Sun Nov 10, 2013 1:47 am

After reading a lot on the subject it seems there's disagreement on USB vs. Firewire although I understand the bottom line is that Firewire is slowly disappearing. In this discussion posting a Focusrite representative says:

Most of the interfaces you have seen introduced have been USB because of improvements to the USB functionality.
However firewire is still better at bidirectional audio transfer and has a higher bandwidth.


So I'm a little confused. Just to avoid any further confusion, are we talking USB 2.0 or 3.0 and Firewire 400 or 800 when it comes to audio interfaces in general? I see little or no mention of this in the specs (just "USB" and "Firewire"). I have USB 2.0, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 on my Mac, so either will work for me. I also have free PCIe card slots in my Mac Pro if that would be a better solution.
As stated earlier I want to record 8 simultaneous line-level inputs. I also want to sync the DAW to an external MIDI sequencer (MIDI sync), probably also triggering a soft-sampler and perhaps a soft-synth or two on the DAW as well. Will USB still be able to handle all of this?

I've checked the specs of numerous audio cards and I think your suggestion for a Focusrite 18i20 might be just what I need. There's also the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 which seems to have the same amount of inputs and features, but with Firewire instead of USB. However, I read somewhere that the 18i20 is based on newer technology, which if correct is usually a better investment, right?
For practical reasons I do prefer a 19" rack unit, but the Focusrite 18i6 also seems to have the features I need, though at a lower cost and without the digital audio ins/outs. Then again I don't need them as far as I can tell. The newer model (18i8) has 4 line inputs in front (instead of 2 in front and 6 on the back as with the 18i6), so that's a drawback for me considering I'll have things permanently connected and as neatly as possible.
I looked into the Tascam US-1800 but it's only got 6 line inputs. I also prefer a 19" rack module to have its own power supply. The US-2000 has that, but lacks MIDI (still only 6 line inputs).
Finally I checked out the Behringer FCA-1616 which at first sounded promising. However I found out that it's only got 4 line inputs! And I don't like the fact that it doesn't have a power switch.

So the Focusrite 18i20 or Focusrite Saffire 18i6 seem to be the way to go. Anyone have other interfaces to suggest?

As for DAW software: I haven't decided on anything yet. They seem so complex that I'll probably just start off with some free software until I figure out what I'm missing (if anything). Are audio interfaces nowadays compatible with anything or do specific software only work with certain audio interfaces? I seem to recall hearing that ProTools is/was like that...

Finally, regarding audio connections from the synth modules: I looked up the manual for my Roland M-240 line mixer and found out it's got 6 "send out" jacks. I suppose that means I can simply open up one send fader for a specific instrument channel so it'll be routed to one of six audio inputs of the audio interface without any disconnecting audio cables, right? I don't know how to final two should be handled -suggestions? Well, even if I need to disconnect/reconnect cables for those two I can probably live with that. I see no need to spend money on a new mixer at the moment.
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Re: Looking for newbie guide to audio interfaces

Postby Boot » Fri Dec 06, 2013 8:24 pm

So, H, it's been awhile. Since I am currently facing the same dilemma, my inquiring mind wants to know... What did you end up getting?
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