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The Press Desk 9th July 2018 02:15 PM

Ten of the best Thunderbolt and USB-C audio interfaces
 
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Ten of the best Thunderbolt and USB-C audio interfaces

Technology changes fast and keeping up with it is a moving target, so in order to help engineers and producers with their computer setups we have searched our database to find ten of the finest Thunderbolt and USB-C audio interfaces to keep studios and mobile rigs as future-proof as is possible. In no particular order:

 DISCRETE 8

Antelope Audio DISCRETE 8

Supports: Thunderbolt on Mac and Windows (beta).
Ins and Outs: 26x32 on 8 mic/line inputs, stereo monitor outputs, 2 headphone outputs, 8 analog outputs on D-SUB, reamp I/O, 2x ADAT I/O, SPDIF I/O, 2x WC I/O and footswitch.
What it is: Aimed primarily at recording use and labelled by Antelope as a “microphone preamp interface”, the District 8 is an almost audacious product and a great showing of the company’s breakthroughs into the microphone modelling world, achieved through the combination of a pristine signal path, special modelling mics (in their Verge LDC and Edge SDCs), and FPGA-powered effects. The Discrete also takes full advantage of the Thunderbolt spec to deliver extremely low latency, making it a very attractive interface if recording is your main focus.



 Ensemble Thunderbolt

Apogee Electronics Ensemble Thunderbolt

Supports: Thunderbolt on Mac
Ins and Outs: 30x34 on 4 mic/line inputs (2 with inserts), 4 mic inputs, 2 Inst. DIs, stereo monitor outputs, two headphone outputs, 8 analog outputs on D-SUB, reamp I/O, 2x ADAT I/O, SPDIF I/O, WC I/O and two Thunderbolt 2 ports.
What it is: The Ensemble is one of Apogee’s most impressive interfaces, which says a lot coming from this renowned company that has a long history of great interfaces and converters such as the Symphony and the Rosetta series. Super low latency, eight preamps, renowned Apogee AD-DA conversion, remote control, DSP-powered EQ/Dynamics and a generous amount of connectivity make the Ensemble a fine candidate for a do-all studio centerpiece.



 iD44

Audient iD44

Supports: USB-C and USB 2 or 3 on Mac and Windows.
Ins and Outs: 20x24 on 2 mic/line inputs with inserts, 2 mic inputs, 4 analog outputs, 2 Inst. DIs, 2x ADAT I/O, WC I/O, two headphone outputs.
What it is: A forward-thinking interface that implements the latest USB-C technology while still supporting legacy USB formats, which is done by offering two different cables for both USB-C and USB 2.0 (& 3) ports - and also some very clever driver-coding of course! The iD44 follows the highly successful trail set by its smaller siblings (the iD22 and iD14) combining a plethora of features into a desktop-friendly format, but this time Audient doubles down on almost everything, with more preamps, connectivity and better AD/DA specs than ever.



 HD Native Thunderbolt Core

Avid HD Native Thunderbolt Core

Supports: Thunderbolt on Mac and Windows.
Ins and Outs: See below.
What it is: The Avid HD Native Thunderbolt Core is a small box that allows users to run a full-blown Pro Tools HD Native rig with up to 64 channels at 96kHz. Users can edit and mix 'on the go' thanks to its headphone output, which means you can finally run (what used to be known as) Pro Tools HD on a plane or at your nearest cafe! This little box comes with Pro Tools Ultimate software and works with select Avid interfaces such as the HD Omni, or certified interfaces from other manufacturers (additional license required). Regardless of the interface you end up with, this is a very powerful and effective package if Pro Tools Ultimate is your DAW of choice.



 Red 16Line

Focusrite Red 16Line

Supports: USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) on Mac.
Ins and Outs: 64x64 on 2 mic inputs, 16 analog line inputs and 16 outputs on D-SUB, 2 Inst. DIs, stereo monitor outputs, 2 headphone outputs, 2x ADAT I/O, SPDIF I/O, WC I/O, Loop Sync I/O, 2 Ethernet ports and 2 USB-C ports.
What it is: This is a very impressive interface from Focusrite, with up to 128 channels of I/O on a huge number of connectors, Pro Tools HD/Ultimate compatibility, scalability with Ethernet audio (via Dante format), premium converters and a lot more. Need preamps? Focusrite has it covered with the RED 8PRE or RED 4PRE, which share the same technical infrastructure as the RED 16Line with all its benefits, while replacing some of the line inputs to make room for more mic preamps.



 16A

MOTU 16A

Supports: Thunderbolt on Mac and USB 2 on Mac or Windows.
Ins and Outs: 32x32 on 16 analog outputs, 16 analog line inputs, ADAT I/O, WC I/O, Ethernet port.
What it is: MOTU takes full advantage of current tech on the 16A by adopting Thunderbolt and AVB but it doesn’t forget the past and offers class-compliant USB 2 support as well. This elegant-looking interface gives the user plenty of options with 32 channels of analog I/O, DSP-powered digital mixer with iOS remote control, an informative front panel with metering and scaling capabilities through Ethernet (AVB). All of that plus the quality and reliability that makes MOTU one of the top names when it comes to audio interfaces - it's hard to argue against it.



 Quantum

PreSonus Quantum

Supports: Thunderbolt on Mac and Windows.
Ins and Outs: 26x32 on 8 mic/line inputs, stereo monitor outputs, 2 headphone outputs, 8 analog outputs, 2x ADAT I/O, SPDIF I/O, WC I/O, MIDI I/O, 2 Thunderbolt ports.
What it is: PreSonus steps up its game with the imposing Quantum, an interface that shows improvements in every area, including eight Class-A mic pres, new converters and superb performance thanks to Thunderbolt. It’s also worth mentioning that up to four Quantums (Ed: Quanta?) - can be stacked for a huge system with over a hundred inputs and outputs, but if you don't need to record an entire symphony orchestra and a smaller package is what you want be sure to check out the Quantum 2, which cuts down the I/O count but keeps the great specs and super low latency.



 Fireface UFX+

RME Fireface UFX+

Supports: Thunderbolt and USB 3 on Mac or Windows.
Ins and Outs: 94x94 on 4 mic/line inputs, 8 analog line inputs, 8 analog outputs, 2 headphone outputs, AES/EBU I/O, MADI I/O, 2x ADAT I/O, SPDIF I/O, WC I/O, 2x MIDI I/O, USB-A port for direct recording.
What it is: The UFX+ is the most comprehensive interface RME has ever built and it still features the bulletproof performance that the company is known for. TotalMix FX software gives you truly flexible routing and setup, extensive digital format support including MADI and AES/EBU allows for superb flexibility and an onboard recorder means that DAW-free operation is possible in a recording environment. An iPad control app and digital mixer with onboard DSP is the cherry on the cake. RME is not leaving anyone behind either, and in addition to offering cross-platform support for Thunderbolt it is also compatible USB 3, although the former will likely outperform the latter on the latency figures.



 Arrow

Universal Audio Arrow

Supports: USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) on Mac and Windows.
Ins and Outs: 2x4 on 2 mic/line inputs, instrument input, stereo main outputs and headphone output.
What it is: The Arrow is Universal Audio’s foray into USB-C interfaces and also their smallest interface to date, but don’t underestimate it as this nifty little unit packs Unison preamps with UA’s flagship analog modelling technology, DSP for near zero latency tracking and mixing with plug-ins and great sounding conversion into its comparatively tiny frame. The Arrow runs solely on bus power and works on Mac or Windows, which makes it widely compatible and a perfect solution if you want a portable interface with studio-grade quality.



 TAC-8

ZOOM TAC-8

Supports: Thunderbolt on Mac
Ins and Outs: 18x20 on 8 mic/line inputs, stereo main outputs, 8 analog outputs, 2 headphone outputs, ADAT I/O, SPDIF I/O, WC I/O, MIDI I/O.
What it is: Zoom is a veteran of our industry and although the company is a bit of a newcomer on the audio interface scene they have been doing some fine work lately as shown on their TAC-8 Thunderbolt audio interface. This cost-effective 19” rack unit delivers eight mic preamps, plentiful I/O, a standalone mode for computer-less operation and super low latency with a very enticing price tag that certainly puts this interface amongst the best options for the Mac when it comes to bang for your buck.


A few notes:

* The number of Thunderbolt and USB-C interfaces is on the rise, so honourable mentions go to the recently released Lynx Aurora N series, Apogee’s Symphony and Element series and to the Universal Audio Apollo line. It’s also worth mentioning the promising prospects shaping up at Metric Halo and Slate Digital in the form of the 3d Card and VRS8 respectively.

* It’s important to note that Windows computers are still lagging behind Macs when it comes to USB-C. Laptops and desktops equipped with such connectors are still harder to find and they’re far from being everywhere, unlike Macs where they are now standard tech. Even if you can physically connect a box to a PC, the availability of drivers is also a crucial element to consider, as some manufacturers are still Mac-only for all Thunderbolt and USB-C matters. On the bright side, we can notice a significant improvement and since Microsoft has announced Thunderbolt 3 support for Windows 10 things should only get better from now on.

* For more discussion and info on audio interfaces please visit our Music Computers forum.

monkeyxx 28th July 2018 10:55 PM

That's a pretty good roundup. I thought it was funny that "Apollo, Symphony, and Lynx Aurora" ended up as a special mention, since I thought those were some of the top ones.

TNM 30th July 2018 02:02 AM

It's an absolute insult that Apollo isn't in the main list and stupid things like the audient are...

The apollo can chain 4 devices for 64 ins, all clock slaved via thunderbolt, and can use those 16dsps for effects monitoring, and what dsp you don't use can be used with the same uad fx in daw....

Furthermore, the drivers are SO mature and work incredibly well, even on windows now.

Value for money is actually very good and UNLIKE MOST OTHER TB interfaces, it has a powered pass through. I believe quantum and apogee have this also.

It's actually great value too.. They were going here recently brand new for 3100 AUD for the quad whereas the RME UFX+ was basically 4 grand.

And the Antelope as NUMBER ONE? Um.. the interface with the most driver issues and complaints on this very forum than *any* other?

Maybe it's at the top for sound quality, but doesn't stability count? People with USB3 models can't get them working half the time! At least RME's work in all USB 3 ports!

Yes, the UFX+ absolutely deserves to be there, as does quantum - bang for buck ratio is incredible. Man it never fails to amaze me, all these years later, how i seem to disagree with these lists every single time LOL!

TNM 30th July 2018 02:04 AM

I just noticed HDN is there as well.. Just check how many people can't run it at anything under 256 samples, zero fx dsp, very high RTL for the money, almost 5m at lowest buffer at 44K! And very high cpu use.

And lynx not in the list :facepalm::facepalm::facepalm::facepalm:

Only 2nd for performance in the entire low latency database at this forum lol.

blayz2002 2nd August 2018 10:05 PM

Yep!

Wierd how the Apollo isn't head of the top ten as I think it virtually pioneered the Thunderbolt interface (excuse me if I'm wrong). Back when countless GS members were complaining about UA going Thunderbolt and nobody had a machine to support it. Years later and still super stable drivers, onboard DSP and access to near real-time recording with great plugins. Also, I've seen countless working pro studio's in Youtube videos that are using Apollo's. Not saying it's the best but it sure should be on this list for sure.

dwojr 29th August 2018 10:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TNM (Post 13443953)

And the Antelope as NUMBER ONE? Um.. the interface with the most driver issues and complaints on this very forum than *any* other?

Maybe it's at the top for sound quality, but doesn't stability count? People with USB3 models can't get them working half the time! At least RME's work in all USB 3 ports!!

The list is in alphabetical order

moonkeysounds 7th September 2018 12:16 PM

Sound is not rankingable rockout

MstaBoombastic 8th September 2018 10:07 AM

How is the Prism Audio Lyra not here? and i see focusrite and avid interfaces making it to the top?

lespritdescalier 9th September 2018 01:13 AM

The just-released Apollo X series interfaces are tb3 :cowbell:

TNM 9th September 2018 08:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by lespritdescalier (Post 13508998)
The just-released Apollo X series interfaces are tb3 :cowbell:

You'd think for such teasers of the "future", they could, no would, have put 8 chips in there.. However, I guess 6 is still better than nothing as far as upgrades go.

Also a real shame IMO that they missed the opportunity again to make their adat input 16.. They have the dual inputs, they could have made it 16 inputs at 44/48K and 8 with S/Mux. Like every other interface in existence that has dual adat i/o. They really are stingy on the ins for a high end interface.. it's obviously a calculated decision so people buy more than one.

Apparently they do have better ADDA than TBolt2 gen, which is the part that is particularly interesting IMO, as they were already pretty darn decent. I have to wonder if UA will be addressing the Console monitoring latency issue at all with Software release 10.

Still, a semi exciting release.. and if one uses all the MK1 plugins to monitor due to the zero latency of them, they are really dsp light and would leave some chip power to use a couple of the top fx in a daw environment.

Unless of course one uses unison, which is hungry. (and latent, any unison plugin has a minimum of 55 samples latency on top of console's basic latency RTL).

monkeyxx 12th September 2018 10:27 PM

Yeah the ADAT limitation is kind of a bummer... especially at this price point.

Doc No 8th October 2018 09:17 PM

The RME Fireface UFX+ outperforms everything!

Braindedzluney 13th November 2018 12:00 PM

Looking at USB C only led me to the M-Track 8X4, which is more tempting than anything with thunderbolt as I am a Windows user and now have gotten to the point of being majorly Thunderbolt-phobic. It has some crystall preamps and a compact design, with plenty of i/o if it's a supplemental interface. Beyond new for this thread.

Adebar 20th November 2018 07:45 PM

In my opinion the Metric Halo ULN-8 is definitely one of the ten best USB-C (and Audio over IP) interface you can get. I wonder that it is not in the list above.

j.frad 25th November 2018 07:32 PM

As far as i know the description of the hd native is false, it doesn't work without an interface connected to it...

rectifried 25th November 2018 10:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by j.frad (Post 13652236)
As far as i know the description of the hd native is false, it doesn't work without an interface connected to it...

You can use HPhones.. But its such a waste.. cant use it with out 400 a YEAR HD lic BS... they made good interfaces but are ALL chained to to ridiculous HD lic

900 to "reinstate" HD.. Avid..hmm

Braindedzluney 7th December 2018 06:37 AM

I actually did a demo of the M Audio M Track 8x4 today. made a livestream and edited it down to a video. Mostly dealing with using the thing in OBS here is a link to my review/demo.
YouTube
The interface seemed to solve a problem that I have been having with my old Fast Track Ultra 8R in my ASUS GL702ZC (Ryzen 7 1700 8 core laptop). Here it is shown to immediately require a buffer resize and nothing else. A quick fix compared to my FTU8R which goes to static and requires the entire DAW to be shut off, then the interface to be power cycled, then the DAW reopened.
The interface is run via USB C to the USB C port on the ASUS in this demo.

Braindedzluney 8th December 2018 06:45 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Braindedzluney (Post 13673900)
I actually did a demo of the M Audio M Track 8x4 today. made a livestream and edited it down to a video. Mostly dealing with using the thing in OBS here is a link to my review/demo.
YouTube
The interface seemed to solve a problem that I have been having with my old Fast Track Ultra 8R in my ASUS GL702ZC (Ryzen 7 1700 8 core laptop). Here it is shown to immediately require a buffer resize and nothing else. A quick fix compared to my FTU8R which goes to static and requires the entire DAW to be shut off, then the interface to be power cycled, then the DAW reopened.
The interface is run via USB C to the USB C port on the ASUS in this demo.

I bought this, and the 2nd day trial is more interesting by far, look for it it is the next video in my uploads, and created the day after this one. Though I warn you the raw unedited footage is full of verbal abuse to no one in particular the viewer, so don't take it personally. It is still uploading at 00:41 EST SAT DEC 8 2018. BUT, it should be uploaded within an hour or so. It is an upload of the live stream in which I discover that, at least in my case, in Windows 10 on the ASUS ROG GL702ZC, The M Track 8x4 can not be used via the provided cable from the box, but only using a 40cm Samsung T5 USB C to USB C drive cable (which is what I had used in THIS EARLIER UPLOADED video, to save the unopened cable status). THE NEXT DAY (Friday, yesterday), I tried the provided cable and you can clearly observe what I discovered in the 2:00:00 of live stream footage from that day.

Though my ASUS GL702ZC IS TYPICALLY a VERY BUGGY LAPTOP, which I have had several problems with, which could be part of the problem seen, It doesn't change the fact that you will still very clearly be able to observe the same difference in the two cables I did in the 2:00:00 test. In that video the first glitch from the provided cable is at about 5:20-5:50, and the cable replacement is after 1:33:00 about. The glitch happens 10 times between 5:00 and 1:30:00, and not at all after the provided cable is replaced with the Samsung T5 USB C to USB C cable.

Synopsis being that M Audio should include a Samsung T5 cable with this device. If you know anyone at M Audio, better tell them about this for me, and if you are from M Audio personally, make the check for product testing and reimbursement out to me at cash out.

Braindedzluney 8th December 2018 10:34 PM

I did some more research on the cable issue described in the above post, searching for anyone who may be selling a good USB C to USB C cable and came upon this Verge article which talks about the USB C Cable problem, how none are standard and they are capable of burning out and destroying a laptop. Be careful out there Interface users. Turns out the thing shutting off with the OEM M Track cable is a good thing. While the Windows may not be getting the same power draw from the Samsung cable

I had figured it had to do with some RAM or Buffer issue and the length of the cables. However if you read the article about the USB C Cables it will probably put a little fear into you about ever substituting a non OEM cable in your devices. Reminds me of some phone charging troubles we have been having. I think M Audio has to look into this.

"The Verge" article for more details on unsafe USB C cables blowing laptops away: USB-C cables are playing Russian Roulette with your laptop - The Verge
and this list of USB C compliant cables:
USB-C Compliant Cables - Nexus 6p, Nexus 5x, and OnePlus 2 USB Cables
(and those aren't Type C to Type C cables)

DanTheMan06 12th December 2018 12:59 PM

Antelope orion 32+
 
And where would the Antelope Orion 32+ fit in this ranking? How does it compare?

Orion 32+ 32-channel AD/DA converter | Antelope Audio

Any opinions?

Dan

Braindedzluney 13th December 2018 03:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DanTheMan06 (Post 13682531)
And where would the Antelope Orion 32+ fit in this ranking? How does it compare?

Orion 32+ 32-channel AD/DA converter | Antelope Audio

Any opinions?

Dan

Looks like something you'd wanna be strictly using with MADI and neither thunderbolt or USB C. At least that's what I would require for such a tool. Friggin optical only.

EvilRoy 13th December 2018 04:36 AM

Running a Mac cheese grater, looking to upgrade to 32x32 in out. I've looked at everything and I'm thinking Motu. It will work over USB2 today with lots of expansion/interface options later. Haven't heard anything bad about the converters. Although it may not sound as good as the higher end converters, I'm thinking the difference won't be a hinder to making high end recordings much. I like the modularity, I don't have to pop for 32 in/out all at once. Future proof, yes I see thunderbolt in my (hopefully distant) future. I can go to 64x64 if I want. Bang for the buck, Motu is getting my vote.

drockfresh 13th December 2018 05:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Doc No (Post 13559344)
The RME Fireface UFX+ outperforms everything!

Does it have USB-C Thunderbolt so you can hook it directly to the new MacBook Pro?

I only use RME but I am waiting on one with USB-C/thunderbolt to upgrade

Doc No 13th December 2018 01:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by drockfresh (Post 13683975)
Does it have USB-C Thunderbolt so you can hook it directly to the new MacBook Pro?

I only use RME but I am waiting on one with USB-C/thunderbolt to upgrade

Just look it up. RME: Home

http://www.rme-audio.de/images/produ...fx-plus_3b.jpg

You can choose between Thunderbolt and USB. If you need USBc, just use an adapter, they are around 5-10$/€.

KimGitz 13th December 2018 02:04 PM

I'm glad to see the Discrete 8 on the list. I also have the MOTU 1248 though represented by the 16A on the list. If I was to change anything on the Discrete 8 it would be to allow an option for users to switch between the Easy Control Panel and the more complex Matrix Routing Table, and secondly allow for AB monitor switching. If I was to start afresh I would add another Thunderbolt port and an AVB port.
I love the Mic emulations, and the ever expanding hardware models library. The Hardware both the interface and mics have excellent build quality. The AFX2DAW is a good tool to have since the Discrete 8 is limited to 8 channels for realtime processing via the AFX. The 8 Channel limitation is not so bad if you are only using the analog inputs which max out at 8 simultaneous inputs. but if you add the other digital inputs you will run out of processing channels.

It is always great to have two analog inputs at the front. These can be switched from Mic/Line/Instruments.

The Headphone Amp is good quality with support for the most demanding Headphones.

I wish it used a standard power cable though the wall plug is not heavy or huge.

.................................................................................................................


On the computer a USB C port can function as Thunderbolt or USB depending on the device plugged in. Why can't we have audio interface with only USB-C ports that will become USB audio interfaces when plugged into a computer that only supports USB and a Thunderbolt device when plugged into a computer that supports Thunderbolt 3?

.................................................................................................................

Regards,
Enoch

drockfresh 13th December 2018 02:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Doc No (Post 13684365)
Just look it up. RME: Home

http://www.rme-audio.de/images/produ...fx-plus_3b.jpg

You can choose between Thunderbolt and USB. If you need USBc, just use an adapter, they are around 5-10$/€.

Well you all keep talking about the UFX++ and I only see the UFX+ so it’s confoosing. I thought maybe there is a secret or brand new USBC version.

Doc No 13th December 2018 10:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by drockfresh (Post 13684457)
Well you all keep talking about the UFX++ and I only see the UFX+ so it’s confoosing. I thought maybe there is a secret or brand new USBC version.

I have no clue what you talking about. Here you find your answer:

RME: Fireface UFX+

You can just use TB or an Adapter for USB-c.

KimGitz 14th December 2018 02:44 AM

Intel JHL7440 Titan Ridge Thunderbolt 3 Controller
 
At the beginning of the year Intel released 3 Titan Ridge Controllers for Thunderbolt 3. Of particular interest is the JHL7440. This is a dual port controller that goes into peripheral devices like audio interfaces. Why is this interesting?

1) Dual Ports
Everytime an interface is released with a single Thunderbolt port I get disappointed. No interface is able to max out the bandwidth of even Thunderbolt 1.

2) USB-C
It is just criminal for an interface coming out in 2019 with MiniDisplay ports for Thunderbolt.

3)Compatibility with Host computers with no Thunderbolt but with USB-C
Previously the host computer could use the same port for multiple protocols, peripheral devices had no such ability. A Thunderbolt interface could only function as a Thunderbolt interface when connected via its Thunderbolt port. With this feature an audio interface could even function when plugged into a host computer supporting only USB 2.0 using a USB-C to USB-A cable but with limited I/O count and functionality. The ability to scale up or down to fit the performance of the Host is a huge benefit.

Official Press Release for Titan Ridge

Regards,
Enoch

drockfresh 14th December 2018 11:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Doc No (Post 13685231)
I have no clue what you talking about. Here you find your answer:

RME: Fireface UFX+

You can just use TB or an Adapter for USB-c.

Yes, that is the UFX plus

The web formatting adds another "plus" for some reason

So it shows as the UFX plus plus

Now I understand that is a formatting error

DanTheMan06 15th December 2018 02:30 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Braindedzluney (Post 13683877)
Looks like something you'd wanna be strictly using with MADI and neither thunderbolt or USB C. At least that's what I would require for such a tool. Friggin optical only.

It is Thunderbolt 3 with a 40 gigabyte....Only USB-2 but still 40 GB under TB3. If it is for studio application, no great distance and no need to control a large amount of devices then why not? Just need a compatible motherboard in your PC. PC would need to be fairly recent

Dan