I’ve been saying it for years. Recording gear companies are f’ing scumbags, for the most part. They’ll imply that their gear has more inputs and more features than it actually has to make a buck. Some gear comes with all sorts of new features, but they don’t work if you choose to use some of the other features the unit has. This is the equivalent of General Motors claiming their Camaro has both a cd player and an air condition. However, they don’t tell you that you can’t use the cd player AND the air conditioner at the same time. That would never fly, obviously.
A recent example is my Steinberg MR816csx. The thing PROMISES….. I want to emphasize that when the features are listed for a given gadget at Musician’s Friend or the manufacturer’s website, it IS a PROMISE……that it has 8 channels of inputs via ADAT Lightpipe and 2 channels of ins via S/PDIF. This combined with the stock 8 analog ins SHOULD give a total of 18 inputs. (Yes, they do call the unit a MR816 and you can read that it is a 16-channel interface. However, it’s never really explained how what appears to be 18 inputs is actually only 16.) Well, it turns out that you can’t use all 8 of the ADAT channels and the 2 S/PDIF channels at the same time. You can use 6 ADAT inputs and 2 S/PDIF inputs. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s generally accepted in recording land that this isn’t an either/or situation. It should be stated how/why they arrived at the “16” number.
The problem is there are 700 choices AFTER you’ve narrowed down your choices. I just took a look at my spreadsheet I created to help me with selecting a new audio interface. Yes, I had to create a spreadsheet to manage all the freakin’ possibilities, features, and requirements. It’s so easy to get hung up on this phase with tail chasing research, rethinking your needs, rethinking your budget, trying to speculate future problems with chipsets, operating system bit depth, etc that many of us just look at one, throw our hands up in the air, and say “That one!”. You pull out the credit card, throw a Hail Mary, and sign your life away.
The very first thing MOST of us do when dealing with a fancy piece of gear (no, we aren’t talking DVD players here) is fire up the manual. We know that audio interfaces don’t fit in “asking for directions” territory. (Reading the manual is a necessity to getting things done. Asking for help while driving is immoral.) If more guys could discern the difference between reading manuals for recording gear and asking a gas station attendant where Clark St is those people would be cranking out dramatically more and dramatically better recordings.
Anyway, the first thing we SHOULD do is read the damn manual. Then, when are free from bs marketing jargon like “pristine quality” we get the real truth. This is where we find ourselves saying “Whoops!” when we have severe conflict issues. Common issues now are audio interfaces that won’t run on certain operating systems due to issues with the bit depth of that operating system, incompatible chipsets, features that require you to buy more stuff, etc.
As stated above, this is where you also find out which features the unit actually has and which will work in your specific situation. The fancy DSP plugins found in the MR 816 CSX don’t work if you use the S/PDIF output on the interface. The Cubase intergration is reduced to “not much” in this situation, as well. That’s stuff you won’t see in the ad. Guess where you do find it. The manual.
So, after 10 years of practicing this craft, it finally occurred to me to go ahead and fire that manual (that I’m going to read anyway) just BEFORE I pull out the credit card. The manual is not going to be a literary marvel, but it will at least be honest with you. It’s not going to sugar coat all the limitations of unit. It’s going to explain how stuff works and that means they are going to tell you what the unit can not do. I find that all the red flags end up being in bold anyway.
You’ll find that disabled features are highlighted. You’ll find how many inputs the damn thing actually uses ahead of time. Basically, you’ll encounter what you should have been told by the bs marketing. I guess that’s why it’s called “bs marketing” and not “facts” or whatever. Hell, this gives a person an excuse not to read the manual once the interface shows up! That sound pretty damn manly to me!