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Thread: How much does audio interface really matter?

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    How much does audio interface really matter?

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    I want to get back to audio recording and have an old M-Audio Firewire Solo but no Firewire card. I had thought that it is so old that today's interfaces could give a much better sound quality for music recording, but now I am not so sure.

    I want to do home music recording of all sorts, including some quiet acoustic guitar and singing (with lots of quiet or silent sections), so limiting noise in the recordings is important. I also hope to try some effects on the computer for guitar so low latency would probably also be good.

    But will buying a newer interface really matter that much? If so, I need to see some quantification about it.

    Also, I could get a Behringer UM2 for about $40 or a MOTU M2 for about $170. Sure, the MOTU has a nice digital display and a power-off button, but really they do the same thing. Will I be able to hear the noise floor differences, or will the latency differences matter, between these two boxes?

    Basically, I need to understand how much noise floor, latency, distortion, and other audio effects are acceptable for my purposes. But I don't know how to go about ascertaining that. I have watched quite a few Julian Krause videos, and he gives numbers (such as in his video for a "preamp shootout," showing noise floors from -120 dB to -130 dB), but I don't know what is a reasonable cutoff for quality, a point beyond which it is just a waste of money to upgrade.

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    I recommend you read through this thread, and go to Sweetwater's website and download the Hi Res audio files and compare. They compared 9 different audio interfaces under $500

    Sweetwater Interface comparison - Under $500

    I found that the variations in performance between the vocal and acoustic guitar samples varied FAR more than the interfaces. The reamped electric guitar and piano recordings used the same mic and performance. I would listen to those tests, leaving the vocal tests and acoustic tests out.

    As for latency, etc, that's going to vary based on your computer's ability, as well as the drivers. RME and MOTU are supposed to have good solid drivers, but many work just fine with pretty low latency. If you do direct monitoring, it almost becomes a non issue.

    Regarding noise floor, I doubt most people can tell the difference between 120 and 130dB unless they just record a ridiculously low level and then pump it up artificially. A CD only has about 90dB potential, so if you go 24 bit, you're getting better than CD performance. Even most mics, if they have a self noise of 10-15dB and a max SPL of 135dB is only giving you a S/N of 120dB.

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    It used to matter a lot. It doesnít anymore. Just get something that doesnít have a high failure rate. Iíve yet to see a Behringer interface fail.

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    Whilst it is true that 'converters' are very similar in their (high) performance there is more to an interface than converters.

    Yes, the basic Berry's give good sound. I had a UMC204HD for a week or two, very good, even has very useful pre amps. Passed it onto son and he is very happy with it. But, I would suggest you do not go below the 204HD in price. Less than that the interfaces do not have ASIO drivers (not even sure the 204's are that good!) and you will forever have latency problems with other than ASIO.

    A good 2 in 2 out interface can be had from the 'other' top makers. MOTU, Steinberg, NI*, Focusrite, Tascam, Zoom, Presonus, Audient. I strongly suggest you get one with MIDI ports but others differ.

    However, a step up is an AI with two mic/line/instrument inputs plus two more line inputs (4 outputs is also handy). Such an AI is a bit future proof as you can connect other gear such as a synth, drum machine or indeed a mixer of any track count and have a stereo mixdown plus the two mic channels. Such an interface is the NI Komplete Audio 6 Mkll. I have a Mk1. IF I were in the market again I would go for the MOTU M4. The 'numbers' are at the edge of what is physically possible,i.e. 'king good!

    So, to recap...Yes, you CAN buy a very cheap AI that will sound AS good as a CD player but think long, save a bit and READ a lot!

    Dave. *nothing wrong with my KA6 I would just LIKE an M4! (get thee....)

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    @Chelonian - as others note, especially in "consumer" models you can assume there's a lot of minor differences, but if you read reviews, you'll find little quibbles about the sound quality. Features like LEDs, an extra headphone output or heapdhone level, hardware quality/durability, driver and installation issues, etc. are the things that differentiate to a large degree. Things like whether it has sample rates of 192kHz (or 384!!) should not be a concern.

    Firewire is no longer supported and even Macs no longer have a physical port or support, though they'll be happy to sell you an adapter and let you try to see if it works. (Presumably it was still in the OS/core audio, but it may be completely gone as of Catalina and certainly I'd assume Big Sur probably snipped it out.)

    The Motu M2 gets a lot of love in a couple online/YouTube reviews - basically nails all the specs of anything close in price. (Podcastage and Julian Krause are two reviewers that come to mind.) If it's in your budget, I would certainly consider that over the UM2. The Behringer model @ecc83 mentions is well liked for its value.

    Here's a link to a Julian Krause review (Audient iD14) where he has a comparison of actual test specs of several interfaces. I've set the start point at that table, so you'll want to full-screen and pause to review it, but watch the whole thing to see how he does a review.

    Audient iD14 USB Audio Interface Review (audio performance measured) - YouTube
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    Quote Originally Posted by keith.rogers View Post
    @Chelonian - as others note, especially in "consumer" models you can assume there's a lot of minor differences, but if you read reviews, you'll find little quibbles about the sound quality. Features like LEDs, an extra headphone output or heapdhone level, hardware quality/durability, driver and installation issues, etc. are the things that differentiate to a large degree. Things like whether it has sample rates of 192kHz (or 384!!) should not be a concern....

    ...The Motu M2 gets a lot of love in a couple online/YouTube reviews - basically nails all the specs of anything close in price. (Podcastage and Julian Krause are two reviewers that come to mind.) If it's in your budget, I would certainly consider that over the UM2. The Behringer model @ecc83 mentions is well liked for its value.
    Thank you. Can you say why you would certainly consider the MOTU M2 over the Behringer UM2 given the price difference is $130?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chelonian View Post
    Thank you. Can you say why you would certainly consider the MOTU M2 over the Behringer UM2 given the price difference is $130?
    MOTU has been a respected company for interfaces for a long time. Behringer has not, but a lot of good engineers have gone to Behringer. Their new stuff is good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chelonian View Post
    Thank you. Can you say why you would certainly consider the MOTU M2 over the Behringer UM2 given the price difference is $130?
    On a feature comparison, the MOTU M2 vs. UM2 is not the right one to look at, as it is slots in somewhere between the Behringer UMC202HD (no MIDI) or UMC204HD (more outputs).

    I just suggested the UM2 because it gives you a single input at the lowest cost, and spec-wise, is a better option than buying a cheap USB mixer, for instance. But, it's limited. The M2 has better specs, but as I would argue, mostly those differences are not going to be the thing that makes/breaks your first home recordings. Not having an interface at all, of course, keeps you from getting started!

    In the end spending some time thinking about what you think you'd like to do in say the next 2 years is not wasted time. But, you have to balance for yourself the scales of budget vs. dreams vs. actually doing something. (I think a 2 channel interface is a good place to start, though.)
    "... I know in the mornin' that it's gonna be good
    when I stick out my elbows and they don't bump wood." - Bill Kirchen

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    I’m still using a FireWire card for one of my interfaces because it sound nice and has inputs and outputs in the right place for me. I simply do not subscribe to all the wonder and embellishment some interfaces generate. I understand some people hear and love certain audio waveform modifications that electronics can do. Colouration it used to be called. Back in the early digital days it was bad, now, it’s marketed as a plus. We wont ever all agree now, that’s fine.

    I think there are no terribly performing ones any more. Public opinion kills them off.

    For me they have two features that are important. Low noise and gain, which often annoy each other. Loads is always said that certain mics need more gain, but practically I have enough mics that gain is never an issue for me.

    The killer for old interfaces though, is drivers. Will an old interface actually work? Sadly my store has a few interfaces in it that don’t work any longer. Six years is a long time for computer drivers. Ten years is antique. Why would a manufacturer write new drivers for old products? There’s no business reason to do it.

    Before you spend ten quid on a FireWire card, check you can still get the windows 10 drivers. It’s a shock to have to pension off a perfectly decent interface because it’s no longer supported.

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  12. #10
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    Take Rob's comments to heart. You could probably get a PCIe FWire card to run an AI but there are pitfalls even there.
    Since Fwire is essentially obsolete such a card may not work with any particular mother board and Win 10.
    The next trap is the FW controller chip. Yonks ago only the Texas Instruments chip was 'usually' the only one that had a chance of working but even there some FW AIs were even fussier and needed another brand.

    A decade or so ago the forums were deluged with weeping folk who had bought a FW interface and could not get it working on THEIR PC. The problem was even worse for laptops where you cannot change the controller chip.

    Me? I would just bend the flexible friend and buy RME and sit back in the almost certain knowledge I would be safe till around 2030!

    Dave.

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