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Do I need both a mixer AND an audio interface? Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 8th September 2011
  #1
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Do I need both a mixer AND an audio interface?

Sorry for the noob questions. I want to get back into writing music again, and my intent is to use mostly VSTs in a DAW (probably Ableton) with maybe one external synthesizer, and possibly a microphone. I would like to both record and possibly play live some time in the future.

I'm thinking most effects will be internal in the DAW, but I may end up getting a kaoss pad for both midi control and external effects.

I guess my question is: Do I need both an audio interface for recording, and a mixer? I think that if I was just doing recording at home, I would probably not even need a mixer at all, but if I want to do things in a live setting I would need one.

With all that being said, can anyone recommend some USB/firewire audio interfaces and/or smaller mixers (I probably wouldn't even use 8 channels).

Thanks,
c99
Old 8th September 2011
  #2
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You don't need a mixer for home recording... but have a look at Mackie's Onyx range, mixers with built-in interfaces, you can get them relatively cheap too.
Old 9th September 2011
  #3
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You mean VSI's right (virtual studio instruments)? That you'll control via a midi controller?

You do not need any sort of external mixer to use those. They're generated inside your DAW software by the instrument plugins, you only need an interface to monitor the audio output.

One mic and one external synth sound like all you need is a two channel interface with at least one built in mic pre. You'd only need a mixer if you needed more pres, wanted to pre-mix sources or wanted to use the control-room section of a mixer (can be handy to have a ready fader/knob for your monitor volume)

I do mostly full band recordings and I've been happy with my DAW setup (Motu/Nuendo) so I'm not up on what's available in smaller interfaces, but yea there are mixers like the onyx that you can use as a USB interface (plus a standalone mixer if you ever need that).

Stay away from Behringer stuff. It's cheap and usually has a nice list of features, but you'll hate yourself later.
Old 9th September 2011
  #4
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Haha I have a Behringer Xenx, which works great for live sound but sounds noisy as heck for recording.

The mackie onyx might be too much signal flow for an absolute beginner.

Just get a basic 2chan interface with preamps.
Old 9th September 2011
  #5
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Ok so you guys are saying that I can get something like a MOTU Ultralite, and input a microphone and a synth like a DSI Evolver, and then in Ableton somehow echo the inputs to the outputs and have it mix with the rest of the virtual instruments?
Old 9th September 2011
  #6
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I've never used ableton, but in Nuendo you assign your VST instrument outputs to whatever audio outputs/main bus. I've only played around with it, since I don't compose or play keys so I'm not sure what the latency would be. If you have enough horsepower, it should be comparable to or less than general midi latency.

The MOTU ultralite has plenty of inputs and outputs so you should be able to grow with it for a while. Plus it has a built-in digital mixer for low latency monitoring. The older version built into my PCI motu card is far more basic but does work well for foldback on tracking.
Old 9th September 2011
  #7
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I'm not too worried about processing power... if I need more I'll just upgrade my rig.

Basically, I used to compose MIDI stuff about 10 years ago using Cakewalk and my sound card. I wanted to get a little bit more serious about things, so I downloaded the demo for Ableton and I really like it... I'm probably going to buy it at the end of the trial. I already ordered Komplete 8 standard as it has a bunch of stuff in there that appeals to me - just waiting for it to ship (backordered).

I have a DSI Evolver that I've played around with, and wanted to make sure I could use it, and also wanted to mic my trumpet and maybe incorporate that into my music. So far it looks like that MOTU ultralite unit will be everything I need and give me plenty of room to expand.
Old 9th September 2011
  #8
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Yikes, I just read some bad stuff concerning the MOTU Ultralite mk3 regarding Windows 7. Can anyone recommend something similar that works well in windows?
Old 11th September 2011
  #9
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If you haven't already gotten attached to particular sounds in the Evolver, and are relatively new rather than a veteran conosseur you might find a sufficient selection of sounds in Komplete and that come with whatever DAW you use that you won't need the Evolver neccessarily. It may be oriented towards particular sounds that you like, and they may be easier to find fast what you like on the Evolver. But otherwise you may not need the small additional complication of setting up and assigned midi and audio cables to and from the Evolver. Ableton Live has a lot of good sounding instruments that come with it, as do most DAW's these days.
Most audio interfaces will have a line input to which you could feed the audio output of the evolver- if the Evolver has stereo outputs you might want 2 line inputs. You will need a mic input for a microphone for trumpet. If the interface does have a "Di" or instrument option on the mic input that could be used as a second "line" input, or you could get a direct box ("Di") to match the line level output of the Evolver to the mic input. If one side of the stereo is fed to a line input and the other to a Di you probably will have to individually adjust each side's input volume in order to match them.
If the sudio interface does not include a midi port (some include this, some do not) you might need a midi interface in addition to the audio interface unless the Evolver has it's own USB connection to receive midi.
Also note that audio that goes through the computer may have some latency- meaning it comes out of the computer a little later in time then it went in. Some people find this affects them while they are performing. Many modern computers are fast enough to reduce this delay to an unnoticable amount, many audio interfaces have "direct" or zero latency monitoring to address the issue. Some interfaces also provide an option to hear effects (i.e. reverb) while listening with zero latency.
Some performers use mixers with audio interfaces to do "zero latency" monitoring of live signals, but for most users it may be more convenient to do this in a single piece of equipment- the audio interface- if computer latency is even a problem for someone in the first place. In Ableton live if latency is a problem for you when you first start using it then refer to the user manual as to settings you might adjust to lessen the length of any latency.
Also some people find mixers more convenient than an audio interface for adjusting the listening to headphones or speakers. Alternativly there are various monitor stations specially for controlling monitor functions ranging from about $50 for a volume control up to thousnds of dollars.
Maybe try playing with live a little before selecting an interface in case you find that just because you have the Evolver doesn't mean you need to select an audio interface based on recording with your Evolver.
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