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Old July 23rd, 2009, 01:19 PM   #1 (permalink)
ahjteam
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Getting an audiointerface FAQ

I decided to write this FAQ because it seems to be a frequent question, if someone could sticky this it would be nice.... This doesn't list the basics of things, so for example I assume what DAW and DI mean.

GETTING AN AUDIOINTERFACE FAQ

The most important thing you need to remember before buying anything:
"Even if you have the tools, it doesn't nessecarily mean you know how to use them" -anonymous



What is the purpose of your acquirement?

First things first: Are you going to start a professional studio, make a demo of your songs, take notes of your masterpieces in your bedroom where the soundquality doesn't matter, upgrade your existing system or just for the kicks because heroine is too expensive? For all these things the needs are totally different.

Planning

Planning is pretty much the most crucial part of the process. A good recording setup is a setup that covers all your needs, but is not undersized or too oversized. For example my ex-roommate visited an electronic music studio in UK that used a 32 input mixer only as a master volume

Put your needs before the budget when planning and avoid compromises as much as possible, because otherwise you might just end up buying useless piece of shit that has no use or value to you. If you can't afford all the thing you need at once, save up a little more and buy it piece by piece.

The basics

So what do you need to record stuff is:

- a sound source: an instrument and a musician
- something to capture the sound source with: microphone or DI
- something to capture the sound source to: preamp, interface, computer and a recording program (or a tapemachine, but lets leave that stuff to gearslutz)
- something to connect the dots together: cables
- something to listen the end product: monitors or headphones
- and if you want to do something: signal processing

Sometimes many these components are in a all item, but when you put things in one box, you have to make compromises somewhere. But if you want to have it easy, just having a separate microphone that goes into the interface box that has an integrated preamp will get the job done.

Reliability

I think this is one of the main key factors to buying the interface. Even if the interface you have in your mind is within your budget range, has all the things you need and is available in your region, search out the internet with "product model problem" to see if a lot of people are having problem with the audiointerface in question.

DAW and operating system: What are you going to use?

If you don't already have a DAW (digital audio workstation), many interfaces usually come with a "limited version" of one of the bigger DAW systems and some of them are limited to only certain gear and operating systems. For example Logic users are tied to Mac and Sonar users to PC and ProTools users have to choose either Digidesign or M-audio interface and Linux users are pretty much assraped with drivers. So do some research before you buy your gear.

Is someone else going to use your studio?

Eventho nobody wants to admit the monopoly, but if you are going pro and want to transfer sessions to and from other studios, you are pretty much out of options and are pretty much limited to only one option: ProTools HD

continues on post #3
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 01:25 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Awesome awesome awesome thread dude, it'll be a blessing to be able to refer people to this rather than having to spew out the same lines over and over! And yeah, to emphasize, as a frequent re-amper, I could not live with an interface with only two outputs, cuz that'd mean you'd have to use one of the monitor outputs to re-amp, meaning not being able to monitor through that, and having to unplug and re-plug, BLEHHHHH, no thanks.

And also, some USB interfaces are able to get low enough latency for real-time monitoring with ampsims (AFAIC 256 samples is the bare minimum, 128 is fine for me, and I know the Edirol UA-25 can do this, not sure about others), but firewire is a much surer bet in that regard. Also, Line 6 interfaces have horrible drivers, and I've never known a single person who was able to get one low enough to monitor in real-time with ampsims OTHER THAN GEARBOX. However, you can always use Gearbox to monitor but only record the dry track and then later apply an ampsim/impulse, but...why? I see zero reason to buy any of the Toneports and be limited by minimal i/o and poor latency; not when there are tons of interfaces out there in the same price range! (Presonus Audiobox USB or Firebox, Edirol UA-25).

Also, there's the issue of expandability, chiefly with ADAT inputs, which will allow you to add another 8 inputs by getting an 8-input mic preamp with on-board A/D conversion (Presonus Digimax, Focusrite OctoPre/LE w/ ADAT card, Mackie Onyx 800R)
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 02:01 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Connection?

The most common connection types are USB and Firewire, but some interfaces like the Pro Tools HD-system and RME Multiface also use separate (PCI or similiar) slot cards.

Firewire can record superior amount of tracks, while USB is pretty much realistically limited to 4 tracks at low latency without dropouts. So if you need more than 4 tracks, but if your computer doesn't have a firewire connection (for example a cheaper laptop), that pretty much only leaves you with two options: USB interface or system upgrade.

edit: As Marcus (Metaltastic) pointed out, some of the firewire interfaces are a bit picky about the controller chipsets, and majority of the manufacturers favor firewire cards with TI chips. It doesn't affect sound quality, but rather stability as far as preventing drop-outs, pops/clicks, etc.

I/O: What are you going to record?

If you are planning to use other than keyboard and mouse, you will need MIDI-controller and MIDI inputs and outputs in your soundcard (but some midi-keyboards nowadays can also be connected via USB). If you plan to use digital connection like an effect processor via SPDIF, you need that connection too.

For audio, there are two main type of analog connectors: microphone (XLR) and line (TRS or RCA). You usually need atleast 2 stereo outputs: monitors and headphones. The monitor outputs are usually balanced while the headphone outputs are unbalanced. And then you need 1 balanced mono output for reamping if you are into that kind of thing, but lets leave that out of this topic.

Rule of thumb for counting the amount of inputs you need: Count the realistic "worst case scenario" you would record at a time, and add two inputs and you should be all set.

If you are only going to record vocals, guitars or keyboards in your bedroom so that you need max 1-2 channels at a time, then you might be good off with a 2-4 input audio interface with integrated preamps and a monitor and headphone outputs.

But if you are going to record drums or even a full band you might need 8-24 inputs + possibly additional expansion inputs thru ADAT or some other way.

Preamps and DI-input

Some interfaces have integrated preamps, that are usually plain average. They get the job done, but are usually really stripped down. They usually have just gain and phantom power. Some might have a highpass filter and a -20dB pad.

In general if you are recording the overdub method, excluding drum recordings you usually only need max two inputs at a time (for stereo sources), so it might be a good investment to buy a separate good quality 1-2 channel preamp/channelstrip for all those valuable tracks like vocals, and get an interface with only line inputs and good quality AD-converters.

Some preamps have a HI-Z input for recording guitars directly which they do an OK job, but many on these forums have noticed, using a good quality active DI-box is more efficient because you can directly route it to an amplifier when recording via "thru"-output and the components are usually higher quality and you get less noise.
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 02:08 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Always ctrl C your post before hitting Post
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 02:16 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahjteam View Post
Argh, sh*t! I just noticed that I wrote about 10 more paragraphs but they were deleted because of the text lenght limitations I'll see if I want to re-write it
hahaha damn that sucks, next time try wiriting it in a notepad/word file before putting it in here. Anyways, great thread! I did have the feeling it was kind of incomplete there, but still, great for newcomers who's first post is "what mixer should I get?"
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 02:21 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I did, but I forgot to CTRL + V to notepad before doing another CTRL + C
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 02:34 PM   #7 (permalink)
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yeah that's happened to me before, I've got a ctrl+c happy trigger, I lose a ton of copied stuff by doing ctrl+c on another thing before pasting the first one haha
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Old July 24th, 2009, 07:23 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Bumping this thread, it WILL be a sticky - and I wanted to mention Digidesign interfaces, and the fact that they suck as audio interfaces for anything other than Pro Tools, at least on Windows; not only is their WDM support a joke (meaning you can't reliably use them as your sound card for any audio outside of your DAW), but the ASIO drivers for my MBOX2 were horrid, so using it for anything outside of Pro Tools pretty much sucked too. The MBOX2 Mini is a great bargain if you want to get access to Pro Tools to edit and record a couple of tracks, but using it as your primary interface would be a very poor choice IMO!
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Old July 24th, 2009, 08:00 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Very nice, can't wait to see the rest!
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Old July 25th, 2009, 06:54 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by ahjteam View Post
search out the internet with "product model problem" to see if a lot of people are having problem with the audiointerface in question.
I've yet to find an interface which nobody has had a problem with, maybe I'm just not looking at the right ones
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Old July 25th, 2009, 11:03 AM   #11 (permalink)
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hey man this is great interface sticky +1

all best!
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Old July 26th, 2009, 10:31 AM   #12 (permalink)
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hey thanks ahjteam this is great stuff... i hope people will appreciate it as much as i do x)
can you tell us maybe how we can choose the interface when we know all our needs, how many chanels, drivers, compatability with daw, usb or firefire and stuff...
what should we look for when it comes to preamps? there are many interfaces out there with difrent preamps, so what is difference beetwen their preamps and sound quality, and coverters...
i've searched the forum here as much as i could and i found that fireface and profire are popular here... am asking this cause i dont have much money and if i go for something i would really want to be happy with the choice...
maybe someone can tell us if there is a great sounding album recorded through some of those interfaces? if there is any well known people using this kind of stuff at all...
or maybe people can post here their songs or clips or links and tell us with what interface it was recorded, with external preamps or not... just to hear what is posible to do with these interfaces, i know there is a "rate my mix" forum i tend to ask there what i want but maybe someone can post here some info about particular great sounding stuff...
i hope am not too rude or anything here... my english is lame and i hope am not asking too much...
all best!
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Old July 26th, 2009, 10:32 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Gwe, the best thing is to post how many inputs you need (or ever see yourself needing) and your budget!
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Old July 26th, 2009, 01:05 PM   #14 (permalink)
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hey man thanks for replying!
i supose i could do that and i will but... its just that am new here, and never actually contributed, not that i dont want to though...
and its embarrising for me to ask you guys for any help or opinion or advice cause i know its probobly a drag for you to always answer the same stuff...
but i need to understand this... though its maybe little complicated...

if i have a sound card with good converters, and a small mixer ( witch is all relative what kind of sound card and mixer... but ok) ... is that better in terms of sound quallity than to go and buy an interface... not talking about chanels and mobillity and stuff... just sound quality...
cause i cant understand... why should people go and buy separate soundcards and mixers and all that when its all packed in one unit -interface (if not just buy interface for mobility)... for me its at least logical that interface should be worse in the sound quallity... but maybe am wrong...
so thats why i asked if anyone known uses these interfaces in studio rather than mixer-soundcard setup...
and am aware of preamps and all other goodies that people use in studios before mixers and interfaces... but withouth those preamps and stuff what should give better response, and clear tone...
so am aksing is there sound quality diffrence between these two setups... sound card mixer and just interface... in tearms of sound quality... i know this is all relative but i want to hear your opinions...

if there is no diffrence i will probobly go for an iterface and it would be something like fireface400 if i manage to get my money for it x) ... i dont need too much chanels just best posible sound for my money... i need to record guitars, bas, keyboards and vocals... so i need phantom power, and no drums... so i think i should go with fireface 400... cause am on PC and i've read here that it has best drivers for PC and all that stuff...
but i first wanted to be clear with all that that i just wrote couple of lines before...
all best!
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Old July 26th, 2009, 01:28 PM   #15 (permalink)
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it all depends on how many inputs you need and how many you have now and what are you using the mentioned mixer for. Are you using it for summing, compensating for the lack of inputs in your soundcard or are you using processing already on the way in or using auxes for listening purposes or ...? The built in preamps are usually solid state and in general sound pretty transparent and "cold", thats why people use some more expensive preamps that do some colouring.
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Old July 26th, 2009, 01:31 PM   #16 (permalink)
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No problem gwe, and while most of the time I would say "SEARCH N00B!!!!!!" and throw things, this is the interface FAQ after all, so let's get it all out there! And honestly, I know of very few project studios that use mixers; they're very outdated in the studio world IMO, unless you have the money for a good one! And more importantly, I don't know of any really high-end internal sound cards anyway; all the best ones are external! (and though there are some good PCI/PCIe ones, most are firewire). So yeah, ditch the mixer idea dude, waste of money IMO (yes you can make zero latency headphone mixes, and yes if it's high-end enough having the ability to use analog eq would be cool, but I very much doubt anything under $2k would be worth the extra AD/DA steps for that).

SO, now that I think it's been established that interfaces > Jesus, I guess I'll give a run-down on my feelings on interfaces in each price/input need bracket (having done substantial research)

For the under $250 range, Presonus Firebox is the best bet I'd say; for awhile I would've recommended the Mackie Onyx Satellite, but after a year of use mine suddenly died, so that's out!

For the $300-$600 range, the Focusrite Saffire (not LE) seems the best spec-wise in terms of AD/DA, and I'd imagine the preamps are better than most others in that range (being Focusrite and all). There's also the Edirol 1010, which looks good on paper, but the preamps probably aren't as good (though I doubt the difference is substantial, this is still the budget range) and I don't know anything about its stability/reliability. That's something you'd wanna search, naturally. However, there's only one interface below $700 that offers ADAT i/o, and that's the TC Electronic Konnect 24D - supposedly great sound and converters (from reviews/comparisons on other forums), the aforementioned ADAT at its price point - but also apparently very prone to sudden DEATH as well, so only buy with a good long warranty! Oh, and there's the Focusrite Saffire 40, but I really really do not trust something with 8 mic preamps and ADAT for $200 less than all other similarly-equipped interfaces; maybe it's fine, but you'll definitely wanna do your homework on that before considering it. Profire 610 looks good too, compatible with PTMP FWIW

Then there's the multi-preamp range ($700-$1000), where I would say the Profire 2626 seems to be the best, as tons of people on here have it and love it with nary a complaint. The Presonus Firestudio Tube is the same mediocre Firestudio/Firepod technology with a couple of starved-plate tube preamps that barely impart any color as they get so little voltage, so it's strictly a gimmick - AVOID IMO.

And then above that, well, the Fireface rules all! The FF400 has 18 total inputs, the FF800 28, and apparently there are slight differences in the converters (in favor of the FF800) and preamps (in favor of the FF400, actually), but they're both fucking great, and only snooty spec-obsessors would care. And there's the new Steinberg interface and the Focusrite Saffire 56, and they both might be great, in fact might be heralded in the upcoming years as the greatest interfaces of our time, but until then they're new and relatively untested, whereas the Firefaces have DEFINITELY proven their great sound and especially stability (the latter is not something to underestimate, as I'm learning with my Onyx 400F )

I know there are lots of "it seems" and "apparently" statements in there, cuz I don't have time or care enough to research each and every one - this is meant to be an overview simply to serve as a springboard for you to do that! (not specifically referring to you, gwe, just anyone else that will read this).

Ah, feels nice to get all that down in one post that I can just constantly reference from now on whenever anyone asks!

Last edited by Metaltastic : September 1st, 2009 at 02:11 PM.
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Old July 26th, 2009, 01:34 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Oh, and the Mackie Onyx 400F is a fantastic interface with 4 good, clean preamps and really high quality AD/DA (AKM baby), BUT, is reputed to have some big reliability problems, and the drivers have not been the most stable (nothing too annoying, just occasionally having to reset them in Reaper or more rarely reinstall them altogether), but I bought mine with a 3-year warranty, so it was worth it! Only has 10 total inputs though (no ADAT )
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Old July 26th, 2009, 01:37 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Oh, and Anssi, maybe you wanna add something about TI-based Firewire cards in your OP? An important detail I'd say for those considering a firewire interface (meaning, EVERYBODY, or it should be anyway )
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Old July 26th, 2009, 01:59 PM   #19 (permalink)
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it all depends on how many inputs you need and how many you have now and what are you using the mentioned mixer for. Are you using it for summing, compensating for the lack of inputs in your soundcard or are you using processing already on the way in or using auxes for listening purposes or ...? The built in preamps are usually solid state and in general sound pretty transparent and "cold", thats why people use some more expensive preamps that do some colouring.
thanks for reply! i think i was misunderstood i dont have any mixer i was just asking about sound quality difference for example... between soundcard and mixer and interface... but now that i know interface is better than JESUS x)
and that is pretty incredible i thought that interfaces are way worse than soundcard mixer combination...
but enough with that... i want to say thanks for reply to you too Metaltastic... you gave me (and all others) great stuff to search but i think my choice will be fireface400 its not cheap but this whole production stuff is expensive hobby x) fireface400 has everytnih i need and more... so i should go for that as soon as i get the money...
and hey its Qwe x) not Gwe
all best
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Old July 26th, 2009, 02:18 PM   #20 (permalink)
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And then above that, well, the Fireface rules all! The FF400 has 18 total inputs, the FF400 28, and apparently there are slight differences in the converters (in favor of the FF800) and preamps (in favor of the FF400, actually), but they're both fucking great, and only snooty spec-obsessors would care.
you thought on FF800 here "the FF400 28"

all best!
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Old July 26th, 2009, 02:59 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Whoops, thanks for that
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Old July 26th, 2009, 03:14 PM   #22 (permalink)
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and hey its Qwe x) not Gwe
all best
Right you are! The underline threw me off
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Old July 26th, 2009, 08:17 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Whoops, thanks for that
Quote:
Originally Posted by Metaltastic View Post
Right you are! The underline threw me off
you are welcome
cheers mate
all best
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Old July 27th, 2009, 01:59 AM   #24 (permalink)
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Kinda interested in how this: http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com...sku=523333#new will stack up to the firebox.
The Firebox seems to have a bit more i/o but how the convertors and preamps compare, does this have the amazing focusrite ad/da n preamps i've heard about?
Lets watch.

I have a suggestion. I know this is available on the internet but i trust the guys here more than some random google search result.
Akin to what marcus has posted above, how about a comparison b/w some good interfaces in different categories (probably based on price). Like say, list all the pros and cons of all sub 300USD interfaces and also compared to each other. Or maybe the categories can be more use based, like, one category for people who just want to record DI'd guitars and are looking for a one box solution - DI+Interface , one category for the person who wants to get his kit miced up, one for a whole band recording (like those 28 track recs). Something like that.
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Old July 27th, 2009, 04:06 AM   #25 (permalink)
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Quote:
Like say, list all the pros and cons of all sub 300USD interfaces and also compared to each other.
Gimme $3000 and I'll do it.
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