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Best sounding USB Audio interface for under $300
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Jake Holland
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21st December 2008
Old 21st December 2008
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Best sounding USB Audio interface for under $300

A buddy of mine is looking to spend $300 or less on a USB audio interface for his PC. He wants to use native software platform (Reaper).

He only needs two inputs...more would be welcome.

We are wondering what the bang for the buck USB plug and play audio interface is in terms of Sound Quality alone.

The interface has to have at least one mic preamp built into it. Other features are unneccesay. Phantom power is not necessary but if it has it, it's fine.

The interface has to be able to record audio at 44.1/24 bit and sound as good as you can get for $300.

Thanks!
Jake Holland
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21st December 2008
Old 21st December 2008
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Any thoughts today?
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21st December 2008
Old 21st December 2008
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nothing exist in USB that sounds any good. check any post on this board and you'll see that most agree that all USB converters sound like shit. You'll need to get an apogee duet if you want good sound for cheap. Otherwise you are looking at getting a usb spdif/lightpipe interface and some nice external converters (lynx, lavry, apogee) and an outboard pre. I don't think any pros would record with subpar converters. If sound quality isn't an issue then all of them pretty much sound the same. Just tell him prepare to be amazed once he upgrades to real converters.
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21st December 2008
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Don't listen to Gary or other ignorant audiophiles like him on this board. Technological today has actually evened the playing field and you can get an interface that is certainly capable of producing pro results for under 300 (much to the chagrin of the big spenders and audiophiles). I think that the sonic differences between the usb audio interfaces are going to be slight. You want to look more at features, customer support, and driver stability. Make sure you order from a place that allows a 30 day return policy.
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21st December 2008
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the m-audio fast track ultra has 4 preamps for about $300. there arent too many usb2 interfaces out there, but the number is increasing as computer makers are decreasing the inclusion of FW inputs on new machines. i think we may see usb3 soon which may render FW obsolete...

i suppose there is some truth to the complaints about usb2 vs FW for audio purposes, but those who actually use usb2 interfaces seem to think they work just fine.
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by virtualsamana View Post
Don't listen to Gary or other ignorant audiophiles like him on this board. Technological today has actually evened the playing field and you can get an interface that is certainly capable of producing pro results for under 300 (much to the chagrin of the big spenders and audiophiles). I think that the sonic differences between the usb audio interfaces are going to be slight. You want to look more at features, customer support, and driver stability. Make sure you order from a place that allows a 30 day return policy.
Ignorant audiophile? Have you ever owned a high end converter? I think if you did you would regret wasting your money on all the cheap made in china crap and thank me for enlightening you to real sound. The difference is huge as many on this board who made the investment in quality converters know. How many quality recordings have been made on prosumer converters?
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jake Holland View Post
A buddy of mine is looking to spend $300 or less on a USB audio interface for his PC. He wants to use native software platform (Reaper).

He only needs two inputs...more would be welcome.

We are wondering what the bang for the buck USB plug and play audio interface is in terms of Sound Quality alone.

The interface has to have at least one mic preamp built into it. Other features are unneccesay. Phantom power is not necessary but if it has it, it's fine.

The interface has to be able to record audio at 44.1/24 bit and sound as good as you can get for $300.

Thanks!
Spend a little more and get something like the Sound Devices USBpre, which is a higher quality location recording device with all the trimmings and solid drivers.

I agree, that USB is for printers and cameras, but if you only need two channels, at 44.1 or 48K its fine. Its by no means the best, most professional way to interface converters, but it works, and certainly FW is a better format for larger, higher channel count systems, and PCI-e or Express is even better for throughput. But the question about sonic quality as it relates to this is a BIG one and not easily explained, nor anything to loose sleep over. For the most part, its the converters analog electronics/clocking/power supply that make the difference most often, and the issue with transfer format usually is one of latency performance, and not sound quality.
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Schmitt View Post
Ignorant audiophile? Have you ever owned a high end converter? I think if you did you would regret wasting your money on all the cheap made in china crap and thank me for enlightening you to real sound. The difference is huge as many on this board who made the investment in quality converters know.

This guy clearly stated that his budget was $300. 100% of prosumer is better than 0% of high end.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Schmitt View Post
How many quality recordings have been made on prosumer converters?
Who cares? This guy wants to spend 300 bucks for some conversion and get his most out of his money.


For what its worth, Jake, I have some high and low end converters, and good songs sound good through both, and shitty songs sound shitty through both!! I recommend the Centrance MicroPort for 1 in/ 2 out if portability is needed.... probably not what you are looking for though.
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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I often suggest the Lexicon Omega interface. The pres are usable, the conversion is fine, and overall it's a solid box. Also it's only $200

I never used it that much, just as an interface from my mixer to my computer for synths back when I did a lot of electronic music, and it performed very, very well.

I have not used high-end converters personally so YMMV, but I think you could do a lot worse.

Oh, and regarding USB vs. FW, I don't understand the argument. The differences are simply transfer speed and packet size, right? So therefore, assuming the converter uses the same internal components, their should be no difference in the sound quality of a theoretical converter that uses one or the other.
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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the usb firewire discord is one of sustained data rate.. usb2 may have a higher burst transfer rate, but its sustained data throughput is lower. so, if you're recording a few channels, and playing back lets say 25+ that's a considerable hit on your hdd.. will usb handle it? maybe, but if its crunch time, and can't afford a dropout... stability is king. USB is viable, it can be worked around.. and as programers get better at writing drivers for usb devices, allowing the to take advantage of USB's capabilities, i'm sure that opinions will change.. but it probably won't happen any time soon.

if firewire can be an option, the Focusrite Saffire is pretty slick for its price tag...
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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Toneport UX2. It interfaces with reaper perfectly in fact if you look on their site at tested interfaces, They HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. Great guitar software with it Gearbox. Line in ,Two XLR in, Monitor out , Line out ,Spdif in,.

I have reaper and live and have Ux8 + Ux2 for location recording so can say from experience its worth the money.

Merry Christmas
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22nd December 2008
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And its great quality, and has a very good sound. Look on their website forum for the post regarding what converters they use. I think you'll be suprised. I guess if you can sell millions of these things you can afford to bulk buy and bulk sell great hardware. It comes in spot on for the price you want and you can get great results from it.
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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I bought the Gearbox Gold Bundle for cheap when I was in a pinch and it ain't bad. Only 1 input and 2 outputs for monitoring but, the software that comes with it includes some really decent channel strip, compressor and EQ emulations. I bought an Apogee Duet and the little tone direct box mostly just serves as a dongle to authorize the software now but, I have no regrets for having bought it. I hear good things about the FireBox as well, though I believe that is Firewire. If you are working with a desktop PC have you thought about buying a Firewire PCI card? I have never priced one but I can't imagine them being that expensive.

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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LewisWu View Post
the usb firewire discord is one of sustained data rate.. usb2 may have a higher burst transfer rate, but its sustained data throughput is lower. so, if you're recording a few channels, and playing back lets say 25+ that's a considerable hit on your hdd.. will usb handle it? maybe, but if its crunch time, and can't afford a dropout... stability is king. USB is viable, it can be worked around.. and as programers get better at writing drivers for usb devices, allowing the to take advantage of USB's capabilities, i'm sure that opinions will change.. but it probably won't happen any time soon.

if firewire can be an option, the Focusrite Saffire is pretty slick for its price tag...
If you are playing back 2 tracks or 200 tracks, your DAW and hdd are the ones working - the interface just gets the stereo mixdown and plays it! The only thing USB can't do is bring in a ton of tracks - which is why USB interfaces are pretty much limited to about 4 tracks. There really is not difference in terms of audio quality or stability between the two interfaces - save for poorly written drivers maybe.

I just recently bought a 3 input Firewire PCI card, and it was only $35 at Best Buy (which is of course an over priced store). I'm sure at Newegg or something you could get a 1 or 2 input card for pretty cheap.
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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OP, I have an Edirol UA1000 USB 2.0 audio interface, it was well reviewed and cost me about £500.

It's been OK, but I recently bought an API A2D, and was amazed at the improvement when I slaved the Edirol to the A2D using external clock. I'd always read that internal clock was best - and it is, but USB is a tricky case.

I would seriously read this post be Francis Vaughn:-
What does a Clock have to do with sound?

Quote:
Deriving a clock from USB is appallingly difficult - because the clock master is typically the computer motherboard. And the send rate subject to vagaries of the operating system's load. The jitter on the USB packets is so wild that it requires special attention and care, and even then isn't easy to really get the jitter out of.
I really wish I had either got a firewire interface or a PCI card. I would be luck to be able to sell my interface for 100 quid now.

My advice, as someone who has used a USB 2 interface for over 2 years and since compared to comparably priced firewire interfaces.

Don't get a USB device.
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22nd December 2008
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interesting
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22nd December 2008
Old 22nd December 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Corran View Post
I often suggest the Lexicon Omega interface. The pres are usable, the conversion is fine, and overall it's a solid box. Also it's only $200
For what its worth, I got my brother a Lexicon interface and it had dropouts left and right. Never got it to work on his AMD system so had to return it. I ended up getting him an EMU 0404 USB. It worked out great for him.
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23rd December 2008
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That's odd - I had an AMD based computer as well (3500+) and it worked like a charm. Must've had some issue with the USB drivers or motherboard?
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23rd December 2008
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M-Audio Fast Track Pro.

Did a comparison with the Mbox 2 and it had a much tighter low end (it was obvious) while the mids and highs were quite similar.

I was pleasantly surprise to hear how much detail it had in the low end.

For what it costs, it is a decent buy. Your buddy could do a hell of a lot worse.

peace
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