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Want to buy audio interface, but are they too good to be true?
Old 9th October 2010
  #1
Gear Head
 

Want to buy audio interface, but are they too good to be true?

I'm your tipical musician that does this as a hobby, doesn't get a penny out of music, but wishes to get the best sound possible. I'm glad I found this site, since everytime I read I learn more and more.

I've only recorded with my PC's integrated sound card via a Mackie Mixer. I'm looking into buying an audio interface. I'd like to spend about $500-700. I've researched so many models, it's so hard to choose. I've seen interfaces with 8 preamps around that price, which equals $62.50/preamp. Add to that the software, MIDI functionality, etc. I'm sure I'm ending up with $40 preamps. This reminds me of the cheap ART Tube MP Studio preamp I currently own. Are these audio interfaces any good? To me it sounds like a deal too good to be true. How can I expect great sound with such cheap preamps? On the other hand there's the RME BabyFace with only 2 preamps for $750. Makes more sense to me. Is this a much better unit? Or is it just an overpriced interface?

Since I currently only need 2 preamps (8 would be nice, though), would I be better off if I just buy a pair of preamps (like say an API 512 or better yet build my own with one of those DIY kits) and feed them into my Mackie 1402 Mixer, and then into my PC's sound card? Or maybe a pair of Focusrite ISA One with the digital out option and buy a cheap audio card with SPDIF input?

To summarize: Taking mics, technique, etc, out of the equation, can I get descent sound out of the typical audio interface's preamps? Or will I only get that from a pair of descent, dedicated preamps?
Old 9th October 2010
  #2
Gear Addict
 
Svenarne's Avatar
 

Don't skimp on the interface. That's a one way road to pulling your hair out.

In your situation, I gather that compatibility, stability and I/O performance would the most important things to consider. I'd recommend the RME FireFace UC. Idiot proof! I wish I'd bought one instead of my Focusrite...

If you find you need better/more pres, don't just buy them off the web after reading recommendations here, borrow some and test them first!

Sven
Old 9th October 2010
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Svenarne View Post
Don't skimp on the interface. That's a one way road to pulling your hair out.

In your situation, I gather that compatibility, stability and I/O performance would the most important things to consider. I'd recommend the RME FireFace UC. Idiot proof! I wish I'd bought one instead of my Focusrite...
A Fireface UC would be a excellent choice, but it's well out of the $500-$700 price range. A cheaper option is the 16 in 16 out Echo AudioFire 8 for around $500. It comes with two usable preamps built-in and you can always buy extra preamps and/or an ADC/DAC for it later if you wish to expand.

Echo has a reputation for solid drivers which, as you say, is extremely important. You may need to get a Firewire card to interface the AudioFire with your computer. You can get a good one for around $50.
Old 9th October 2010
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lostintime View Post

Echo has a reputation for solid drivers......
Seriously? The drivers from the Layla timeframe were terrible, which is what has kept me from considering Echo products since.
Old 9th October 2010
  #5
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Svenarne's Avatar
 

The FF UC may be a bit more expensive in the US than over here. But the interface still is the core of your digital studio and getting a good one will do more for your productivity than an API pre ever can (keeping in line with my Low End dogma here...)

Sven
Old 9th October 2010
  #6
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Obitheincredible's Avatar
 

Sounds like an issue with your setup. I have yet to hear a bad thing about any echo drivers. Ever.
Old 9th October 2010
  #7
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Within a given price point and feature set, only so much can be done. So the quality of the components in a given piece of gear isn't going to be much better than the next piece with similar features at a similar price point. To step up in quality a bit for an example... if you read discussions about the Benchmark, Mytek, and Larvy 2 channel converters, they all cost about the same more or less, and have about the same features, and the proponents of each are talking personal choice decisions rather than one being clearly and objectively better than another. For $nnn amount of money, these companies have put out the best product that they can. A better product would havce to cost more. A lesser product would not survive in todays market place.

So how do you buy the best piece of gear for your needs? First, you lay out your needs in a list.

Then you decide how much you can afford to spend.

Then you pick out the products that fit your needs and budget.

THEN you start to ask around to see what user experiences can tell you. So often there are subjective things, but more often there are important things like the company has lousy support, or flaky drivers, or abandon products too quickly and they become orphans, or service issues or reliability issues... so from your list of three or four products that fit your needs and budget, it will not be hard to pick out one or two that stand out as 'better'. Then it pretty much becomes a punt, as between two pretty much equal products where there is no clear advantage to buying one over the other, what difference will it make?

But the key things will be knowing what you need, and knowing your budget.
Old 9th October 2010
  #8
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Obitheincredible's Avatar
 

Smile Cool story bro...

The drivers are still rock solid.
Old 9th October 2010
  #9
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spectacular g's Avatar
 

I'll probably get killed for this but I used a Firestudio Tube for 2 years with no problems. It get's you 8 good Xmax pre's 2 really nice sounding faux tube pre's w/limiter which actually worked well when needed and 6 line in's for great pre's or key's etc. Driver's were great for me XP and 7 gigabyte board w/ TI FW chipset.

Sold it to a friend who's had it for another 6 months and still kickin'.

IMHO a GREAT value that will allow your system to grow as needed.

G
Old 9th October 2010
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post
Within a given price point and feature set, only so much can be done. So the quality of the components in a given piece of gear isn't going to be much better than the next piece with similar features at a similar price point.
...

So how do you buy the best piece of gear for your needs? First, you lay out your needs in a list.

Then you decide how much you can afford to spend.

Then you pick out the products that fit your needs and budget.

THEN you start to ask around to see what user experiences can tell you. ...
Good advice. It's not too good to be true. There really are a lot of similarly (pretty low) priced good options out there. Just figure out the feature set you need for what you're looking to do. If you're going to be recording a whole band live with a drummer, etc. you need more preamps. If you're only ever going to be doing one or two tracks at a time, then two preamps is enough. Your needs will dictate what you should be looking at and then you can research user experiences for the units you're looking at.
Old 9th October 2010
  #11
Gear Maniac
 
Wildebass's Avatar
Lots of good advice here.

The end of the story is this:
the biggest advantage that the interface will give you over your PC soundcard is conversion.
Conversion quality will be way better and it will help you immensely.

When it comes to preamps.
If you say you only need two, then get one with just two.
Getting an interface with more than two preamps is only beneficial when you need to record multiple tracks at the same time.

RME, Focusrite, Echo, all very good units.
There are many more out there as well.
Old 9th October 2010
  #12
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Seriously? The drivers from the Layla timeframe were terrible, which is what has kept me from considering Echo products since.
I can't speak to the drivers on the early Layla's, but, I can for the AudioFire series. Echo drivers are very solid. I've had my AudioFire 8 for almost 4 years now and I've had it on a PC running XP, a PC running Vista and now on my IMac 3.06. It has never had a driver glitch on of these platforms. The converters are top notch for this price range and the pre's are neutral and very useable.

By the way, I started with a Mackie 1202 VLZ Pro and IMHO, the Echo is an all around better way to go for home recording if you don't mind tracking/mixing ITB. Someday, I may get an Apogee Duet, but only for the portability.
Old 10th October 2010
  #13
Gear Head
 

I have to say I'm overwhelmed at all the responses I got being just a newbie in this forum. Thanks to everyone who took the time to post something here.

I hadn't checked the RME FireFace UC yet because it's out of my price range. But now you're making me want to wait and save some more money for that piece. It basically has the same features as the Echo AudioFire8. The difference is a 3x the price I know I could simply wait til maybe January 2011 and be able to afford the RME. But the question is is it worth it?

What I definitely want to make sure, is that I get an interface with better quality than a Digi003, which from what I read, is not hard today. Why? Because most affordable studios in my country have a Digi003 or 002 or 001. So I will be ahead of them with my recordings.

[email protected]: Your advice is exactly what I'm trying to do. Research before buying, and you guys are giving me excelent ideas.
Quote:
Within a given price point and feature set, only so much can be done
I know that applies to almost anything in life, but in this case, I was reffering to the interfaces with 8 preamps vs the ones with only 2 preamps for the same price. So it becomes a matter of quality vs quantity. But what I don't know is if it's worth the 4x price per preamp. Usually expensive preamps come in a larger box than the BabyFace due to bigger capacitors, etc. Can a tiny BabyFace match that quality?

I was leaning towards one of the Focusrite interfaces, but right now you guys are making me lean towards the Echo AudioFire8, which is in my price range, and has enough inputs for the future (would love to build my own five fishes or hamptons). But then I know the RME FireFace will be tickling me forever saying "you could've got something better if you had only been a little patient". Also I still need to educate myself on the M-Audio, Steinberg and others, which many people claim are very good. So basically I'm containing myself from pulling out my credit card right now and be unpacking a new interface next week.

Out of topic, but not: My other hobby is muscle cars. When I need to, for example, rebuild an engine, I know exactly what to look for, what brands are good, and which ones are not. Where I can cut a corner, and where not to. I learned all that through reading through forums. I'm trying to learn the same here, but I've found it to be harder. It so more subjective in the audio world. Decisions, decisions, decisions...
Old 10th October 2010
  #14
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etrella's Avatar
If you search around here you will see that some people have prefer the sound of the audiofire to the Rme....i recently got one to hook up with my other interface and i must say it lives up to the hype.....Extremely solid drivers and crystal clear sound....the pramps are more than usable...i was actually shocked at how good they were.....
Old 10th October 2010
  #15
Lives for gear
 

"
Quote:
Within a given price point and feature set, only so much can be done
I know that applies to almost anything in life, but in this case, I was reffering to the interfaces with 8 preamps vs the ones with only 2 preamps for the same price. So it becomes a matter of quality vs quantity. But what I don't know is if it's worth the 4x price per preamp."

That is clearly NOT the same feature set. Go out and buy 8 knobs, tell me what they cost. Now figure the cost of parts for six more mic pres. Is it possible that they are equivalent to the two mic pres on the other interface? Sure, anything is 'possible'. Is it likely? Already the interface with more mic pres costs more to build just in knobs and additional electronic parts alone, leaving a smaller profit margin.
Old 10th October 2010
  #16
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Obitheincredible's Avatar
 

I'll co sign the Echo again. Between RME and Echo its pretty close and I'd venture to say you won't be able to tell the difference. Echo is quality no matter how you look at it. Oh and I still own and use the Layla too.
Old 10th October 2010
  #17
Don't rule out the Tascam US1641. I've used the E-Mu 1820M, TC Konnekt8 and NI Audio Kontrol 1. The Tascam has as good converters as any, and on Windows 7 64 bit, the drivers are stable as a rock so far for me. Killer unit.
Old 10th October 2010
  #18
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pasarski's Avatar
 

Most of the interfaces in your price range have decent pre's. They won't sound like API or SSL but I haven't bumped into totally crap on board pre's recently.

If you study audio interface specs carefully you will notice that cheap prices are always made possible with compromises. Like Motu 8pre I had (and liked). Eight pre's but only 4 outs (stereo and headphones), no word clock, knobs not fastened to chassis etc. But a nice piece of gear for what it was.

Study the specs carefully and choose a interface that gives you what you need. And try to avoid manufactures known for instable drivers!
Old 11th October 2010
  #19
Lives for gear
 

So I was poking around today and I found this video about the Babyface. As you can see if you watch the video, there is a whole lot more going on here than a simple small low budget interface. I'm tempted to buy one, myself.

RME Babyface | VintageKing.com
Old 11th October 2010
  #20
Gear Nut
What about the Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56? Seems like a solid choice, but I have no experience with it. I'm wondering how the Liquid Preamps sound...

I do have a Presonus Firestudio Project, and I really like it. If I could go back though, I would get a Firestudio Mobile. It has two preamps and six line-level inputs so you can use whatever preamp you want.
Old 11th October 2010
  #21
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffSanders View Post
Don't rule out the Tascam US1641. I've used the E-Mu 1820M, TC Konnekt8 and NI Audio Kontrol 1. The Tascam has as good converters as any, and on Windows 7 64 bit, the drivers are stable as a rock so far for me. Killer unit.
Yeah, that's my experience, too.
The drawback with this interface is, that it has no ADAT input, so it sadly is not extendable.
Old 11th October 2010
  #22
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brockorama's Avatar
 

The FF800 goes on classifieds for 800-1000 usd all the time. Working great on win7 64bit. I had echo Gina 20bit and Delta 1010 and there is a major difference in sound or i would still be using the delta1010.
Old 12th October 2010
  #23
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blazer79 View Post
I could simply wait til maybe January 2011 and be able to afford the RME. But the question is is it worth it?
Nah....it isn't. Do you have music to catch?

You do? Then don't wait another minute, because....

Quote:
Originally Posted by pasarski View Post
Most of the interfaces in your price range have decent pre's.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blazer79 View Post
most affordable studios in my country have a Digi003 or 002 or 001. So I will be ahead of them with my recordings.
The only real way to get ahead of them is to start recording right now.

Seriously......don't stew about this decision. Buy what appeals to you out of what is available and start tracking. You'll have plenty of time to upgrade once you learn, through experience, what it is that you really need.
Old 12th October 2010
  #24
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tuRnitUpsuM's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blazer79 View Post
I'm your tipical musician that does this as a hobby, doesn't get a penny out of music, but wishes to get the best sound possible. I'm glad I found this site, since everytime I read I learn more and more.

I've only recorded with my PC's integrated sound card via a Mackie Mixer. I'm looking into buying an audio interface. I'd like to spend about $500-700. I've researched so many models, it's so hard to choose. I've seen interfaces with 8 preamps around that price, which equals $62.50/preamp. Add to that the software, MIDI functionality, etc. I'm sure I'm ending up with $40 preamps. This reminds me of the cheap ART Tube MP Studio preamp I currently own. Are these audio interfaces any good? To me it sounds like a deal too good to be true. How can I expect great sound with such cheap preamps? On the other hand there's the RME BabyFace with only 2 preamps for $750. Makes more sense to me. Is this a much better unit? Or is it just an overpriced interface?

Since I currently only need 2 preamps (8 would be nice, though), would I be better off if I just buy a pair of preamps (like say an API 512 or better yet build my own with one of those DIY kits) and feed them into my Mackie 1402 Mixer, and then into my PC's sound card? Or maybe a pair of Focusrite ISA One with the digital out option and buy a cheap audio card with SPDIF input?

To summarize: Taking mics, technique, etc, out of the equation, can I get descent sound out of the typical audio interface's preamps? Or will I only get that from a pair of descent, dedicated preamps?
Hi,

USBPre 2 Microphone Interface for Computer Audio | Sound Devices, LLC

Micamps are the very same in their 7xx series Recorders. These recorders are used in mission critical situations and sound extremely good. Conversion is on par with anything 3 times the price let alone within price range. 114 db with low distortion. ie... the higher dynamic range isnt covering up a higher noise floor of the Analog circuitry... its just giving you a broader spectrum. Most budget 8 channel interfaces use the specs on the digital chips and try not to focus on the Analog components at all. Because in Real-World measurements.. they rarely ever perform at Spec. This thing is built like a tank (same as their USBpre v1).

Important things the USBpre2 offers the competition does not.

* 23 segment metering on input/output... can get a real feel for the levels you are pushing the amplifiers. Not just some peak/clip LED.
* hardware dip switches controlling all the important things one needs to set up and gain stage properly. Not a software menu you have to navigate while trying to do 1000 other things.
* should you need and do end up buying another interface down the road for more inputs etc. It works as a standalone Micamp > AD converter. Due to having hardware control of the unit.
* USB connectivity.... Every modern day Computer has USB 2.0 ports. Use it on your DAW computer and then can take it with you and listen to recreational Music at high quality.
* higher Headphone output than most budget devices. (this isnt a budget device - its Professional level at an affordable price).
* Sound Devices is a company that understands > recording quality yet avoid the bloat. You dont get trial software to test, control panels to fuss with, marketing BS to pay for, just a Quality Device that will last you for as long as you need it to.

Sounds like im affiliated with them, but i assure you i am not. Just someone whose keen on finding the right tools and sharing what i learn along the way.

it lists for $650? USD. which is right in your price range and should be out sometime this month.



cheers
Old 12th October 2010
  #25
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thismercifulfate's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blazer79 View Post
What I definitely want to make sure, is that I get an interface with better quality than a Digi003, which from what I read, is not hard today. Why? Because most affordable studios in my country have a Digi003 or 002 or 001. So I will be ahead of them with my recordings.
Oh dear....
Old 12th October 2010
  #26
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuRnitUpsuM View Post
Hi,

USBPre 2 Microphone Interface for Computer Audio | Sound Devices, LLC

it lists for $650? USD. which is right in your price range and should be out sometime this month.
I don't think this device can transfer 24 bit audio via the USB interface. It also doesn't come with drivers and instead uses the built-in operating system drivers as it is class-compliant. This could be a problem, i.e. no ASIO support.
Old 12th October 2010
  #27
Lives for gear
 

Sound Devices makes really nice products, at least from my experience with their first interface. But if you look at many of the other choices (like the RME that I mentioned) you'll find more flexibility and things like the meters on your screen as part of the control application. (In the case of the RME babyface, an update of their popular TotalMix mixer/matrix router application, now including effects and a slicker consumer interface.)

I'm not banging the RME gong... I firmly believe that there are so many products because so many people find the particular featureset and price of one of them to fit them perfectly, and diversity is good. Not putting down SD either.. their first USB interface is a solid performer and built like a tank and I have no reason to doubt your report on the newer model. I'd have to use the babyface and the USBPre 2 to decide between them. But on paper the slightly more expensive RME offers more to me. If I wanted to downgrade from my current channel count to only 8 (or 10...) the RME looks like a better choice.
Old 12th October 2010
  #28
Deleted User
Guest
I owned both RME and echo audiofire, both are the best interfaces I've ever had.

If you can't afford RME, or don't want to buy second hand, go Echo.
Old 13th October 2010
  #29
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tuRnitUpsuM's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by lostintime View Post
I don't think this device can transfer 24 bit audio via the USB interface. It also doesn't come with drivers and instead uses the built-in operating system drivers as it is class-compliant. This could be a problem, i.e. no ASIO support.
the first USBpre did 24bit Input/16 bit output... This new device does 24bit In/Out. Was the only thing i did not like about the first version. USBpre2 not only adds 24 bit output it adds a ton more. Like the hardware dipswitches , metering etc.

Class-Compliant isnt a bad thing... Mac hardware are class-compliant and run off the OSX drivers (Core-Audio). Win 7 is much better than previous Windows OSes. Besides if you aren't comfortable without ASIO... can always download and install ASIO4ALL. Its free and a generic ASIO driver. Sound Devices make bullet-proof field recorders..they have never nor would ever put out a flakey USB interface. The first device was USB 1.1 so was limited in regards to output...USBpre2 is 2.0.

cheers

picking one up myself (ive owned USBpre - latency wasnt a big deal and that was 1.1)... is why ive talked about them alot lately... great devices that just work. I'd like to see them do well and stay in the model lineup and because they tick alot of peoples boxes for a 2 channel device that is highly flexible (no longer need it as an interface? - use it as a 2 channel micamp with conversion).
Old 13th October 2010
  #30
Gear Maniac
 
Wildebass's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by TacticalPizza View Post
What about the Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56? Seems like a solid choice, but I have no experience with it. I'm wondering how the Liquid Preamps sound...

I do have a Presonus Firestudio Project, and I really like it. If I could go back though, I would get a Firestudio Mobile. It has two preamps and six line-level inputs so you can use whatever preamp you want.
I used one of these for a while at a studio I was working at
I was well impressed and the preamps do all sound different

with my particular voice and mic combo, the Great River emulation sounded best
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