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What is the preferred interface type for an audio interface for a Windows PC in 2021?

schwa

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2,655
I have kinda painted myself into a corner with my old PC. I have been using an HP system along with a MOTU 2048 (PCIe) interface for many years now.

Well, my PC was running Windows 7 and it is becoming more difficult to keep things current (win7 is not longer supported).

At the time, I had a heck of a time finding a PC that would support a nice video card AND the MOTU card. Even the one I have has things in there kinda tight. As before, finding a PC that will support both cards is not easy.

I know that Apple has thunderbolt, which seems to be as fast as anything out there.

I know there are many USB interfaces that will work fine for basic tracking, but I'd like to build something a little more robust. I'd like to replace my old MOTU with something comparable but modern. (Rack mount, 8 in/out)

I'd like to have a new interface that doesn't need a wide PCIe slot - will thunderbolt work on Windows?

What are windows users selecting for the best low latency performance these days? Is it comparable to my old school MOTU card?

I've done some casual research but have not had much luck. Any advice would be appreciated.
 

slayerbear17

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3,807
Up until a few months I was using fire wire, I had been using it for 15 years.

I probably still would have been using it but got a wicked deal on a Motu 828ES $860CAD.

Thunderbolt and usb2. Wireless control. The software that comes with it is amazing! I actually got rid of alot of my outboard gear which the 828ES replaced, talkback, 2 sets of monitor outputs.

I can honestly say my set up is future proofed by at least 20 years. Using Win10 I've had no problems whatsoever.
 

Alan Dunn

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1,644
Thunderbolt 3 is available on intel and amd chipsets.
Latency is defined by more than just the interface.
Simply being offline even improves latency.
I'm in a similar situation with windows 7.
I'm waiting for windows 11 in October before I make a decision.
 

stratamania

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3,486
You could look at something like UAudio for Thunderbolt 3 or Focusrite Scarlett using USB-C. The latter should be available in most newer PCs and decent laptops.

TB3 is available for Windows, but not all machines come with a TB3 connection, though if you build a desktop it would be simple enough to spec something for TB3.
 

Standby

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411
Internal cards for sound are mostly in the past. Motherboards have their own onboard sound processors. Hooking up a load of audio inputs and outputs to the back of your PC is just a workload and clutter you don't need. A box outside of the PC is how it has been done now for over a decade.

A USB 2 connection is more than sufficient to pipe any audio stream to your computer because the human hearing threshold is the limiter to how much audio data you really need.

What is much more important is processing power and memory these days (for digital work). Nearly every new PC system in the last 5 years (maybe a lot more) can handle audio latency with no problem. It just isn't a factor anymore.

The choice of USB audio interface is what is important to make sure you have enough ins and out. I say you can't go wrong with a Focusrite.

What really matters more in the end, is the quality of your monitor speakers and headphones. What's the point in having a high-spec DAW system with a great USB audio interface and yet only mediocre monitors and headphones? You should be putting in your costs there just as much, if not more, as you would your treasured Hi-Fi system or guitar rig setup.
 

Jim Roseberry

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1,600
  • The best USB audio interfaces yield ~4ms total round-trip latency
  • The best Thunderbolt audio interfaces yield sub 1ms total round-trip latency
Both cases are subject to the machine being able to sustain the load (glitch-free).

If you're not pushing the limits of ultra low latency audio performance, a USB audio interface will be more than adequate.

Regarding the machine:
For working at lowest possible latency, clock-speed is the single most important factor.
You need enough RAM for your largest projects.
Having lots of additional unused RAM doesn't yield any additional performance.

The more you're pushing performance boundaries, the more important the machine.
If you're wanting to do things like effectively run Helix Native at 1ms round-trip latency (96k using a 32-sample ASIO buffer size), the machine configuration is important.
 

schwa

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2,655
Thanks for sharing. It seems that many think USB2 is sufficient, but I am skeptical.

It also seems that Thunderbolt is speedy, but I can't seem to find many (any) examples of folks running it with Windows.

I didn't mention it - but what about ethernet? seems to be available, but not common
 

wildschwein

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4,064
In a real world scenario with USB you "have the ability to work with up to 40 channels of broadcast-quality audio simultaneously! Yet there are some companies who squeeze far higher channel counts from their USB 2 audio interfaces by building their own USB controllers. These tend to be among the more costly options..."

This is from 2015:
 
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can anyone chime in on usb-c as an alternative ?
My new motom2 has this and I'm seeing it more frequently on new motherboards . . .
 

mikebat

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11,566
USB-C.

Honestly, Thunderbolt is already dropped on iPhones and iPads. They migrated to USB-C. If their computers still use Thunderbolt (I am not up to date on Macs) how long will they continue?

I would look at a few companies. Antelope Audio, UA, and because I am a Steinberg guy the Neve preamp'd Steinberg interfaces.
 

kiki_90291

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4,308
USB-C.

Honestly, Thunderbolt is already dropped on iPhones and iPads. They migrated to USB-C. If their computers still use Thunderbolt (I am not up to date on Macs) how long will they continue?

I would look at a few companies. Antelope Audio, UA, and because I am a Steinberg guy the Neve preamp'd Steinberg interfaces.
I'm pretty sure Apple is still using Thunderbolt on everything. Thunderbolt and USB converged on the same connector, so TB now looks like USB-C, but it is using the TB protocol.

Also, a lot of companies are switching to the USB-C connector, but if you read the fine print, their interfaces are still using the USB 2 protocol. The advantage of switching to the USB-C connector is more power, but it's backwards compatible to USB2, so they don't need to re-write their drivers.
 

makerdp

Member
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617
USB-C is not a data protocol... it's a connector/cable spec only. TB3/4 has adopted USB-C and so has USB-4. The mere presence of a USB-C port does not tell you what protocol that port uses... you have to look at the little icon above the port to know if it's a USB data protocol or a Thunderbolt protocol (or in some cases yes even both.)

But, I would strongly suggest you look at the new Mac M1 chip computers. Amazing bang-for-your-buck power to be had here and you can go full-on Thunderbolt right out of the box... or choose a USB interface.
 

Jim Roseberry

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1,600
t also seems that Thunderbolt is speedy, but I can't seem to find many (any) examples of folks running it with Windows.
I've been running Thunderbolt audio interfaces under Win10 for a long while.
(Apollo-8, Fireface UFX+, Quantum, and Orion Studio Synergy Core)
If you know what you're doing (all details tended to), Thunderbolt audio interfaces are rock-solid under Win10.
 

Serious Poo

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Audio driver stability is critical, RME does a fantastic job with their Windows drivers. Their interface hardware and mixer software is very good as well.
 

jthomas666

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682
Just passing on a little detail that I just learned after visiting the link to the 2015 SOS article.

I bought a Focusrite 8i6. It has a USB-C connector on the interface. I (stupidly) thought that this would give me better communication between the interface and the connector... BUT yes, USB-C is just the connector style. The 8i6 is limited to USB-2 transfer rates. No need for a faster USB speed on the computer's side. That's kinda sad.
 
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StreetwalkinCheetah

Senior Member
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906
Audio driver stability is critical, RME does a fantastic job with their Windows drivers. Their interface hardware and mixer software is very good as well.
I almost pulled the trigger on a UCX II over the weekend, but missed out on the right deal. The Babyface is a lot easier to swallow price wise but I don't love the form factor, and I'd need XLR speaker connects which sort of cuts into the savings, but I'm curious what else I would lose out on if I went that route? I believe the UCX II has more DSP as well as an auto gain feature the Babyface does not?

I am mostly happy with my Focusrite 6i6 (gen 2) but I think I'd be able to have more flexibility tracking with cue mixes with an interface with some DSP and a better routing app. Also the loop back in the gen 2 Focusrites is a weird workaround and I'd rather get an interface that has it built in.
 

MrTAteMyBalls

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4,325
There is nothing wrong with USB2 for the vast majority of users. Personally I would be looking for a Motu828....latest version. Seems great and very solid from what I can gather reading about them.

No issues here with a lowly behringer UMC202HD. Rock solid stability and about 5ms latency for guitar plugins.
 

schwa

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2,655
I've been running Thunderbolt audio interfaces under Win10 for a long while.
(Apollo-8, Fireface UFX+, Quantum, and Orion Studio Synergy Core)
If you know what you're doing (all details tended to), Thunderbolt audio interfaces are rock-solid under Win10.
Your experience is encouraging. I am wondering if a Thunderbolt card could be added to a Win10 PC, would the little connector on the PCIx slots be a bottleneck?
 

schwa

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2,655
Some of the replies re-enforce that there are many ways to go.

I think I want to examine the Thunderbolt path.

The challenge seems now that Thunderbolt PC's are not common.

Is it more common to add Thunderbolt? Are any cards more popular?
 






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