Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Geeking Out Over Audio Interfaces

When I'm not busy "volunteering" at the cheerleading academy down the road or contesting these silly restraining orders from the cheerleading academy down the road, I seem to be fielding a lot of questions about audio interfaces from you guys. This is one the most important (for some of you, the only) components of your chain between your mic and your computer so it is pretty important to choose wisely. Talent who are having difficulty with their noise floor or buzzing/hissing in their files can many times blame their interface. There are about a million options out there so I am only going to go over the ones that are among the most popular and basic choices or the ones that I happen to like for whatever reason. Please try to contain your excitement. I'm not going to go into the super pro interfaces either since if you have the scratch for those you probably know what you are doing anyway, thus, all of these are fairly within the budget of the average bear. You can click on the titles for purchasing info.

M-Audio Fast Track USB:

Oh man, do these things suck. The only reason you see so many of these sitting in newbie studios is because they only cost about 100 bucks. You certainly get what you pay for. They only record at 24/48, there is no pre to speak of and you can only use dynamic mics since there is no phantom power. If you are thinking of getting one of these and pairing it with a 58 or something, don't. You would be better off with a Snowball. As a matter of fact, don't even click the title link for this one, just forget you even saw it. If you absolutely have to get one, I would guess you can find one here.

M-Audio Fast Track Pro:

For only a hundred bucks more you can get what might just be the most ubiquitous entry level interface out there, even being used by folks who have been doing this for a while. It is quite a bit better than it's craptastic little brother up there offering 24/96, phantom power, MIDI input and improved circuitry. The pres are not going to do much for you, but if you pair it with a decent mic you can get away with some halfway decent recordings for a no-frills chain. Not fully recommended, but passable.

Digidesign Mbox 2:

These guys are super popular with the Pro Tools set, and for good reason. They are comparatively inexpensive but they sound pretty darn good. I have even been in some semi pro studios with impressive racks of gear and one of these sitting on the console. Obviously, this isn't going to sound like an Avalon if you use it on its own but couple it with some other gear and a good mic and you can be in business without breaking the bank. This has a little brother as well but I know you're not that much of a cheapskate. On the other hand, from here you can upgrade to the firewire Mbox 2 Pro and then on to the impressive 003, but those might be a bit pricey for the purposes of this post and may be overkill for straight VO in regards to the number of inputs.

Apogee Duet:

These hot little numbers are pretty dang sexy, and they put out too. Obviously marketed to the Apple fanboys and girls, its sleek minimalist design with its multifunction knob would make it seem right at home next to your Mac. It offers 24/96, phantom power, firewire and a clean, quiet sound. Not a bad interface for 500 clams. You would have my blessing if you want to get it. I hope the two of you are happy together.

M-Audio Delta 1010:

Lest you think I am anti M-Audio after my scathing review of the lackluster boxes above, I assure you I am not. I have been using one of these for the past two years or so and I am pretty darn pleased with it. This is just a straight-up interface but it has eight ins and outs at 24/96, Word Clock, MIDI and it connects via a PCI host interface card that connects to a one RU break-out box. This thing is super clean and is as quiet as anything else I have heard. It isn't the most pro thing on the market by far, but for 600 bucks it sounds close enough for me right now. Plus, if you have one you can say, "I use the same audio interface as Erik Sheppard! Today's Voice!" If you can't get lucky using that line at the local tavern then you might just be a lost cause.

Again, there is also a dumbed down version without the rack unit but it uses a lesser quality card.

Lexicon Ionix U42S:

Honestly, I don't know a thing about these. I just saw it in one of my dorky audiophile magazines and I thought it had an interesting form factor. It offers some standard stuff and is connected via USB. Like I said, I have no clue, but Lexicon makes some other semi-decent products and, really, being designed to live above your keyboard like that is pretty cool.

CEntrance MicPort Pro:

If you have to record on the go, these little jobbers are rad. It's super tiny, 24/96, USB, phantom power, etc., and has a great little pre in there. The lovely and talented Melissa Exelberth turned me on to these and I was pretty much floored by how clean it sounded. Even the illustrious Harlan Hogan has been known to whip one of these out while on the road (cool video here). Pack up your mic and your Porta-Booth and you will be good to go, Road Warrior style. Seriously, I am really impressed with these, plus they are only 150 bucks!

Geez, this post is way too long so I hope somebody gets some use out of it. Obviously, you need a good mic and quality cables but if you are rocking a basic setup and have a decent interface, you should be able to deliver a clean, quality file.If I left out one of your favorites or you're upset because I ragged on your box then let me have it in the comments.1

1. Crybaby.