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What really is the difference between USB and Firewire for sound?
Old 15th October 2008
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

What really is the difference between USB and Firewire for sound?

I'm trying to weigh up if I should purchase a USB audio interface or a firewire interface... I've heard people say that USB can be less reliable than firewire when it comes to pushing it... Is this true?

There seems to be so many more firewire products than USB ones... The reason why I ask as I'm on the brink of getting a new audio interface. Thing is, Mac have released new MacBooks WITHOUT a firewire port... Which makes me think, is the format going to die soon? or is it just Apple separating their consumer and their pro products out more?

I currently have a Focusrite Saffire, but need more inputs really... I also want to dip my feet into Pro Tools, so I was looking at the M-Audio stuff. I have been recommended the Digi003, but this isn't an option (too expensive).

I'm torn between the M-Audio ProFire2626 (M-AUDIO - ProFire 2626 - High-Definition 26-in/26-out FireWire Audio Interface with Octane Preamp Technology) and the M-Audio Fast Track Ultra 8R (M-AUDIO - Fast Track Ultra 8R - High-speed 8 x 8 USB 2.0 Interface with 8 Preamps and MX Core DSP)...

Would I be a fool to go for USB... Really, what's the difference?

Cheers guys.
Old 15th October 2008
  #2
Gear Addict
 

Bandwidth. Firewire carries high bandwidth with less overhead than USB. The rule of thumb is that USB can comfortably carry two 44.1/16 channels at a time. More than that, or 88.2/24, and you really want to go to Firewire. USB can be made to work if you jack up buffer sizes, but then you'll have a ton of latency.
Old 15th October 2008
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

Really? Hmmm... FireWire seems to have problems though too. But then so did Motu with their USB version of their audio interface...

So FireWire really is the way to go when it comes to audio. But why would Apple stop using it on their MacBooks? Seems odd to do so.
Old 15th October 2008
  #4
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Grumblefoot's Avatar
 

latency is the worst, go firewire.
Old 15th October 2008
  #5
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by littlejim84 View Post
So FireWire really is the way to go when it comes to audio. But why would Apple stop using it on their MacBooks? Seems odd to do so.
Probably what you suggested originally: Cost cutting, and trying to draw a distinction between comsumer and power-user products.
Old 15th October 2008
  #6
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Quote:
Bandwidth. Firewire carries high bandwidth with less overhead than USB. The rule of thumb is that USB can comfortably carry two 44.1/16 channels at a time.
That's the bandwidth for USB1.1, not USB2 (which is on the new Mac Books and, I believe, just about every computer currently in production). More and more multichannel USB2 interfaces are coming on the market all the time, and especially with Firewire ports disappearing as they are I think we'll see more and more of that...
Old 15th October 2008
  #7
Gear Addict
 

I'm curious to see how that works out. USB 2.0's practical bandwidth is a lot less than the theoretical, due to protocol overhead.
Old 15th October 2008
  #8
Gear Maniac
 

Hmmm.... this is why I started the post...

I'm on the verge of buying either the M-Audio Fast Track (USB) or the Profire2626 (Firewire) ...but this is an investment that I want to last me for at least 3 years...

I just hope that in that time, Firewire hasn't disappeared completely! I don't want to be investing in almost dead technology... Know what I mean?

Not sure where to go with it...
Old 15th October 2008
  #9
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YUGA's Avatar
 

No difference in sound quality provided the same converters and analog components are used. USB interfaces consume more CPU power and latency tends to be larger with USB interfaces. But it depends on the driver quality.

I don't understand Apple's move, it's a standard they created. Even Dell laptops have a FW port!
They should introduce a new, better alternative before they ditch it!

USB2.0's practical bandwidth is roughly 240Mbps, it's sufficient for audio interfaces unless you want to record/play lots of tracks at 96/192KHz. But it takes CPU power so you can use less plugins and less tracks in general.
Old 15th October 2008
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YUGA View Post
I don't understand Apple's move, it's a standard they created. Even Dell laptops have a FW port!
They should introduce a new, better alternative before they ditch it!
What makes you think they are going to drop FW?

Edit: Ah, gotcha. It must be a cost cutting exercise, they can't be thinking of dropping it altogether, like MacBook pros etc..?

It would be a crazy move. It wouldn't be the end of the world if they did as I'm sure plenty of PCI cards would still be available, but allot of my drives are FW only.
eSata is the way forward as far as I can tell.

Last edited by MarkRB; 15th October 2008 at 08:16 PM.. Reason: Edit: sorry missed the Macbook bit.
Old 15th October 2008
  #11
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkRB View Post
It would be a crazy move. It wouldn't be the end of the world if they did as I'm sure plenty of PCI cards would still be available, but allot of my drives are FW only.
eSata is the way forward as far as I can tell.
Won't happen. Higher speed FW is right around the corner. It's going to be up around 8 Gbit/sec in the next 18 months or so.

Having said that, I will partially retract my original statement. I've done some checking around and looking at the latest benchmarks, and it looks like if you have the latest-n-greatest USB hardware and drivers, and you do your topology right, you could crank up to 8 44.1/24 channels through USB pretty comfortably. Mind you, you'd have to watch your P's and Q's to achieve that: good cables, self-powered hubs, don't put your mouse on the same bus, etc.

Firewire isn't going away because the video people need it. But it may be on its way out for audio interfaces. USB 3.0 is about ready to be announced. Firewire may still be faster after its next upgrade, but for most audio apps, USB will probably be good enough. Just not yet.
Old 15th October 2008
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

The reason I used to hear for Firewire winning over USB for audio was Firewire is designed for continuous data streams and USB designed for "bursts" of data

...if this is true/relevant I know not.
Old 15th October 2008
  #13
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by zooloo View Post
The reason I used to hear for Firewire winning over USB for audio was Firewire is designed for continuous data streams and USB designed for "bursts" of data

...if this is true/relevant I know not.
Yes. I've heard this too.
Old 15th October 2008
  #14
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by zooloo View Post
The reason I used to hear for Firewire winning over USB for audio was Firewire is designed for continuous data streams and USB designed for "bursts" of data
It's true. USB was originally designed for low-speed input devices like (alpha) keyboards and mice, as a replacement for RS232 ports. That's why USB 1.0 sucked for audio. The USB 2.0 spec has provisions for streaming data, but apparently it hasn't been implemented consistently by different manufacturers. For a while, there were USB 2.0 peripherals coming with warranty provisions saying that performance was only guaranteed when the computer's USB interface used a particular chip set. It looks like those problems have just about been ironed out now. I'm curious to see how well USB 3.0 is going to work when it hits the market.
Old 16th October 2008
  #15
Old 17th October 2008
  #16
Lives for gear
 

Apple - MacBook Pro


New MacBook Pro

NO FIREWIRE.

Yes, they are phasing it out.
Old 17th October 2008
  #17
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chrispick's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbbubba View Post
Apple - MacBook Pro


New MacBook Pro

NO FIREWIRE.

Yes, they are phasing it out.
Well, no Firewire 400. The 15'' has Firewire 800 I/O which can be compatible with 400 via bilingual connection.

Most laptop consumers probably don't have a great need for Firewire. USB-2 probably suits them fine.
Old 21st June 2009
  #18
Gear Nut
 

This is whats in the new macbook pros connection wise:

MagSafe power port
Gigabit Ethernet port
One FireWire 800 port (up to 800 Mbps)
Mini DisplayPort
Two USB 2.0 ports (up to 480 Mbps)
SD card slot
Audio line in
Audio line out
Kensington lock slot

i'm havin the same debate between profire 2626 and the fast track ultra 8r!
Old 21st June 2009
  #19
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O.F.F.'s Avatar
 

I'm pretty sure FireWire 800 backwards compatible with 400.
Old 21st June 2009
  #20
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rhizomeman's Avatar
Apple is not phasing out firewire - they are upgrading to firewire 800, which is nearly twice as fast as USB2.

However, in relation to you original question I suggest going firewire - it will certainly be around for the next 3-5 years. It is still a vital plug for not only "pro" audio but also video.
Old 21st June 2009
  #21
Gear Maniac
 
PinnacleProdUK's Avatar
 

One thing I will add is Firewire interfaces can not be Hot-Plugged, where as USB is designed for plug and play.

Although the general rule of thumb is that you shouldn't disconnect and reconnect any audio device whilst the computer is on, this is even more so with firewire devices, this can in some circumstances render the audio interface useless where as if your usb wire gets disconnected, 90% of the time you can plug it straight back in without any issues.

Saying this, I would still choose firewire, as you are not really going to be hot-plugging audio devices anyway, just thought it may be a point to bring up.
Old 21st June 2009
  #22
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loujudson's Avatar
Firewire CAN be hot plugged, I do it all the time. You just have to dismount the device first. FW 101.

Lou
Old 21st June 2009
  #23
There is a big difference. While the USB 2 spec is slightly faster on paper, USB was never intended to handle streaming media or large uninterrupted file transfers; it was intended to handle peripherals such as mice, keyboards, scanners, and printers, which do not require an uninterrupted data flow.This means that the data stream can and will be interrupted at any time by other devices on the USB buss, as well as system IRQs.

Firewire, on the other hand, was designed for the ground up for streaming media transfer and operates independently of the cpu interrupt structure - in fact it doesn't even really require a cpu in the system to operate - two FW boxes can work together without any computer at all if designed to do so, for exaqmple certain video cameras and FW hard drives.

What this means is that FW is a far more robust standard for audio transfer, you won't get the ticks, pops, and dropouts that can happen with USB2 and you can transfer a lot more streams of data at once without problems.

The other thing people miss is that the speed rating for USB is a BURST rating (480MB/sec burst) but the rating for FW is SUSTAINED THROUGHPUT (400 MB/sec continuous).

Of course you can hot swap FW devices.
Old 21st June 2009
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by O.F.F. View Post
I'm pretty sure FireWire 800 backwards compatible with 400.
yes.
Old 22nd June 2009
  #25
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Paul Vnuk Jr.'s Avatar
Based on my experience of owning 4 FireWire interfaces with a few laptops over the years is that they may work fine but one thing folks tend to ignore is that I have rarely found 2 FireWire devices that like to work together.

If you plan to use a FireWire external hard drive or dsp accelorator, then be carefull.

XJ
Old 22nd June 2009
  #26
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loujudson's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by xj32 View Post
Based on my experience of owning 4 FireWire interfaces with a few laptops over the years is that they may work fine but one thing folks tend to ignore is that I have rarely found 2 FireWire devices that like to work together.

If you plan to use a FireWire external hard drive or dsp accelorator, then be carefull.

XJ
You must use windows. I have no problems with firewire. No need for accelerators either. Just Macs, dozens of hard drives, and a few misc devices.
<L>
Old 22nd June 2009
  #27
Gear Addict
 
andygomez's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
yes.

This is true Firewire 800 is completely backwards compatible with 400.
all you need is a 400 to 800 cable. And the connection is identical. Lots of new firewire 400 devices are even coming with this adapter cable. such as external harddrives. My Lacie did
Old 22nd June 2009
  #28
Lives for gear
A few questions laid to rest.

Yes, FW800 is back-compatible with FW400.

Even FW400 offers more bandwith than USB2.0 for streaming - the USB protocol calls upon the CPU to do it's handshaking (XMT/RCV ACK signal) through software. This is accomplished by the hardware in FW, making the data available to the bus immediately without having to send a fetch request, a receive acknowledge, and a retrieve request.

Where information doesn't require processing, just throughput, FW is best. Where active interaction between the processor and device is necessary, USB does just as well. In fact, where several devices are involved, USB keeps a dedicated port for each (no daisy-chaining).
Best bet, use a FW audio or video interface, but keep external mass storage (like HD or DVD-RAM) off the same bus (use USB2.0 or beter yet eSATA for it).
Old 22nd June 2009
  #29
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travisbrown's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by xj32 View Post
Based on my experience of owning 4 FireWire interfaces with a few laptops over the years is that they may work fine but one thing folks tend to ignore is that I have rarely found 2 FireWire devices that like to work together.

If you plan to use a FireWire external hard drive or dsp accelorator, then be carefull.

XJ

Never had a problem.

I run external hard drives and two or three audio devices from different manufacturers, all the time. This is on Mac, though. I don't know what platform you are using.
Old 22nd June 2009
  #30
Gear Addict
 

All the new MacBook Pro's that were release June 18th, 2009 come with Firewire, even the little 13.3" model is a MacBook Pro model now.

The FW on Macbook Pro's is FW800, but it is backwardly compatible with FW400 devices. But where can you find a FW400 - FW800 cable? I didn't see any on Apple's website. Hmmm.
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