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Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:57 am

Hello, I'm building a music PC based on a i7 8700 and the Gigabyte Z390 Designare mobo, which has 2 thunderbolt connections. I am considering 2 thunderbolt AI's for the job: 1. Presonus Quantum 2. Focusrite Clarett 8 Pre. After many hours of research on both these units I've learnt that the Clarett has very good AD/DA converters and excellent preamps. However the Windows drivers are still in beta and I'm worried about stability. According to the Presonus website the Quantum was designed with Windows in mind and has very good, stable drivers. It is also $200 CDN cheaper. I was wondering if anyone has experience with any of these units with a Windows machine. Thanks.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby wireman » Sun Mar 03, 2019 1:30 pm

Although it does not give you an answer the information below from the Focusrite website might help others understand the concern.

The WIndows OS support for the Clarett invovles the following driver...

Windows: Focusrite Control 2.1.4 (beta)

Introduces support for the Clarett range on Windows

For installation and getting started information, please see this article. For compatibility information, please see our OS Checker.

Please Note: Although this software has been tested internally, beta software may still contain some defects. Please only install this software if you are interested in testing the new features introduced in this update, and if you are willing to report the results (and any defects) back to us. We typically advise against installing any beta updates if you're looking for mature versions of our software, or if you're using your Focusrite product on a time-critical project. If you have any problems, please contact Technical Support.

The concern seems to relate specifically to Thunderbold 3 (see this page)
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Sun Mar 03, 2019 2:55 pm

Thanks wireman, I forgot to mention that my mobo has thunderbolt 3 protocol, and yes this is the concern I have with the Clarett. Every review I've read praises this unit, but most are running it with a Mac. Just wondering if anyone here is using a thunderbolt 3 interface with a Windows system?
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Pete Kaine » Tue Mar 05, 2019 10:44 am

I've used Focusrite, UAD, RME and Presonus units on windows under Thunderbolt and they tend to be fine once up and running. I've not used every combination of controller and AI however, so I'm certainly not going to claim that support is universal as there have been noted incompatibilities. Each of those interfaces tend to have their own quirks and you can normally find details of them under the respective manufacturer F&Q's and support pages.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Tue Mar 05, 2019 8:14 pm

Thanks Pete. My first choice is the Clarett, mainly for it's converters. It appears that the beta drivers for Thunderbolt 2 are solid, however Thunderbolt 3 is more iffy. By any chance are you aware of any current motherboard that supports a Thunderbolt 2 connection?
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Tue Mar 05, 2019 9:32 pm

I'm assuming Thunderbolt 2 is now considered old technology since every motherboard that I have found that either has thunderbolt connection or offers it through an add-on card is supporting the thunderbolt 3 protocol. In my cyber travels I discovered the RME Fireface UFX+ which would solve my stability concerns, but unfortunately I would have to sell my car to afford it, not to mention a complete overkill for my recording needs!
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Pete Kaine » Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:44 am

tonemangler wrote:Thanks Pete. My first choice is the Clarett, mainly for it's converters. It appears that the beta drivers for Thunderbolt 2 are solid, however Thunderbolt 3 is more iffy. By any chance are you aware of any current motherboard that supports a Thunderbolt 2 connection?

Thunderbolt 2 was dead and buried before the Clarrett even came out, it's a design choice that honestly has always puzzled me.

To further confuse things TB 2 wasn't ever supported by Microsoft, so at an OS level, TB3 is the only standard that has ever been supported on the PC side.

Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 2 were/are as equally stable once you take the converter out of the mix the beta tag doesn't really mean a great deal here except that end user should be aware of support limitations.

Stability issues come from the implementation of the core TB chipset and how it's routed around the board. The core chipset (current generation is Alpine Ridge) is sold to the mainboard manufacturers who then have to implement support in the BIOS and route the signal through the onboard USB-C implementation that they've chosen.

This is pretty much where it's going to go tits up if it's going to do so, and something I don't really expect to be rectified until it finally goes native to the chipset and everything is handled by the Intel controller and routed via an Intel-native USB-C port. Icelake is promising this later this year, but then admittedly so was Coffeelake last year, Kabylake the year before, Skylake the year before that.... well, you get the idea. Don't hold your breath.

What you need to know is that the Focusrite stuff works best over the Apple converter and doesn't like the Startech version (almost a reversal of the rest of the market!) which pretty much refuses to let it work at all.

Other than that it'll probably work. If it doesn't work over that adaptor then chances are none of the other Thunderbolt interfaces are going to behave much better. It's very often not an interface issue so much as an implementation issue, which is why I tend to say check out what the support forums are saying for the kit in question and see what other users have managed to get up and running.

Asus and Gigabyte implementation largely work via their own add cards, but the cards in question can be an arse to set up initially, though tend to remain working fine once you have done. The onboard editions are very hit and miss (example: Gigabyte z170 designaire worked with everything, Z370 designaire works with very little) and comes back down to the whole "routing via a third party controller" business I mentioned before. Supermicro add-in implementation when I checked it was great, but 3 times the cost of everyone else and you probably don't want to be paying the premium for one of those boards. MSI and ASROCK onboard implementations I've yet to get around to testing, but they have a few interesting boards now that have peaked my interest.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Wed Mar 06, 2019 10:18 pm

Wow Pete,thanks for the excellent info, I really appreciate it. I would be interested to know which MSI and ASROCK boards have peaked your interest, knowing that you haven't tested them and are not recommending them, but I would like to check them out all the same. I haven't received delivery of the Gigabyte Z390 Designaire (on back order) so I can still change my mind.

Another twist to this story is that yesterday I went to the local music store and they told me that the Clarett thunderbolt range has been discontinued!! They can't order new ones from Focusrite, however they still have a few scattered around at different stores. They also have a policy that any product can be returned within a 30 day period after purchase, which would give me plenty of time to test it out. I would have to buy the apple adapter, and if it doesn't work I could use it as Christmas tree decoration or maybe an ornament on my key chain.

Yesterday I also discovered the Motu 828es, which has both thunderbolt and USB C connection, but is a little over my price range and I would have to use an adapter. However I couldn't figure out if they recommend the Apple or Startech. Anyways, thanks again for all the helpful information! Cheers!
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Pete Kaine » Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:09 am

tonemangler wrote:Wow Pete,thanks for the excellent info, I really appreciate it. I would be interested to know which MSI and ASROCK boards have peaked your interest, knowing that you haven't tested them and are not recommending them, but I would like to check them out all the same.

Sure,

ASrock Mini ITX board
https://www.asrock.com/MB/Intel/Z390%20 ... /index.asp

I had a SFF system on specs for ages based around an older ASRock board. I need to resurrect it at some point and this looks to be the ideal board to do so when I get around to it.

MSI MEG Creation X299

https://www.msi.com/Motherboard/MEG-X299-CREATION

Ahh, I should probably should have remembered that this was an x299 board before mentioning it. Not really helpful in this scenario I guess, but interesting to see MSI finally dipping their toe in the water.

tonemangler wrote:Another twist to this story is that yesterday I went to the local music store and they told me that the Clarett thunderbolt range has been discontinued!! They can't order new ones from Focusrite, however they still have a few scattered around at different stores.

Clarretts are still current or at least the larger ones are. AFAIK only the smaller 2 & 4's have limited numbers, whereas the 8's should still be available from all authorized stockists.

What I am also aware of is that the list of authorized stockists has been shaken up over the last few months, so if you can't order one via your current reseller of choice then you may need to speak to another retailer about it.

tonemangler wrote:Yesterday I also discovered the Motu 828es, which has both thunderbolt and USB C connection, but is a little over my price range and I would have to use an adapter. However I couldn't figure out if they recommend the Apple or Startech. Anyways, thanks again for all the helpful information! Cheers!

Haven't used that MOTU over Thunderbolt I'm afraid so I can't really offer up much more. "MOTU nation forums" are probably worth a search.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Thu Mar 07, 2019 10:33 pm

Thanks Pete. My local computer store carries the ASrock z390 phantom gaming board. I didn't consider using a mini ITX board because somewhere in my cyber research it was recommended to use the full size ITX board, I don't remember why though. I think it was something about a larger case for better air flow? or the components not being so crammed to allow better cooling? The Gigabyte Designaire seems to have similar features to the ASrock, however it has been in back order for over a week. My local store did not stock it so I ordered it online. Anyways thanks again for all your help. Once I get everything up and running I'll post back in case someone is interested. :thumbup:
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Watchmaker » Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:56 pm

As far as interfaces go, I have the Clarett 8preX and use it in both win10 Pro and High Sierra environments with great success. I absolutely love it. The air enabled pres are really open sounding and without it on, you get a nice, well controlled response. Either way it's an outstanding piece of gear. I've had zero issue with the convertors. they sound great to my ears, but I've never heard Burl... also has a stable word clock with good connectivity. The big drawback is only one T2 connection so it's at the end of the chain, or the only thing on it.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Fri Mar 08, 2019 12:49 am

Thanks Watchmaker, I don't think I've heard one negative comment regarding the Claretts! I just googled "High Sierra" and so I assume you are running Windows 10 on a Mac, is that right? Are you using the thunderbolt 3 to 2 adapter? I wonder if, although you are running Windows 10, you wouldn't experience stability issues since you are using a Mac. There are no stability issues with the Clarett when used with Macintosh computers. Still, it's encouraging to hear that you have a stable system using Win 10. Thanks
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Watchmaker » Fri Mar 08, 2019 1:16 am

no, I operate in both realms. iMac in the studio (such as it is..) and Win10 on the laptop, which means I use a FAT drive as middleware for file transfer. I don't record offsite often, but when I do I use the 8PreX since I have it in a road case. At home I use an Apollo 8 and to my ears anyway, the focusrite keeps up on the conversion. I know the UAD specs are better but it's not a critical difference in my world, although when I need the extra preamps, I slave the focusrite to the UAD, because I get less jitter if the Apollo is the word clock master.

The laptop I have is a Dell precision 7520 who's main life is for business apps. TBH, I don't trust Microsoft as far as I can throw a gorilla. (nor Dell for that matter, but that's another story!)
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Fri Mar 08, 2019 2:23 am

Oh that's very interesting, I'm not referring to the gorilla tossing, though obviously that's not only interesting but also very impressive, but more to the fact that you have a stable Windows system running with the Clarett. I googled your laptop and it seems it comes with a thunderbolt 3 connection, so I guess you are using the thunderbolt 3 to 2 adapter by Mac? That's very encouraging for me. Are you able to get the latency down to respectable levels on the Windows system?
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Watchmaker » Mon Mar 11, 2019 11:39 am

Yes, I use the adapter, which was fiddly and annoying. iirc I had to re-install the driver. WIN10 updates borked it more than once until I started doing my local admin using group policy which seems to have checked most of the unwanted side effects of OS as SAAS.

But generally it's run like a charm. The Clarret's latency is negligible, and I use low latency monitoring in Studio One. I also use far fewer plug ins when I'm out.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Wed Mar 13, 2019 12:46 am

Thanks for sharing your experience Watchmaker, today I ordered the Clarett 4pre. I was lucky to find one since it has been discontinued. I hope that I don't have problems with the Windows 10 updates, especially since I'm not a tech guy and didn't really understand what you were talking about in regards to the updates. Like everyone else I just want a stable system that allows me to think of nothing but making music. I will post again once I get my system up and hopefully running. Thanks again.
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby Watchmaker » Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:53 am

Rad. I hope it all pans out! WIN10 still gives me hives. I will never support having the OS as a service. next it'll be subscription based. :protest:
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Re: Thunderbolt PC build, which audio interface?

Postby tonemangler » Fri Mar 29, 2019 1:50 am

Just an update of my experience with my new thunderbolt PC build. First I downloaded and ran the thunderbolt driver "Focusrite Control" from the Focusrite website, and then plugged in the Clarett 4pre. Next I downloaded the thunderbolt driver for the Gigabyte z390 Designare and when I ran it a window appeared stating that permission must be given for connection. I chose the "Always Connect" option and the Clarett was recognized. I have tested my new system for a couple of days and everything runs beautifully.

The Clarett conversion is a definite improvement over the converters on my Yamaha 01V96 Desk, it's hard to put into words but somehow there is more depth and a 3D type sonic image! I really love the sound! I had one head scratching moment when I connected the Clarett to my Drawmer CMC2 monitor controller and was greeted with a lot of noise and static! After a long while of troubleshooting I ended up fixing the issue by flipping the ground lift switch at the back of my Neumann KH120's. The one thing that is a little disconcerting about the Clarett , however, is how hot it gets! I have never owned a piece of gear that gets even close to that level of hotness! I realize that this is normal behaviour for this line of interface but it's disconcerting nonetheless. However, even with it's red hotness I have no regrets about choosing the Clarett, It performs beautifully!

As far as Windows 10 stability, I know it's early days but I am very impressed with my system's performance. Coming from an eight year old computer this new system is lightning fast, I can't get over how fast my projects load, and how everything runs so snappily! And to be honest I really like Window 10's layout. I guess it will take time for me to become jaded but for now I am really happy with Windows 10.

In summary, if someone is considering a thunderbolt PC build I highly recommend the Gigabyte Z390 Designare motherboard and the Clarett range of interface. Thanks to all who contributed to the discussion!

Cheers
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