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Lets talk Audio Interfaces

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The past few months I have done a lot of research in the field of consumer grade audio interfaces. Yet I still feel like I've yet to scratch the surface of what to look into for these things. I thought I would make a thread dedicated to them since I personally believe them to be very vital to my workflow and production.

 

*edit* For clarity sake a audio interface is a device that processes and records audio.

 

So I'll kick off this discussion with a couple questions.

 

1. What interface do you use (if you use one)?

 

2. How does it suit your needs?

 

3. What do you look for in a interface?

 

4. What should someone look for in a interface?

 

5. What are some interfaces to avoid?

 

6. What is a good starter interface?

 

7. How does a interface improve your workflow?

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1. Steinberg UR22
2. Well, it's small (I work with a laptop) and it's way better than any internal soundcards

6. I think the UR22 is a pretty good starter interface, if you can live with "only" 2 inputs.

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I wanted to post later so the original post would be dominated. Anyway here are my answers to those questinos.

 

1. I use a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40

 

2. The interface has stable drivers and a good build quality. The mic pres sound good (though quiet), and it is expandable through ADAT meaning I can add more I/O though this or use it as a stand alone mic pres if the drivers ever stop being updated. The downside is it is large and runs though AC power giving it a little bit of noisyness though my studio monitors.

 

3. First and foremost I look for good microphone pre amps, bad mics can sound good thorough a good pre, but not the other way around. I look for one with drivers that are very stable (I've had unstable interfaces in the past and they have caused me to pull out a lot of my hair). It sucks when your whole computer crashed because of them. A good sound card is important too, but once you get out of budget interfaces that no longer becomes a problem.

 

4. If you are just a solo artist you should just stick to a one or two mic pre interface. Its good to have one that sounds good (good mic pres and sound card). If you need much larger In and Outs try to find one that is either run through PCIe, firewire, or thunderbolt as they have less latency. Try to stick with a company that has made their business on good hardware (Focusrite and Universal Audio are two examples).

 

5. I would suggest avoiding any interfaces made by M-Audio. My first interface was a Fast Track, and it caused me lots of Blue Screens of death due to its poor drivers. As far as I've heard that tradition as continued with the M-Track audio interfaces. Also be wary of the Presonus Audiobox, it is just known for being not good sounding or broken out of the box. Its ironic because the Presonus Audiobox 22vsl is a great audio interface and they look almost identical. The Steinberg UR22 is also known for being broken out of the box, but I'm glad to hear that Yami didn't have that problem.

 

6. Two starter interfaces I would suggest are the Focusrite 2i2 the Presonus Audiobox 22vsl. Both have good mic pres and are solidly build and programed. If you are really starting out you can even get the Scarlet Studio which comes with the 2i2, microphone, headphones, and DAW.

 

7. For me having a interface so I can process my music at a lower latency, plug in studio monitors and control volume is a necessary asset. Wanting to record more groups I found the need to have lots of ins and outs so I can quickly and musically record a group with good monitoring. Overall every person have different needs from their interface.

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The Steinberg UR22 is also known for being broken out of the box, but I'm glad to hear that Yami didn't have that problem.

This was mainly because of the bad launch drivers . But when I bought it, Steinberg had already made the drivers stable, I never had a problem on any of the systems I tried it with (Windows, Linux and even a Mac OSX VM [don't ask me why])

Concerning the inputs I can't really say anything about them, because I've never used them except once, but I think they're ok

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1. I use a Focusrite 2i2

 

2. It sounds good, is stable, and I don't need more than two I/Os.

 

3. Really I just got lucky. I did a lot of research, but was still unsure. The Phantom Power was important for my mic, but I didn't really know much about the different brand reputations.

 

4. Look for what you need, not what you want. I may want to look cool with 10 I/Os, but do I really need that for guitar/vocals or violin? Not really.

 

5. I'd avoid trying to sub in a soundblaster 24 bit with ASIO4ALL. Yeah it's technically the same bit depth and sample rate at a third the cost, but it was a huge difference getting the 2i2 over that.

 

6. The 2i2 is nice, but get what works for you, $ and performance wise.

 

7. I can box it up, use it with my laptop to record students and such. I used it to give an FL demo to a bunch of middle school kids last year.

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My first proper interface was an M-Audio Delta 1010LT, which was a PCI interface with mostly RCA inputs and outputs. The drivers have proven to be incredibly stable, and I still use this on my desktop production rig under Windows 8.1, believe it or not. However, it'll be phased out soon whenever I get a new computer, as this definitely won't work with newer computers. 

 

I'll second anyone's recommendation for the Focusrite Scarlett series. I personally own a 2i2 and an 18i20 (and yes, I've used this to a great extent in the past, but I am a professional recording engineer, not a hobbyist). The Scarlett series has built a well-deserved reputation on being some of the best bang for the buck you can get--with clean, uncolored mic preamps, very stable drivers, and a nice suite of included plugins, you really can't do any better for the money on any of their interfaces. 

 

However, here's some things that I hadn't immediately considered when I purchased the 2i2, for instance: I wish I'd gotten the 2i4. The price difference is not much, and with the 2i4 you get a second set of stereo outputs, as well as MIDI I/O. If you have a piece of gear that doesn't come with a USB port (a lot of older MIDI peripherals, such as synthesizers), or if you're just finding drivers to be a big issue (like I've found with my Akai keyboard on my Yosemite MacBook Pro), then it's nice to be able to just plug into the regular MIDI port and have all the issues disappear. Plus, if you're ever doing some sort of live performance, or just want to have a separate headphones mix from the regular stereo mix, then having the extra set of outputs is nice. 

 

My 18i20, of course, is spectacular, and I can do anything I want with the darn thing that I need these days. It's also DEFINITELY OVERKILL for anyone who's not recording 8 inputs at once and trying to do crazy output routing.

 

Some other interfaces I would recommend someone consider if they're looking for a new one in a fairly reasonable price range include the Steinberg UR series, the Native Instruments interfaces (used by my alma mater, the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, as part of their new student gear packages these days), and a few others. I can't personally name anything to stay away from, but I do want to caution my fellow PC users that you check and find out if you're able to use a FireWire interface or if you're stuck with USB only. 

 

My recommendation for a starter interface would probably be the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or the 2i4--the 2i4 will probably last you longer and be more versatile in the long run. The drivers are very stable, the installation process is a piece of cake, and it will work well no matter what your DAW is--with the possible exception of Pro Tools, which I've heard has issues with the Scarlett series. I can't confirm or deny that yet, although I should be able to test if anyone wishes me to do so.

 

It's true--I've done good work with just a built-in audio interface and ASIO4ALL. However, that is extra overhead, and I'm simply able to do more no matter what with an external audio interface. With an external interface, I can plug in any microphone I wish, and start recording quickly. With a built-in interface, I am very limited in what kind of sounds I can get. With an external interface, I know that the sound quality is such that I can trust it, and a built-in interface probably won't be nearly as clean.

 

tl;dr Get a good audio interface if you're anything more than a super-green beginner. If you're serious about this at all as even a hobbyist, then an audio interface will be something you find incredibly useful.

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I'm currently running a MOTU 896 MK III. That being said I've also used digi design, m-audio and tascam. No matter how many inputs you have, you're to want something with good pre's. From what I've heard Digi design, Motu and FocusRite have very nice sounding pres. Focus write liquid pres in some of their models for a fairly decent price. 

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