Old 12-03-2017, 03:29 PM   #1
fladd
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Default Advice for audio interface upgrade?

Hi everyone,

a couple of years ago, I was thinking about adding an analogue mixer in front of my Scarlett 2i2, so I could select from which source I want to record (see this thread: https://forum.cockos.com/showthread.php?t=145374). I did not buy a mixer, and I still have that 2i2.

But now it is time to upgrade, such that I can have all my input devices connected simultaneously (an SE X1 mic, a Shure SM-58 mic, a JD-Xi synth, a Novation Circuit groovebox, and a Roland TD-9 electronic drum kit).

I realise that the perfect interface for my situation does not exist. However, the one that comes closest is probably the Clarett 4pre. It has dedicated line inputs, and I could upgrade by adding an ADAT inerface (such as the ADA8200). Unfortunately, I don't have a Thunderbolt port.

The corresponding Scarlett 18i8 is also pretty close, but it has only a single stereo output, which means if I ever wanted to add external effect units, I would need to upgrade the interface again. The other concern is audio quality. I read a lot of different opinions on the Scarletts, ranging from "they are great" to "they have the worst preamps ever", and everything in between.

The usual suggestion is to look at the Audient USB interfaces (ID14, ID22). They are supposed to be much better in audio quality. Unfortunately, they only have 2 inputs each, so I would need to get an ADAT interface right away. I also read concerns about driver issues (i.e. bad latencies, unstable, etc.). The Scarlett has always been great in terms of drivers (unlike the EMU Tracker Pre I had before that).

Then there is of course MOTU (the Ultralite MK4 looks nice), and RME, but they are in a different price league.

So I was hoping for some suggestions from you more experienced guys. Also keeping in mind the rest of my gear (i.e. the mics I mentioned above, as well as my Tannoy Reveal 601a monitor speakers). Is my equipment even capable to benefit from an audio interface that is marginally better than a Scarlett?

Really looking forward for some of your opinions!
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Old 12-03-2017, 04:01 PM   #2
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Have you looked at the 20x20 by Tascam?

It has the ins and outs you need to route external FX no problem. It also has excellent on board DSP for monitoring and a low latency.
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Old 12-03-2017, 04:21 PM   #3
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Have you looked at the 20x20 by Tascam?

It has the ins and outs you need to route external FX no problem. It also has excellent on board DSP for monitoring and a low latency.
Thanks, I have. But isn't Tascam owned by Gibson nowadays? A bit too risky maybe...
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Old 12-03-2017, 08:32 PM   #4
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What about the MOTU UltraLite mk4? 8 in, 8 out analog with 2 mic pre amps, midi io, spdif io, and adat in and out.

In general the features you need come with audio interfaces that have better sound quality, and the cheaper units that have the features you want are usually compromised in other ways, like low latency performance, so it's not really like you can get the same features for cheaper by skimping on fidelity without dealing with other negative consequences.

EDIT: Sorry, missed this bit.

Quote:
Then there is of course MOTU (the Ultralite MK4 looks nice), and RME, but they are in a different price league.
Well, there are other options, but It's hard to get reliable information about latency, and performance at low latency. Many people ended up in presonus latency hell attempting to get a lot of features for little cash.

The Focusrite Scarlett (gen 2) interfaces actually do alright on latency and sound quality, but to achieve the price point they do, they skimp on outputs, hence the dilemma you are looking at right now. A Presonus AudioBox-1818VSL has 8 ins and outs and decent sound quality, but the latency performance is terrible.

Something has to give somewhere. I don't know anyone who regretted spending their money on RME or MOTU. I know quite a few people who eventually got RME or MOTU, after buying presonus first, who ended up selling the presonus for basically nothing. Buy cheap, but twice.

Now, for all I know, there is an interface from one of the cheaper manufacturers with 8 ins and outs that does have decent latency performance, but unless you can get confirmed figures from someone, which can be just a pain, or plain impossible, then you're taking a punt.

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Old 12-03-2017, 11:18 PM   #5
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The corresponding Scarlett 18i8 is also pretty close, but it has only a single stereo output, which means if I ever wanted to add external effect units, I would need to upgrade the interface again.
The Scarlett has 8 outputs. or 4 stereo ones, if you like...

And an ADA8200 would add another 8.
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Old 12-04-2017, 04:30 AM   #6
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The Scarlett has 8 outputs. or 4 stereo ones, if you like...

And an ADA8200 would add another 8.
The 18i8 has 6 channels of analog output, 4 channels of which are connected to 2 stereo headphone outputs, and 2 digital outputs via SP/DIF.

It does have adat input for an extra 8 input channels, but doesn't have adat output.

The 18i20 might be a better option. It has 8 analog inputs, 8 analog outputs, 2 channels of spdif in and out, and adat in and out for an extra 8 channels in each direction.

That's what I'd get if I didn't want to spend the extra cash on RME or MOTU. I hadn't noticed the 18i20 before.

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Old 12-04-2017, 09:43 AM   #7
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I own a Scarlett 18i8 and a MOTU-8 Pre. From a pre-amp standpoint, they're about the same: Pretty good quality, but not great. From a usability and flexibility standpoint, the Focusrite is way, way better. I fight with the MOTU every time I start the control program for it. It's one of the few devices I've ever plugged into a Mac that didn't "just work." The Focusrite control software is easy and intuitive.

If pre-amp quality is your thing, go with the Clarett line, though.
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Old 12-04-2017, 09:45 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by drumphil View Post

It does have adat input for an extra 8 input channels, but doesn't have adat output.
The lack of ADAT out is my one big knock on the 18i8. I've cursed it's absence a number of times.
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Old 12-04-2017, 10:35 AM   #9
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RME.

That is all.



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Old 12-04-2017, 01:33 PM   #10
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Thanks for the answers so far, much appreciated!

Indeed, the 18i8 does only have a single stereo output. The other 6 outputs are headphones and SPDIF. There is also no ADAT out on this interface, only in, so you also cannot expand it to have more outputs (I would actually be fine with a single additional stereo output that I might use in the future for external effects - or not, I have no concrete plans to by an effects unit, just planning ahead in general).

Concerning the 18i20, I think the main "issue" here is that it has no dedicated line ins like the 18i8, and all synths would then go through the preamps (as they cannot be bypassed). To be honest, I don't know how much of an issue that is. If you read stuff on Gearslutz, then this is a huge issue, but Focusrite themselves says it should be no issue as the preamps are clean and should not colour the sound. I have no means to judge it. It would mean that I have to match the input gain manually though, in order to have the correct left/right balance (the channels cannot be linked as far as I know). The other general thing with the 2nd gen Scarletts is the reduced mic input gain of 50dB, which is probably less than on my current first gen 2i2. Some say they have trouble to record an SM58 with a new Scarlett due to this.

Ivansc, as you suggest to go RME, do you believe that I will hear the sonic advantages, given my particular microphones and monitor speakers? I understand that if I had 3000 Euro mics and speakers that I would hear a difference, but with my equipment?

I think this is what makes me most uncertain, I just cannot estimate how big the difference between a Scarlett and something more top of the line is? I don't doubt that an RME or Apogee is better, but is it worth to pay double the price or more if you are using it in a homerecording context (i.e. you are not going to produce a top 10 international act with it)? Some people say it is a day and night difference, others say the Scarletts are very transparent and just fine. So many different opinions...
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Old 12-04-2017, 01:34 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by jerome_oneil View Post
If pre-amp quality is your thing, go with the Clarett line, though.
I unfortunately can't. No Thunderbold port :-(
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Old 12-04-2017, 05:07 PM   #12
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fladd: The audio performance of MY RME stuff is not what has ultimately led me to decide that unless someone else ups their game significantly I will b staying with them.
The build quality and above all the super software, including ASIO drivers for PC and the equivalent on my Mac, are what (for me) keeps their kit head and shoulders above just about everyone else.
Just in terms of how long they support their old kit without even thinking about how the Totalmix utility that comes with them is benefiting from the latest upgrades even on my prehistoric HDSP 9652 pci card.

I paid around £200 for mine used and have the capability to run not only 24 audio ins but also 24 audio outs. I could send headphone mixes out to about half a Welsh Male Voice Choir without breaking a sweat!


P.S. And with one of my focusrite ADAT preamps hooked up, I can run an extra 8 in and out on my Babyface via USB 2 on my laptop!
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Old 12-04-2017, 10:29 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by fladd View Post
I unfortunately can't. No Thunderbold port :-(
Have you thought about picking up a used Audient iD14 and a new ADAT 8 channel pre? You can buy a Clarett 8-pre and use the Audient's ADAT in. That will give you Clarett preamps on USB.

That's my plan for expanding with the 18i8.
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Old 12-05-2017, 06:34 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by fladd View Post
Hi everyone,

The usual suggestion is to look at the Audient USB interfaces (ID14, ID22). They are supposed to be much better in audio quality. Unfortunately, they only have 2 inputs each, so I would need to get an ADAT interface right away. I also read concerns about driver issues (i.e. bad latencies, unstable, etc.). The Scarlett has always been great in terms of drivers (unlike the EMU Tracker Pre I had before that).
I have my ID14 for nearly 2 years now and what I can say is that is one of the most stable interface I had (previously had RME fireface, focusrite pro 10io, focusrite pro 24 DSP, and a bunch of others).
The sound quality is excellent, the pre-amps a way better than expected and the DI input is great.
For one project I needed a couple of extra inputs, so I just bought a analog/spdif converter plug into the optical input, and it works beautifully.
Plus, the id knob works really well in Reaper.
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Old 12-05-2017, 01:00 PM   #15
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I have my ID14 for nearly 2 years now and what I can say is that is one of the most stable interface I had (previously had RME fireface, focusrite pro 10io, focusrite pro 24 DSP, and a bunch of others).
The sound quality is excellent, the pre-amps a way better than expected and the DI input is great.
For one project I needed a couple of extra inputs, so I just bought a analog/spdif converter plug into the optical input, and it works beautifully.
Plus, the id knob works really well in Reaper.
Mmh...What latencies do you get? Is it low enough for VSTi? I heard that this is one of the biggest issues with the Audients, they do not allow for low latencies.
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Old 12-05-2017, 01:00 PM   #16
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Have you thought about picking up a used Audient iD14 and a new ADAT 8 channel pre? You can buy a Clarett 8-pre and use the Audient's ADAT in. That will give you Clarett preamps on USB.

That's my plan for expanding with the 18i8.
That is an interesting idea. However, it would cost more together than any other solution, and I still would not get the Clarett outputs, since the ADAT is only one-directional.
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Old 12-05-2017, 01:33 PM   #17
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How many line outs are you looking for? The smaller Focusrite interfaces sometimes come with four channel line out.

6i6 has four line outs and two channel S/PDIF, for example.
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Old 12-05-2017, 05:48 PM   #18
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I also read concerns about driver issues (i.e. bad latencies...
Do you do anything live? Live performance through fx or any live sound? If yes, then you should shop for a unit that offers usable latency (ie. at least < 11ms) at a minimum block size setting of 128 samples. You don't want to have to dial your block size down lower than that just to even be able to use it. Headroom for plugins/processing is a good thing. The newer thunderbolt models offer some of the lowest latency at the hardware level but some of the older firewire units and a few of the nicer USB models come close.

If you're just recording/tracking and using the built-in cuemix in the interface for monitoring, latency is a moot point. (Set it high for max headroom.)

You're not going to be having any shootouts between boutique mic preamps that reveal anything with those inputs you have as you suspected. But having at least pro quality and proper style connections for everything pushes chasing boutique stuff to one of those 5% discussions. You probably want to avoid the ratty cheap end like Behringer or M-Box but those Focusrite or Presonus aren't that bad. MOTU is big a step up. RME, Apogee, Prism, and that level are getting into top shelf.
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Old 12-06-2017, 01:30 AM   #19
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Do you do anything live? Live performance through fx or any live sound? If yes, then you should shop for a unit that offers usable latency (ie. at least < 11ms) at a minimum block size setting of 128 samples. You don't want to have to dial your block size down lower than that just to even be able to use it. Headroom for plugins/processing is a good thing. The newer thunderbolt models offer some of the lowest latency at the hardware level but some of the older firewire units and a few of the nicer USB models come close.

If you're just recording/tracking and using the built-in cuemix in the interface for monitoring, latency is a moot point. (Set it high for max headroom.)

You're not going to be having any shootouts between boutique mic preamps that reveal anything with those inputs you have as you suspected. But having at least pro quality and proper style connections for everything pushes chasing boutique stuff to one of those 5% discussions. You probably want to avoid the ratty cheap end like Behringer or M-Box but those Focusrite or Presonus aren't that bad. MOTU is big a step up. RME, Apogee, Prism, and that level are getting into top shelf.
I use VSTi a lot. So I need to be able to play them in real-time. With the Focusrite drivers this is possible. But I read that the latency of the Aduient is too high.
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Old 12-06-2017, 04:55 AM   #20
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Check the UR series from Steinberg. The UR824 would fit what you need perhaps?

These things come with the same pre-amps of the N-series mixers from Yamaha, I just got a UR44 to replace my 2i2 and the difference is notable, specially on noise levels as you crank up the gain.

The unit has a DSP with the EQ/Comp/Reverb and amp-simulators, which are basicly the same that the N12 had, excluding the amp-sim.
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Old 12-06-2017, 06:46 AM   #21
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Check the UR series from Steinberg. The UR824 would fit what you need perhaps?

These things come with the same pre-amps of the N-series mixers from Yamaha, I just got a UR44 to replace my 2i2 and the difference is notable, specially on noise levels as you crank up the gain.

The unit has a DSP with the EQ/Comp/Reverb and amp-simulators, which are basicly the same that the N12 had, excluding the amp-sim.
Interesting, thanks. The SOS review of that interface says that the preamps are noisier than those on a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 (and I always assumed the Scarlett preamps to be identical). They do mention that they sound better, though. It is also a rather old model (from 2012), I wonder how long Steinberg updates drivers for their old models...
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Old 12-06-2017, 10:06 AM   #22
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The 18i8 has 6 channels of analog output...
That's what I'd get if I didn't want to spend the extra cash on RME or MOTU. I hadn't noticed the 18i20 before.
Silly me. I was thinking 18i20. Hadn't noticed the 18i8 before...
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Old 12-06-2017, 10:22 AM   #23
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I use VSTi a lot. So I need to be able to play them in real-time. With the Focusrite drivers this is possible. But I read that the latency of the Aduient is too high.
Make latency your main concern then. Don't even consider an interface that can't get lower than 11ms RTL at a block size of 128 samples. (That means don't buy any of the inexpensive USB models that need the block size cut down to 64 or 32 samples to even just hit < 11ms RTL.) Being able to play naturally is more important than boutique mic preamps! And you don't want to be redlining your system with zero headroom right at the start before you even start adding plugins and so on. The now older firewire models and the newer thunderbolt models will have the lowest latency at the hardware level (and thus achieve a lower RTL with the same block size vs. other models). There are a few select USB models that will get very close to that too.

I think MOTU is where this level of interface starts. I've had great performance and reliability with them over the years anyway. Haven't really seen any complaints either. RME costs a bit more but their units are like MOTU for the feature set and digital routing but with Apogee quality AD/DA converters and mic preamps.

Again, the difference between solid pro level analog stages vs. boutique products is meaningless compared to the discussion of achieving the low latency for live performance vs. not.
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Old 12-08-2017, 10:28 AM   #24
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Make latency your main concern then. Don't even consider an interface that can't get lower than 11ms RTL at a block size of 128 samples. (That means don't buy any of the inexpensive USB models that need the block size cut down to 64 or 32 samples to even just hit < 11ms RTL.) Being able to play naturally is more important than boutique mic preamps! And you don't want to be redlining your system with zero headroom right at the start before you even start adding plugins and so on. The now older firewire models and the newer thunderbolt models will have the lowest latency at the hardware level (and thus achieve a lower RTL with the same block size vs. other models). There are a few select USB models that will get very close to that too.

I think MOTU is where this level of interface starts. I've had great performance and reliability with them over the years anyway. Haven't really seen any complaints either. RME costs a bit more but their units are like MOTU for the feature set and digital routing but with Apogee quality AD/DA converters and mic preamps.

Again, the difference between solid pro level analog stages vs. boutique products is meaningless compared to the discussion of achieving the low latency for live performance vs. not.
The Ultralite mk4 looks awesome, but I read everywhere that Motu has the worst drivers of all under Windows. Apparently the complete opposite to their OSX performance. Its s pity.

I guess it will be a Scarlett again. Still not sure whether I would notice the apparently inferior quality of the Scarletts on my other equipment. And even if so, I'm not sure how much that matters. Music is a hobby for me, not my profession. CDs sound good to me. Even thorough home stereo converters (never had a pro CD player). But then again, I also don't know what I'm missing out on I guess.
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Old 12-09-2017, 05:12 PM   #25
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I just checked the Focusrite specs again, and I am a bit surprised to see that the frequency response, as well as the EIN of the preamps in the 2i2 are BETTER than then ones in the larger models (18i8 and 18i20)! That seems very strange to me. Am I missing something?
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Old 12-11-2017, 05:07 AM   #26
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Mmh...What latencies do you get? Is it low enough for VSTi? I heard that this is one of the biggest issues with the Audients, they do not allow for low latencies.
I don't use VSTi, but I do record a lot guitars with Speaker sims (two-notes WOS) and I usually work with a 5ms@48000Hz latency (the low setting of the ID14), the minimum setting being 2.6ms but tends to click with heavy plugins.
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Old 12-11-2017, 07:43 AM   #27
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I just checked the Focusrite specs again, and I am a bit surprised to see that the frequency response, as well as the EIN of the preamps in the 2i2 are BETTER than then ones in the larger models (18i8 and 18i20)! That seems very strange to me. Am I missing something?

Simple. More channels equal more noise.

And FR doesn't really matter. Mics and room response are FAR less linear.
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Old 12-11-2017, 12:18 PM   #28
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Simple. More channels equal more noise.

And FR doesn't really matter. Mics and room response are FAR less linear.
Interesting...I thought the reported noise would be per channel...mmh...
So it is a compound value? All channels together are only -127db? That would be pretty good!
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Old 12-12-2017, 02:18 PM   #29
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Thanks everyone for the input. I appreciate it very much!

I now decided to just get the Scarlett 18i8, since it seems to be the best option in terms of value for money. I got it for 298 Euro new, which is cheaper than usual. Quality should be decent and I am familiar with Focusrite drivers (they work well for me). From here I can extend on the input side via mixer, patchbay or ADAT. And if I really should acquire external effects at some point, I can always buy a SPDIF to analogue conerter, since I will most probably not use the SPDIF for anything else.
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Old 12-15-2017, 04:18 PM   #30
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And I am already doubting whether this was the right choice, or whether I should have gotten the 18i20 instead... :-)
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Old 12-16-2017, 02:43 PM   #31
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Interesting...I thought the reported noise would be per channel...mmh...
So it is a compound value? All channels together are only -127db? That would be pretty good!
The reported noise is for one channel.

If you put more channels in the box, you need a bigger power supply an get more noise on that one channel. Noise coming from that power supply, but also from the other electronics in the box, including other channels.

The bigger, the noisier is especially true for (analog) mixers.
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Old 12-19-2017, 07:11 AM   #32
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Soundcraft sig 12 or 22 mtk. 22 or 12 channels down 1 USB line. Any input can route to any output, lexicon effects on every channel, subgroups...best purchase I ever made
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Old 12-20-2017, 09:35 AM   #33
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Soundcraft sig 12 or 22 mtk. 22 or 12 channels down 1 USB line. Any input can route to any output, lexicon effects on every channel, subgroups...best purchase I ever made
Interesting. Looked at them, too. But I heard that the latencies are not so great.
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Old 01-28-2018, 04:44 AM   #34
DarrenH
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You'll probably never regret buying something better than you think you need at the moment.

You won't be hampered by as many design issues that you may encounter in lower-priced equipment.

Second, the equipment will remain useful longer, as needs change and sometimes grow.

I suspect most of us would have preferred to buy one less of anything in our inevitable upgrade cycles.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fladd View Post
Ivansc, as you suggest to go RME, do you believe that I will hear the sonic advantages, given my particular microphones and monitor speakers? I understand that if I had 3000 Euro mics and speakers that I would hear a difference, but with my equipment?

Last edited by DarrenH; 01-28-2018 at 07:04 AM.
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Old 01-28-2018, 06:19 AM   #35
BobF
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I ended up getting a great deal on a UMC 1820 when I got tired of fighting my TASCAM 16x08.

The UMC 1820 has been flawless
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