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RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Connecting Hauptwerk to MIDI organs, sequencers, ...

RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby ernst » Wed Dec 18, 2013 10:34 pm

Hello everyone,

I am considering to improve from my current M-Audio 1010LT to a RME audio interface.

I am doubting between these 3 RME units:
Fireface UCX: SNR 113 dBA, $1450
HDSPe AIO: SNR 112 dBA, $721
Babyface: SNR up to 115 dBA, $636

I am not sure how relevant the mentioned SNR values are.
I am and will only be using headphones, plus a simple PC level audio just for trouble shooting. So I only need the most basic of connections and all three above are more than suitable.
I don´t need the USB connection as such, just and only if that particular USB interface quality wise would be the best solution.

I believe that the Fireface UCX, praised on this forum, as far as its circuitry is concerned, is of the same level as the Babyface.
What I´m wondering is whether concerning audio quality the internal HDSPe AIO or the external USB Babyface or UCX is better. Internal could mean a faster and more powerful connection, however the internal noise level in the PC can also have a negative impact from which the USB version suffers less.

Insight from users with RME experience would be highly appreciated.
And if anybody has experience with even better interfaces than RME I would be happy to know.

Just for fun, have a look at the 2 bargain DACs in the following review:
http://www.theabsolutesound.com/article ... end-audio/

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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby RichardW » Thu Dec 19, 2013 9:38 am

Ernst,

Those SNR figures vary between "better than you can hear" to "even better than that"! So, I would not worry about it.

This thread is interesting: http://forum.hauptwerk.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=5763&p=39993&hilit=lavry#p39993. I have noticed the "small" sound too. However, this has been improved by using the equalisation in the Total FX software. I am not sure if the Babyface supports equalisation in the same way. I should perhaps mention that I did not notice the "smallness" effect when I used my old speakers but I can't rule it out. So I don't really know whether it was just the UCX or the combination of UCX and new speakers that created it. (My small room is book-lined but not acoustically treated so the environment could be improved.)

It would seem that the pre-amps and converters are different between the Babyface and UCX but RME say the sonic differences will not be noticeable and that you should base your decision on the number of channels required.

This is an interesting review of the UCX: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb12/articles/fireface-ucx.htm. I have mine set up as a true surround sound 4.1 system at present. I am about to try and re-configure it to turn a stereo signal into a 4.1 signal. I should be able to save the two different setups and switch between them.

Regards,
Richard
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby Lauwerk » Thu Dec 19, 2013 3:58 pm

Greetings, ernst et al.!

I have no experience with the Fireface/Babyface products, but because I am a Hauptwerk user who specifically converted from M-Audio Delta 1010-LT to RME HDSPe AIO, I thought I would join in.

I converted my console from Content/Elpro generators to Hauptwerk during August/September of 2010. My Hauptwerk computer initially included the M-Audio sound card. Roughly in mid-2011, I decided (partly on the basis of Dr. Maier's posted recommendation) to upgrade to the RME HDSPe AIO. For my setup, I also included its accessory card with 4 additional analogue outputs. I was instantly pleased with the improvement in sound: greater clarity/transparency and "depth." However, I should offer the following observation.

A couple of months ago (September, 2013), I performed major surgery on my HW computer: I gave it a CPU/motherboard transplant. I am now running an i7-4960X on the (terrific) EVGA X79 Dark board. Everything is super fast: I now comfortably use packet size 256 even with the largest sample sets. Since the rebuild I have been setting the polyphony limit just under 4500, but I have not formally tested for polyphony breakdown, and I suspect that I could go much higher.

I mention the change in CPU/motherboard as a prelude to the following significant but unanticipated further improvement in RME sound. During installation, I learned that the EVGA X79 Dark motherboard allows direct application of power from the power supply (through a dedicated, prepared power supply output) to the PCI bus, rather than requiring that everything go through the motherboard's VRM (voltage regulator module). I jumped at the chance to make this direct-to-PCI power connection, remembering that my best CD player has multiple power supplies for its internal preamplification. I cannot offer a comparison of sound from the new CPU/motherboard with vs. without this direct supply of power to PCI. Nevertheless, I am quite persuaded that the striking, additional improvement in sound quality that I obtained does result from the RME board not starving for electrons.

The improvement in sound (in parallel to the CD player) is that in larger registrations and tuttis, the bass output does not "wash out." I more or less noticed this washing out with the old motherboard, but I did nothing to investigate it. I did find myself repeatedly resetting the "trim" on a sample set's output up and down, presumably because the washout spoiled the dynamic range, at least psychologically. That is no longer the case. I continue to be convinced that the RME board is a superlative option for sound output, but it can be limited by its environs. I should mention that I am equally pleased with the RME sound both with headphones and with (ARC-corrected) speaker output.

One other RME item: In 2011, when I installed the RME card, I found that I could not use it for MIDI input. I turned to the RME forum and discovered that at least one other user had the same (unresolved) problem. I could not make a career out of the issue, so I have used other MIDI input options since then. I have not retried sending MIDI through the RME card since my CPU/motherboard rebuild -- maybe it would work now.

Best of luck!
Don Vlazny
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby ernst » Thu Dec 19, 2013 7:38 pm

Dear forum members,

I´m confused.

I have read quite many posts, including PM´s, in this forum and elsewhere, saying that RME is an excellent choice.
When you read reviews of current good DACs (often including asynchronous USB 2.0 and headphone amplifiers), the sky is the limit. $100 - cheap, $1,000 reasonable to good, $5,000 really interesting, and there also several in the $20,000 and up area as well. Well, that focus on (super) high-end equipment regards audiophiles listening to CDs (or better media), streaming, sometimes using tube amps etc.
To what extent does this also apply to listening to Hauptwerk organ sample sets, with their noise reduction and compromises of all sorts, including not always high-end recording means?
Can there be a worthwhile gain in spending -say- $1,500 or $2,000 in DACs? Of course, if you do, the rest has to match....

Now, because I only use headphones and no amps/speakers, the only other consideration would be the headphones. I could consider to upgrade from my current M-Audio 1010LT and AKG K701. The problem is I can´t try. One can´t buy these plush components here in Peru. I can import, sure - NO return possible. Or I can buy things during a trip to the Netherlands - leaving my Hauptwerk equipment back home - and I can´t try either.

I´m a perfectionist. IF it really gives me a profound improvement, I´m prepared to invest. But I can´t test. And ears and tastes differ. Also I´m missing a yardstick now after a lot of reading. Am I talking - for DAC/headphone-amp and headphones - $1,000, or $5,000, or $15,000 until the law of diminishing returns makes me a fool?
Or, if this is too vague - is more expenditure than for RME DACs justified for Hauptwerk sample sets?

I don´t know whether its going to help me, but still would like to read your views. :?

Lauwerk:
Thank you for the extensive and informative answer. I have a i7 3930K CPU and DX79TO motherboard, and using a separate power connecting I think is feasible. As far as I know, that really depends on the interface itself.

What really worries me is your comment on not functioning MIDI. I would not like to buy a RME card with inoperative MIDI connection and then have to improvise. But thanks for forwarning me!

RichardW:
Many thanks for your insights and providing these interesting threads. You keep me thinking!

Obviously the comments of you both have gone into my above considerations. I really appreciate the detailed information you have shared.

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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby kwbmusic » Thu Dec 19, 2013 8:33 pm

My RME 400 Fireface has Midi connections that have been working perfectly for several years now. Not sure whether this now superseded model is representative of the RME family though.
I have two manuals and a pedalboard of my Hammond CX2500 connected by Midi to the RME.
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby RichardW » Fri Dec 20, 2013 1:15 pm

Ernst,

I am not a headphone expert so my comments may not apply to you. However, I did get some AKG K702s when I bought the UCX, This was because I decided that buying matching quality speakers at the same time would put me over-budget but I did want to hear any improvements the UCX created. Note, while I think the 702's are very good, much more detailed than my old Sennheiser Ovations, some people do not put them in their hi-fi category. Hearing is extremely subjective.

Unfortunately (!), I found the improvements too much to ignore so I just had to get the speakers. :)

You might be better off with some quality headphone amps like these: http://www.headphone.com/headphone-amps/amplifiers.php

As to HW quality. CD's are 16 bit recordings, HW will support 24 bit playback. I am just at the stage where I can hear some artifacts when HW pinches off a sample - but I have to be listening to a suitable sound to spot it. The sample sets I have all sound good to me (Vollenhove, both Metz's and Salisbury) Even St Anne's sounds good with the new sound system. I have not spotted any denoising problems.

If I could afford it, I think I could improve my sound system further and HW would still be capable of delivering an improvement. However, DDR4 memory should be available in the middle of 2014 and when it becomes affordable to get more than my current 32GB into a mini-ATX form factor then PC upgrade time will be upon me. So the sound system is finished for now.

Happy Christmas!
Richard
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby ernst » Sat Dec 21, 2013 1:41 am

Hello Richard,

Well, I´m happy with my K701´s, but as you say, some don´t consider them to be high-end. This has gone now in my DAC search as well. I´m thinking (THINKING) of the Sennheiser HD800 ($1350) partnered to a really good DAC.
Your link has put me on the trace of the Burson Conductor, a 3-in-1 DAC, headphone amp and preamp. I´ve been reading many many sources today and this seems to be a highly praised combination. Well, still $1850, very high quality, excellent combination of DAC and headphone amp, also offering the option to connect to amps/speakers and ending no. 1 in many reviews,. But the combination of this machine plus HD 800´s would set me back a LOT of money...
And I have to pay a 30% premium for importation (taxes and VAT) on top.
Well, no hurry, I keep thinking. I should almost forget to play the organ. :D

I enjoy mostly the smaller registrations. When I buy a sample set, therefore, the sound of the major individual stops matter most, which I think puts even more importance to the sound quality.
My top sample sets are Dom Bedos Rieti, Utrecht, Krzeszow, Freiberg, Kampen, Pusztaszabolcs, Zlata Koruna, and St Michel. All excellent sounds.

Just as a side-line, I recently bought the True Keys Fazioli grand-piano sample set from VILabs which I play on a Yamaha digital piano, connected to my Hauptwerk PC. What a sound - incredible. I´m rediscovering those pieces of Chopin I did not play for 20 years. Since MANY years (I used to own a Bechstein) I´m immersed again in piano music.
It is one more reason to look for "the best" audio chain (DAC, phone amp, headphones).
If my wife knew.... :roll:

(Edit): and a Happy Christmas as well - sorry I forgot.

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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby RichardW » Sat Dec 21, 2013 4:55 pm

Ernst,

I should have mentioned this in my previous post but I was not thinking. The other thing you need for HW use is a low latency. I suspect nearly all headphone amp reviews and reviewers will not give this aspect a second thought as it does not affect things like CD playback.

If it is too high it will severly affect your HW experience, though. Please bear this in mind.

Chopin: My favourite composer of all time. At the risk of being contentious, Bach is OK but you cannot beat the good stuff! :wink:

Happy Christmas,
Richard
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby ernst » Sat Dec 21, 2013 5:25 pm

RichardW wrote:Ernst,

I should have mentioned this in my previous post but I was not thinking. The other thing you need for HW use is a low latency. I suspect nearly all headphone amp reviews and reviewers will not give this aspect a second thought as it does not affect things like CD playback.
If it is too high it will severly affect your HW experience, though. Please bear this in mind.


I was aware of that, but thanks for pointing it out - I first tried the Fazioli piano using a regular lap top connected by USB to the Yamaha piano. Unbearable latency. That´s why I moved the piano to my study, where my organ resides, and connected to my Hauptwerk PC. Both organ and piano sound very good now, but I can´t anymore get in or out my study. :roll:

RichardW wrote:Chopin: My favourite composer of all time. At the risk of being contentious, Bach is OK but you cannot beat the good stuff! :wink:
Happy Christmas,


Well, you´ve guts! :D
I could not compare them.
On piano, Chopin is generally my most beloved composer - certainly for the pieces I´m able to play. Though I must say that e.g. the Goldberg Variationen played on a Fazioli by Andrea Bacchetti leaves me breathless.
But on organ, I love Bach most, though sadly I can´t play my favourate pieces - too difficult.So that is why I often play other composers whose pieces I can handle.

Happy Christmas!
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby RichardW » Sat Dec 21, 2013 8:39 pm

Ernst,

I have not got where I am today without being contentious. :)

Have a (the) Chopin Fugue for Christmas:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0RrT6hMOgI

Happy Christmas!
Richard
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby ernst » Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:18 pm

Richard,

I must admit that I thought you were joking, but really it exists - a fugue by Chopin! I´ve got to get used to this.
This forum really is educational - thanks!

Regards
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby pat17 » Mon Dec 23, 2013 6:22 am

ernst wrote:I have read quite many posts, including PM´s, in this forum and elsewhere, saying that RME is an excellent choice.
When you read reviews of current good DACs (often including asynchronous USB 2.0 and headphone amplifiers), the sky is the limit. $100 - cheap, $1,000 reasonable to good, $5,000 really interesting, and there also several in the $20,000 and up area as well. Well, that focus on (super) high-end equipment regards audiophiles listening to CDs (or better media), streaming, sometimes using tube amps etc.
To what extent does this also apply to listening to Hauptwerk organ sample sets, with their noise reduction and compromises of all sorts, including not always high-end recording means?
Can there be a worthwhile gain in spending -say- $1,500 or $2,000 in DACs? Of course, if you do, the rest has to match....


Hello Ernst,

For what it is worth, I can share my experience here. Please keep in mind I am a Mac user - I don't know to which extent the below remarks and information will be met on a PC.

Since I am very much on the audio side, as you are, I was wondering if a computer external sound card could be replaced by a DAC. Quite a difficult question actually, since we are exploring two different worlds. Sound cards are coming from the IT side, where the key word is latency. The DAC is coming from the audio world, where the major concern is jitter.

The main difficulty I met on this route was to find the latency I could expect on a DAC. Although I googled a lot to find out information, absolutely nothing is available. DAC builders and users just do not care about it.

I then decided to make a test. Since I didn't know what to expect, I selected a small DAC I had already tested in an auditorium back home in France, which gave me a very good impression. Another favourable argument to select it is its relatively moderated price, given the fact some DACs can easily reach thousands of dollars. Icould then benchmark it with my sound card.

I completed the tests between the two units last week only -

Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100 ($300) http://www.amazon.com/Cambridge-Audio-D ... o+dacmagic

Apogee Duet 2 ($500) http://www.amazon.com/Apogee-Duet-Audio ... pogee+duet


Apogee is highly valuated in the Mac world for the quality of its audio interface. For the record, the Duet is only stereo, like the Cambridge. By the way, all DACs are stereo.

When connected, the Cambridge proved to have a slightly lower latency than the Apogee (10 ms. vs. 11 ms. as measured by Reaper). Very good surprise indeed!

I then tested the two devices.


First with my Stax earphone. Thus can avoid any room acoustic interference to the comparison. I selected several instruments (Saint-Michel-en-Thiérache, Kampen, Arlesheim, Caen). All gave better sound through the DAC. Some in a very noticeable way (e.g. Arlesheim on the Positif - Choir if you prefer) some in a more discrete way (e.g. Caen). The benefit was twofold basically -

- better sound definition where you can distinguish in a more subtle way the various stops used in your registration

- better clarity on the pedalboard, where a mix of sound and noise was replaced by sound only.


I then tried on my speakers. Like Stax, my Martin Logans are basically ESLs. They are driven by fully analogue vintage Martin Logan Signature units. The situation there was a bit complex. When on the speakers, I'm using Arc 2 software to correct the room acoustic - benefit is outstanding. The issue is Arc 2 cannot acurately measure room acoustic with the Cambridge since microphone and DAC are not on the same clock. Nevertheless I found a way to set it. Results were also very much in favour of the DAC -

- pedalboard - again - gained in clarity. In some cases where my subwoofer tends to vibrate - although already controlled by Arc 2 - the DAC is limiting such issues. It was very noticeable with Salisbury's 32' and 16' stops.

- more brilliance to the manual stops, especially on the Great. Some could find it annoying. I find it more lively. After all, no pipe organ is perfect on all divisions. And, if I am bored after some time, it's still possible to amend the room acoustic correction.


I guess some of the gains I perceived are coming from the fact the DAC is a better match for an audio setup than a sound card. It is actually its primary destination! As an exemple, its analogue outputs are unbalanced which is a better match for an amplifier than the usually balanced ones you can get from an sound card. Cabling is also easier to provide since in this case its RCA to RCA, instead of the Jack 1/4" to RCA.

Another gain for the DAC is that it doesn't need any settings - it's plug and play. It makes it better value for the money, since all the other features present in the audio board - various inputs /outputs, mixing software, reverb generator, etc...are not present. You get a better quality - or equivalent - for a lower price.

Needless to say, this is the DAC which is now in use on my setup... :wink:

Hope it can help you in your research!
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby RichardW » Mon Dec 23, 2013 10:59 am

Hi Pat,

Thank you for the information. That is interesting news about the latency.

If you just need stereo then a hifi-style DAC should be much better value because you are not having to buy lots of input and output channels that you are not going to use. I wonder if there are any downsides to just "stacking them up"? By which I mean, buying another box to add another two channels at suitable intervals.

Regards,
Richard
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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby IainStinson » Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:33 pm

Richard,

I don't think you can just stack up DAC output units as HW only supports one active output audio "system". I think you can use multiple units which can be synchronised their output through the units themselves (I assume this appears to HW as one device with twice as many outputs (assuming you link two together). Also some of the HiFi DAC units I looked at only support the connection of one unit to a windows system.

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Re: RME audio interface: internal or USB?

Postby ernst » Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:23 pm

Hello Pat,

That is an extremely interesting post.
You just address my biggest doubt - whether a good DAC would shine equally for the reproduction of the Hauptwerk organ sound. I did not even realize the latency issue - :oops: - and great that is not a problem either.
What surprised me were the latency values as such that you found. If I recall well MDA mention in their manual that a latency of less than 100 msec would do. I have profoundly tweaked my PC - BIOS, windows settings and services - eliminated just any other programme, fire wall, virus scanner, no internet, and the operation for Hauptwerk is excellent, but the DPC Latency Checker still gives me values around 50 msec. Maybe that´s the difference between Windows and Apple! Or would this reflect the quality of my M-Audio 1010LT?

Stereo is fine for me - I just use headphones - so the stereo "limitation" of DACs does not bother me.

So my quest will now be to find the best DAC which I can afford, and the best matching headphones I can afford. I still have a few months before I travel to Holland, if useful via the US, to buy the equipment I will chose. American things are very expensive in Europe and vice versa,

One question more. I read that balanced headphones and cables like those from George Cardas seem to have a profound effect on the sound quality. But cables are freak issue in the high end audio world - do you have any experience with this issue?
I also read that audiophiles (some then) also spend big money in buying very special USB cables for their DAC giving supposedly a better sound. I have seen a test proving that this is not the case.

Finally -this is an issue which really goes beyond my understanding- some high end DACs use upsampling and special filters to improve PCM 44.1 (to 176.4 kHz) and 48.0 kS/s (to 192 kHz). This is said to give a remarkable sound improvement - astonishing as the original CD track is a given. Do you have any idea whether this would have an effect on those organ sample sets which are reproduced at 44.1/48 kHz?

Many thanks.
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