TOPIC: The State of Audio Interfaces

The State of Audio Interfaces 1 week 8 hours ago #21555

Part 1 (breaking this into parts - my message is going to be fairly long... maybe painfully long, sorry!)

Hi, new to the forum and a very recent Scuffham convert. A lot of us search for "greener grass" in the ever evolving world of music software and at times wonder if we made the right choice. We feel better when our decisions are reinforced by other users. As someone who recently spent time evaluating the options in this crowded category, I'm convinced S-Gear is substantially better than the competition for most styles of music. I'm not a metal guy so I can't offer a worthwhile opinion in that genre, but for everything else I'm confident in saying this is the amp to beat.

On to my actual topic, audio interfaces. In my virtual amp research I came across an article from 2012 titled "Interview With Mike Scuffham Of Scuffham Amps". The interviewer asked Mike, "What technological limits do you struggle with and what areas do you think should be addressed next to improve the state of modeling?"

This first part of Mike's response related to speaker cabinet emulation. The second part of his response is the following:

"The other problem for me is getting the guitar signal into the digital domain. I see an unfulfilled requirement in the audio interface market; the discerning guitarist wants high quality convertors, super low latency and input electronics sympathetic to guitar pickups. Many of the higher quality products are designed for the wider market and not specifically for guitarists."

Again, his comment was made in 2012. Fast forward 8 years and in my opinion we are still in the same spot. I'm in the process of upgrading my home studio and finding an audio interface that meets my personal needs is proving to be difficult. There's no doubt huge advancements have been achieved in interface technology and computer processing, but the same can be said for the ever increasing demands placed on them by virtual instruments and effects. It's an arms race.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 1 week 7 hours ago #21556

Part II

If you are recording predominantly live instruments and using outboard gear, then you probably aren't experiencing the same level of challenges that hybrid users face (latency, clicks/pops, etc.). You probably aren't on a forum like this either! I've spent more time researching interfaces than any other component and my only conclusion is that I'm going to have to settle.

My vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and bass are real while everything else is virtual. I incorporate a moderate to high number of effects/utility plugins in addition to virtual drums, keys, synths, and other misc. virtual instruments. I imagine my scenario isn't all that different than most guitarists so I probably don't need to go into detail on the recording and mixing challenges I experience. My computer is decent (3.6GHz / i7 Quad-Core / 24 GB RAM / DAW operating on an SSD).

What I'm looking for:
desk top unit
a rugged design that looks similar to a console
4 dedicated Class A pre-amps (for acoustic guitar recording setup, not for 4 separate performers)
class leading converters
2 discrete direct inputs (DI for guitar)
at least 2 fully balanced inserts that by-pass the pre-amp (for outboard pre-amps)
2 headphone jacks
A minimal software interface/controller
24/96 sample rate (192 is snake oil)

Pause – so far the list pretty much describes the Audient id44

very low latency and a highly stable driver
mic and line connection options geared for a guitarist / singer songwriter
mic and line connection options geared for 1-2 performers
True USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt, not just a backwards compatible connector (transfer capacity with room to grow - might be needed in future)

What I don't want
An interface trying to be a desktop that still has it's toes dipped in the portable market (or vice-versa)
MIDI (note: I use a MIDI controller a lot but no need to connect to AI, also have actual E-MU Proteus and DX7 synths and prefer VST knock-offs)
ADAT or anything else aimed at turning a $700-$900 AI into a conduit for a 24 channel studio console
DSP to compensate for latency issues
Last edit: 1 week 7 hours ago by Olsontex. Reason: forgot to add something
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 1 week 4 hours ago #21557

Part III

Well, the requirements list ceased to look like the Audient id44 shortly after the pause. The Audient id44 was my top choice until a few days ago. It by far covers more of my requirements than anything else available. Unfortunately it's well documented latency concerns are a fatal flaw for me. They released a new driver about 3-4 months ago and the spec latency measurements look decent. The specs look decent if I planned to mic up a band and use almost no plugins in the recording process. That's pretty much the opposite of how I will use an interface. It's also nearly 3 years old with no noticeable enhancements other than the new driver.

I'm not going to breakout the entry level or mid-tiered desktops because:
(1) they seem to be merging into the same category (except for maybe the MOTU Ultralite AVB)
(2) they all have limitations more significant than the top tiered desktops
(3) if I can't find a suitable interface in the top tier I'm not going to find one below it.

For someone just getting started, there are numerous options available below $250 that blow away the 1st Gen Focusrite 2i2 I used for the first 2 years of home recording (including the 3rd Gen Focusrite 2i2). If you're anything like me it won't really matter anyway. While the deficiencies of an entry level interface were a mild annoyance, my attention was on learning the fundamentals of engineering and mixing. I'm currently using something floating in the sea mid-tiered interfaces that isn't really worth discussing.

I'm also not going to address the rack mounted options (different focus and units start breaking out into separate components) or guitar only options designed primarily for live application.

Top Tier Desktop Interfaces in no particular order - except the last one
1. Audient id44 - already discussed
2. UA Apollo - the most polarizing option in market. Folks who like their VST universe are rabid fans and biased or not feel the interface performs well. Others view them as a money pit and feel the quality of the actual interface as a step below their competition. It also has a steeper learning curve than most interfaces. One of its biggest strengths is the DSP capability, which I don't want but maybe you do. They support both Mac and PC but seem to be geared more towards the Mac community. This is the only interface option on the list where I started with a negative bias, so if you think I'm being too dismissive I understand.
3. Arturia AudioFuse Studio - It's only been out for 2 months so I'm still assessing it's merits. It reminds me a little bit of the Audient id44 except it's $200 more expensive and doesn't have years of user experience to validate its strengths. Very curious if anyone here has used it.
4. Focusrite Clarett - Not the worst option on the list, in fact it functions with fairly low latency. It's also has a straight forward form factor and is easy to use. I did give this one real consideration since I already have a lot of familiarity with Focusrite units. I have not heard the best feedback on their pres and converters though. It has a gimicky feature called "Air" that essentially just adds high frequency sparkle - that's a red flag for me.
5. Presonus Studio 192 Portable - It's an odd mix of compromises and is certainly not designed with a guitarist in mind. It's also the only exception I made to include a rack unit. Full disclaimer - I absolutely love Presonus Studio One, it's my DAW of choice and I can't imagine switching to something else. That said, nothing special really stands out in any of their interfaces. Given the fact that they are designed to function best with the DAW I use, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find something else to like about this interface.
6. Apogee Duet - this is the only one I can't really comment on. It's Mac only so I didn't research it nor have I ever messed around with one.
7. RME Babyface Pro FS - God how I hate looking at this thing. It reminds me of an early Korg guitar multi-effects pedal. It also makes me claustrophobic the way they crammed so many things into such a small unit. It's the epitome of a portable interface designed for remote/live applications that can also function in a home studio. The software interface is more complicated than I want, I have no interest in the DSP, the buttons feel like an Ipod, and the awkward location of the input/output connections makes it difficult to find a suitable place to put it on my desk. Yet, this form factor abomination currently sits at the top of my list. It is widely regarded as the most stable and low latency option in the market. It is also one of the more transparent (colorless) options available. While I strongly dislike many aspects of Babyface, if I have to weigh trade-offs then I believe low latency and stability should be the priority.

The sad thing is, I have a fairly high level of respect for most of the companies making interfaces. Unfortunately none of them have designed an interface geared specifically for guitarists recording in a home studio. Hopefully in the future one of them will combine the strengths of Audient and RME, and maybe incorporate some of the other items from my want/don't want list. Until then the best option in my opinion is the RME - Babyface Pro FS (potentially augmented with a better stand-alone pre-amp unit).

I had a similar discussion with a well known software maker earlier this week regarding the gap in the marketplace for a soft synth designed with a guitarist in mind.. but that's a topic for another day and thread.

I'm keenly interested in the thoughts of this community as it's the only one I've joined that's made up almost entirely of guitarists. I haven't pulled the trigger yet on the Babyface and would love someone to either talk me out of it or point out strengths that I failed to consider.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 6 days 18 hours ago #21558

Olsontex,

If you do not think me impertinent....three matters of concern...

1. Are your ears good enough to hear the overall difference in any of the above?
2. Does the audience to who you perform really-and-truly care about the equipment that you are using?
3. In your playing good enough to justify the expense of such gear?

Over the years I have owned a number of the items that you have listed...the best overall being RME - along with a Behringer ADA8000/ADA8200. And in the end, I purchased a Behringer UMC404HD...and surprisingly, this unit sounds great!...at least to my ears anyhow. Latency is 5.3ms...on USB 2!

I hope this information is of practicable use to you?
  • mr-es335
  • mr-es335's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Master
  • Posts: 300
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 6 days 8 hours ago #21560

I was really surprised by the low-latency performance on the UMC-404HD (especially in Reaper with WASAPI drivers) and actually preferred the headphone out to my Babyface Pro.

Hard to recommend against the UMC404HD if you you're in Europe and can get one from somewhere with an easy return policy like Thomann (we're a but less fortunate down here in Australia when it comes to trying gear!) You've lost nothing by giving it a shot!
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 23 hours ago #21567

Hello Olsontex, welcome to the forum and thanks for sharing your thoughts and analysis.

I've been using the Fireface UC in my work for about 10 years and the device has really proven to be a great investment. Drivers are solid, latency is low, audio quality is uncoloured and the Total Mix software is super flexible. Depending on the guitar I might use a DI for higher input impedance on the instrument inputs.

I do have other interfaces and I've tried and tested many different devices but I still choose to use the RME for my day to day work. I do a lot of signal routing and mixing which is where the i/o flexibility and the Total Mix has value. The older UC has no onboard DSP which is not an issue. The half-rack form factor is compact and looks tidy on the desktop if you aren't intending to rack mount.

Depending on what direction you go, you might want to consider external pre-amps for your acoustic guitar setup and perhaps an external headphone amplifier (an area that can be weak on some devices).
The following user(s) said Thank You: ryentzer
  • mike
  • mike's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Administrator
  • Posts: 1979
Last edit: 5 days 19 hours ago by mike.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 16 hours ago #21568

There are only two usb interfaces that I would have. RME babyface pro or Apogee Duet
  • Dallon426
  • Dallon426's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Master
  • Posts: 181
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 14 hours ago #21569

Dallon426 wrote:

There are only two usb interfaces that I would have. RME babyface pro or Apogee Duet

No love for Universal Audio interfaces?
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 11 hours ago #21570

mr-es335,

I'm not offended at all by your post, all very reasonable questions/comments. My posts were more opinionated than my normal tact, and it's probably a result of reaching my frustration threshold after reading countless reviews/articles that lacked enough critical thought to help me make a decision. Despite writing 3 very long and wordy posts to convey my thoughts, I might have left out some pertinent details.

Here's a bit more detail and then I'll address the points in your message.

1) I've been a musician for over 25 years but a home producer for just 4.5 years.
2) My primary instrument and playing style is finger-style acoustic guitar.
3) Most of the songs I record also incorporate electric guitar and bass.
4) For the exception of my audio interface, my gear is pretty good for a home studio
a. Adam A7X monitors
b. AEA TRP Ribbon and Grace Design Felix preamps
c. Neumann TLM 102, AEA R84, and various other mics
d. exceptional acoustic guitars, pretty good electric guitars and bass
5) For the first 2 years I used a Scarlett 2i2 and for the last 2.5 years I've used a Presonus Studio 26c interface.

Response to your very relevant questions.

1) At this stage I do think my ears are good enough to recognize the difference for vocals. Ditto for acoustic guitars based on running through the Grace Felix vs. other signal paths I've tried. Not at all for Electric guitars based on the few times I mic'd my amps. I definitely want an interface with the potential to improve recorded sound quality but it's not my top priority (line-in options bypassing interface pres, driver stability, low latency, 2 independent headphone mixes, efficient layout and connections for workflow are the priorities). I am curious though to what degree higher quality components (like converters) improves clarity and tonal fullness during the mixing process. Also, my interest in using outboard pres isn't definitive if the interface has at least 3 studio grade pres that are good enough for the acoustic guitar mic setup I want to incorporate.

2) I don't think anyone's audience cares about the gear used unless they are trying to emulate it. However, most people can tell the difference between a final master that sounds lively and warm vs. one that sounds dull and sterile. I'm not mastering for mono or cheap listening devices even though that is becoming more prevalent. Finally, I am the most important member of my audience. When I listen to a song I recorded, I want to hear warm analog character as opposed to a thin digital sound. I think it’s the sum of the parts (talent, good recording, production skill, gear) that provides this result.

3) Interesting question and certainly very subjective. I have been good enough over the years to get paying gigs in both bands and as a solo performer. However, I know I will never be a good enough guitarist or singer for these skills to be my hallmark. I do think I'm a decent writer/arranger and bring interesting voicings to my music. I don't think I view talent level in these areas as key factors in the decision versus subtle advantages to help further my production skills. Even if my current skill set does not allow me to take full advantage of the interface I buy, I will be able to utilize some enhancements right away and eventually most of them.

Your feedback was practical. You endorsed the RME option, and despite my rant I consider it the most practical option for my current needs. You also brought up the Behringer and up to this point I hadn't really looked at it as an option. I checked it out (online at least) before I started writing this post. It does have inserts on the back that would allow me to use outboard pres if I prefer them to what's in the unit. It definitely appears to be great value for the money. Is your recommendation because you question if I’m skilled enough to warrant a more costly option? If I gave you $1000 to buy an interface for yourself with the caveat that you have to return any leftover money to me, would you buy the RME, Behringer or something else?

I don't view cost as a direct reflection of quality but it is a good general starting point. I'm not looking for a cost-effective solution unless it truly is the best unit in my budgeted range (which is $1000). I want whatever desktop I buy to be suitable for the next 3-5 years and that needs to factor in the growth I will continue to make as a producer.

Your questions reflect someone who has seen many kids/noobies jump into home recording with the thought that gear can compensate for their inexperience. Did I get that right? I do value and appreciate your input, thanks!
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 10 hours ago #21571

Hello,

RME interfaces are excellent...absolutely wonderful service as well.

Now, as an aside, in a direct call to RME - that is, from western Canada to Germany...in a discussion about the input for electric guitars with humbucking picks, the fellow at RME intimated to me that he would strongly suggest using a DI for the input - and not only did he recommend the use of a DI, he also suggested that I use Radial Engineering DI's. This is indeed interesting, in that I live approximately 15kms from the manufacturer.

Since then I have using Radial Engineering PRO48' s for all of my gear.

So, along with the UMC series interfaces and a Radial DI...for less than $325.00, you are "good-to-go"! I simply cannot see how this setup would not be a more-than-acceptable scenario.

In answer to your two questions:

Q1: If I gave you $1000 to buy an interface for yourself with the caveat that you have to return any leftover money to me, would you buy the RME, Behringer or something else?
R1: I would still purchase the UMC and a DI and then be glad to return to you the balance!

Q2: Your questions reflect someone who has seen many kids/noobies jump into home recording with the thought that gear can compensate for their inexperience. Did I get that right? I do value and appreciate your input, thanks!
R2: This is indeed a sad reality. Gear, no matter what that gear is, should be an extension of what I already hear and no gear should ever be used in such a manner as to make one better than they really-and-truly are. I do hope that this makes sense?
  • mr-es335
  • mr-es335's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Master
  • Posts: 300
Last edit: 5 days 9 hours ago by mr-es335.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 9 hours ago #21572

Electric guitar can be tricky because of wide dynamic range, and the need to have pretty high input impedance to not overly load the pickups. I too have tried a lot of interfaces. My main interface now consists of two Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Firewire interfaces, both of which I bought used. These are very nice low latency units but are perhaps reaching EOL since Focusrite has indicated they are no longer going to maintain Saffire Mix Control - so if it stops working, I'm going to need a new interface. Also Firewire is becoming a challenge for newer USB-C/Thunderbolt computers. I struggled getting an adapter/hub to work. Finally found OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock worked very well.

I have found that audio interfaces specifically made for electric guitar tend to work best for electric guitar (go figure). I have an old Apogee GiO and a Helix. Both seem to capture electric guitar better than other audio interfaces that are more general purpose. I suspect that the reason is in part input impedance, and in the Helix case, effort to handle the guitar's dynamic range without having to deal with padding. Helix would be a pretty expensive and specific purpose audio interface though. I use it with the SPD/IF input into the Saffire Pro 40 and it works very well.

I'm on a Mac and audio drivers tend to be less of a problem as most devices are Core Audio/Core Midi compatible. What's nice about Core Audio is that its been refined over many years and supported by many devices. So you're not getting a whole new set of bugs with device specific drivers. Flexibility has its costs.

My advice would be that almost all the modern audio interfaces are way better than what was available just a few years ago. I would't agonize too much over which one is best. Just get one that has the features you need to support your workflow, and focus on making music.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 5 days 6 hours ago #21575

You might want to take a look at the Tascam US-20x20. Have used it quite a bit for recording acoustic guitars over 3+ years with zero problems.The preamps are clean, the two high impedance inputs are 1Mohm or greater and it travels well if that matters to you. Fwiw, they just released updated drivers to knock the minimum sample size down to 4 samples.
  • jackson white
  • jackson white's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Seeker
  • Posts: 2
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 4 days 12 hours ago #21586

Not their USB interfaces no. They rank pretty low with regards to latency stability. They crackle and pop. The Arrow was a good interface, but RME Babyface pro is superior IMO.
  • Dallon426
  • Dallon426's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Master
  • Posts: 181
Last edit: 4 days 12 hours ago by Dallon426.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 4 days 8 hours ago #21590

Hello,

I have never had any success with Tascam interfaces. Behringer, on the other hand, no issues at all.
  • mr-es335
  • mr-es335's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Master
  • Posts: 300
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 4 days 7 hours ago #21592

The comments on Tascam interfaces/drivers might hold for earlier products, do not apply to this one which is newer with in-house driver dev. Originally bought this as a stop-gap (was waiting on RME UFX II availability) haven't looked back. It's become a workhouse and a great bang for the buck for my purposes. Get's used pretty much daily for both in-house and remote recording, never had a problem with it. Not that there's anything wrong with RME, great piece of kit, just getting everything done just fine at a much better price.
  • jackson white
  • jackson white's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Seeker
  • Posts: 2
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 4 days 5 hours ago #21594

Dallon426 wrote:

Not their USB interfaces no. They rank pretty low with regards to latency stability. They crackle and pop.

I'm surprised to read that. We have a couple guys with Apollos and they've been rock solid. Great sounding, to boot. I've not noticed a lot of chatter about latency issues on the net either, though I don't follow very closely.
SIGN-IN TO REPLY

The State of Audio Interfaces 3 days 10 hours ago #21602

The thing about the Presonus A/I's is not only do they offer ultra low latency with the Presonus DAW, but they do use discrete class A circuitry for the preamps, making them potentially easy to mod with even better components i.e. high quality metal film coupling caps can make an audible difference in signal linearity. The class A XMAX preamps operate at 30V for very high S/N and sensitive dynamic response. Not sure if that's also true for the Hi-Z guitar preamps, but the specs list an exceptionally high >105db dynamic range that exceeds the S/N of almost any Hi-Z guitar pickup. Even humbuckers have some level of EMI in the signal depending on the design and the recording environment. I had a Presonus unit that sounded nice and lasted many years until the power transformer popped one day. To be fair, that may have been from the spider nest inside causing a short or overheat. As far as converters go: modern converter chips are all so excellent, some of the same being used in budget and pro units, I hardly think it's a consideration. Specs are off the charts. The Studio 192 seems like a great all around solution. You could possibly piece together your own mic & Hi-Z preamp setup with a basic converter unit, but who knows if anyone listening would even notice or care, and there's the price and hassle of it all.
  • GCKelloch
  • GCKelloch's Avatar
  • Offline
  • Tone Master
  • Posts: 497
SIGN-IN TO REPLY
Time to create page: 0.109 seconds
Powered by Kunena Forum