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USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:31 pm
by Thomas
As some of you know, I'm new to home recording and am still in the process of setting up my gear/processes. I've had to bypass my mixers USB section because it's only USB 1 and only supports 16 bit recording. I moved on to using the onboard Realtek sound chip (ALC888S-VD) but am not too happy with the generic ASIO4ALL driver/Realtek combination. So I'm looking to upgrade/cross-grade to a dedicated USB interface that supports hi quality 24 bit low latency recording and playback. I see someone locally is selling a "Digidesign Mbox 3rd Gen. USB Audio Interface" (standard, not mini or pro AFAIK). I'm looking for members who know of or have experience with this unit and also a comparable Scarlett product, would that be the 6i6 more or less? Or any Scarlett product in the ballpark as they seem to be plentiful due to their popularity. I haven't confirmed it, bit I've heard the Mbox 3 uses the Cirrus Logic CS 4272 chip, but don't know what the Scarlett line is using.

:mrgreen: As far as specifics go, I'd like to know how they both work with Mixcraft. How do their preamps compare for noise and clean output levels? My current setup seems to need a lot of gain to get a decent level.
:mrgreen: Can the Mbox 3's onboard DSP be utilized in Mixcraft?
:mrgreen: How do the drivers/software compare for stability, usability and ease of use? I notice Avid's last update is 2014, Focusrite's is 2018. Also it seems only the Scarlett's from 6i6 and up use the Focusrite Control Software. Is this a big deal?
:mrgreen: What kind of latency are you getting? Do these only work through ASIO or through their own proprietary driver technology? IOW, what do you select in Mixcraft audio settings?
:mrgreen: What else do I need to know? Any help to fill in the blanks would be appreciated.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:23 pm
by JonInc
I think it's a wise decision to go for a dedicated audio interface over the sound card.

In the under $400 (new) range, practically every current interface has comparable quality converters, so I wouldn't spend much time obsessing over that.

The most important feature IMO is stability of drivers. In that regard, I can wholeheartedly recommend RME (expensive) and Steinberg (budget) interfaces.

As far as the MBox 3 interface -- it's a bus-powered unit (No A/C). If you're going to use the onboard pres with a condenser microphone, I strongly recommend getting a unit that is A/C powered, as the USB bus just can't provide the same optimal phantom power levels. If, however, you have a dynamic mic, or none at all, then it really doesn't matter.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:11 pm
by Rolling Estonian
All depends on your needs and budget, among many other factors. Start with how many ins and outs you need and work from there. I'll never own the super high end but I'll never go low end so I went with an Audient id14, killer pres and features and can be expanded with ADAT. I'm just a hobbyist but have been around enough to know you can't go wrong with Focusrite.

M

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Mon Jul 16, 2018 9:39 pm
by Thomas
JonInc wrote:As far as the MBox 3 interface -- it's a bus-powered unit (No A/C). If you're going to use the onboard pres with a condenser microphone, I strongly recommend getting a unit that is A/C powered, as the USB bus just can't provide the same optimal phantom power levels. If, however, you have a dynamic mic, or none at all, then it really doesn't matter.

Good point, I didn't notice that Jon. It's interesting that on the front panel it shows a button, above which reads "+48V". How is that remotely possible if a USB 2 port AFAIK only supplies 5 volts. And yes, I have one condenser that I prefer to use over my dynamics.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 6:27 am
by Rolling Estonian
You need phantom power to power a condenser mic. Pretty much every I/O has a button for Phantom power and some interfaces you'll need to plug in to get power.

M

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 10:57 am
by Thomas
Rolling Estonian wrote:You need phantom power to power a condenser mic. Pretty much every I/O has a button for Phantom power and some interfaces you'll need to plug in to get power.

M

Yes, I have phantom power on my mixer, but I was wondering how a USB bus powered unit could supply power to a condenser. I checked last night and according to Audio Technica my AT2010 requires the full 48 volts. And according to another site the mics that do work may have less headroom. Not a good design imo. Avid should have made the mbox 3 full AC powered. Oh well, I'll have to expand my search.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 4:52 pm
by Thomas
Anybody have any news to report on the BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC404hd? I know gear snobs seem to hate BEHRINGER. But for the price, I had to look into it.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 4:55 pm
by JonInc
Thomas wrote:... Avid should have made the mbox 3 full AC powered...


They did... with the MBox 3 PRO model.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:18 pm
by Thomas
JonInc wrote:
Thomas wrote:... Avid should have made the mbox 3 full AC powered...


They did... with the MBox 3 PRO model.

True... I saw that but had to pass because it's Firewire.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:33 pm
by Mark Bliss
Well, I might as well complicate matter further...…. :lol:
(As well as annoy those who hate when it gets all technical!)

First off, In brief/simplified-
but I was wondering how a USB bus powered unit could supply power to a condenser.

You can step up voltage pretty easily actually. The "problem" lies in the rule of electrical circuits. Ohms law basically describes how if you change one of the three basic elements of power/current/load, another is proportionally effected.
In this case it means by stepping up the voltage, current (amps or in this case milliamps) go down.
And in the case of what's available from the common/current USB2 bus, this is already pretty low.

If I recall correctly, I believe the standard USB2 5v supply is capable of supplying around 500 mA, or 1/2 an amp of current. Step up the voltage, and that amperage would fall precipitously.
And it may be of curious interest there is at least one commercially available major brand phantom power supply unit that has the option of power using 2 AA batteries. For 48v phantom power. Go figure!

In practice, basing this on similar electronic technology I am far more familiar with...…
I suspect what actually happens is if a load draws more than that power can supply, the voltage falls off as a result. Most solid state devices and microprocessors have a "window" in which they will operate as designed. Drop below that and they can malfunction, or cease to function.
I'll spare you the explanation of how that works...... :wink:

Not intending in any way to detract from Jon's suggestion, it is something to be aware of-but in reality, some interfaces likely have more efficient phantom supply circuits than others, and some condenser microphones likely have higher demands than others. So I would conclude that probably- some combinations work fine, while others... not so much. And as he suggests, a serious user might want to consider this element when shopping.

BUT- you might also consider this: All "affordable level" interfaces I am aware of that have A/C power supplies, use wall wart/transformers that step the 110v AC down to (typically) 12v DC. The MBOX 3Pro is run on 9v DC power supply. Uh-huh.
The big difference here is that the amperage of those supplies would jump up by factor of 4 to possibly 6 times.
You should also be aware, there are stand alone units that insert the phantom power that are popular substitutes for users of interfaces that either don't have any phantom power supply, or have insufficient power.
Affordable units are marketed by companies such as Radial, and ART.
Then there are the more pro level power supply units. Starting in the $250-300 range (and up, of course) you can get highly conditioned power and features like "power ramp up" when powered on. These are the type often supplied with high end/pro mics, and supply "highly regulated" power.

I know that doesn't help with your shopping decision, but at least you will have a good excuse for an extra cocktail while contemplating your choices! 8)

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:38 pm
by Mark Bliss
Oh yeah, I forgot. :evil:
Everyone compares bus speeds. But don't often discuss that Firewire, Thunderbolt and USB-C ALL support vastly higher power supply levels.

Yep. 8)

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:53 am
by mixyguy2
The question was kind of vague; what's your budget? How many I/Os do you need? What about MIDI? etc

I disagree on Scarletts, at least the lower-end ones; have heard too many people having problems with the drvers, compatibility issues etc. When they work they do get high praise though.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 8:28 am
by Acoustica Greg
Hi,

With the Focusrite interfaces, look for 2nd gen. models and avoid 1st gen. models.

Greg

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:17 pm
by Thomas
Mark Bliss wrote:Well, I might as well complicate matter further...…. :lol:
(As well as annoy those who hate when it gets all technical!)

There's certainly a lot to digest there Mark :wink: So what I'm taking away is we've got voltage multipliers, but there is no free lunch. How well the device is designed and how severe our demands(including condenser mic requirements) can make a difference. Since it's tough to predict precisely how a unit will perform for me without having it in my hands, I'll probably look for units that include the AC power block.
mixyguy2 wrote:The question was kind of vague; what's your budget? How many I/Os do you need? What about MIDI? etc

The question is vague by design because I don't know for sure for instance, how many I/Os I need. I'm just starting out, but I can tell you I picked up a basic Midi keyboard, so I would like to include that(keyboard has one USB and one midi out port). I can also tell you that my needs are not likely to grow too significantly as this is just a hobby. So 2 or 4 I/Os would probably suffice. As far as budget goes, I should really limit it to under $200 to be safe. :roll: I am semi-retired and don't even have the proverbial "I'm living on a fixed income" that many seniors like to complain about. :) And to make matters worse, I live in a state that loves to make it tough on self-employed people. So that means budget new and also used gear and possibly trades.
Acoustica Greg wrote:With the Focusrite interfaces, look for 2nd gen. models and avoid 1st gen. models.

Thanks for the suggestion Greg. These seem to be very popular and have lots of bids on the auction sites. I notice that in order to get one with an AC power supply, one needs to move up to the 6i6 or higher model. And since the bug is now in my ear regarding AC power vs USB, the FUD factor is now in play (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) :? and presumably reduces my viable options.

Re: USB Interface Recommendations

Posted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 4:59 pm
by trevlyns
ALWAYS a Focusrite fan - and not necessarily 2nd generation only Greg :wink:

G1 handles active and passive instruments perfectly if you set the input gain correctly. Look at your input/output requirements - get what's right and don't go for overkill.. It's like saying 'I record at 96Khz 'cause I can hear the difference' :D