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  • best computer interfaces


    I'm looking at a few brands of mic-to-computer interfaces but don't know anything about quality and reputation of the different companies. I won't have a lot to spend, so I've only been browsing lower-end interfaces.

    On my list of possible makes so far, just based on surfing the web, are Behringer, Focusrite Scarlett, MOTU, and PreSonus.

    If they're all pretty much the same, I'll go with the cheapest. But they're not all the same, right?

    So keeping in mind that I won't be buying anything with a comma in the price, which brands are more reliable? Which sound good? Which give good support and service? Are there other companies you recommend?


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  • #2
    It's a great time to get into home recording! I honestly think you can get good to great results with any of the brands you mentioned, yes even with Behringer gear.

    I personally used a Lexicon Omega (4 in, 4 out USB interface) for many years, until it finally developed a hum in one input channel. Now I use a Mackie "Big Knob" interface and it works great. Preamps are virtually silent, audio playback is full and clear. Even the newer "cheap" interfaces are good enough that I think for most home recordists like me, the big limitations are my microphones and monitors.

    I highly recommend a computer with a 64 bit operating system (Windows) for recording.

    This space left intentionally blank.


    • #3
      IMO, the best way to shop for an interface isn't necessarily by brand - most brands are at least decent today - but by features, based on your specific individual needs. But of course, budget is always a concern - can you give us a ballpark price range that you want to try to stay within?

      Here's a few important questions to consider:
      • Will you be recording alone, or with others? How many sources (mics or line inputs) will you want to record at a time?
      (The answers to those two questions will give you an idea of the amount of input channels you need, as well as the number of mic preamps you'll need on your interface.)
      • Will you be recording on a Mac or on a PC? And what specific OS?
      (That's important since not every interface will work with both, or with every OS version... )
      • Any need for MIDI I/O on the interface?
      (You can always add a separate MIDI interface later, but it will require a second free USB port on your computer - if it's built into a USB audio interface, both audio and MIDI I/O can be handled over a single USB port.)
      • What DAW / recording software do you want to run?
      (Again, this is important from both a computer and audio interface compatibility standpoint.)
      • Does the interface come with any bundled software, and if so, is that software useful to you?
      (For example, PreSonus usually bundles a version of their Studio One DAW software with their interfaces - which is great if you don't already have a DAW program, but not of much interest if you're already using / planning on using Pro Tools, Cubase or Sonar.)

      Also - consider not only your immediate needs, but your needs a year or three down the line - if you're going to need more inputs in a year, it's better to consider getting a larger interface now, rather than starting with a smaller one and having to trade up in a year.

      Of the brands you mentioned (Behringer, Focusrite Scarlett, MOTU, and PreSonus), all have interfaces with various combinations of features and at various price points. I haven't used any of the Behringer interfaces, and it's been a long time since I've used anything from MOTU, but PreSonus and Focusrite both make very capable entry-level audio interfaces... as well as more fully-featured (and more expensive...) models. While Behringer at one point had less than the best reputation for reliability / quality, that may be changing, although I can't say either way from personal experience. They're probably your least expensive option... but as you know, price isn't always everything.

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      • #4
        It's amazing how far home recording has advanced in 10 years. A decade ago I was using a Presonus (firewire) Firebox for a digital interface with a Behringer mixer patched into it. Now... a simple USB mixer can do the same job the Presonus firewire unit accomplished at a fraction of the cost. Amp modelers are better and cheaper now, too.
        Last edited by AlienArtifact; 04-05-2019, 01:06 PM.
        Basses: Ibanez SR506, Ibanez ATK305, Rickenbacker 4003
        Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Carvin DC747


        • #5
          I saw a chart on the converters used in most interfaces and you'd be surprised that there are only like 2 manufacturers and maybe a half dozen chip types used by all the manufacturers. The days of manufactured reinventing the chips are long gone. Most of the junk has been weeded out and manufacturers simply choose the same stock chips which provide high quality at a low cost. You shouldn't be surprised to see Apollo Interfaces using the same converters as you $100 Focusrite interfaces.

          Where the quality differences come from is mostly from the preamps. Cheap preamps will have higher noise and distortion levels and lower gain.
          Your better owns will have plenty of gain, sound very transparent and have low noise and distortion. Whether that's actually worth a $900 for less then $50 worth of parts is questionable.

          The number of channels, Mic inputs, vs outputs also play a big factor in costs. Most 2 or 4 channels interfaces are designed for beginners with a few exceptions which are overprices pro gear. The rest of the stuff having 8, 16, 24, 48 channels and up are typically higher quality.

          You also have expandability on many of the multi channel interfaces. This is where you have to watch it when buying. They boast 18 channels but the base unit only comes with 8 channels. Example, a Focusrite 18 X 20 only has 8 built in mic preamps. If you want to run 8 more mics you'd need an 8 channel preamp with ADAT outputs. If you want all 18 you'd need that preamp plus another Preamp with 2 SPIDF outs.

          If you're thinking about buying a 2 channel interface "Beware"
          Most of the low end 2 channel interfaces run off USB power. If you also run a studio mic that requires phantom power that means you have to run everything you have connected to that computer including the interface and the mic off of 5 volts DC with less than one amp of power.
          do you really think you can convert 5 volts to 48V and have any current left to power that mic properly. I'd be surprised if it could even produce 12~24V from the 5V USB power. 12~24 might allow a new style mic to run ok but its not nearly enough for many vintage mics that have fairly hefty preamps built in.

          If you do buy a lower end 2 channel you could supplement the mics phantom power using an external phantom power supply which can be bout for less then $20. I'd definitely suggest this if you use a laptop which typically do many things to conserve battery power.

          I'd also be sure you'd compare the interface specs, especially the preamp gain and noise/distortion levels. Most of the USB powered type have no more then 50dB gain. This is OK for many of the Chinese condenser mics but you couldn't run a Dynamic or ribbon mic off one very well. You need between 60~70dB gain to run either of those which leaves using an inline booster or buying a more powerful preamp to supplement the interface. If you think ahead and have any plans on using those mics then putting some extra cash up front to get a better interface will save having a lack of gain later