Interfaces - How Much Do They Matter?

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by crumjack, Jul 4, 2019.

  1. tedcousens

    tedcousens Member

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    Still on my first interphase, a Zoom R16 and it seems to be quiet enough.
     
  2. SRQGuitar

    SRQGuitar Gold Supporting Member

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    It all matters. Good song, good arrangement, good performance, good mixing, good mastering, good monitoring and yes, good equipment from mics to interfaces. Saying you need good songwriting and good room acoustics does nothing to address the question. Interfaces are just one piece of the puzzle.

    A low end interface can sound good but better is better. Doesn't mean you can't make good recordings with cheap gear. You surely can but you will work harder for something that could sound better. Good converters are very important imo. Getting the sound from analog to digital is a choke point that your signal has to pass through and is worth spending a little on. I'd rather have high quality ADA with a lower end mic than a great mic with crappy converters. Just because there are only a couple of worldwide manufacturers of ADA chips doesn't mean that there isn't a difference between them.

    A feature that I find valuable on an interface is line level inserts. A way to add a really nice preamp down the road is nice so you don't have to spend a ton on an interface with great internal ones and you have room to grow. Get something that's known to have good driver support, decent preamps, nice ADA and line level inserts.
     
  3. SRQGuitar

    SRQGuitar Gold Supporting Member

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    Mackie makes cool gear with bad driver support. Sad to say only good drivers will help and those aren't coming.
     
  4. bryan zink

    bryan zink Member

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    Wow--the fast track looks perfect! And is discontinued. The iRig looks pretty good, but it's just for guitar. Thanks for sharing this.
     
  5. Jim Roseberry

    Jim Roseberry Supporting Member

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    The Apogee interfaces have pretty decent preamps (as far as onboard preamps go).
    That said, they're not going to be the equal of higher-end outboard.
    None of the onboard preamps (on any audio interface - I've installed/used most of them) are going to be the equal of top-tier outboard. Companies can't put the equal of several $1000-$3000 preamps in an audio interface that sells for $1000. As far as onboard preamps/DI, the newer Antelope series is the best I've heard.
    To do better than that, you're looking at outboard A/D D/A and preamps.

    500 series modules vary greatly.
    I'd expect the best 500 series modules to be a substantial improvement.
    If at all possible, have a listen before you buy.
     
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  6. pipelineaudio

    pipelineaudio Member

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    Most of the Neves (and most of the other alleged "character" mic preamps as well) are way closer to flat than most Troo Believers could admit, even if the evidence was slapping them in the face

    If the claim is transparent then it should be transparent. Lots of stuff works well WYSIWYG, but certainly not everything! We distort our guitar amps on purpose, for an extreme example. But even if its not looking for flatness, its nice to see what things actually do. Even cooler, is to find out, that despite religious and marketing claims, a lot of these things are actually nearly completely transparent

    I don't think anyone would argue against that...usually its the opposite

    Usually the argument is "that recordings sounds good, but it has the wrong name brand on part of the signal chain so I'm going to say my ears don't like it"
     
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  7. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Are you just looking at frequency response or are you also looking at distortion spectrum? Old Neves with their single ended supply Class A multi gain stage design have a different distortion spectrum than things like API’s with dual supply and ‘op-amp’ single gain stage design.

    That said, I’ve measured my DIY Neves for frequency response and yes indeed they are pretty flat, provided the output transformer is terminated correctly...without enough load, though they have a high frequency resonant bump.
     
  8. Crowder

    Crowder Dang Twangler Silver Supporting Member

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    Preamps are a lot like cars. Any car will do if you operate it well within its limits. It will get you there reliably and keep you safe.

    When you start pushing the limits, they respond very differently. You start to notice that the more capable cars feel safer at speed, or that kind of thing.

    The fact is that most of us are Sunday drivers who will never push the limits, so we aren’t likely to benefit from the subtle differences between various preamps the way a professional user might.

    NTTAWWT
     
  9. Billinder33

    Billinder33 Member

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    Years ago, I saw a list of well known 90's recordings that were done with Mackie console preamps and it shocked me that people were making famous albums on Mackies. And a few years later, after some eye-opening blind testing, I now see preamps in much the same way as interfaces - pretty much any modern, low-noise, sans-wall-wart preamp will get the job done and the 99.999% of listening public will never perceive the difference through their iBuds or whatever.

    And I say this as a current and prior owner of some damned expensive pres - Aurora, Manley, Chandler, UA, API and API clones, Neve and Neve clones, Overstayer... probably forgot a few. I'm pretty sure that with an Art VLA, Warm Audio, or even a decent console pre, I could churn out a high-quality recording and no one would ever know it was done on 'low-end' pres. The right source signal (properly tuned guitar, in-key singer, well-tuned drums, etc.), mic and mic position, inbound EQ/compression, and good DAW plugins will have a 100x greater impact than having a Neve 1073 instead of a Mackie or ART.

    Which isn't to say I'm getting rid of my high end channel strips any time soon. However, I never reach for one of my units because of the pre section, it's always because of something else within the unit - the compression section of Aurora GTQC's, the EQ section of Manley Cores, the Overstayer's filter and saturation modules - this to me is where I want to burn my hard earned dollars. These days I expect my expensive preamps do something more sophisticated than just be basic 'ole preamps.

    YMMV.
     
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  10. pipelineaudio

    pipelineaudio Member

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    Frequency, noise, THD, IMD. I'll be showing the distortion vs frequency and distortion vs level.

    One of the most eye opening things about this, is that, one of the most oftenr epeated beliefs, that most of these things were extremely nonlinear, that as you pushed them more and more, their mythical "character" would be revealed.

    It was true enough for some of the cheapest and oldest junk, but the Neves, APIs and Tridents were extremely linear, with very little change in the distortion character as they were pushed more and more

    When doing the Amek 9098, there was an extremely pronounced bump past around 12khz, I wonder if that's the transformer thing, I need to look into that. It was going into an Apogee Rosetta, so it was definitely being tested in a real world use case. I checked a second one and it was the same...trying to find out if there's a third unit on the island
     
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  11. pipelineaudio

    pipelineaudio Member

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    This is my situation as well. Aside from the ones I have, which are piles of pretty much every flavor you could name, I have access to many more.

    I'll take the better song every time over the "better" preamp
     
  12. pipelineaudio

    pipelineaudio Member

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    These are the claims you often hear, so far I am unable to back them up in any way, shape or form, except in the cheapest crappiest mic pres
     
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  13. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Those old Neves, and 1073s in particular were designed to be pretty clean. They have three gain stages and the gain switch distributes the gain amongst the stages to manage headroom. It’s pretty hard to get them to saturate unless you drive them into a fader to bring the volume back down.

    My API’s have a fader, and allow you to do exactly this. You can start to hear some crunch when running high gain and low fader settings.

    Another way to get the Neve circuit to add saturation is to mis-adjust the bias. It’s supposed to be set for minimum distortion, but doesn’t have to be set that way.

    But in general I’d agree about most of the fuss surrounding preamps being overblown. I tend to notice things like noise, and available gain more than individual character. Sometimes, very rarely, you get a preamp that doesn’t work well with a particular mic (probably a transformer loading issue). I think the lowly SM57 is an interesting example because it seems to sound best going into transformer coupled preamps. I notice less difference between pres with high output condensers.
     
  14. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    I’d modify this to say “I’ll take the better performance every time over the better preamp”.

    This reflects my studio ethos. If the mic is set up and the talent is ready to go I’m not going to spoil the vibe by searching for the ‘best’ preamp. Let’s just hit record and get some keeper takes. In fact I’d rather spend more time on good cue mixes...that’s going to have a big impact
     
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  15. Crowder

    Crowder Dang Twangler Silver Supporting Member

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    Cool.

    I assume that in your tests you use a constant source signal of some type, a sine wave or similar? I wonder if certain hardware responds differently in different frequency ranges, lending the sense of "character" that so many pros seem to hear.
     
  16. batsbrew

    batsbrew Member

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    it's up to the performer to do the performing.

    it's up to the mixer, to capture the moment in as pristine a manner as is possible at that studio.

    to say, at any level, that interfaces don't matter as much as performing,
    is something that home recordists that only record themselves say.
     
  17. ctreitzell

    ctreitzell Member

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    I did a bunch of research earlier this year and purchased a RME UFX+ in the end. It's not as high end as I had wanted to go, but for the interim, it is great. Total Mix is simply awesome. The TGP thread is here
     
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  18. toddincharlotte

    toddincharlotte Supporting Member

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    A little off-topic but I would be really interested in app suggestions related to monitoring the incoming signal. My DAW sucks for that sort of thing, just doesn't refresh fast enough. I'm considering upgrading to an interface that at least has more than a clip light but it always seems my DAW input monitoring shows differently than my interface monitor.
     
  19. Crowder

    Crowder Dang Twangler Silver Supporting Member

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    Most interfaces come with a virtual mixer to manage direct monitoring. If you use your DAW there will always be latency. It's impossible to avoid it, just due to the A/D conversion taking place. The virtual mixer software should let you monitor the "A" before it is converted into "D." :)
     
  20. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Not quite...the direct monitoring is still a digitized signal. There is no getting around the delay of the A/D and D/A converters (around 1.5 ms for 44.1kHz). What direct monitoring does is bypass your DAW's buffers. If you want true zero latency monitoring you need to do it in the analog domain with a mixer.
     
    eigentone, ctreitzell and Crowder like this.

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