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FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

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FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby damartin » Fri Sep 11, 2020 11:14 am

Hi guys,

I own a FCA202 audio interface, old, reliable but very basic (no preamps, no gain control, limited connectivity - only jacks no XLR.only line inputs/outputs, no instrument inputs). Still the digital convertor seems to be very good (24 b 96 hzetc.). The headphones amp seems to be very good and loud without distortion.So, I am wondering whether FCA202 with a very good DI/preamp pedal (what would be that?) is able to become a monster of an audio interface for guitar recording better than the averrage ones on the market (focusrite, presonus etc.). What do you think? As I understand one of the greatest vulnerabilities of averrage audio interfaces is the not very performant preamps comparing to those high-end. So, I guess with the price of an audio interface one can buy a very good preamp predal.

all best,
Martin

PS: I am a newbie to the world of audio/guitar recording but after reading a lot in the last couple of month about equipment I realize that everybody should try to think outside the box in order to suit the exact needs/budget. Besides the technical specifications and performance there is a lot o marketing strategy in pushing forward all kinds of devices that often are way outside your needs.
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby CS70 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 12:16 pm

Hei damartin,

on your first question, yeah - if you take a good preamp and pair with with an interface containing good A/D/A converters you get yourself a rig able to record microphone and instrument signal into a computer. It's not particularly Frankenstein.. most audio interface boxes package preamps together with the A/D circuitry and the interface proper, but there's quite a few "line only" boxes like yours, and most interfaces have line inputs and allow you to use external preamps anyways.

Now I don't know what quality the FC A/D conversion and analog front end circuitry is, but it's likely pretty good.. like most are these days. So you'll get not so much a "monster" interface but an interface that (just like most modern ones) will very much not be in your way when you're making that megahit.

About interface preamps, it's mostly a myth. There's a few things that are harder to do with the onboard preamps of a regular interface box, but they are not so common and definitely about DI-ing a guitar. Should you want to use passive ribbon mics to mic your guitar cab, you may benefit from a dedicated pre if you have a very basic (i.e. lowish-gain) onboard preamps.

Rather than repeating it here, I link you to my post from last year which addresses that particular question.

Don't get particularly obsessed about the gear (which is a strange thing to say on a SOS forum, but nevertheless): almost any modern piece of gear is by far not the weakest link in your setup... and I talk from personal experience! :D
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Sep 11, 2020 12:19 pm

How do you record guitars now? Electric or acoustic? Instrument inputs on preamps are designed to present the appropriate load impedance to electric guitars, acoustics with passive piezo's need a much higher impedance and any active guitar will work just fine into a line input*.

WRT mic preamps, those in most modern audio interfaces are pretty good and, unless you have a very good room the differences between budget and exotic will be almost negligible. SOS did a comparative test a while ago which is well worth a read. https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/pick-preamp

* Actually 'passive' electric guitars work surprisingly well into line inputs and piezo equipped acoustics sound pretty bad whether passive or active unless you have some serious processing such as a Tone Dexter or Fishman Aura type preamp.
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby damartin » Fri Sep 11, 2020 1:06 pm

Thanks for the replies. Helpful.
My small home studio is just for my pleasure (for practice and some recordings) and indeed I intend not to spoil it with equipment obsession. After few weeks of fever I could say now I'm chill :). Still, I have a decent electric guitar (passive stock humbackers), a Macbook Pro and some Behringer equipment left from an old project and I wonder if I could improve my studio without breaking the bank and way outside my needs because I really feel there some limitations. If you don't feel you have a decent sound coming out of your equipment you are not so motivated to practice and play...I've postponed for the time being investments in real amps and pedals. I will plunge into the digital world for now.

All best, M
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby CS70 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 1:50 pm

damartin wrote:I wonder if I could improve my studio without breaking the bank and way outside my needs because I really feel there some limitations.

90 % is the playing
Of the remaining 10%, 90% is the sound of the room where you're playing
Of the remaining 10%, 90% is the microphone location and technique

Most people at the beginning don't realize how much the room sound matters, both for recording (i.e. what sound arrives at the microphone) and for playback (i.e what sound arrives at your ear).

Unless you are already aware of the importance of the room acoustics, the best way to improve your studio without breaking the band is to learn about acoustic treatment and place bass traps and broadband absorbers where it matters..
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Sep 11, 2020 2:19 pm

How are you recording your guitar now? The FC202 seems a decent bit of kit and if you are plugging it straight in it should work ok but maybe with a little more noise than is ideal. The FC202 has a max input level of +2dBV which is a fair bit lower than a 'professional' line level input which suggests it has been designed to cope with instruments and domestic devices (though the manual shows it in use with a Xenyx 1204 mixer).

edit:- FWIW the Xenyx1204 outputs seem to be much too hot for the FC202 inputs at +22dBU for the control room and aux's and +28dBU for the mains. Unless the FC202 manual has a misprint in the specs.
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby damartin » Fri Sep 11, 2020 2:42 pm

Hi Sam,

Right now I use the FCA202 interface plugged into my Macbook Pro. And usually I plug the guitar directly into the line input of the interface. As far as I can feel the setting seems pretty stable and very low latency but the sound of the guitar seem to be a little bit dark and boomy (and noisy when distorted). I rely heavily on amp sims (for overdrive and distorision - I like to play hard rock and classic heavy metal, basically, but not only that, of course. I like good guitar tunes of every genre). In my experience, the best amp sims are, in this setting, with this interface, Revalver 4 (sometimes I feel the sound of this plugin is too noisy and unstable) and Amped Roots (this free amp sim rocks!). I cannot obtain a decent "tone" using Amplitube 4 (free + metal edition). I really don't know why.

However, occasionally I use a different setting: I plug the guitar in my tube amp modeler pedal TM300, then I plug the pedal in my mixer Behringer 802 Xenyx and then I plug the mixer into the interface. and the interface into the computer. I noticed that when I use the pedal the mixer adds something good to the settings. with the pedal I can get some tasty tones. That would be all. Ah, and when using the pedal my IR's are provided digitaly by an Impulse Loader in my DAW. That's the settings. I can produce good sounds but I feel somthing is missing...and I feel in cannot rely on the "tone" consistency of this setting. I feel it is improvised somehow.

M
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Sep 11, 2020 2:51 pm

I'd say what you have is capable of producing decent sounds (I'm guessing you use a speaker sim?) and on that basis I'll refer you back to this :-

CS70 wrote:90 % is the playing
Of the remaining 10%, 90% is the sound of the room where you're playing
Of the remaining 10%, 90% is the microphone location and technique

And the room and mic is obviously irrelevant in your case ;)
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby MOF » Fri Sep 11, 2020 2:57 pm

usually I plug the guitar directly into the line input of the interface
Guitar pickups need a high impedance input, so a dual preamplifier for microphone(s) with switched guitar (high Z) jack options should cover most requirements.
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby damartin » Fri Sep 11, 2020 3:26 pm

Sam, improving my guitar skills is my first priority :). however, I really feel motivated by a nice "tone" (even though 90% of it is pure fantasy...:). stii, it's important to have a decent platform for projecting ideal sounds). I like for example that when I am using the standalone amp sim like Amped Roots I just turn on my computer and plug in my guitar and the "tone" is there. It seems consistent over time without too much nevrotic tweaking. But this amp sim is limited in terms of sounds...Also when I am using the pedal I feel the tone is sometimes muddy, unclear and undefined...but I still need to test the capabilities of this otherwise nice pedal. For example, I noticed that in my setting the pedal functions better at a low "level" (I increase the volume using the mixer).
CS70, I read your article on preamps. well written and convincing. thanks

M
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Sep 11, 2020 3:56 pm

damartin wrote:Sam, improving my guitar skills is my first priority :).

Sorry I wasn't implying that your playing was sub-par just that the sounds you want are probably in there waiting for you to find them. And that a great tune trumps a great tone every day of the week (though it's nice to have both).

I have been chasing the perfect tone for 55 years and it always seems close but just out of reach..... :headbang:
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby damartin » Fri Sep 11, 2020 4:28 pm

No, no, Sam, sorry, I did not mean to be defensive. your comments are spot on. I try myself to stick to this view. but sometimes, the technical side of things seems a little bit unsatisfying...
M
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Sep 11, 2020 4:58 pm

:thumbup: :thumbup:

damartin wrote:but sometimes, the technical side of things seems a little bit unsatisfying...
M

Yup, I gave up on computers for recording and returned to hardware for several years for that very reason. I'm back with computers now but for me the point of the recording process is the music rather than the technology.
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby CS70 » Fri Sep 11, 2020 7:16 pm

damartin wrote:Also when I am using the pedal I feel the tone is sometimes muddy, unclear and undefined...

For one, it can well be an impedance issue that muffles the highs.. have a read at the wonderful primer on impedance by Hugh that tells you what you need to know quickly and effectively. Keep in mind you're hitting the input with vastly different signals if you go direct from the guitar (a very low signal, with plenty of headroom and more noisy) or the preamp (which can emit a very healthy line signal, from what I read, with minimum noise but also probably little headroom if you don't back off the output knob). The cure for all that is to either a dedicated preamp with a hi-z input or simply ditch the FC and get one of the million inexpensive interfaces with a hi-z input instead of the FC (the A/D conversion will be just as good, again it's not something worth fretting about).

However, if the difference is between "direct signal from pedal without amp sim" and "signal-into-line-input + computer amp sim" could also be a far simpler issue:- your amp sims are probably loaded with effects, EQs and impulse responses. And you're missing these entirely when using only the simple "tube preamp" pedal to generate your sound (I'm not sure it has even a cab emulation, but if it didn't you would probably notice the opposite effect, a screechy a harsh signal.. so it probably does). So it could just be that what you're hearing is the actual sound of your guitar into the tube pedal, and if you want more detail you simply need boost the highs or cut the bass either with the onboard EQ knobs or a software EQ in the chain.
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Re: FCA202 audio interface + preamp = a very good Frankestein audio interface?

Postby damartin » Fri Sep 11, 2020 8:00 pm

Great! thanks for detailed suggestions. Really helpful.
Yes, I plan to get rid of FC eventually and now I have in mind to buy a good (as I see the reviews - e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YquAMkHJYjA&t=324s) Behringer UMC202HD. I understand from several reliable sources it's well suited for recording guitar and not at all expensive (good performances side by side with more expensive ones like Focusrite, Presonus, Steinberg etc.). low latency, works great with Mac, low noise floor etc. I think that's good for me at this stage when I am not sure where i'm heading to - the digital world or the analogic one (again, pretty much expensive) of real amps and pedals....
M
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