Do PCI-based Interfaces Still Have an Advantage v Firewire?

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by LSchefman, Sep 9, 2005.


  1. LSchefman

    LSchefman Supporting Member

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    Looks like I'm gonna have to invest in a new computer interface.

    I can go firewire, and use the thing both with my studio computer and my laptop, or go PCI, but of course, I can't use a PCI interface with my laptop.

    I want pro quality, this stuff will be used on whatever ad campaigns still trickle in. I have been a longtime MOTU 1296 user, unfortunately, thinking I was not going to do more studio work, I got rid of the 1296 (yes, I'm stupid, too).

    The new MOTU Traveler and the 896HD look interesting for the dual-use, but I'm worried about issues like latency, track count, and sound quality with a Firewire based unit. But being able to use my laptop would be cool.

    On the other hand, I could go with the higher end PCI based system.

    I can't do both. Gotta pick one. I see that even Apogee now has firewire interfaces.

    Does anyone here know how firewire stacks up to PCI?
     
  2. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    PCI-X 2.0 is up to 32x faster than PCI. PCI is still faster than firewire, though fw800 closes the gap.

    The fw devices that have caught my eye lately are the Tascam dm-3200 (fw card still under development) and the Aurora 8 & 16.
    With the dm-3200, it seems like you're putting all your eggs in one basket but I like having real knobs and faders. The Aurora, as you probably know, is an excellent piece of gear. I haven't heard about anyone using it with the fw option, only the aes16 pci card. The Aurora 16 would be my pick.

    edit: well, as of yesterday, adat option is available for the Aurora, but no fw yet.
     
  3. LSchefman

    LSchefman Supporting Member

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    I still like real knobs and faders, too, but I have a 32x32x16x2 analog console with lots of 'em. What I'm concerned about is the basic I/O performance, which you indicate is still to the PCI's advantage.

    Gotta think long and hard about this one, I guess.
     
  4. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    PCI Express is the latest and greatest and uses a different form factor. The latest motherboards have the protocol but I haven't seen any audio interfaces designed around it yet.

    FW seems to be a viable protocol for up to 24 channels(@48k), judging from Mackie and Tascam.

    I guess it comes down to how many channels you need.
     
  5. Jeff Flowerday

    Jeff Flowerday Member

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    I'm doing 16 Channels 24bit@96k with my Mackie Onyx via Firewire. No issues at all.

    The key here is to have a dedicated firewire controller, don't run a HD on the same firewire controller. Make sure your firewire controller is based on the Texas Instruments chipset, most audio firewire interfaces require it.

    Jeff
     
  6. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    As of a year or so ago, it was my understanding that PCI still had the advantage over Firewire 400.

    I don't know if Firewire 800 is a viable alternative.

    But as Jeff pointed out, it could depend on how much tracking you plan on doing with this system. I know a lot of pros who use Firewire 400 drives for sessions away from their own studios, but I don't know how many simultaneous tracks has been the top limit of a session using one. The most I've done has been 8, I think... that was two years ago with a G4.
     
  7. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    Have you pushed it further for testing purposes?

    That's not very many tracks for some of us.
     
  8. elambo

    elambo Member

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    32 tracks at 48k (which is consistent with Jeff Flowerday's 16 trakcs at 96k) is possible with an optimized system. I've never tried it (never needed to) but it's been expressed to me that it's possible.

    I still feel better about PCI. Not for any specific technical reasons - but because I've always had better performance from it. The gap is certainly closing though.
     
  9. Jeff Flowerday

    Jeff Flowerday Member

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    No the Onyx only has 16 channels. I could have used more in a couple situations but made the 16 work.

    32 @ 24bit/48K would be possible as indicated above. The Onyx can be daisy chained for more channels, that's getting too big for the portable situations I wanted it for. It's perfect as is for Live recording.
     
  10. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    Sorry, Jeff, i missed the "@96k". Certainly represents a healthy track count on input.
     
  11. Orren

    Orren Member

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    Well, I haven't tried Traveller yet (I've got one sitting here to review, just haven't opened the box yet) but the 896HD has the best latency of any interface except the RME Hammerfall DSP PCI system. Then again, can you really hear the difference between a 3ms latency and a 6ms latency? Personally, anything under 10ms sounds "immediate" to me.

    As for sound quality, that has nothing to do with FireWire vs. PCI. You can be sure that the Apogee Rosetta 800 sounds excellent, whether you use it as a digital interface into a PCI interface, or via FireWire. My interface is the RME Fireface 800, and I would stack it up against the Apogee Rosetta any day (and I have owned an Apogee Rosetta as well). I have also owned Metric Halo mobile I/O interfaces, which also are on that Apogee quality level. In general, the MOTU converters are not as good as the Metric Halo, Apogee or RME interfaces. I believe the 1296 might have had better converters, but I know that all the other PCI and FireWire devices do not have that level of quality.

    As for issues of "track count" perhaps if you were running your interface's maximum I/O capacity, there would be a difference, but in normal use (multiple in, stereo output) you won't see a quantifiable difference.

    To me, the real issue is how many other things you have on the bus in question. In other words, if you've got a lot of FireWire devices (FW hard drives, FW PowerCore, etc) you will be better off with a PCI interface. If you have lots of other PCI devices (multiple video cards, hard drive controllers, UAD, PowerCore, etc) you'll be better with a FW interface. In the end, of course, they all go through the same system controller on your Mac, but you still want to avoid bottlenecks if possible.

    Orren
     
  12. Orren

    Orren Member

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    Do you know of any native PCI-X audio interfaces? I don't know of any. Nearly all PCI audio interface will work in PCI-X slots, but there are no PCI-X audio interfaces that I know of which are truly *native* PCI-X 2.0 only, and take advantagee of the increased bandwidth.

    Orren
     
  13. Orren

    Orren Member

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    ...PC only. I believe that Mr. Schefman is a Mac user.

    Orren
     
  14. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Good point, Orren, that sound quality is a consideration with any portable interface. As a ProTools prisoner I forget that, being "locked in" as I am.
     
  15. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    No, and it's unfortunate. Maybe some audio developers will get on board with PCI Express but I haven't seen that yet either. But it is a different FF so that might force the issue. It's more likely that someone like Adaptec will use the increased bandwidth to develop firewire 2400 (or something) and the audio guys will jump on that.
     
  16. LSchefman

    LSchefman Supporting Member

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    Lots of food for thought here, guys.

    I think what I may do is try out a Traveler, for the flexibility, but plan on buying a PCI interface when I upgrade to a new G5, and have the best of both worlds.

    Thanks for all of the excellent advice!
     
  17. LSchefman

    LSchefman Supporting Member

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    Today I used my new Traveler on an ad project.

    It seems like there is even less latency with it on soft synths and programs like Mach Five. I notice no problems whatsoever. Sounds very much like I remember my 1296, so I listened to mixes I made earlier, and mixed on this thing.

    I honestly think it's nice sounding!

    One note...use the latest drivers. I couldn't get my machine to recognize it until I downloaded the latest ones. Other than that, it was a breeze to use.

    I didn't do a track count test. I just don't have time right now.
     
  18. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    Les,

    I haven't researched this in a while, but last time I checked the G5's only have the PCI-X slots, no regular PCI slots. You'll need to make sure that the PCI card is compatible with the PCI-X slot. For example, the Digi001 PCI card works at a different voltage than the PCI-X slot, so it isn't compatible. That kept me from getting a G5, as I didn't want to upgrade to a Digi002 - too much money at once for me!

    Bryan
     
  19. elambo

    elambo Member

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    I doubt that we'll see much as far as audio with PCI-X in the near future. The video industry will jump on it first (Avid editors, graphics rendering, etc.)
     
  20. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I think you can get external PCI bays that hook up to G5s, but I'm not sure.

    If there's only one thing that bugs me about Apple it's that: hardware and system upgrades that are not backwards compatible.
     

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