Thứ Hai, 12 tháng 9, 2011

The "Best" Audio Interface for your Home Studio

The "Best"
Audio Interface
for your Home Studio

Soundcards and Interfaces   1          4       6 

How to buy an audio interface intelligently

by the Tweak
The Bell rings, a fresh class of newbies usher in, eager to get started with digital recording. "My goal", starts Tweak, his quiet voice trying to rise above the hub-bub, "is to keep you from making a serious mistake".
"And save you money".  A hush falls over the crowd.  

The Firestudio Mobile is a ten-input, six-output professional recording system that combines two PreSonus XMAX(TM) Class A microphone preamplifiers; six line-level, analog input channels; S/PDIF digital input and output; MIDI I/O; and headphone monitoring with separate gain control. The FireStudio Mobile beats any and all competition when it comes to flexibility and input count. You can record a whole band with the FireStudio Mobile.  Tweak:  Impressive i/o for the money.

Tweak: If you need 8 preamps and want the motorized fader automation, check out  the Tascam FW1884
But you should know, up front:  No matter what you choose, there will always be a risk that it won't work well on your system.  Every computer is a unique environment of hardware and software, and one bad variable can make a $700 audio interface sound worse than an ancient AWE32.  If you get advice from me or anyone on the forums use that knowledge entirely at your risk, OK? OK!
Ok, lets go. People ask me all the time, "What's the best audio interface for my studio".  You know, that's like asking someone what is the best car on the market, or which all night restaurant has the best coffee. "Best" is a 4 letter wordplease don't ask me what's best, even if you can afford it (We'll start you with an Apogee Native Tools which lists about 8 grand).  There is no universally acclaimed best audio interface. Best for what? PCs? Macs? For running Sonar? Cubase? For a pristine 3.6ghz 64 bit DAW or a lowly Pentium III 550? For a computer that has the notorious VIA motherboard chipset? For under $200? $500? $1500. For Win XP before SP2?  For Mac OS 10.39 or OS 10.4?
Even with all that information, is there a definitive answer out there?  Not really. Unless someone is whacked enough to buy every interface/soundcard in existence, test them all on every OS/CPU configuration and have enough sanity left to recall the results.  But we can steer you towards some of the better choices available today, armed with that info.

Audio Interface or Soundcard?

Over the past few years, musicians have been opting for an audio interface (AI) over the standard soundcard.  These may be either PCI or Firewire.  The AI typically has a breakout box that sits outside the computer and a cable that is connected to either a PCI card in the computer or a USB or Firewire cable.  On this breakout box are a number of connectors for cables that go to your instruments, mics, mixer or monitoring system.  The conventional soundcard, on the other hand, just sits in the computer in a PCI slot, the cables hang off the back of the card.
The audio interface type of system is often said to be better because the cables stay away from the fierce electrical fields that surround the modern computer. True? Well, that argument does not hold a lot of water, and it doesn't bother the guys running hi-end RME and Lynx cards. But this argument does...
Tweak crawls under the desk in the classroom and lays on his back, pulls out a flashlight, rips off his glasses pulls out a magnifying glass and shouts out "How in the bloody heck are you supposed to read which is "In" and "Out" on this thing?".  
Ha! With a breakout box you don't have to lay on the floor under some desk to connect it up and you can move your noisy computer farther away--always a good idea when recording audio.

The MOTU 828mk3 is a Firewire Audio Interface, plenty of i/o, great Mac OSX drivers.

Audio interfaces also sometimes allow for balanced audio connectors instead of the unbalanced 1/8" stereo jacks one sees on most consumer oriented soundcards.  If you want the cleanest possible recordings, then go with an audio interface that has balanced connectors.  We'll get into that on page 2.  For now, just note that balanced does make a difference, particularly if you need to run cables longer than 10-12 feet.  Keep in mind that not all soundcards are bad, and we'll go through some great ones in a bit.