Hi everyone. Figured we needed a thread where people could share what has or hasnt worked for them. I have spent the better part of the last 6 months constantly buying and selling studio equipment on ebay in a process of elimination to build up my modest home studio. At some points the amount of equipment coming and going caused my wife to suggest that I might have a “problem.” lol I thought I would post my findings here to help out anyone who might need it.

First of all I will start with my struggle to find the right interface. These are all 2 channel audio interfaces. Number 2 is the only one with midi capabilities, but I never used it so I won't comment on it.

My first interface was an M-audio “Mobile Pre USB.” I used it for almost 2 years. This interface might have been OK in some applications, but it didn't fit mine. The drivers were the bright spot, they were rock solid and M-audio had regular updates to keep everything current. The software interface was intuitive, easy to use, and easy to understand. On playback I never had a hiccup. It would transition seamlessly from recording to playback and from program to program. As nice as the drivers were they just couldn't make up for the poor sound quality. The microphone preamps were as dull and lifeless as they could possibly be. I was able to get some nice guitar sounds by plugging the line out from my amp directly into it, but thats the only “nice” sound I was ever able to capture with it, and that only happened a few times. I even had a low end stand alone ART mic pre (which I'll discuss later) that I tried to use to improve my recorded sound, but it didn't help very much. Overall I would suggest you do yourself a favor and stay away from the “Mobile Pre” it is going make more work for you in the end. (not that you have to worry about it now, I'm sure they are out of production by now)

Next I bought a Presonus “Firebox.” I have a friend that uses a Presonus “Firestudio” and he has had decent results with it. I thought that the firebox would just be a smaller version of the firestudio. I was wrong. After buying the box and having some issues with it I decided to do some research on the internets. Much to my amazement I found that these have some very glaring problems that are common amongst a large number of these units. The drivers are OK, but not great. They do give occasional problems, but for the most part I would have been alright with them. Playback was not quite as nice as it was on the mobile pre. I couldn't control the volume via the windows volume slider, so I was constantly reaching for the tiny volume knob that is to close to the other knobs on the front of the firebox. On top of that there was a constant annoying high pitched whine being outputted all the time. I spent many hours trying to install drivers and firmware to remedy the problem. I also went to the trouble of converting my firewire cable to an unpowered one so that I could eliminate electricity as the culprit. The annoying noise also found its way into the recordings. It was a very low level noise, but once I started stacking a few tracks on top of each other it became more and more apparent. The other problem with recording through this box was that the preamps only produced 24db of gain. Thats less than half of what most preamps are capable of. This made it difficult to record even a shure sm58 because you couldn't get enough gain to create a decent signal. All of these issues are tied to the cheap components that presonus used to build these boxes. They were actually suppose to make a something like 50-60db of gain, but they found out that they couldn't produce that much gain because of the weird digital noise. So instead of fixing it they just dialed back the gain to the point where you couldn't hear it very well and included a software booster that digitally boosted your signal by 12db. I had the firebox for about 5 months. Overall I liked the firebox less than the mobile pre. Do not under any circumstances by a firebox. You will end up with an ulcer and a receding hair line!

My next interface purchase was somewhat of an impulse buy because I was just fed up with the firebox. I found a Mackie “Onyx Satellite” on ebay and the price was right so I bought it. I am glad I did! It is what I am currently using and it is leagues ahead of the last two. (At least in recording quality anyway) I knew before I bought it that people had issues with it and that Mackie had discontinued production, but I wanted to try it anyway. The drivers on this machine are almost non-existent. There is no software interface. Basically the only settings that can be changed via software are the sample rate and the buffer. In order to change those you either have to open the windows device manager or change the settings in your DAW. Also this machine is basically useless as a general audio playback device. If you have more than one audio program running at the same time (windows media and a DAW for example) then it will get confused about what sample rate should be used. At that point you either get Alvin and the chipmunks or Darth Vader coming out of your speakers. So basically I use my computer sound card for most general playback, and I use the Mackie for playback from my DAW when I am recording. This is fine because it works well as long as there is only one program to deal with. There is one more even more annoying problem on playback. Apparently Mackie did something wrong with the monitoring when they put this thing together so their solution was to write some new firmware. The problem that they created at that point was that they overloaded the converter. That means that you have to be careful about how much volume you feed into it from the computer because otherwise it will clip the converter and cause some nasty sounding distortion. I can still crank up the volume on the front of the box and get plenty of loudness, but I have to keep the master slid down a few db in the DAW. Its not that big of a hassle, when I get done with a mix I just push the master back up to normal levels and export the mix. Where it really shines is in the quality of the recordings. The preamps have a full 60db (-20 to +40) of gain and it is clean. They are low noise and crystal clear. Not sure what else to say about em except that they sound great. Another nice feature of it is that it has lots of ins and outs on each channel. These are individually selectable by a number of push switches on the front. That way you can plug in all your stuff, but just select what you want to record. No more switching cables all the time. Overall I think that this unit is worth the headaches because of its recording capabilities. Unfortunately I wouldn't really suggest it to most because of the fact that it is already discontinued.

Thats all I have on interfaces (so far). I didn't really narrow it down at all, but maybe my experiences can help you avoid some un-needed frustration. I'll maybe do one on mics when I get a chance.

Thanks-Nate


Last edited by Bater; 06/28/10 10:10 AM.