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 Newbie

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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 Newbie

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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
  4. Trurl

    Trurl Platinum Record

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

    m.m.a.i Newbie

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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.
     
  6. Trurl

    Trurl Platinum Record

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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 Newbie

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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]
     
  9. realitybytez

    realitybytez Rock Star

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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
     
  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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