Many of you have been following my escapades in audio interface land. For several years I’ve been using a Presonus Firestudio, which I still consider to be a very good interface, but mine was constantly losing sync. (You can read all about the good, bad, and ugly here.)
It was time for something different.
I made the decision that it was worth quite a bit of coin for me to have an interface that worked day in and day out. I did the numbers on the amount of cash I was losing by fighting with an interface that was constantly giving me trouble. It ended being a whole lot more coins than I imagined!
For a guy like me who never has enough time in the day (or coins in my pocket!), this is simply unacceptable.
Is Firewire The Problem?
So, I did a little research. Okay, I did A LOT of research. A part of me wondered if the whole firewire thing was causing the problems. For whatever reason, I will often intentionally go the maybe-wrong route just to make sure it’s the wrong route. “Yup, it’s broke, alright” is a common phrase of mine. So, I decided to try firewire route one more time.
It was a tossup between the MR816CSX and the RME Fireface 800. Both interfaces received stellar reviews and were supposed to sound “amazing”.
“Great Sounding” Interfaces
[Rant]Seriously, what a load of shit! I’m sick of people assuming that all you have to do to make an amazing sounding record is plug into to X piece of gear. If they say an interface sounds “great” it means their recordings made with them sound “great”. I don’t hear THAT many great recordings!
Neve preamps do not sound “amazing”.
Yeah, you heard me.
They just don’t suck at all, and lesser preamps do. PERIOD!….or EXCLAMATION!
When I think of an amazing experience, I imagine about 18 naked babes doing bad/good stuff to me while I catch money from the sky, watch monster trucks, and occassionally watch an IRS agent’s head explode.. Switching from god’s preamps back to cheapo pres is not nearly as bad of experience as using a portapody or going shopping.
So, when people tell me an interface jammed with 8 pres, 8 AD converters, 8 DA converters, and a bunch of other random features at X price point sounds “amazing”, I’m more inclined to believe Oliver North……..or a female. Yeah, I’m desparate!
The correct phrase would be, “This interface sounds dramatically less shitty than I thought”. I’m paraphrasing here, but I seem to remember Garageband, our mean old uncle of the RecordingReview.com community, saying the pres in his Fireface 800 were “usable”. Now we are talking! Are the damn pres “usable” for a guy who has better ones? That’s what we want to hear.[/Rant]
Both the MR816 and Fireface800 are well known for their reliability. (Although, I know people who have dealt with the ol’ firewire-blowing-up-the-gadget dilemma with the Fireface 800, this may be an issue with all Firewire devices)
In th end, The MR816CSX had this so-called “Cubase Intergration”, built in DSP plugins, and was getting rave reviews. I jumped on it.
It was a very, very good interface. It just wasn’t the right interface for me. When all the goodies were disabled due to me using S/PDIF, I couldn’t keep based it on principal alone. Don’t charge me for dessert just because I got steak. Only selling dessert to burger-eaters blows! (To clear up my vagaries, read my review of the MR816.) I needed more I/O and way better routing anyway.
Firewire Is Definitely Up To Par
I did learn that firewire can be reliable as hell with ultra-fast latency. The MR816 was like spending a month with Sophie Marceux in Braveheart when you are used to living with Kenny’s mom from South Park. I’m not sure if that matters now that Steve Jobs has ditched his little persistent-connection connector in favor of the mass appeal of USB or not.
Back to the drawing board.
Over Rated Portability….For Me
A big draw of the USB and Firewire interfaces is their portability. It’s a long story, but lets just say that anytime I have an excuse to turn down a gig, I should. I’m overloaded. I’ve given up on the idea of a portable studio for a million reasons. That’ll probably be a future blog, I guess.
Are My Needs Crazy?
I had trouble finding an interface that met my needs. Really, all I needed was Firestudio features that worked as well as the MR816. That would have done the trick nicely. I just wasn’t finding it no matter how much I researched. I was up for firewire, but really I was leaning on PCIe or good ol’ PCI.
My (Hopefully) Final Interface
I ended up snagging a RME HDSP 9652 off of Ebay for about $350. This is just a PCI card. It’s features are……well…..featureless. It has 3 ADAT I/O which means 24 ins and 24 outs, S/PDIF ins and outs, awesome routing, turbo low latency, MIDI and that’s about it. Its best feature: It just freakin’ works. I’m still in the honeymoon phase with it, but so far so great.
Being that it has NOTHING in the features department, I guess it’s easy for nothing to go wrong with it. This I like! That’s my style. I want a race car. We don’t need carpet, air conditioning, or even the abilty to play Windows sounds. That’s right. I couldn’t play Youtube if I wanted to with the RME HDSP 9652. The manual basically says, “Grow Up! If you want to hear Windows sounds, by a NoiseBlaster card.” I like that!) So far, my only gripe with the card is its name is a pain in the ass to type. I seem to type it often!
Being that it relies entirely on external converters, I had to go shopping. Before I say what I ended up getting, I want to go ahead and mention a certain thread of a certain recording forum where they did a blind comparison between a ultra-expensive Lynx 8 channel converter and a Behringer ADA8000 (converters only, for anyone “serious” I’m not advocating that these pres are up to usable in the high end setting). They tossed up a poll and NO ONE could pick the superior sounding unit. These are guys who’ve drank up all your kool aid and went out for another run to get more when it comes to gear hype. All of them desparately NEEDED the Lynx to smoke the Behringer. It didn’t happen. You can see the results here.
I do feel obligated to explain any Behringer purchase. First off, I’m not sure if I would recommend a Behringer product to anyone (with one exception, the headphone amp I purchased in 2001 is still going strong and has been used literally every day). It’s not so much that Behringer is a bad company, I’m just not willing to risk my reputation on them. Sometimes their stuff is great. Sometimes it ain’t. The latter happens a little more than it should, unfortunately.
Secondly, when Behringer items suck, they usually really suck. I know based on personal usage that the ADA8000 sounds fine and if it holds up to a Lynx (which I’ve never used) than even better. I needed 16 ins and outs and going with the next step up from Behringer was going to get real expensive in a hurry.
So, I decided to take a chance. I found a deal on Ebay for $330 for 2 Behringer ADA8000s, 2 ADAT cables (worth $50 right there), and 2 8-channel snakes (worth 2 movies worth of soldiering to me + parts). So, for just over $700 I have a full blown RME setup with 18 in, 18 out (counting my Mytek converters via S/PDIF).
I’ve snagged a hardware reverb on the way that I can permanently setup in my RME routing matrix for zero latency vocal mixes so at the moment I can’t think of one feature I’m missing in this setup.
I’m confident I’ve got an extremely reliable rig. I’ve got a gun on my holster in case the Behringers give me any trouble, but so far so good. (Note: My experience is that if Behringers aren’t dead on arrival, they are pretty solid.) I’ve got zero latency monitoring when needed, ultra-flexible routing, and plenty of I/O. So far, they’ve sounded and performed just fine.
I also love the fact that I can scale this setup as I want to. If I decide I want to go with super high end converters later, I have that option. It won’t be happening anytime soon as I’m building a studio SOME TIME! However, I like having that option.
I also like the fact that if any piece of the puzzle dies on me, I don’t have to throw out the interface.
I just need to make sure my future computers have 2 PCI slots. I’m not too worried about that right now.
It’s taken some time, but it appears I finally figured out what I needed for my home recording needs. A modular setup based on a high-performance no-frills interface seems to have been the right way for me and it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.
If the Firestudio would have been more reliable, it would have been a fine interface and I probably would never have switched. The folks at Presonus who saw my review (and were THRILLED by it) believe I may have a fluke, dud interface and they will be sending me a new one. So, the Presonus will get a second chance. I don’t feel that ANY product is perfect all the time so I think it is fair to give Presonus a second chance. I would have preferred the original have simply caught on fire so I wouldn’t have had to dabble with intermittent problems.
Again, if you are eyeing the MR816, I do recommend it if you don’t have any plans of blowing big cash on a couple little converters. It has features that are not-so-common in recording land and the thing was absolutely bulletproof in the reliability department.
I think I have shown that finding the right interface is a personal journey. No interface is perfect and all have features and limitations that may not work for your needs.