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USB Audio Interface?

Postby Paul881 » Sat Feb 02, 2013 4:14 pm

Hi, it's time for me to invest in a new audio interface. I currently run an M-Audio Delta66 PCI card with Omni I/O card but its beginning to show its age and so it's time to look at options.

I need at least four inputs; two mic inputs front mounted with decent pre's, low latency as I use a lot of synths, 44k1 24 bit simultaneous recording, a high impedance guitar input would be nice, phantom power and a headphone socket with level control.

FireWire seems on its way out and my budget of £400 doesn't run to a PCI solution. On paper, my favourite contender is the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20.

Comments and opinions all appreciated.

My PC DAW spec as follows:

Gigabyte GA-EX 58-UD5 MoBo/F7 BIOS/Intel i7 Quad Core 920 CPU/6 Gig RAM/Win XP/Delta 66+omni /SP-5B monitors/Sonar X1 PE/Trilogy/Omnisphere /Stylus RMX/Absynth4/Kontakt4 /POD XT/Z3ta+/Rapture/ Dimension Pro
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby therobyouknow » Sat Feb 02, 2013 5:19 pm

How about the Tascam US-144mkII ?
http://tascam.com/product/us-144mkii/specifications/

This is what I use - it's a USB 2.0 interfaced (and powered) device and works on both PC and Mac (I used it on my 2010 MacBookPro) and works pretty well.


I need at least four inputs;

From the spec, the Tascam US-144mkII has:
"2 XLR microphone inputs with phantom power
2 1/4" balanced line inputs"




...two mic inputs front mounted with decent pre's,


As mentioned above, from the spec, the Tascam US-144mkII has:
"2 XLR microphone inputs with phantom power"


low latency as I use a lot of synths,
"Zero-latency hardware monitoring"


44k1 24 bit simultaneous recording,

From the spec, the Tascam US-144mkII has:
"Up to 96kHz/24-bit audio resolution"


a high impedance guitar input would be nice,

From the spec, the Tascam US-144mkII has:
"Switchable guitar level input"


phantom power and a headphone socket with level control.

As mentioned above, from the spec, the Tascam US-144mkII has:
"2 XLR microphone inputs with phantom power"
ALSO: "Individual Line and Headphone out level controls (US-144mkII only)"


£400 doesn't run to a PCI solution.

The Tascam US-144mkII can be bought for under 100 pounds. Leaving you with 300 pounds spare for something else


On paper, my favourite contender is the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20.

Is this mains or USB powered? Couldn't tell from the spec, the rackmount suggests it might require its own power.

The Tascam US-144mkII is USB powered which gives you that convenience of not needing an extra power socket.


Comments and opinions all appreciated.

Great - so I hope you welcome this suggestion even though it is way under your budget. I imagine those with high end studios might chide me with suggesting something so cheap but it does seem to meet your needs


My PC DAW spec as follows:

Gigabyte GA-EX 58-UD5 MoBo/F7 BIOS/Intel i7 Quad Core 920 CPU/6 Gig RAM/Win XP/Delta 66+omni /SP-5B monitors/Sonar X1 PE/Trilogy/Omnisphere /Stylus RMX/Absynth4/Kontakt4 /POD XT/Z3ta+/Rapture/ Dimension Pro

Nice spec - I would think the Tascam US-144mkII would be compatible. Other handy things it has are: MIDI IN/OUT and SPDIF coaxial in and out.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Paul881 » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:26 pm

Many thanks, it's certainly an impressive spec, especially for the money.
The two drawbacks it has for me are rear mounted inputs and top mounted controls. This doesn't suit the situation where my interface needs to go. Otherwise, it would definitely be a contender.

A lower cost acceptable unit for me than the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 that I have seen is the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 @ £239.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Will_m » Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:13 pm

There's also the Tascam US-600, which is similair only with front facing inputs. I've heard good things about the Roland UA-55 Quad-Capture which is also well within budget. At the top end of £400 and a bit more is the Motu Track 16, which had a breakout cable or IO box that you can position where you want and also the Motu Ultralite MK3, which is USB2 and Firewire.

I actually really like the look of the new focusrite though seems good value and focusrite are usually pretty good for driver/latency and have nice pre-amps.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Goddard » Sun Feb 03, 2013 5:22 am

I wouldn't necessarily agree that Firewire is on its way out, unless you're using a laptop with no good onboard FW or expresscard slot. Still plenty of supported FW interfaces available that would meeet your criteria, including some new hybrid FW/USB ones, and good PCI/PCIe/Expresscard FW cards (or TB-FW adapters) aren't that expensive.

The recently updated Presonus and Focusrite FW drivers are offering quite good low latency peformance, as has been discussed in the Dawbench LLP topic.

So, you need not necessarily limit your options to USB.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Paul881 » Sun Feb 03, 2013 11:18 am

Goddard wrote:I wouldn't necessarily agree that Firewire is on its way out, unless you're using a laptop with no good onboard FW or expresscard slot. Still plenty of supported FW interfaces available that would meeet your criteria, including some new hybrid FW/USB ones, and good PCI/PCIe/Expresscard FW cards (or TB-FW adapters) aren't that expensive.

The recently updated Presonus and Focusrite FW drivers are offering quite good low latency peformance, as has been discussed in the Dawbench LLP topic.

So, you need not necessarily limit your options to USB.

I have never been a fan of FW for no better reason than it always seems to have had issues i.e. hot swapping, plugs easily pulled out, incompatability of chipsets, microsoft latency etc.

I have read the DAWbench LLP thread and frankly, it just turns me off. I want to make music and not have to study the in depth ins and outs of driver code efficiency, chipset performance and IC selection! So I will be staying with USB as my connection spec of choice; Focusrite have always had a great reputation for Pre-amps so thats the reason for my listing them as my pre-purchase favourites.

Of course, there are always those that are now going to post 10+ reasons why USB should never be used!
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Paul881 » Sun Feb 03, 2013 11:38 am

Will_m wrote:There's also the Tascam US-600, which is similair only with front facing inputs. I've heard good things about the Roland UA-55 Quad-Capture which is also well within budget. At the top end of £400 and a bit more is the Motu Track 16, which had a breakout cable or IO box that you can position where you want and also the Motu Ultralite MK3, which is USB2 and Firewire.

I actually really like the look of the new focusrite though seems good value and focusrite are usually pretty good for driver/latency and have nice pre-amps.

The MOTU 4 Pre looks pretty good as well. And the Tascam us-800. Decisions decisions......
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby robin746 » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:29 am

Anything by RME. FireFace 400 for me, but they have USB solutions. Absolutely nothing more solid.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Goddard » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:32 am

Paul881 wrote:
Goddard wrote:I wouldn't necessarily agree that Firewire is on its way out, unless you're using a laptop with no good onboard FW or expresscard slot. Still plenty of supported FW interfaces available that would meeet your criteria, including some new hybrid FW/USB ones, and good PCI/PCIe/Expresscard FW cards (or TB-FW adapters) aren't that expensive.

The recently updated Presonus and Focusrite FW drivers are offering quite good low latency peformance, as has been discussed in the Dawbench LLP topic.

So, you need not necessarily limit your options to USB.

I have never been a fan of FW for no better reason than it always seems to have had issues i.e. hot swapping, plugs easily pulled out, incompatability of chipsets, microsoft latency etc.

Was simply pointing out that Firewire is not necessarily on its way out as your post had indicated it so seemed. That's a myth ime, despite posts here and elsewhere declaring Firewire dead/dying.

Have you actually encountered any issues with Firewire yourself? Your Gigabyte motherboard has onboard T.I. PCI Firewire 400 controllers which are among the best available ime (and which are actually directly connected to the PCI bus rather than bridged off PCIe as in many current Gigabyte boards lacking "native" PCI), so I'm curious whether you've tried any Firewire devices with your motherboard.

Paul881 wrote:I have read the DAWbench LLP thread and frankly, it just turns me off. I want to make music and not have to study the in depth ins and outs of driver code efficiency, chipset performance and IC selection!


Your post had indicated you were seeking low latency because you use many synths, from which I'd understood you were playing/tracking host-based VIs/softsynths. If that is in fact the case, then I'd suggest you would benefit from reading the info which Vin has posted on AI low latency performance (LLP) over on the Dawbench site before making any interface purchase, USB, Firewire or other, because that is specifically what the DAWbench VI LLP test is all about (along with the DSP LLP test which is of interest if one uses any host-based fx processing).

Paul881 wrote:So I will be staying with USB as my connection spec of choice; Focusrite have always had a great reputation for Pre-amps so thats the reason for my listing them as my pre-purchase favourites.

Your choice entirely, of course. I'd only been suggesting you needn't limit your available options. I've been generally satisfied with the preamps in my Focusrite interface (yes, it's Firewire ). FWIW, I also use some USB interfaces and they work ok (but I don't use them with host-based VIs or DSP fx on a PC).

Btw, your motherboard also has coax S/PDIF in and out, which opens further connectivity options.

Also, if you are using streaming samples (as your sig seems to indicate), you might benefit from moving to Windows 64-bit from XP, which would enable you to use all of your 6GBs of RAM.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby The Elf » Mon Feb 04, 2013 7:15 am

Paul881 wrote:FireWire seems on its way out
I'm having a PC built right now - with Firewire. It will be fine for a few years. Why worry about it if you have a solution that works?
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby James Perrett » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:07 am

Goddard wrote:
Was simply pointing out that Firewire is not necessarily on its way out as your post had indicated it so seemed. That's a myth ime, despite posts here and elsewhere declaring Firewire dead/dying.

We buy quite a few decent spec laptops for work and, apart from a very expensive Dell, all the recent ones have come without Firewire. 6 or 7 years ago just about every laptop had a built in Firewire port - even my wife's budget Fujitsu has one. So, from my point of view, Firewire has had its day.

I don't see too many new Firewire audio interfaces coming out either.

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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Paul881 » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:20 am

Goddard, you make some good points in your post and yes I do use FW on my MoBo - to connect a 1Tb ICE Box HDD. Nothing else I have uses FW. And I have gone over now to Win7 64 bit OS so need to update my sig.

I have never used my s/pdif interface nor on my OMNI either. What would that do for me in terms of better performance or is it only a matter of more options?

From what I read of the DAW Bench test, it seemed to focus on poor FW driver performance on Windows - maybe I need to persevere and read the whole thread?

On my system currently, with 384 samples I am getting latency of under 5mSec's which seems pretty good to me. I'm hoping to get similar with a USB device. Current favourite for me now is the Focusrite 18i6.

Thanks again for your comments, they are greatly appreciated.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Goddard » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:30 pm

James Perrett wrote:
Goddard wrote:
Was simply pointing out that Firewire is not necessarily on its way out as your post had indicated it so seemed. That's a myth ime, despite posts here and elsewhere declaring Firewire dead/dying.

We buy quite a few decent spec laptops for work and, apart from a very expensive Dell, all the recent ones have come without Firewire. 6 or 7 years ago just about every laptop had a built in Firewire port - even my wife's budget Fujitsu has one. So, from my point of view, Firewire has had its day.

I don't see too many new Firewire audio interfaces coming out either.

James.

I'd mentioned the lack of FW ports and even expresscard slots on current laptop PCs earlier, and yes, it's definitely becoming more difficult to find FW-able laptop PCs (and also, desktops with good onboard FW although add-in FW cards can overcome this). Hopefully things will improve in this regard as laptop PCs begin to offer TB ports like Macbooks do now, with inexpensive TB-FW dongle adapters (essentially, a PCIe FW adapter).

No, not many new FW-only interfaces, although of course the UA Apollo initially only had FW800 connectivity. But I've noticed a number of hybrid FW/USB interfaces appearing lately (RME, MOTU, Behringer) and likely such a trend will continue as it makes sense for manufacturers to offer/support a single model with dual connectivity options rather than separate FW and USB models, and Archwave offer a hybrid chip solution with a decent feature spec.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Goddard » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:39 pm

Paul881 wrote:Goddard, you make some good points in your post and yes I do use FW on my MoBo - to connect a 1Tb ICE Box HDD. Nothing else I have uses FW. And I have gone over now to Win7 64 bit OS so need to update my sig.

As you are probably aware, with rear bracket and/or front panel adapters you can also use the other 2 FW ports on your mobo for a total of 3 separate ports

Paul881 wrote:I have never used my s/pdif interface nor on my OMNI either. What would that do for me in terms of better performance or is it only a matter of more options?

S/PDIF offers a digital 2-channel connection, and should offer low latency/load performance like an internal PCI card interface using the available Windows WDM-Wave RT drivers (but without ASIO support although the ASIO4ALL wrapper can be used if needed). A lot of nice outboard gear has coax S/PDIF I/O, so yes, just more options. Many AIs already offer coax S/PDIF I/O, as your current M-Audio card does, but another can be handy for times you need an extra in or out. Just have to be mindful of sync/clock source and sample rate and use the proper cables.

Paul881 wrote:From what I read of the DAW Bench test, it seemed to focus on poor FW driver performance on Windows - maybe I need to persevere and read the whole thread?

I'd recommend you take a look at the LLP info on the DAWbench site first:

http://dawbench.com/audio-int-lowlatency.htm
http://dawbench.com/audio-int-lowlatency2.htm

and then the forum thread will hopefully be a bit easier to follow and the comments and discussion make more sense.

Be aware that the LLP test numbers on DAWbench are for a single specific high-spec test system only although they do offer a good practical frame of reference for relative performance comparison between different interfaces, and thus "ymmv".

Paul881 wrote:On my system currently, with 384 samples I am getting latency of under 5mSec's which seems pretty good to me. I'm hoping to get similar with a USB device. Current favourite for me now is the Focusrite 18i6.

I don't believe the 18i6 has been DAWbenched yet, and have no idea how it compares to the tested earlier Saffire 6 USB model. I assume you've already looked at the Feb '12 SOS review of the 18i6 and the buffer/latency info reported therein. Here's another review of the 18i6 with some latency test info (using an old, lower powered PC) which may also be of interest:

http://mikeriversaudio.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/focusrite-scarlett-8i6-and-18i6-review_revised.pdf

In general, USB interfaces tend to require larger buffers than FW and PCI/PCIe interfaces do, especially as the system loading increases (e.g. when using more tracks, VIs, DSP fx) due to USB relying more upon the system cpu (FW and PCI/PCIe interfaces don't generally load the cpu as much as USB does), and larger buffers mean higher latency. There are exceptions, however, and some manufacturers continue to improve their drivers, as noted in the DAWbench LLP info, but many USB interfaces exhibit considerably higher latency (i.e., require larger buffer settings in practical use) compared to PCI/PCIe and FW ones, as reflected in the DAWbench LLP charts.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Paul881 » Thu Feb 07, 2013 3:59 pm

Interesting. It's a shame the industry doesn't publish standardised latency DAW Bench type data so buyers can check this out. Anything more than 6mSec is bad for me. The more I read the more I think I'll stick with my Delta 66 + omni.

Also a quote from Mike Rivers "But the main practical advantage of USB over Firewire, CPU resources aside, is that very soon it will be difficult to find a computer with a Firewire port, while USB 2.0 will probably stay with us for at least a few more years."

Of course if you have system that works with a FW interface then great. But why choose obsolescence in a new interface when there are other options?
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby The_BPP » Fri Jun 28, 2013 3:31 pm

Has anyone actually got the 18i20, yet? I'm definitely interested, if I can get some real world feedback.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby ef37a » Fri Jun 28, 2013 7:49 pm

NI Komplete Audio 6.
2 mic/line/intru ins, 2 line in at rear, S/PDIF and MIDI.

Latency is at least as good as the PCI card you are replacing.

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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Pete Kaine » Sat Jun 29, 2013 10:51 am

Goddard wrote:I wouldn't necessarily agree that Firewire is on its way out, unless you're using a laptop with no good onboard FW or expresscard slot. Still plenty of supported FW interfaces available that would meeet your criteria

I'm in the camp that it's heading out. Few motherboards support it out of the box and even fewer laptops are appearing each year and they've done pretty well in reducing the number of Apple units that have them as well and the chances of finding the optimal TI chip on there is like finding a needle in a barn.

Sure the are still plenty of FW interfaces out there that support it but how many new FW interfaces were released in the last 12 months? I'm willing to bet you'd fall short of needing that second hand to count them off.

Yes, I'm sure the is a good 3 or 4 years life in any FW interface with current support if you've already got one, but I'd personally be looking at Hybrid units if I was going to fork out anything sizable right now. Just as a note the UFX USB 3.0 driver performs as well if not better than the FW driver so that's tide turning at last!
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Tombot » Tue Jul 02, 2013 4:32 am

I'm with Goddard on this, Firewire has never been as good for desktop machines, and laptops will gain as soon as we start seeing decent numbers with Thunderbolt ports on them. It might have taken years to do, but now we finally have great drivers for Focusrite, Presonus and TC firewire boxes that are almost to RME level of performance.

Only RME has managed to build a USB driver that can beat the performance of the DICE based firewire devices (and thier own firewire devices to be fair) and i'm as astonished as anyone that i've made that statement, as they were distinctly under par a year ago, before the driver update.

Now we have the opposite problem, that everyone using xmos chip based USB devices (Focusrite, Presonus etc) has almost the same level of mediocre USB performance as thier firewire counterparts did a year ago.

I did try and test the Tascam unit, but its really quite poor for performance (but a really cheap way of getting 8 inputs into a machine for bands, as has hardware monitor knob and no monitor mixer, great for recording band rehearsals etc)

Personally, i'd be going for either an RME on USB (or a NI KA6 if on a laptop on a budget), or one of the the Focusrite or Presonus firewire range.

Slightly ironically, the Delta card you are replacing (made in the golden age of M-Audio, before Avid took over) is actually quite a good performer, the xmos USB devices would be a step up in sound quality, but a step down in low latency performance.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Dee » Tue Jul 02, 2013 2:42 pm

I currently have the Scarlett 18i8 and am a little disappointed in the latency/performance. So much so that I am considering changing....

It's a quality unit but I felt performance was superior on my old 0404.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Pete Kaine » Tue Jul 02, 2013 3:50 pm

Dee - On the latest drivers?
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby darrylonguitar » Tue Jul 02, 2013 5:16 pm

I'm 100% on board with the RME recommendations. I had USB driver issues on an older notebook PC with a Focusrite 18i6 a couple years ago, so it went back and delayed my whole transition from desktop PC to notebook DAW. I tried a MOTU Track 16 next and was very happy with its feature set, and it's latency was on par with the Emu 1212M PCI card I was coming from. Unfortunately it had a lot of intermittent driver problems with the new Windows 8 notebook computer in my system.

I couldn't be happier after switching to the RME Babyface. Incredible low latency performance for my soft synths. The only issue for you might be the amount of I/O on it. You would need to add an ADAT converter to get the extra inputs you want, something like a Behringer ADA8000.

I have not tried the NI Komplete Audio 6, but I've read plenty of praise for its low latency performance also. All reports are that nothing beats the RME for low latency and stable USB performance, and I'm a definite believer.
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Re: USB Audio Interface?

Postby Dee » Tue Jul 02, 2013 8:21 pm

Pete Kaine wrote:Dee - On the latest drivers?


Hi Pete, I registered with the site, as directed by the supplied info, and downloaded from there. I'll have a check tomorrow when I get a chance and make sure I haven't missed newer ones.

The unit is great as far as being the all in one box that I wanted but, as I said, my initial experience of the latency/performance isn't great. I'll certainly spend some time tomorrow checking it out further though before I consider my options. If I can get it to replicate my 0404 latency/performance I'd be more than happy with the unit considering the spec.

I'll post back with further findings over the next few days.
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