5 To 600 Audio Interface Roundup
Todd Simpson
Apr 24 2021, 08:29 AM
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If you are ready to upgrade your home studio from your 2 channel audio interface and thinking about putting down a bit more money, you have options. Let’s look at 3 of the top USB C models.


MOTU ULTRA LIGHT MK5

This interface came out a bit ago. It’s a very nice interface and they have upgraded it in this version to where it’s got some very impressive specs. This is not a cheap interface. This unit runs about $600. So it’s quite a bit more money than the standard choice of a 2 channel Focusrite. However, it’s a LOT more interface as well. However, at this price you are about the same price as the very nice Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 which has similar specs but sports 8 xlr/combo jacks instead of just 2. The MOTU is a quieter unit with better specs in terms of dynamic range and less total harmonic distortion. However, if you are going to spend that kind of money on an interface, it’s nice for it to have more than just 2 combo jacks IMHO.

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192khz/24bit
18 inputs
22 outputs
2 XLR Combo Jacks
Loopback Capability (Allows you to use youtube audio for example)
3 DSP Effects (Reverb/Parametric EQ/Compression) In hardware
Stand Alone Mixer Functionality (It’s a digital Mixer that you can use as a head phone mixer/monitor mixer/etc.)
Steel Case
Oled Display (monochrome)
2 XLR Combo Jacks on the front
USB C/Backward Compatible
125db dynamic range
THD -114 (It’s very very quiet)


FOCUSERITE SCARLETT 18i20

For about the same money, ($50 less actually) you can get this unit instead of the MOTU. It’s got COLOR audio meters instead of the monochrome meters on the MOTU. It’s got 8 XLR/combo jacks instead of 2 on the MOTU. It’s got more features basically than the MOTU but it’s not quite as “high end” a unit,

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192khz/24bit
18 inputs
20 outputs
8 XLR/COMBO JACKS
“Virtual Loopback” (Similar to loopback functionality)
Free focusrite plugins
Steel case
COLOR oled Display


UNIVERSAL APOLLO SOLO ($600)
The UNIVERSAL AUDIO APOLLO interface is quite simply in a class above these other two units. Now, it only has 2 XLR/combo jacks, it doesn’t have a ton of inputs and outputs like the other two units mentioned here, it requires that you have a QUAD i7 “Or Better” based computer to run it from. It’s a very limited unit in that regard. So why is it more money than these other two with tons of inputs and outputs? Well, put simply, it’s a different animal entirely. The other two units rely on the host cpu (your computer) to do most of the work when recording and mixing. Not so with the APOLLO. It has a proprietary dsp setup (it does audio processing inside it’s own little box) which allows you to run some of the most amazing sounding plugins ever made. These plugins are made by UNIVERSAL AUDIO and they are the only reason to buy this unit. Most of these plugins WON”T WORK without the APOLLO attached to your computer. In other words, if you are using these great sounding plugins, and you want to open the project on your laptop, without the APOLLO connected, or are at a pals studio etc., it won’t work. The plugins will be disabled. Not ALL UNIVERSAL AUDIO plugins, but many. These plugins include emulations of some of the best studio hardware ever made and by all accounts, they sound just brilliant. So it’s a different way of working. Also, you can get a UA unit with tons of inputs. It will just cost you a couple thousand bucks. Also, each UA plugin requires some of the processing power of your unit, so there is a limit as to how many of the plugins you can use at one time. Yup, the “solo” has one processing chip. Once you have used a few UA plugins in your mix, the chip is maxed out and you can’t use any more UA plugins that require DSP. You can buy more add on processing units, but they are not cheap. You can buy one external unit with 8 processing cores, but it’s another $1,200 and requires THUNDERBOLT 3 (in other words, an Apple computer or an add on card) to connect it.

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192khz/24 Bit Recording
2 XLR Combo Jacks
Big KNOB on the unit which is handy

CONCLUSION
That’s the big difference in these two approaches. The first two units rely on your computer, you can put as many plugins as you like in your mix until you mix starts to skip or stutter or act funny. That is just dependent on how fast your computer is. Or you can go the UA route and use external DSP which has it’s own limitations and performance ceiling and ramps up the cost if you want more inputs or more DSP. The top of the line UA interfaces are several thousand dollars. They are some of the best units money can buy and and faithfully emulate hardware that costs more than a new Porsche, but they ain’t cheap and they have their own limits. So it comes down to you as the user. As always smile.gif

QUESTION: ANY OTHER IDEAS IN THIS PRICE RANGE?

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This post has been edited by Todd Simpson: Apr 24 2021, 08:32 AM
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Phil66
Apr 24 2021, 09:10 AM
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From: The Black Country, England
Interesting Todd, thanks for that. I often think about upgrading but I love my trusty 18i8, I sometimes get asked why I need all those inputs, I don't need them but I do want them. I only really want the four on the front, that way I can leave my wireless guitar connection, a spare cable and two mics permanently set up ready to go with no faff which is handy when time is tight. wink.gif

Interesting Todd, thanks for that. I often think about upgrading but I love my trusty 18i8, I sometimes get asked why I need all those inputs, I don't need them but I do want them. I only really want the four on the front, that way I can leave my wireless guitar connection, a spare cable and two mics permanently set up ready to go with no faff which is handy when time is tight. wink.gif

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Mertay
Apr 24 2021, 09:17 AM
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Not really sure if its a good price range for a home studio, aside UAD most you list are about paying for more i/o than sound quality.

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Rev...audio-interface

This for example is a higher-end option if one is ok with less i/o. But as price decreases you have SSL, Audient... the compretition is fierce and all great options.

But when getting higher sudden jumps to 1000+ dollars are needed so unless the needs are very specific 300-400 range should be more than enough.

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tflava
Apr 24 2021, 10:50 AM
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From: Den Helder (Holland)
I have an ik multimedia axe i/O which i really love and a focusrite clarett 8 pre.
They are both same quality range but the clarett has more in and output and more control options.
I needed the outputs for recording drums because if i don't needed them the axe io was good enough.
Before i had a scarlett 2i2 but i notice an improvement when i buyed the axe io.

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Todd Simpson
Apr 25 2021, 02:13 AM
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Most folks are fine with a two channel FOCUSRITE to be honest and it's a great interface. I wanted to look at the next segment up in the food chain and highlight the differences in on board DSP with UA vs more inputs on the more host based interfaces.

Many folks look at goign to a bigger input interface after about a year with their two channel starter interface. BEN already made the jump and now chains two of them together for use doing live video stuff.

QUOTE (Mertay @ Apr 24 2021, 04:17 AM) *
Not really sure if its a good price range for a home studio, aside UAD most you list are about paying for more i/o than sound quality.


But when getting higher sudden jumps to 1000+ dollars are needed so unless the needs are very specific 300-400 range should be more than enough.



Both are very spiff units. The FOCUSRITE is along the lines of the more pricey units with more inputs listed above. But as you say, for most things, one rarely needs that many. still, they can come in very handy for leaving lots of things plugged in and for doing podcast/obs/live work and for recording drums and other things that have high track counts smile.gif

QUOTE (tflava @ Apr 24 2021, 05:50 AM) *
I have an ik multimedia axe i/O which i really love and a focusrite clarett 8 pre.
They are both same quality range but the clarett has more in and output and more control options.
I needed the outputs for recording drums because if i don't needed them the axe io was good enough.
Before i had a scarlett 2i2 but i notice an improvement when i buyed the axe io.



I hear ya!! It's more a matter of want than need in many cases. It's just handy to have more than two inputs in many cases. I often don't use more than one or two, but when I need them, it's very handy to have them on board. I have 4 XLR front ins on my iconnect interface which has been great for not having to swap instruments/mics out and just leaving it all connected.


QUOTE (Phil66 @ Apr 24 2021, 04:10 AM) *
Interesting Todd, thanks for that. I often think about upgrading but I love my trusty 18i8, I sometimes get asked why I need all those inputs, I don't need them but I do want them. I only really want the four on the front, that way I can leave my wireless guitar connection, a spare cable and two mics permanently set up ready to go with no faff which is handy when time is tight. wink.gif

Interesting Todd, thanks for that. I often think about upgrading but I love my trusty 18i8, I sometimes get asked why I need all those inputs, I don't need them but I do want them. I only really want the four on the front, that way I can leave my wireless guitar connection, a spare cable and two mics permanently set up ready to go with no faff which is handy when time is tight. wink.gif

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klasaine
Apr 25 2021, 02:37 AM
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As I don't need all the i/o but wanted top quality sound, I went with a UA twin x quad. It is expandable via adat optical if I do ever decide I want to record drums and a full band.
The sound quality of the UA stuff is very good even without using the UA plugs. The pre amps in Apollos are super clean with a lot of headroom and their on board dsp allow you to track with near zero latency through most of the UA mic pres, compressors, some fx and all of their amps. The only downside with UA is that you are a bit corralled into their ecosystem. Also, it all works best (seamlessly) with a Mac as opposed to a Windows machine.
Antelope, Apogee and Black Lion are other highend interface designers that also offer their own proprietary features.

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Todd Simpson
Apr 28 2021, 04:50 AM
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That's something I didn't mention. The UA stuff really does work better on a MAC imho. The built in THUNDERBOLT on the mac makes using the UA box and using secondary UA CPU boxes as easy as pluggin in a cable. Now that USB C is a common thing on new PCs, it should become a very similar user experience on PC as it ins on a MAC, hopefully smile.gif The good news is that APPLE computers have gotten cheaper since they switched to the M1 chip and now you can get in to a MAC MINI For $700 and it's crazy fast. Of course, it does need software that's written just for it in order to get max speed, but that's just a matter of time until every software vendor is making 64 BIT universal versions of their software. This level of performance is simply NOT available on a PC at that price point. The hardware is built by apple and the OS is from APPLE so the entire thing is built from the ground up to be crazy fast. It makes having a huge Mac tower that costs thousands of dollars a bit pointless.

QUOTE (klasaine @ Apr 24 2021, 09:37 PM) *
As I don't need all the i/o but wanted top quality sound, I went with a UA twin x quad. It is expandable via adat optical if I do ever decide I want to record drums and a full band.
The sound quality of the UA stuff is very good even without using the UA plugs. The pre amps in Apollos are super clean with a lot of headroom and their on board dsp allow you to track with near zero latency through most of the UA mic pres, compressors, some fx and all of their amps. The only downside with UA is that you are a bit corralled into their ecosystem. Also, it all works best (seamlessly) with a Mac as opposed to a Windows machine.
Antelope, Apogee and Black Lion are other highend interface designers that also offer their own proprietary features.

You are at GuitarMasterClass.net


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