Audio Interfaces

Dave Mac

Honest, I'm Trying
Messages
345
Location
Home is Aberdeen Scotland
Hi,
I'd like to set-up a small home recording studio (that sounds much grander than I intend) so that I can record my tenor sax and guitar (adding some virtual instruments) with a view to both improving my playing and learning a new skill. I'm reliably told I need "an audio interface" between my laptop and instruments. I have been looking at the following:

Alesis io-2; Tascam US-122; and the M-Box 2.

I have read lots of reviews of these units and for every rave review there is a correspondingly condemning one. Have any of you guys got personal experience of any of these? Better still, have any of you got personal experience of 2 or all 3 of these?

Any other interfaces which stand out? I don't mind spending up to £200 - and I'm prepared to spring for a shure 57 mic as well.

Regards, Dave Mac
 
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AndyB

Member
Messages
210
Location
Durham, NC, USA
I just bought an Alesis io-2 last week. People seem to have better luck with condenser microphones. Someone posted that the recording level on their SM57 was extremely low even with a gain of 10. I had very good luck with an Audio-Technica CS1000 condenser mike though (supplies phantom power).

I'm sure you will use headphones while recording on sax, but I found the monitor output to be out of sync whereas the headphone output sync'd fine.

The 2 channels are automatically mapped as a single stereo channel (L/R) into a single recorded track. (Note if you're recording mono instead of stereo and are plugged into the wrong channel you won't get a signal. I think that is the problem that most people complaining about no signal are having.) From what I've read, firewire audio interfaces will record multiple tracks at once but require a bit of setup. The io-2 USB pretty much configures itself.

I'm not happy with the guitar inputs (too distorted when playing chords) but I plan to use a line input from my practice amp instead. Have to test that still.

I bought Sony noise-cancelling headphones and have no problem hearing the backing track while playing tenor. The mix-direct monitor blending knob works great.

I used Audacity to test it on a dual core Vista laptop (don't use playthrough), but I've heard it works fine with Garageband on the mac. No joy with an older single-core XP laptop that I tested first (sync problems).

The included Cubase software failed with sync errors on the XT and I gave up on it. Didn't test it on the dual-core PC. But you'll need something more than Audacity (free) if you plan to do MIDI recording.

I don't have any great home recording ambitions, just to record myself on sax to improve my sound, so it does everything I need in a very simple and small package.

Was surprised that it provides MIDI and minidisc/DAT connections which only the more expensive audio interfaces seem to include.

Audio quality = very nice. That's the main complaint that I've heard about other brands.

Overall rating: Fantastic, if your needs are within its limitations. Otherwise, you probably will need to go to a less-compact, more-complicated, firewire interface instead of USB and pay more.
 
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OP
Dave Mac

Dave Mac

Honest, I'm Trying
Messages
345
Location
Home is Aberdeen Scotland
Chris/Andy,
thanks for the prompt replies - yea, I think I did read that some people were having problems with the mic levels .... so a condenser mic!

Chris, The Alesis comes with Cubase LE, I think, and the M-Box with Pro Tools LE - not sure about the Tascam. I was expecting to start off with the supplied software. I have a PC (XP) and am going to upgrade soon .... that's another thread I suppose. I'll check out those mic links you supplied.

Andy, is the Alesis you 1st audio inteface? Or have you had experience of others.

Dave
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
Hi Dave,

I'm a mac user and so unfortunately can't offer any advise on interfaces.

With regards to mics, I have always thought that you should get the best possible, because if it's not there in the recording to start with it's very hard to put it in later. Luckily that doesn't mean you have to take out a huge loan anymore, a AKG C-12 or Brauner VMA anyone!

As to mics, I have a Shure 57 Beta and have no problems with levels but that could be down to my mic pre-amps and or the volume I play at. >:) I also have a large diaphragm condenser mic which in terms of sound quality and naturalness beats the 57, but like all things it's subjective and they were designed to do different jobs.

At the moment I'm tempted to try and get hold of a small diaphragm condenser mic for recording my practice sessions. A small condenser mic would be as easy to set up as the 57 but give me a sound closer to that of the large condenser mic, at the moment I'm thinking either the Rode, SE or Sontronics and I think there is a Russian mic but I cant remember it's name.

Best of luck,

Chris
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
841
Location
North of Liskeard, Cornwall,UK
Hi,

Any other interfaces which stand out? I don't mind spending up to £200 - and I'm prepared to spring for a shure 57 mic as well.

Regards, Dave Mac
And so we put the unbiquitous Zoom H2 into yet another thread.

I have a Zoom H2 and as well as a recorder it is also an audio interface. I have used it as such and it works fine and is a lot less than £200.

Martin

PS Didn't need a pre-amp when I used it with my Shure SM57 mic
 
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Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
PS Didn't need a pre-amp when I used it with my Shure SM57 mic
Hi Martin,

Mic pre-amps are built into most mixers, interfaces and portable recorders and so vary in quality and gain range depending upon manufacturer.

All the best,

Chris
 

AndyB

Member
Messages
210
Location
Durham, NC, USA
Hi Martin,

Mic pre-amps are built into most mixers, interfaces and portable recorders and so vary in quality and gain range depending upon manufacturer.

All the best,

Chris

Alesis IO2

"Featuring professional grade mic preamps"

Specifications:

Frequency Response: +/-0.35dB (meaning very even response)

Signal-To-Noise Ratio (SNR):
• MIC/LINE IN (balanced) to INSERT OUT: 110dB
(meaning extremely low noise)

Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise (THD+N):
• MIC/LINE IN (balanced) to MAIN OUT (through direct monitor): 0.006%
(meaning very low distortion - less than most hi fis)
 
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Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
Alesis IO2

"Featuring professional grade mic preamps"

Specifications:

Frequency Response: +/-0.35dB (meaning very even response)

Signal-To-Noise Ratio (SNR):
• MIC/LINE IN (balanced) to INSERT OUT: 110dB
(meaning extremely low noise)

Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise (THD+N):
• MIC/LINE IN (balanced) to MAIN OUT (through direct monitor): 0.006%
(meaning very low distortion - less than most hi fis)
Hi Andy,

Well you have more info on the Alesis IO2 than I have on my interface, all I can find is:

  • Two channels of professional-quality 24-bit/96kHz audio input and output
  • Two balanced XLR inputs, with selectable 48V phantom power on each input
  • Two unbalanced high impedance instrument inputs
  • One high-level stereo headphone output
  • Two unbalanced -10 dBV line outputs for powered speakers

All the best,

Chris
 
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Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
Background stuff that may be helpful

Using as reference the audio standard that we have all become accustomed to: The Audio CD

The specs for this are: 44.1kHz / 16bit. The 44.1kHz refers to the sample rate i.e. How many times a second the wave form is measured.

The 16bit refers to the number of values the wave form can be allocated each time it is sampled, 65,536 in the case of 16bit.

So both have an effect on audio fidelity, I often think of it as, the sample rate provides the high frequency fidelity and the Bit depth provides the dynamic range and low frequency fidelity.

Other common sample rates are: 48kHz (ProVideo), 88.2kHz, 96kHz and 192kHz are considered pro audio sample rates.

As well as 16bit audio there is also 24bit which has 16,777,216 values, this provides many benefits such as a better defined bass frequency reproduction and greater dynamic range.

The best audio quality would be 192kHz 24bit but I would guess that with most ‘home’ studio set-ups the quality of the speakers, mics, cables, computers etc would mean it’s not really worth while recording at this quality as you’d probably not notice the difference.

Recording at CD quality (44.1kHz / 16bit) would probably be fine for most people, for a bit more quality, which might help if using effects, try either 44.1kHz 24bit or 96kHz 24bit.

The other thing is that when you increase the Bit depth and/or sample rate you also increase the file size and the demand on you system.
 

AndyB

Member
Messages
210
Location
Durham, NC, USA
Hi Andy,

Well you have more info on the Alesis IO2 than I have on my interface, all I can find is:

  • Two channels of professional-quality 24-bit/96kHz audio input and output
  • Two balanced XLR inputs, with selectable 48V phantom power on each input
  • Two unbalanced high impedance instrument inputs
  • One high-level stereo headphone output
  • Two unbalanced -10 dBV line outputs for powered speakers

All the best,

Chris
On the surface it would seem that your 96kHz sampling would be better than the Alesis 48kHz, but I found some posts on forums claiming that some people has sync problems with the higher sampling rate. I think its going to depend on the particular PC that you own, because my old XP is a very high speed machine and actually faster than my new dual-core Vista PC. And I had sync problems on the faster but older PC, of course the dual-core might help keeping sync.

Tweakheadz.com review of soundcards and interfaces for the home studio
 
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Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
I use a pair of these, great little mics
Hi Pete,

I presume yours are a matched pair, did you get the three pairs capsules with them? and if so which polar pattern do you find you use most frequently? And have you had good results recording your sax with them?

All the best,

Chris
 
OP
Dave Mac

Dave Mac

Honest, I'm Trying
Messages
345
Location
Home is Aberdeen Scotland
A lot of info to pick through - and some of it very technical!. As a bit of background - I work in Qatar on a 8 weeks on 2 weeks off shift cycle. You just can't get any of this stuff over here and if you try to ship it in you could grow old(er) waiting for it. I'm home in Aberdeen next week and will be buying something to bring back with me ...... so I've got a week to make my mind up. Please keep your advice coming. I might post some of my early efforts and let you all know what mistakes/pitfalls await a complete newcomer to the world of home recording.

Regards, Dave.
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
A lot of info to pick through - and some of it very technical!. As a bit of background - I work in Qatar on a 8 weeks on 2 weeks off shift cycle. You just can't get any of this stuff over here and if you try to ship it in you could grow old(er) waiting for it. I'm home in Aberdeen next week and will be buying something to bring back with me ...... so I've got a week to make my mind up. Please keep your advice coming. I might post some of my early efforts and let you all know what mistakes/pitfalls await a complete newcomer to the world of home recording.

Regards, Dave.
Hi Dave,

Best of luck with whatever you decide to buy, I've found recording myself to be very useful from a learning point of view and it's good fun as well.

Going back to mics for a second, have a look at large diaphragm mics as well, I have a Rode NT2A which I can highly recommend although probably above your budget, Pete I'm sure would not have a bad word to say about his C12VR! But there are lots of interesting models at modest prices too:

Samson C01
Samson CO3
SE Electronics SE1000A
M-Audio Nova
Audio Technica AT2020
AKG Perception 120
Shure PG27

I can't personally vouch for any of these, but I think some forum members have had success with Samson mics in the past (I'm not sure which model exactly) and the last three are well respected mic manufacturers.

Don't forget to budget in a mic stand and XLR cable.

Best wishes,

Chris
 
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