Newish Audio Interfaces in the $700-$1000 Range

Discussion in 'Studio' started by m.m.a.i, May 22, 2020.

  1. m.m.a.i

    m.m.a.i Noisemaker

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    Part I - A fairly wordy setup to put the right context around my topic (I apologize in advance)

    Hi. This is my first post in this forum, but I've enjoyed reading some really good insights here over the past few months.

    My topic is a bit of a beaten-to-death "growner" that often culminates in "different musicians have different needs - choose the one that's right for you" or "there is no best...". I hope to generate a discussion that is a bit more focused and offers actionable insights for folks who are in a similar stage of music production as me. I have to believe there are others who are at that awkward stage of: (1) experienced musician, (2) well past the beginner stage of home recording but no where near the level of taking on someone else's project, and (3) hitting a frustrating wall of stagnant improvement.

    You don't hear from us much because we have years of knowledge and experience as performers, but are afraid to demonstrate our ignorance in the field of music production. After all, who wants to lose face and credibility in the eyes of the community. Well I'm tired of that and am prepared to embarrass myself in the name of getting better at producing my music.

    Here's the basic profile of "that guy" (me):
    - skilled on at least one instrument, competent on other instruments
    - capable of utilizing most of the strengths of their DAW; have established an effective workflow
    - can put together a passable mix; know how to balance frequencies and pan with a spectral image in mind, can use an EQ to create space/sculpt/HP/LP, probably still struggle a bit with applying compression but do know tricks like side-chaining a bass to duck under a kick, etc...
    - tried manually mastering our tracks, discovered the magical presets of Ozone, realized there are individual modules in Ozone that might help us tailor the presets to best suit our tracks and maybe learn something in the process
    - have finished projects that are somewhat close to commercial standards, but not close enough
    - after "finishing" the project and being dissatisfied, realize that no amount of remixing is going to bridge the gap since the offending track(s) weren't recorded well or we can't actually seamlessly fix the "little" flub in our performance by editing it later on; now realize that our vocal track is nearly pitch perfect and leveled but we sound like 7 different singers because the 12 takes we used to comp our vocals have varying degrees of inflection, formant inconsistencies, and cadence issues

    We also:
    - have a lot of really nice outboard gear... really nice
    - upgraded to professional versions of our DAW, Melodyne, Mixing/Mastering suites, and now buy "studio" grade plugins instead of scouring for freebies
    - stumbled across an article that informed us our relatively nice closed back headphones were effective for recording tracks but ill-suited for mixing... of course we were only reading the article to determine which headphones we should choose as an upgrade
    - bought flat response studio monitors once we got tired of exporting the song we mixed in our closed back headphones to an MP3 so we could listen to it through the 2.7" woofers of our computer speakers
    - were amazed at the "new" parts of our song that could now be heard through the monitors but developed vertigo as the sound waves bounced uncontrollably and attacked us from all angles
    - bought some basic room treatment, didn't really know how to configure it for the room, but "hey... I built a birdhouse once, how hard can it be."

    But did I mention we have some really nice outboard gear?
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2020
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  3. m.m.a.i

    m.m.a.i Noisemaker

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    Part II - Fast forward 6 months from the perspective presented in Part I

    Yep. I had a self-induced reality check. I got a handle on my Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I faced the hard truth that better gear will provide some marginal improvements, like mixing with a bit more efficiency because the studio monitors help you isolate flaws. However, the gear didn't fix the root problem - I wasn't a very good producer, sound engineer, mixing engineer, or mastering engineer. Sure, I was a lot better than when I started and could even occasionally fool the casual listener. I guess it comes down to goals. I wanted to create finished songs that I would be proud to have listed next to other no-name artists on a 3rd rate streaming service.

    So I did the hard thing. I stopped writing and recording. Instead I went back to the beginner tutorials and started learning things I should have known after several years of experience. I took a deep dive on some of my bigger disconnects like practical application of compression. What ratio should I use for finger-style acoustic guitar vs. distorted electric guitar and why? Where in the chain should I insert compression? Do I even need compression on this track or is the squash going to take away from the dynamic energy? How do you apply compression if the primary intent is just to add color? BTW, I'm still not sure if I have a handle on all the specifics of my example above but that's not really the point. I know that I'm applying a lot more discipline in my approach and I'm starting to know the right questions I should be asking myself. I also don't just dump 5 plugins in my effects chain, fiddle with dials, and hope that somehow it will magically sound good... anymore. Before you join me in mocking myself, take a good look in the mirror and admit that at one point you did similar things too.

    OK, in Part III I'm going to ask some specific questions about "Mid-Tier" Audio Interfaces. Some of these questions will probably be dumb and once again expose my ignorance. I went into ridiculous detail to set up what will likely be an anti-climactic Part III, but I also wrote these posts because they include the kind of things I wish I had read as I floundered to make progress producing my songs.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2020
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  4. Trurl

    Trurl Audiosexual

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    In that price range I would say look at the RME Babyface Pro.
     
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  5. m.m.a.i

    m.m.a.i Noisemaker

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    It's one of the 3 options I'm considering, along with Arturia AudioFuse Studio and Audient iD44. It's a real prisoner's dilemma.

    RME #1 for my top priority criteria (stability and low latency) but #3 for pretty much everything else I care about -> Arturia #1 for a majority of my criteria but using the generic ASIO driver (doesn't bode well for PC latency) -> Audient either close or on par with Arturia and ahead of RME in most key areas, $200 less expensive, same latency concerns as Arturia

    My struggle is I'm having a difficult time moving forward with RME solely based on it being the most headache-free option. The form factor of Babyface is by far my least favorite in this entire product category (and that includes $100 entry level interfaces). The layout of inputs and outputs is awkward for desktop use, and I question if I''ll be able to make quick settings adjustments without having to go to the software mixer. It only has 2 preamps, 1 headphone mix, and no insert connections. I'm not going to put as much weight on the truly "techy" stats because I don't really know if I'll notice a difference between -129 dB EIN vs. -115 dB EIN, or 76 dB mic gain vs. 72 dB mic gain. While I subjectively (without anything to back up this assumption) suspect the pres on the Babyface are really good, but maybe not quite on par with Audient or Arturia, I doubt that I would be able to tell the difference in a blind test.

    I'm o.k. using zero latency (direct monitoring) for recording vocals and acoustic guitars, but not for electric guitars when I need to use a virtual amp. I also record electric guitars fairly late in my workflow to add body or fill gaps, which I can't anticipate earlier in the process. At this point of the song, there are a significant number of VSTs impacting the CPU and freezing a bunch of tracks seems fairly inefficient. If I had confidence that the latency level of Arturia AudioFuse Studio was low enough to prevent me from work-a-rounds, I think it would be my best option. It still might be my best option although I don't see much of a drop off for the $200 less expensive Audient iD44. I also don't know to what degree RME would start having issues in the scenario above.

    It seems crazy to me to buy my 3rd preferred option but it speaks to how important the latency/stability issue is for people like me who incorporate a hybrid of recorded audio, digital instruments, and a healthy dose of effect/utility VSTs on top.
     
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  6. Trurl

    Trurl Audiosexual

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    There might be a couple other options- I've heard good things about the Zoom UAC 8 and the NI Audio Kontrol 1 (which is downright dirt cheap by your budget). The NI is said to have very good latency and I gather the drivers are solid but I don't have any experience with either one. All I know is that RME has rock solid drivers and seems to always play nice with Windowz which is a big consideration.

    BTW afaik you can buy from Amazon or Sweetwater or wherever and generally have a 30 day return so it shouldn't really hurt to get the Arturia and try it out...
     
  7. m.m.a.i

    m.m.a.i Noisemaker

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    Trurl - thanks for the additional recommendations. It's easy to get tunnel vision after narrowing down preferred options, which is a good thing if you think you'd be happy with any one of these options. It's not a good thing if you still have reservations. I think your suggestion to trial the Arturia is the smart route. If I don't like it I might look for a bargain on the previous RME Babyface Pro, as it doesn't look like the "FS" enhancements were that ground breaking.

    I researched the NI Komplete Audio 6. My conclusion is it might be a slight upgrade over my current unit and would facilitate the 3 channel acoustic guitar recording setup I want to employ (mic at 12th fret, mic at lower bout, DI line in). The layout and input options meet my requirements (although I would like the option of bypassing the internal pres). I think it's a really good value at the $250 price point. On the downside, it's also relying on ASIO and WASAPI generic drivers so it's probably not providing any better stability or lower latency for PC users. The positive comments related to latency that I found were from Mac users, and I've learned to pay close attention to Mac or PC platform when considering user comments. I think the major factor driving the difference between a $250 and $800 interface is the quality of the pres and converters, meaning the Komplete isn't likely to provide any subtle benefits to improve recording quality or detailed clarity for mixing/mastering. Potentially a step up from my current interface but not enough to warrant a change.

    The Zoom UAC 8 is an older interface (released in 2015). That doesn't immediately disqualify it, but the shear number of negative comments I came across in unsponsored reviews and user comments led me to abandon putting together detailed thoughts on strengths/weaknesses. A few things I saw over and over were (1) significant stability concerns on PC, (2) reliance on generic PC drivers, and (3) noisy mic input. It uses Burr Brown converters but that's about the only positive aspect I read.

    I also went back and looked at the Motu UltraLite AVB USB and determined it would be a significant upgrade but not better than the 3 on my current shortlist. Also should note I won't go down the UA path but it's not because of quality concerns.

    I want to throw something out there about my earlier comment on "quality of the pres and converters". I'm extremely interested in hearing the perspective of others on the following progression and assumptions:

    1) I know how to setup my recording space, position mics, and gain stage to improve the quality of the initial recording
    2) I can balance frequencies, sculpt to create space for instruments, and the typical techniques needed to create a decent mix
    3) With the help of Ozone I can create a somewhat polished master that would meet the specifications of a streaming service
    4) I upgraded my monitors to Adam A7X (on stands with isolation pads) and put in basic acoustic treatment (Auralex)
    5) My final masters are NOT professional quality but they're not light years away either
    6) My first assumption is higher quality pres have the potential to slightly improve the initial recording - a bit cleaner, and either clearer transparency or a bit of analog warmth (color) depending on the interface
    7) My second assumption is higher quality converters will facilitate hearing subtle details in the mixing process that were previously unclear
    8) None of this is more important than continuing to hone my production skills... but moving into the higher end of desktop interfaces could offer some benefits to help me get there.

    If you take my current perception of skill level and studio setup at face value, do you:

    1) agree there is potential for noticeable recording and mixing improvements that can be gained from a better interface
    or
    2) believe it's wishful thinking on my part
     
  8. Lois Lane

    Lois Lane Audiosexual

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    I'm going to guess that you wish to take advantage of that mystery outboard gear, so why not buy a used RME UCX, or if you're in Europe a new one for about1000 Euros. This way you'll enjoy the rock solid driver with that very low latency and have extra unputs and outs to hook up your gear.

    https://www.brack.ch/rme-audio-interface-fireface-ucx-393817?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=!cc-pssh!l-d!e-g!t-pla!k1-it!z-it_multimedia_channable&utm_term=&adgroup_id=95297775786&ad_type=pla&prod_id=393817&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkOi7-Y7N6QIVVLTVCh0bNAcuEAsYASABEgLNjfD_BwE&hc_fcv=Xsq7YQKYLWpe8khh~LgevMJM0Bcc3Uk-8zzzzzzzz~LZmQ3WU0EQ3p-k-Ezzzzzzzz

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. realitybytez

    realitybytez Audiosexual

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    i have to say, i'm impressed by the arturia unit. but it's so new i can't find any definitive reviews. the audient that you mentioned has a five star rating at sweetwater, based on 40 reviews. that's pretty exceptional.

    have you considered this: https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/UA1610--roland-studio-capture-usb-audio-interface
    or this: https://www.sweetwater.com/store/de...dio-interface-with-4-rupert-neve-transformers
    and finally, one lower-priced option: https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Series208i--tascam-series-208i-usb-audio-midi-interface
     
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  10. Daskeladden

    Daskeladden Rock Star

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    Thunderbolt is the way to go. Presonus Quantum 2626. What motherboard do you have?

    By the way stay away from The Zoom UAC 8. Terrible unstable drivers on Windows
     
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  11. cyrano

    cyrano Member

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    Best of both worlds:

    Get an RME Digiface USB (less than 400 €) and an Audient ASP800 (700 € incl. VAT).

    Gives you 8 great preamps, and 8 line outputs, with RME drivers, Digicheck and Totalmix. Easy and affordable to expand to 32 IO. An spdif to AES converter is just an impedance adjuster, so cheap if you need to connect to your Genelecs digitally.

    Possible disadvantage: Limited to 96 kHz SR (and even 48 on some units).
     
  12. nctechno

    nctechno Kapellmeister

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    that or even go for an RME PCIe card for best possible latencys and stability
    https://www.rme-audio.de/hdspe-raydat.html
     
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  13. audioplg

    audioplg Ultrasonic

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    @cyrano The Audient ASP800 line out puts are only feed by the preamps there is no adat input or digital to analouge converter.

    so with that combo m.m.a.i whould still need somthing to convert adat to analouge audio for there Adam A7X speakers.
     
  14. audioplg

    audioplg Ultrasonic

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    @m.m.a.i you tell a lovely history but you never really say what you want to be able to do with the interface.

    you only later in passing mention
    that you want to do.

    so your first thing is look at your gear as you mention you have outboard and how you want to set that up considering the audio interface a central hub for any things you may want to use as external audio fx in your daw.

    then work out how you want to record ie if you going to multi mic stufff or record a full band ect.. so you know how many mic's audio inputs you need at the same time.

    then other considerations are for any thing your going to use as extrnal audio effect in daw you need a output for it

    along with any headpone mixes you need for performers to monitor and you main monitors

    combine all this together and you should have an idear of how many inputs and outputs you need.

    it can help if you draw yourself a diagram of how you want stuff wired also gear dosent have to be wired all the time get a patch bay.

    then you want to look at fetures like the onboard mixing routing of the divices so you can create headpone mixes for monitoring purposes.
    also consider if you need monitoring fx like reverb ect.. (i know artists that even want a small amout of pitch correction of there vocal monitor mix these days.)

    then its consider your buget and see if anything fits in it if there is look for one with best drivers.

    if not then decide what your willing to scrifice or adjust buget to fit what your willing to sacrifce.
    you may end up with a interface that dosent have all the input/outputs you require straight away but has adat on it so you can add converter to it at a later date.

    other notes some interfaces will lose outputs when you work at higer sample rates 88khz +

    finally there is never really best it allways comes down to best compromise for you
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2021
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  15. AudioMixing22

    AudioMixing22 Member

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    Go with Antelope audio Discrete 4, a very unique device.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2021
  16. RitchieM

    RitchieM Rock Star

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    I’m torn between the antelope Discrete 4 or the Babyface Pro FS (on windows).
     
  17. nctechno

    nctechno Kapellmeister

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    any preamp with ad/da would do like https://www.thomann.de/de/focusrite_clarett_octopre.htm
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2021
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  18. AudioMixing22

    AudioMixing22 Member

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    If you are a Windows user go with thunderbolt one, Discrete 4 is a new device and technology than babyface! I'll maybe purchase zen go, it's all I need atm. good luck and keep us up to date.
     
  19. The Pirate

    The Pirate Audiosexual

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    I just wanted to let you all know that the OP was looking for an audio interface back in May 2020. The OP last posted here in August, 2020.
     
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  20. Rockseller

    Rockseller Platinum Record

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    oi this is a super thread. my interface got stolen and i need a new solution. thank you. (and you speak a lot of people's mind i guess, and got really far on the journey... I'm only here bc i read jewish audio interface lmao)

    wanted to just buy an apollo (bc of uad plugins and preamp) but now i will check some tips from here. one dude offered me a motu from the studio but i don't record bands and don't am a band member anymore and don't need so many inputs and i would have to mess around with my pc... so no motu. I only record one instrument at a time since I'm alway alone and i don't care if I have to plug things in first. i tried the stuff i had here like zoom, mpc or mixer as interface and recording a synth or something is nearly impossible with this stuff ...

    guess i can't really go wrong with an apollo? first i really thought the interface doesn't really matter and that I never would notice a difference and I am a no one anyway but it does matter. and especially the preamp and plugins options seems good for me to maybe record vocals later.

    :goodpost:
     
  21. RitchieM

    RitchieM Rock Star

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    True, but RME are rock solid and bombproof and the BF Pro FS is a new version.
     
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