Looking to buy an audio interface in the next few months

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by jdmlight, Jul 29, 2010.

  1. jdmlight macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    Location:
    Chicagoland Suburbs
    #1
    Hi everyone.

    I've started researching audio interfaces to use with Garageband. I need MIDI and at least one microphone/guitar input, two (or more) would be preferable. I don't need phantom power at this point, but it wouldn't hurt to have it for future expansion potential. It needs to be bus powered (Firewire or USB is fine, this will be used on either a 15" Macbook Pro or a new Mac Mini, both of which have Firewire 800, I suppose if there was something with Expresscard that would be fine too (I haven't seen one of those though)). I'm looking to spend less than ~$250 (but I s'pose if someone said "hey this is an absolutely great interface for $300" I'd consider it) So far I've found two that seem to meet my criteria:
    • Presonus Audiobox USB ($150 on Amazon)
    • M-audio Fast Track Pro ($163 on Amazon)
    Any other suggestions or comments on the above two choices?
     
  2. RHELF macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2010
    #2
    Tbere are a few things to look at. If you only need one input at a time, check out the Apogee One. Apogee has some of the best A/D D/A converters out there. Only works on mac and runs around $250 and has a built in mic that is actually good quality. I don't think you can run the built in mic and your other input at once though.

    I have used the Audiobox and Fast Track. They are totally comparable to each other. I think the Presonus mic preamps are a little bit warmer in comparison to the M-Audio which also goes for Digidesign(Avid) all the same company. M-Audio is also not known for having the best drivers. I have personally had some driver issues where mid session, they would just drop. Granted that was on a PC, but I know of mac issues as well.

    All in all, they are both very similar in price and overall quality and you will get a good sounding recording with either.

    If you can swing a few extra bucks, or find one on ebay, apogee one or duet, MOTU ultralite or 828 are also really great pieces(might be overkill with inputs though). Currently I am running my MOTU 828 with my 2010 I7 macbook Pro and it is running just beautifully.

    Check out the Focusrite Saffire 6 USB and PRO 24. The 24 goes for about $300 and the 6 about $200. Been hearing really good things about those and Focusrite does make some really great stuff.

    Just make sure you check the manufacturer's websites for snow leopard compatibility before you buy. Shouldn't be too much of an issue now, but some companies were and still are super slow getting those updated drivers out.

    Good Luck!!
     
  3. Fishrrman macrumors G3

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2009
    #3
    My advice is that whatever you buy, do not -- repeat for emphasis, DO NOT - buy an interface that connects via USB.

    Get firewire instead! Most (almost all) interfaces that use firewire use version 400 instead of 800, but this doesn't matter. Just get a 6-pin to 9-pin cable if your laptop has a firewire 800 port. Things will work fine.

    The primary reason for this is twofold:
    1. Drivers. USB interfaces require software drivers, and with software drivers come "driver conflicts and updates", etc. On the other hand, if you get a firewire-based interface that is "CORE compliant" (that is to say, uses the "CORE audio drivers" built into OS X), you will NEVER have "driver problems", because there aren't any drivers to begin with. With most firewire interfaces, you just plug them in, and they are "recognized" IMMEDIATELY by OS X and made available to all your audio apps. It also means you can plug a firewire interface into _other Macs_ running OS X, without having to worry about installing drivers.
    2. Bandwith. Firewire (400 & 800) has much more bandwith capacity than even USB2, and the way data travel is "managed" by the OS and hardware is much better under Firewire for audio production.

    You DEFINITELY want phantom power, but nearly every device out there now supplies this.

    I've used the Presonus "Firebox" in the past, and, for its time, it was a very nice unit. It's since been superseded by a newer design.

    Since then, I've moved up to an Echo Audio "AudioFire8" which is even better. It worked immediately from the get-go -- no "foolin' around" to get things running, and it hasn't given a lick of trouble. It's got mic preamps that rival those in my FMR RNP standalone preamp (another thing to consider as you move on up the line). It's got enough inputs and outputs so that you probably won't "run out" for a while.

    The AudioFire8 is now discontinued, but you might still find "new-old stock" (unsold units) for good prices. I just saw a lightly-used one on ebay for $375.

    Echo also makes an AudioFire4 with a few less line ins/outs, but very similar to the "8" model. And it's probably within your budget (a few new units for sale on ebay in the $260 range). This could be as nice a "first time interface" as you could hope to find.

    A note about "bus power" -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. DON'T rely on using it all the time. The Firebox worked fine from bus power, the AudioFire8 has its own built in power unit. I'm _guessing_ the AudioFire4 (being smaller) can "go either way" -- bus power or external power brick. I don't have one of that model so I can't say for sure.

    If you want to research more, the forums at gearslutz.com might be a good place to visit.

    GarageBand is a good place to start, but eventually you may find you want "more power" over things, particularly where editing is involved.

    Absolutely THE BEST digital audio app I've found for editing is Cubase. Particularly where editing is involved (adjusting gain, copying, cutting, moving sound around), nothing else comes close. There is a "free" version of Cubase called "LE4" that comes bundled with some apps. Actually, the next step up is "Cubase Essentials" with a few more features, which sells for about $100 on ebay.
     
  4. jdmlight thread starter macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    Location:
    Chicagoland Suburbs
    #4
    This is why I love coming here for advice - only two replies so far, but I've already learned a great deal.

    Okay, my checklist so far:
    • Look for Firewire. I've always known that Firewire>USB, but I figured that it maybe didn't matter for basic audio stuff. Quick question: will the audio interface run okay if I also have a Firewire 800 hard drive plugged in to the same bus? On my Macbook Pro I can always add a Firewire Expresscard dedicated to the audio interface, but that's not an option on my Mac Mini.
    • M-audio has driver issues. I've been hearing this many places as I do my research, so I'll stay away.
    • Check for compatibility with Snow Leopard and Core Audio.

    Another Firewire vs. USB question: do all USB audio devices need drivers? I have a little inexpensive USB-to-headphone/mic adapter that came with my headset, and it's plug-and-play. Is that just because it's such a simple device? It works with Garageband (but it's strongly convincing me that I should upgrade due to its not-so-great microphone preamp;)).

    Also, $300 is my absolute maximum budget. So, as much as I'd like to spring for an extremely nice audio interface, I can't afford it.

    Something like the Apogee One wouldn't work for me, as I need MIDI.

    Bus powered would still be really nice to have. A secondary use for this audio interface will be for on-location audio recording for some small movies I make with my friends. There may not be power available on-location depending on the scene. (depending on how much power one of these interfaces draw, I could potentially rig up a portable battery-powered solution, but that's a bit clunky)
     
  5. FastEddy macrumors regular

    FastEddy

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Location:
    North Californie
    #5
    " My advice is that whatever you buy, do not -- repeat for emphasis, DO NOT - buy an interface that connects via USB. ... Get firewire instead! ..."

    A bit harsh, but the truth is that for professional audio / studio engineers have almost completely "standardized" on FireWire as the better choice. USB2.0 does have a place in the consumer arena for playback ... but "only" to the Dolby 5.x level.

    " The primary reason for [choosing FireWire are many]:
    1. Drivers. USB interfaces require software drivers, and with software drivers come "driver conflicts and updates", etc. ... With most firewire interfaces, you just plug them in, and they are "recognized" ...

    2. Bandwith. Firewire (400 & 800) has much more bandwith capacity than even USB2.0 ... [FireWire 400 can do dolby 7.x plus THX and all the rest to 8 channels, USB 2.0 = Not.]

    3. Latency. FireWire 400 (& 800) has vanishingly small latency compared to other analog to digital, digital to analog interfaces. This can be quite noticeable to professional vocalists, engineers, etc. and difficult to work around in the studio.

    ---
    That being said, that new Mark of the Unicorn Ultralite with both, FireWire and USB could very well be an excellent choice ... but a bit overkill for simple playback and occasional record and capture. It works with Winders or Mac, USB or FireWire (although FireWire is needed for the full range of features), which would make it ideal for any Garage Band OR professional setup.

    M-Audio.com has some excellent devices. Their FireWire Solo is vastly superior to any USB 2.0 device and quite worth for Garage Band work.

    EchoAudio.com, likewise. I personally have their AudioFire2 and AudioFire4 and use these for my amateur audio rip and roar ...
     
  6. Consultant macrumors G5

    Consultant

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2007
    #6
    I use an Apogee Duet. They make a $250 version with fewer inputs.

    I just got a THX certified yeti microphone (really cheap on sale), sound quality is awesome. It's USB but no driver needed.

    Now need a real sound recording room due to microphone sensitivity.
     
  7. jdmlight thread starter macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    Location:
    Chicagoland Suburbs
    #7
    I'm really liking the looks of the Echo AudioFire4. Bus powered, CoreAudio/CoreMIDI support, 2 mic/guitar/line inputs, and Firewire. My Macbook Pro (since it's older) has both Firewire 400 and 800 ports, for my Mini I'll have to use a FW400-800 cable (no biggie, I think I may even have one laying around). It's also $270 on Amazon, so it fits perfectly in my price range.

    Has anyone had any bad experiences with Echo products? The general consensus I get from many review sites is that their products are top-notch.
     
  8. Fishrrman macrumors G3

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2009
    #8
    "Has anyone had any bad experiences with Echo products? The general consensus I get from many review sites is that their products are top-notch."

    The Echo AudioFire8 was one of the easiest peripherals I've ever installed. I just plugged it in and it was "there", waiting to be used. I reckon the AudioFire4 would be the same. (And with a firewire-based interface, you can take it to other Macs with the same results -- no worrying about installing drivers.)

    It's a nifty little "box" -- everything you need to get going, and "room to expand" as well.

    The only part of the "Echo package" I didn't warm up to was the "Tracktion" software. Try it first to see if you like/dislike it. Of course you can use GarageBand or [almost] any other software out there. Again, my personal preference is Cubase.

    Keep in mind that the included software has _nothing_ to do with the quality of interface itself, which is first-rate.
     
  9. thehost250 macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2009
    #9
    Think of the future

    If you are thinking about getting into music at least from the software point (you are using Garage Band) then think in future terms now so you're not constantly spending more money. You can't go wrong with Apogee although you seem to be leaning to Echo. Think where you may go. Garage Band is cool but eventually you will want to move up. The next logical choice would be Logic as everything you do in Garage Band would integrate easily. Someone on here mentioned Cubase which is also good. I have Logic Pro 9 and Cubase 5.5 so they are both good in their own rights.
    The point is one day you will want to go from "prosumer" to "pro" so future proofing your system now will spare you having to purchase additional things when you upgrade. Above all, good luck in your music endeavors. Realize that many items that people suggest are usually due to what they can afford and not what may be actually better. Make a habit to try things out for yourself with your own ears. Sometimes it's better to wait and save up for the right thing instead of buying something to "make do" for the moment.
     
  10. FastEddy macrumors regular

    FastEddy

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Location:
    North Californie
    #10
    " Has anyone had any bad experiences with Echo products? The general consensus I get from many review sites is that their products are top-notch. ..."

    We have the AudioFire2 at home and we put an AudioFire4 in my niece's studio for her blue grass band. ... No Problems Found = echoaudio.com :D
     
  11. jdmlight thread starter macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    Location:
    Chicagoland Suburbs
    #11
    So would you recommend buying the Apogee One/Duet and then getting a separate MIDI interface? Because I do need MIDI. Also keep in mind: college student budget (but education discount, where applicable(usually software)).
     
  12. bravehahn macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2010
    Location:
    Orange County, CA
    #12
    i agree w/ host250

    i wholeheartedly agree with host250. i've been doing research and investing for the last two months in audio/recording equipment for a home studio including selling my pc laptop and buying a 15" 2.66ghz i7 mbp. bought studio monitors, pro audio headphones, a nice condenser mic for vocals/acoustic instrument recording and of course my audio interface.

    i did a ton of research between firewire/usb, had a budget all planned out and everything. but i guess you just have to ask yourself how far you want to take your seriousness with this. i wanted to create quality audio files to overdub hd video and post quality youtube clips/upload music to websites to get my music out. my opinion is go just 2 ways with this, cheap or invest in your future. what're you going to be doing? what's the midi needed for?

    if you're worried about a midi keyboard or something and haven't bought one yet you should look into midi controller keyboard options and almost every modern and updated midi keyboard uses USB now and doesn't even need to be connected to your audio interface for it to function in your DAW (digital audio workstation, i.e. garageband, logic, ableton live). it'll automatically be recognized by your computer w/ the drivers installed.

    my honest opinion, save a little bit more and go w/ the apogee duet. the apogee one is a great tool but i find the single input not worth the money/hassle for the projects you're going to be doing. the one is solely for travel, portability, and single musician use. duet's have breakout cables that allow for 2 xlr inputs, 2 instrument inputs, line in/out (monitors/speakers), and headphones. of course only 2 inputs can be plugged in simultaneously for recording i.e. a vocal mic and acoustic guitar. go w/ the duet, save up for a midi keyboard w/ USB capability and you're set. this is currently the set up that i use. if you absolutely need the MIDI then i'd stick to what the others have said and go echo audiofire or save up a bit more and go motu ultralite mk3 which was an award winner for interface of the year back when it first came out a year or two ago.

    oh and as far as a DAW is concerned, there's no problem with starting out with garageband since you're in college but i would check out ableton live. imo it's the best DAW out there when it comes to live performance/beat making/music making/editing sound. it's pricey but there's no other DAW that can beat the amazing workflow and ease of use of it. many many bands, dj's and artists use ableton. there are "lite" versions out there and of course there's a free trial you can use off the ableton website also.

    here are a couple useful guides from tweakheadz.com that'll teach you a bit about audio interfaces:

    http://www.tweakheadz.com/audio_interfaces_1.htm

    http://www.tweakheadz.com/audio_interface_fw_comparison_chart.htm
     
  13. ibennetch macrumors member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2008
    #13
    I wouldn't say "top-notch" -- more like "great product for the cost", but that's just me. I've used the Echo Layla 24 (PCI interface) and my two complaints are that they run really hot -- at the least you should leave one RU around them for cooling -- and that the support wasn't very good the one time I needed it. I was using two together but got random dropouts. Tech Support's response was "Dude, it just works", but after some testing everything is happy together (it was related to the word clock, software settings, etc...all very simple once you know where to look). They've been great otherwise; no problems with the quality of recording.
     
  14. FastEddy macrumors regular

    FastEddy

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Location:
    North Californie
    #14
    Consultant: " I just got a THX certified yeti microphone (really cheap on sale), sound quality is awesome. It's USB but no driver needed. Now need a real sound recording room due to microphone sensitivity. "

    My point exactly: any and all USB analog to digital microphones will be one or two channels at most ... which is not a problem for USB2.0.

    Now if you had four microphones, a guitar or two and a couple of MIDI I/O synthesizer devices, etc., then USB2.0 would fail miserably and fail measurably. The latency of USB trying to handle 24bit 96K per channel audio would make dubbing or overtracking almost impossible without several technicians and thousands of additional dollars worth of equipment ... using an EchoAudio.com AudioFire4 instead would save vast amounts of grief, time and money ... And that is not just my opinion. :eek:

    (Your THX "certified" microphone was probably "cheap" because it would not work for any music professional ... being one-channel of 24bit 96k, which is the THX single channel [microphone] requirement. BTW: the USB latency of greater than 15 milliseconds of your new microphone will make it very difficult to multi-track several voices or mixing with any pre-recorded sources ... good luck.)

    (Check this out: http://cgi.ebay.com/M-Audio-FireWire-Solo-FireWire-Audio-Interface-/130414545364 = Garage Band ready = 24bit X 96k X 4 channels, easily)
    (For the home theater system, capture and/or playback, Mac or PC: http://cgi.ebay.com/M-Audio-FireWire-Audiophile-digital-interface-/150473498612 = $40 bucks!)
     
  15. thejoshhoward macrumors member

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2010
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    #15
    I'll throw in my vote for the Apogee One or Duet if you want to save up the extra cash. You can't go wrong there. My duet is chained with a FW400 enclosure and I've had zero problems. Apogee is super slick in the way they utilize Core Audio. If you haven't looked into how it interacts with the OS, you should. I love it. I switched to the Duet late last year and it trumps the other interfaces I've owned including pieces from PreSonus and MOTU.

    For midi I use the M-audio Uno. It's a midi to USB converter and it's been nails for me.

    Good luck, man! I hope you love whatever you end up with.
     

Share This Page