After reading stickies, I still don't understand audio interfaces and...

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by mike1123, Jul 6, 2008.

  1. mike1123 macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    how they'll benefit me and my current setup. I have an Intel iMac, and I'm using Garageband atm (soon to be Logic Studio); to record, I simply have a MIDI keyboard connected to my Mac via USB. How would an audio interface improve on this simple keyboard --> Mac connection? I then plug in my Shure earphones into the audio out port on my Mac, but I don't believe it's functioning as digital but as analog instead. So basically, two questions:

    1. Why should I buy an audio interface when using a USB MIDI keyboard and how would it benefit me?

    2. How can I enable digital out for earphones when recording (would I just plug them into said audio interface, which would presumably have a digital connection?)

    I've been recording for 5 years, first on PC, now mac, and I've never understood this. Thanks in advance.
  2. junior macrumors 6502a


    Mar 25, 2003

    All depends on the details you want to hear. Good Digital to Analog conversion (D/A) will make a big difference, but you need the other gears for it to be worth your while. Like a good set of monitors. A good amp if your monitors are passive. Or good headphones.
    What you hear from your headphone out is sound having gone through your D/A converter in your mac's soundcard. With a good interface or with the combination of an interface and a good headphone amp, you'll hear a big difference, provided you've already got good cans.
    You're probably just thinking about the input process (A/D), and you're right, there'd be no need for one if software instruments is all you use.
    Don't know if that helped, but I think this is the sort of thing you're asking?
  3. mike1123 thread starter macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    Okay, I think I understand. So an audio interface for me would be essentially useless for input since I'm using primarily software instruments. Right? So recording quality wouldn't change if I'm using USB?

    As for headphones, I have Shure E4C's, which, imo, are excellent. Very balanced. So basically, the audio interface combined with a headphone amp (what price range are decent headphone amps in -- I kind of want to pick one up) would improve what I hear.

    Am I correct with all of this?
  4. junior macrumors 6502a


    Mar 25, 2003
    I'm not sure you need an amp.
    Not that I've ever used it, but by all accounts the Apogee DUET's supposed to be pretty good. Get an interface first and then see if you really need another source to drive that sound into your phones.
    If it's possible, you really should look into getting a nice pair of powered monitors. You'll get better results and you won't go deaf.
    To answer your question about inputs, you're right, it'll be useless, seeing as you have no input source.
  5. zimv20 macrumors 601


    Jul 18, 2002
    an "interface" is just a collection of several components, such as:

    1. mic pre's
    2. line level inputs
    3. a/d converter
    4. d/a converter
    5. monitoring section (e.g. headphones and line level outs)
    6. metering

    if you're not recording external sources, such as vocals or a guitar, you don't need 1-3. as junior points out, monitoring (4 & 5) is very important, regardless of what type of work you're doing.

    while you can certainly get by with your monitoring as you have been doing, you can also buy a d/a unit all on its own to improve monitoring, such as a Benchmark DAC-1. (they're expensive, but sound great)

    hope that clears up a few things.
  6. mike1123 thread starter macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    I'm starting to get it. One more question; I do have some decent (decent in my eyes, anyway) powered Altec Lansing ADA995 speakers and sub (huge) that I'm using connected to my analog in on my Mac. Basically, two of these and the sub: [​IMG]

    Got them with my Dell; unexpectedly good quality, but I guess I'm still only connecting them via analog. I have the Logitech surround converter(yellow,black,green RCA 1/8" to L/R audio RCA) which then routes to my Mac. So, digital possible?

    Thanks for all of the replies; I really appreciate it.
  7. DJJONES macrumors 6502

    Mar 9, 2008
    Newengland usa!
    no digital is not possible because the digital output of the mac must either be spidif or optical tos link.

    the only connects to those speakers that you have is analog.

    for a fact those are NOT quality or accurate speakers period.

    you dont need any special audio production sound card to do what you do.
    but if you want to record vocals and get decent quality and actually hear whats in your mix without your hardware adding some form of crap to it, it might be worth spening some money on a sound card.

    motherboard sound cards are terrible for any form of audio production.
    its like holding a cardboard with holes in front of your speakers.
    atop that without monitors its even worst.

    hey man if you getting the results YOU want then your fine you dont need any sound cards or monitors.:D
  8. mike1123 thread starter macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    Thanks :)

    I'll look into monitors, but right now, I'll probably stick with my Shure E4's for recording; I'm saving up for Logic Studio right now. One thing at a time ;)
  9. mike1123 thread starter macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
  10. WellRedd macrumors member

    May 26, 2008
    What's acceptable is what YOU find to be acceptable. For my own recording purposes, I'd find 20W per channel not nearly enough power. I've never listened to those monitors, so can't comment on them, but I'd hazard a guess and say that they'd not be the most accurate monitors in the world.

    You really need to listen to monitors before you buy them in my opinion, and listen to a few different kinds in the shop while you're there. Take some music along that you are familiar with so that you can compare properly. That's the way I've always bought both hi-fi speakers and monitors.
  11. SigmundFraud macrumors member

    Jun 11, 2007
    Know thyself


    There are a lot of audiophile purists on this post who can genuinely hear the difference between 24/48 recordings and 24/192 recordings and could probably tell you which high-end analogue to digital converter they were listening to by concentrating on the degree of jitter and subtle coloration of the signal. I might be wrong, but you don't sound to me like the kind of person who would spend $20,000 on a pair of speakers. You need to work out what is good-enough for you.

    Personally, I find the audio produced by the internal card on my mac to be flat and lifeless. Plug a pair of entry-level sennheiser electrostatic headphones into my $400 edirol interface, and I can hear a whole new depth of sound and detail that leaves the internal card for dead. This is at the steep part of the cost-benefit curve. I'm sure you'd really hear the difference too.

    But if I bought a high-end set of headphones, say for about $6,000, and plugged them into a dedicated, studio-grade ADC (the kind wizards of the dark-arts use for mastering) - say $10,000 worth - I'd probably be able to hear a bit more detail - the realistic ting of cymbal hit attacks, more detailed bowing fuzz on strings - but incredible overkill for my purposes.

    For you, it might be that you like the highly coloured sounds of your subwoffered dell speakers. I imagine they would have a fat EQ bump spanning 60-200Hz and another at the treble end too giving a bright, thumping poppy sound that might match your electronic work quite well. They would be hopeless for production because what sounded wonderful on them might break another set of monitors. This is why people spend lots of money on "flat" monitors - that is accurate reproduction of ALL frequencies produced with no bias. Most consumers wouldn't choose them because they sound a bit ordinary; no exciting bass, no psycho-acoustically fattening distortion.

    If you're not wanting to produce, if you are happy with the sound that comes out of your in-built sound-card and if you like your dell speakers - you could save yourself lots of money. Go and have a listen to some pro gear and work out if it will aid your creative endeavours.
  12. junior macrumors 6502a


    Mar 25, 2003
    You're so, so, unbelievably wrong. And judging by the rest of your post, you may well be exaggerating your points (that's an understatement) which would also be horrible, because you're talking to a beginner that may well take your word for it and destroy what may have been a great experience for him by getting into the new world of composing and mixing ITB.

    First of all, there is a massive difference between the details of an entry-level headphone and a $200 - $400 headphone. I've never, ever been to a professional studio, post, or mastering, where they had a $6000 dollar headphone. Does it even exist?
    A 'studio grade' ADC will never cost you $10,000 bucks (he needs a DA anyway), a Lynx Aurora 16 for example, one of the best around, would set you back $3000. Aurora 8's a couple of grand I think.
    You may have a problem hearing the difference between a $1000 DA to a $400 edirol, and I'm sorry you can't, but the gap is pretty darn big, though equipment used with it is also a huge factor in appreciating it. $400 is certainly NOT at the steep end of the 'cost benefit curve'.

    Now that I agree with.
  13. mike1123 thread starter macrumors 6502


    Sep 19, 2007
    Yeah, I hear what you're saying. But I'm not a total noob; like I said, I've been audio producing as a hobby for at least 5 years now. That being said, I don't know much about the hardware aspect of this. I love my Shure E4's because I know that they're fairly accurate in the world of sub $500 gear. And spot on, like you guys said, when I record using the Dell's, the result is much, much different on other systems. In a bad way. The speakers are great for listening to, but not great for producing at all. The reason why I would look into monitors is because in-ear canalphones can be fatiguing before I'm ready to stop recording.

    As for room size, I'm in high school, so I'm at home; my room is around 140 square feet, and my computer/keyboard setup is currently in a corner (probably not ideal). Honestly, I don't want the best gear in the world (well, actually, who doesn't :p), but I just want monitors that will more accurately portray what I'm recording so that there's less work I have to go back and do later.

    As for Logic, I feel I'm ready to make the jump. Garageband feels a bit simple now, which, according to others, is a good indicator of when to upgrade. And I'm paying for this stuff myself, so don't stereotype me please :rolleyes:

    I probably won't listen to the monitors in person because there really aren't any shops around here that do that type of thing. Heck, I might just hold off on the monitors all together (maybe it would be better to get an audio interface instead).

    Thanks for all of the help.
  14. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
    I can strongly recommend the Alesis MultiMix Firewire range. You get an amazing feature account considering how little it costs, and it performs darn well for it's price too. Far more flexible than anything else I've used at the price.

    Plus you kill two birds with one stone - the mixer and the audio interface.
  15. SigmundFraud macrumors member

    Jun 11, 2007
    Firstly - and I had missed this on first reading, Junior, my "entry level" electrostatic Sennheiser phones are (I think) the very $400 headphones you say a deaf person could tell the difference between and a pair of standard entry level phones. I'd agree. I'm surprised by your post and your apparent expertise that you'd think I could get electrostatic phones at Wallmart for $40. Perhaps I confused you with the term "entry-level". An entry level Apogee is very different from an entry level Creative Labs.

    I was thinking of something like:
    So okay, the orpheus system is more audiophile than studio - I stand corrected.

    I'm not saying I can't hear the difference. I'd love to indulge my senses, but most of us have to decide upon where our priorities lie. Back in the day, most musicians focused on composing and left production to the wizards who knew what they were really doing in the studios. To write a good arrangement may not require equipment suitable for mixing and mastering a commercial release. I also think that when you spend too much time with high end equipment, you can forget just how steep the steep bit of the cost-benefit curve is. We must re-calibrate it in our minds to live with ourselves.
  16. nephilim7 macrumors regular

    Jun 13, 2008
    one should be careful not to include audiophile absurdity in a pro audio conversation.
  17. SigmundFraud macrumors member

    Jun 11, 2007

    Still, I'd argue strongly that for most bedroom musicians, let alone adolescent bedroom musicians, that buying studio-grade interfaces, valve pre-amps, and perfectly flat monitors may be hitting a walnut with a sledge-hammer. Even contemporary bands like Cut-Copy, who built their careers in bedroom studios, recorded their albums with real producers in real studios with real audio engineers and specialists in mixing and mastering. For all we know they may have done their pre-studio work with an M-Audio integrated interface that was "demo grade". Sure, if I was arguing a studio should be using an edirol fa66 'cause its just as good as pro gear I'd deserve whatever fell from on high. I'm just wondering if amateurs like me (and perhaps Mike) who enjoy mucking about really require such refined gear. Yes I can hear the difference but I'd rather spend that money on symphony tickets - genuine HD audio.

    P.S I've just edited my original response to Junior. I had missed that Junior seemed to take my description of "entry-level sennheiser electrostatic headphones" to mean entry-level headphones. I suspect that my sennheisers are the kind of $400 phones Junior suggests people could hear a difference with, compared to 40 buck phones from Wall Mart. I'd agree with this completely. The differences between the Edirol and Lynx Aurora would be real, but not in the same order of magnitude. I haven't A/B them, and I doubt Junior has either - so this is a guess. The differences would be in the fine detail - very important for professional mixing and mastering or for people whose ears bleed if they don't have the best. It is possible that my $400 phones would not be up to task of representing the difference. Indeed the more accurate representation of the low-end were edirol arguably falls down most would require decent sized monitors to even detect. I have A/B'd the Edirol against an mid-range "audiophile" DAC. The Edirol seemed to have less high-end detail and "attack" but I think if my friend and I had been blinded we would have struggled to tell them apart - partly because we don't do this as a job.

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