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Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Connecting Hauptwerk to MIDI organs, sequencers, ...

Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby JulianMoney-Kyrle » Sun May 28, 2017 8:03 pm

I originally built my Hauptwerk system in 2007, based around a MacPro with 24GB RAM. Unfortunately illness has prevented me playing it for the past 10 months (four collapsed vertebrae due to multiple myeloma), but I felt up to trying again today. When I booted the system I found that the audio interface had failed. This is a Focusrite Saffire, which clearly isn't made any more, and I am looking for a replacement, therefore. I am rather baffled by what seems to be around today (they all seem to offer many facilities that are unnecessary for Hauptwerk) and I would be grateful for any suggestions for a replacement.

At the moment I have six active speakers and use balanced cables with 1/4" jacks. I would possibly like to add more speakers in future and also a subwoofer, so I need a minimum of 8 balanced analogue outputs plus something that would drive a subwoofer; 12 balanced outputs would be ideal, though I don't know if there are any subwoofers with SPDIF inputs, which seem to be quite common on these interfaces. As I may be replacing my MacPro with a PC or laptop (I am about to retire a Dell Precision 6700 mobile workstation with 32GB RAM, depending on how the Core i7 3740QM compares with the two dual-core Xeons in the Mac and how easily I can set up Hauptwerk on Windows with all its incessant interruptions), possibly a USB interface would be more useful than Firewire, though the Precision does have a Firewire port.

I am in the UK. I am expecting to spend about £500 but I could go up to £1,000 if necessary.

I am grateful for anybody's thoughts.
Julian Money-Kyrle
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby magnaton » Mon May 29, 2017 12:22 am

Your Focusrite Saffire (if its the vertical model) has 8 balanced outputs, s/pdif (2), and headphone jacks. Since you are familiar with Focusrite, their Scarlett 18i20 model offers a complimentary output count to your Saffire.

If you'd like to incorporate the s/pdif port on these interfaces, you could use a converter like this one:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4ORTZ6?ref=emc_b_5_i
This would be fine for a subwoofer since most common subs offer an RCA port for connectivity.
Note that this model (18i20) the monitor out connections are shared with the headphones jacks. Other interfaces allow you to have separate channels between the monitor out and head phone jacks. Not the case here which is why the specs say a total of 20 (independent) channels. To get to 20 you would use the digital out connection to an ADAT unit for an additional 8, like this one:
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/ADA8200
Note that the output ports on this Behringer ADAT are XLR vs 1/4" phono.
Thus:
8 - channels, 1/4" TRS connections
2 - channels, s/pdif
2 - channels, monitor out which is shared with headphone jacks 1 & 2
8 - channels, via digital out connected to an ADAT
Total = 20

An audio interface for HW, we are mainly (if only) concerned about the D/A quality and number of outputs. The MOTU 24Ao model offers only output connections. A possible negative on this unit is its output connectivity. You have to use Phoenix connectors or a DB-25 snake. MOTU also has a 16A model that has 16 standard 1/4" TRS connections for output, but also16 for input too and is more expensive than the 24Ao!

Hope this helps,

Danny B.
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby dhm » Mon May 29, 2017 1:41 am

You shouldn't need to spend more than £500 on an audio interface.
Danny has already mentioned a possible Focusrite replacement.
You might also want to look at the MOTU Ultralite Mk3 Hybrid (USB or FireWire) with 10 analogue outputs, or the Cymatic Live Player LP16 with 16 identical analogue outputs (and NO inputs).
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby mdyde » Mon May 29, 2017 5:03 am

Hello Julian,

In that situation I think my personal inclinations would be to look at either:

- MOTU Ultralite AVB, which can be connected to the computer via USB (or AVB Ethernet) and can be expanded easily later by adding connecting another AVB interface (e.g. a MOTU 16A or 24Ao) to it via a standard Cat6/5e Ethernet cable, or via ADAT, hence plenty of future-proofing. They're around £600 in the U.K. currently:
http://motu.com/products/avb/ultralite-avb

- MOTU Ultralite Mk4 -- the USB-only successor to the Mk3 that Douglas mentioned, which has slightly more analogue outputs (+S/PDIF) than the MOTU AVB, and can still be expanded via ADAT (but not AVB), and is a similar price to the MOTU AVB:
http://motu.com/products/proaudio/ultralite-mk4

- RME UC at around £770, which is another fairly-recent USB-only model, expandable via ADAT:
https://www.rme-audio.de/en/products/fireface_uc.php
http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/rme-fireface-uc

If buying an interface I think it's worth looking at recent/fully-current models (such as those above), for maximum useful lifespan (support for drivers by the manufacturer, etc.). FireWire is generally considered largely to have been superseded by Thunderbolt, USB (and in some areas AVB / Dante) these days.

I have an RME UFX and two MOTU 16As and all of them work and perform very well for me on both Mac and Windows 10 platforms.
Best regards,
Martin.

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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby JulianMoney-Kyrle » Mon May 29, 2017 8:35 am

Thank-you Danny, Douglas and Martin, for your prompt and comprehensive replies, which have more-or-less exactly addressed my issues. I take Martin's point about getting the most up-to-date equipment as being more likely to be supported for longer.

It seems to me that the Cymatic Audio Liveplayer is by far the cheapest option, but it does not have balanced outputs. I am using balanced wiring to my studio monitors at the moment. I'm not very clear about whether the MOTU units have balanced outputs (I have been looking at the specifications on the Thomann Web site as this is where I will probably buy them from and the MOTU Web site is quite confusing).

I knew nothing previously about expansion via ADAT, which is clearly a good way of not buying more than I need right now while maintaining future-proofing.

I think probably the RME UC will do all I want, even if it is a bit more expensive; at least I won't need to buy any more cables or other accessories for it at this stage.

Thank-you once again.
Julian
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby mdyde » Mon May 29, 2017 8:46 am

Thanks, Julian. You're very welcome.

MOTU's tech. specs. do state that their analogue output jacks are balanced ( http://motu.com/products/avb/ultralite-avb/specs.html and http://motu.com/products/proaudio/ultralite-mk4/specs.html ), but I don't think you could go wrong with the RME UC. (RME's reputation for drivers, reliability and support is second to none.)
Best regards,
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby dhm » Mon May 29, 2017 10:40 am

Martin, Thanks for the heads-up re the MOTU Ultralite Mk4.
However, the number of 1/4 inch analogue outputs (ten) appears to be the same as the Mk3.
For clarification re the Cymatic LP16, how important is it that the outputs be balanced?
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby mdyde » Mon May 29, 2017 11:01 am

dhm wrote:However, the number of 1/4 inch analogue outputs (ten) appears to be the same as the Mk3.


Yes -- it's the Ultralite AVB which has a few less analogue outputs (but adds AVB support in their place).
Best regards,
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby dhm » Mon May 29, 2017 12:45 pm

Martin: Sorry, I read your answer too quickly and missed what you were comparing the Ultralites with.
Cymatic unbalanced outputs: How important is this?
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby JulianMoney-Kyrle » Mon May 29, 2017 2:52 pm

Douglas,

I think this is really more important with very low-level signals and long cable runs (such as from microphones). There are three wires in the cable, one carrying the signal, the second carrying the inverse of the signal and the third is neutral. Any external interference affects the signal and its inverse in the opposite direction, so can be easily cancelled out. For active speakers with long cables it is probably a slightly better system but less important as the signal is line-level. However, as I already have six active studio monitors and balanced cabling, balanced outputs would mean that I won't have to modify my current set-up too much.

With Best Wishes,
Julian
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby organsRgreat » Mon May 29, 2017 4:20 pm

When Martin says that “FireWire is generally considered largely to have been superseded by Thunderbolt, USB (and in some areas AVB / Dante) these days” - it's possible that he has in mind the latest USB3 specification. My understanding is that USB3 is faster than Firewire, but USB2 is slower.

However I have a MOTU 838 Mark 3 providing 8 outputs from its own box, plus a further 8 via ADAT and a Behringer 8200, and it does that on USB2 (from a laptop) with no trouble at all.
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Re: Replacement Audio Interface Recommendations

Postby mdyde » Tue May 30, 2017 4:47 am

organsRgreat wrote:When Martin says that “FireWire is generally considered largely to have been superseded by Thunderbolt, USB (and in some areas AVB / Dante) these days” - it's possible that he has in mind the latest USB3 specification. My understanding is that USB3 is faster than Firewire, but USB2 is slower.

However I have a MOTU 838 Mark 3 providing 8 outputs from its own box, plus a further 8 via ADAT and a Behringer 8200, and it does that on USB2 (from a laptop) with no trouble at all.


Hello organsRgreat,

Yes -- FireWire theoretically has a certain amount of performance advantage over USB2, but, for better or worse, Apple and other computer manufacturers usually no longer included FireWire ports and audio interface manufacturers have largely stopped developing new FireWire audio interfaces. Even USB2 performs very well for audio anyway; my two MOTU 16A interfaces manage 64 simultaneous channels of 48 kHz audio with a buffer size of 256 with no problems on my ageing (2011) MacBook Pro via USB2 (and Thunderbolt should be much better still).
Best regards,
Martin.

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