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Old April 19th, 2009, 03:27 AM   #1
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Recommendation sought for PC audio interface

Hello.

I've got a laptop turning up this week, my first one I've owned with enough oomph to do video editing. I'm quite prepared for the sound outputs on it to be atrocious. And the sound inputs to be worse. So I'd like an interface.

I have a desktop PC. It's better, in audio terms, than anything I've owned before, but as soon as the CPU experiences activity (scrolling will do the trick), there's lots of noise. So I'd like an interface.

And oh yes, I'd like it to be the same interface. I only use one machine at a time, so I can swap them over.

So this means having a USB or Firewire interface, I guess. I did like a feature of the EMU 1616m PC Card version though, since that had a headphone output on the card, meaning, I suppose, that the box could be left at home. My laptop will have an Express card slot however. If a manufacturer offered an external box that worked off of an express card or a PCI-Express card, and it was possible to purchase the other separately, that could be an option, but I'm guessing it would add lots to the price, even if the card doesn't do much.

I require two balanced line-level outputs (to connect to powered monitor speakers, when I have saved up for them). I require a high quality headphone output for my Sony HDR-7506. Input-wise, it would be handy to have some extra inputs for when I need more than my Tascam HD-P2 can provide. So they would need to be balanced, capable of providing 48 volts of phantom power, and low noise- at least on a level with the HD-P2. I don't need lots of them though- I'd much rather have 2 of high quality than 6 of middling capability.

Since it will be taken places, it should not be too fragile, nor too big (rackmountables are too bulky).

Budget is circa £300.

Any advice gratefully received. Thanks!
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Old April 19th, 2009, 04:18 AM   #2
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I'm pretty sure the Presonus Firebox will work great for you.

Buy PreSonus FireBox 24-bit/96kHz FireWire Recording System | Audio Interfaces & Convertors | Audio Interfaces | Musician's Friend

I run two of the FP-10s (Firepods) daisy chained together and they perform well. I would not do anything with USB for audio due to poor latency issues. I haven't used the Firebox, but it looks to me to be a tiny version of the FP-10.

the only issue is that its gotta be turned on before the computer is turned on, and should only be turned off after the computer is off!!!! if either of those criteria are not satisfied, you may need to re-sync your interface to your recording software.
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Old April 19th, 2009, 11:49 AM   #3
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I am not sure how reliable this place is, but the unit Alec recommended is available for well under your budget here:

PreSonus FIREBOX FireWire Audio Interface with FREE Steinberg Cubase LE Software

Although there was only one user review at Amazon UK.......

Presonus Firebox - 24 Bit, 96 Khz, 6 In , 10 Out: Amazon.co.uk: Electronics & Photo

...... there were 21 reviews at Amazon USA for you to read:

Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: PreSonus FireBox 6X10 Firewire Recording Interface

John
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Old April 19th, 2009, 02:18 PM   #4
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I would suggest MOTU gear over Presonus. Presonus cheaps out on their preamps, and the sound isn't what you would call "stellar". If you are looking for a more Pro sound quality and more options let me suggest "MOTU UltraLite mk3 FireWire Audio Interface". It can be powered by the firewire alone (one cable!), it's portable (Great for remote recording) has 2 xlr/inst preamps, + 6 more line level inputs. Midi and S/PDIF. It can be used as a regular mixer with no computer involved if you like. Just read abut it. It's awesome. I use the "Traveler" and started on PC with that, then graduated to Mac.


Buy MOTU UltraLite mk3 FireWire Audio Interface | Audio Interfaces & Convertors | Audio Interfaces | Musician's Friend

You really don't want to skimp on audio. It's half of the whole video game. If you skimp on your audio interface, then everything that goes through it suffers. MOTU has a great track record.

Good luck!

Chad
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Old April 19th, 2009, 03:13 PM   #5
 
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Just goes to show ya how subjective a question sound is. In my experience, MOTU and Presonus are both very unacceptable solutions. I would heartily recommend Echo or M-Audio. Both work very well with Avid, ProTools, and Soundforge.
Edit: The thing to look at is the idle noise level. Most cards will run -90dBFS, or worse. A good card will run better than -100dBFS. Good circuit board desogn and good shielding may matter more than the chipset.

Last edited by Bill Ravens; April 19th, 2009 at 04:03 PM.
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Old April 19th, 2009, 03:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Ravens View Post
I would heartily recommend Echo or M-Audio. Both work very well with Avid, ProTools, and Soundforge.
The Motu family of audio interfaces are all built upon essentially the same platform. The newer generation utilize Texas Instruments TMS320 series of DSP processors to handle bussing and routing. The converters are Asahi Kasei (AKM), and are the same converters used in many other brands of interfaces, including Digidesign, RME, M-Audio, Roland, and many more. Given their strong Macintosh drivers, these units are fantastic choices for an Apple-based home studio as well as PC.

{{{{EDIT}}}}
Of course there is a little marketing involved here, but EM loves this interface:
http://www.motu.com/newsitems/ultralite-reviews/


And yes there is definitely better equipment out there. But for price/quality MOTU is awesome. You can always get a more expensive preamp later. Also, don't skimp on microphones either. But that's another thread.

Last edited by Chad Johnson; April 19th, 2009 at 04:25 PM.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 07:09 AM   #7
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Laptop:-
For editing (IE: just need a good headphones output) then look at these three:-
Cakewalk UA-1G
Echo Indigo DJx (or IOx if you want an in as well)
M-Audio Transit

I have been using the M-Audio Transit - and it's excellent - but it does not seem to like my new Vista laptop - so I am now getting the Cakewalk (and probably the DJx as well as that is so easy for editing on the move).

If you want a proper pro soundcard wioth multi ins and outs, then I would look at RME - I have a Fireface 400 at the moment and a PCI card in my main PC.

I hope this helps.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 07:13 AM   #8
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Of course, it oughtn't to be subjective, at least in terms of SNR, and noise floor, etc. But I wouldn't trust the stats coming from any manufacturer- I've been in IT long enough to know about the various entrenched fibs they all tell, such as printer speeds and so on.

I know that humans can't trust their instincts- if you like or hate a brand, it can make you hear things that aren't there (or in this case, not hear things that shouldn't be there!).

Thanks for the suggestions so far, chaps.

The MOTU ultralte is nearly twice my budget. So many of these things stack on dozens of line level inputs, which are near to useless for me, and would much rather they took what they spent on that and spent it on superior pre-amps. I like how it looks, I'll be honest.

Bill- which products from Echo and M-Audio are you thinking of in particular? The ProFire 610 looks interesting, I could see the dual headphone sockets being damn handy at times. The Echo AudioFire 4 seems pretty similar, though it lacks the dual headphone sockets (and it's 3.5mm, too). Looking around online, lots of suggestions that the pres on the 610 are a bit weak, and you need to push the gain and ending up with more noise than is generally welcome.

It's interesting to note that there are a lot more USB interfaces than Firewire. I guess this might partially be down to the greater ubiquity of USB, and also because for a lot of people, latency isn't that big a deal. It's probably nigh-on irrelevant when recording, but when you need it to sync up with video on playback, that's a different matter. And that's my concern. This will be used more as an output than an input.

Speaking of which, the headphone outputs- are these just monitors of the inputs, or outputs from the computer's audio? I need the latter, obviously, but I note that Sound Devices USB interface is just a monitor. And too expensive! The headphone amp needs to be good too, as currently it will be my ultimate authority on whether it sounds clean or not. I have a suspicion that the headphone output on my Tascam HD-P2 is actually making the captured audio sound noisier than it is. It's still better than the output found on my A-T 1800 receiver though, which is shockingly poor.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 07:41 AM   #9
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When I'm monitoring seriously I use HD 800 headphones through a Grace m902b. The Grace is fed with an optical digital signal from the laptop via the M-audio Transit (Cakewalk in the future as I can't get the Transit to work with my new laptop - but the headphones and amp alone are about £3,000.

The Transit and Cakewalk are both under £100 and give a good headphones signal when I'm on the move (where I use HD 25-1 headphones).

The Echo DJx is about £180 and (I'm told) has an excellent headphones amp. as this fits in the laptop's express card slot it's very easy for editing on the move (they also do a PCMCIA version if you have the old slot).
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Old April 20th, 2009, 07:43 AM   #10
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hi, totally new to the forums, but not new to audio production both live and studio.

I personally would second the ECHO AUDIO interface over any of the ones mentioned. Echo uses the best word clocks you can get for the money, and it is the word clock that makes or breaks an interface.

the Audiofire 4 is simply amazing for the money, on par with Apogee...
Echo Digital Audio Corporation

cheers~
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Old April 20th, 2009, 08:04 AM   #11
 
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Phil...

I, personally, use an older Echo Mona. Unfortunately, this PCI device is no longer available. Perhaps the Echo Layla is comparable PCI device.I also have an Echo Audiofire 12. While the performance is outstanding, the firewire devices don't have the seamless capability that the PCI devices have. By the way, for the same latency reasons, I would avoid any USB sound devices.

So, I also recommend the M-audio cards. I have a delta 1010LT, which is as nice a card as the Echo Mona, it just doesn't have the slick interface box. But, in some cases, the delta 1010lt outperformed the Mona. Both the Echo and the M-audio product line work well with Avid Media Composer. As you may(or not) know, Avid is very picky when it comes to audio.

IMHO, the MOTU product line is excessively priced, and you don't get, in performance, what you paid for.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 08:38 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
If you want a proper pro soundcard with multi ins and outs, then I would look at RME - I have a Fireface 400
I'd give it some consideration if it wasn't well over twice my budget!

I was just looking at a few of the truly mini devices, such as the CEntrance MicPort Pro as an input. But although tiny, I'd need two to get up to what's offered by the next size up devices as discussed above...so not great value. As output, I'd just looked at the IOx actually, which obviously scores highly for portability. Not so highly for the inputs- no pre-amps. There's no point me having any inputs without pres. And it's rather pricey for what it is.

Did you not have any sync issues with the USB devices, John? The Transit is certainly cheap, and for times when I know I only want to edit, assuming the output was super-clean (and if sync wasn't an issue), it might be worth having, given the size.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 09:51 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Bill Ravens View Post
As you may(or not) know, Avid is very picky when it comes to audio.
I know how picky it is about graphics cards, which is why I am in a perpetual state of crossed fingers about the laptop (it has ATI graphics) though several people have had success, apparently.

Since it needs to work on the laptop (and in fact that might be the only place it gets used unless the headphone output is amazing, since I am unlikely to record near my desktop, and I have no good monitor speakers yet), I have to steer clear of PCI cards, though I can completely understand why that (or the modern equivalent, ExpressCard/PCI Express) is better.

The audiofire 12 I feel is a bit too big, and I would end up not taking it with me.

I've just realised that, as is probably the case with virtually every laptop owner, I have just a 4 pin connector available. Meaning no bus power. Will need a power socket, or to buy an ExpressCard firewire card to get a 6 pin socket! Grrr. They aren't cheap, it seems.

Anyone have anything to say about Focusrite? The Saffire looks interesting, though it's also quite elderly in comparison.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 09:58 AM   #14
 
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ahhh.I understand your dilemma. Didn't realize you were dealing with a laptop. If your onboard soundcard won't handle things, it may be worthwhile to accept the latency issues and go with a USB solution. The Digidesign boxes work OK, and if you're working with Avid MC, go with the Digidesign Mbox2. Last I checked, the Mbox2 mini won't work with Avid.
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Old April 20th, 2009, 10:42 AM   #15
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Last I checked, the Mbox2 mini won't work with Avid.
Well that's simply silly given who owns Digidesign!

I tend to record double system, so I always have some syncing to do, so sync issues do trouble me. Granted, more often than not, I sync by eye- matching the waveform to the visual, which is easy if you use a slate, which I do.

Oh, look at that- the mic pre-amps on the Mbox2 are from Focusrite, that's intriguing.

USB bus power would solve my 4pin firewire issue, that's for sure. And it frees up the wirewire port for the Panasonic DVX100B camcorder.

The onboard sound I'm sure will *function*, I've just never heart laptop audio I thought was any good. And clearly, it won't support balanced inputs/outs, etc.

What makes you switch to recommending the Digidesign Mbox 2 over, say, the M-Audio or Echo boxes though? It doesn't sound like you're impressed with them ("work OK"). Shame they only support two inputs, as well, but if you want more than 2 mic level inputs, you seem to have to jump up to the much (physically) bigger boxes.
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