Cheap audio interface vs reasonably expensive interface comparison. Samples inside.

Discussion in 'Beginners/FAQ' started by Flappydoodle, Jun 1, 2018.

  1. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    I see this question asked fairly often around here, so I put together a couple samples to try and demonstrate.

    The files: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qim2nl2zeobcix8/AADx9sS6XYgDTEJRfHJfrspRa?dl=0

    The two interfaces are:
    iK Multimedia iRig HD. Cost £80 new. A small, USB-powered, single input dongle. Their website says:

    "iRig HD features superior digital audio quality, and offers a premium 24-bit/96kHz A/D converter for a crystal clear digital signal that’s free from noise and crosstalk".

    They make a big fuss of this being a Hi-Z input specifically for guitar. I used this thing for years, jamming through free plugins and it always sounded fine to me.

    http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irighd/

    Apogee DUET. Cost £500 new. Two inputs, monitor and headphone out. It's a reasonably high end interface, probably at the
    http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/duet

    "Duet features legendary Apogee AD/DA conversion, 2 world-class microphone preamps, USB MIDI I/O and ESS Sabre32 DAC technology".

    The comparison

    Gain on each interface was turned to the lowest setting. The iRig still clipped a tiny bit. Guitar is an ESP Horizon with SD 59/custom pickup. I used the lowest possible buffer setting in Logic that didn't result in hangs. Guitar, cables, pick etc etc were all the same.

    The files:
    1. Processed double tracked guitars.
    2. Raw DI tracks (double track mixed down to one stereo file).
    3. Background noise with guitar volume at 0

    My observations:
    • Higher buffer settings meant latency was worse with the iRig. You can hear my double tracking is much worse. Latency was around 40ms with the iRig and 10ms with the DUET.
    • The DUET has WAY less background noise.
    • Set to the lowest input gain, the iRig is still louder and clipped a couple times.
    • I compared the EQ of the two DI files, and the iRig has 6 to 9dB more signal at 15-20khz. I can only presume that is noise, since I don't think guitar DI would really have frequencies that high. The DUET also has a bit more low end.
    • The headphone output in the DUET is far better than the one built into my Mac.
    Is it worth it?

    Look at the files, consider the noise levels, the latency and decide for yourself. I suspect that something in the middle like a Focusrite 2i2 would have most of the benefits and less of the cost of the DUET.
     
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  2. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    The apogee stuff for me is like the beats of recording gear.

    Good interfaces inside and out but priced far above their actual electronic quality.

    They’ve been more willing to make smaller interfaces and lower priced entry level gear then the brands I actually want to use though.
     
  3. Sogradde

    Sogradde SS.org Regular

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    Imho the iRig sounds surprisingly good. Definitely better than my first recording gear (Line6 GuitarPort) I bought almost 15 years ago.
    Not something I would record an album with but for noodling around when on tour or quickly tracking riffs/demos on the fly it seems to be doing the job pretty well.
     
  4. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    Even iRig's DI is muffled and very undefined, you can hear the noise of that thing in recorded tracks too. Apogee is definetly worth it if you're serious about recording and playing, but just like you wrote; something like Focusrite Scarlett or Audient iD-series would be a good middle ground between those. Also built-in headphone amplifiers in laptops are the worst lacklusters in terms of audio production, difference is pretty big when compared to headphone outputs that audio interfaces usually have.
     
  5. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    Yep, I think that's true. Though if I had to buy again, I'd probably get the Apogee Element 24, which is the same price but has brand new hardware.

    Yeah, like I said, I used the iRig HD for a few years without any real issues. It's only when you compare it to something else that you really notice the flaws.

    For the tiny size, it's still a great piece of gear. The DUET has the main box, but also the breakout cable, and the USB cable. I sometimes still grab the iRig before going to jam somewhere, rather than disentangling the DUET from my monitors, headphones etc.

    Yep, the noise is something which really surprised me. The power where I am right now is also really "dirty" and noisy, and lots of electric lights and stuff around. I hadn't really considered noise from the interface itself until I made this comparison.

    Also, I'm using a retina MacBook Pro which do have pretty decent headphone outs. I tired a friends Dell and holy SHIT that thing was terrible. But still, the DUET is just miles ahead even though I wouldn't call myself an audiophile at all. It's also freaking LOUD. For 80 Ohm headphones, even just turning it 1/3 of the way up is ear-splitting. The MacBook output needs to be maxed to get the same volume.
     
  6. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    I would be interested to see how the Duet would compare with something like a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 or any of the other budget but not super cheap interfaces.
     
  7. eayottes

    eayottes SS.org Regular

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    Great thread ! Thanks for all the work behind compiling this data (and writing the post).

    Right now, I'm hesitating between the Apogee Duet and the RME Babyface. I understand the Babyface has other features that the Duet doesn't have, but I'd be interested in latency and sound quality (e.g. clipping) comparisons.

    Any recommendations between those two interfaces would be greatly welcomed (or other suggestions) :)
     
  8. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    This is between regular iRig and Audient iD4, but Audient is supposed to be little bit better in that area than Focusrite, and you'll probably get a clue how it's comparing to more expensive interfaces. Shame there is no DI comparison in this either, pretty hard to find a decent comparison about it.
     
  9. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    :yesway:

    You should start a fund so that you can buy each interface and repeat this experiment with each one.

    I have a strong feeling it'll be like pretty much anything else, where the more costly units are consistently better than the cheaper ones, but the law of diminishing returns will render that point useless somewhere around the price level of the most popular interfaces.

    I have an iRig UA, a Boss Micro BR, a Behringer digital mixer that is supposed to act as a 2 channel interface, and then I have a Presonus 1818VSL.

    The iRig is fine for what it is. I mean, I had no expectation that it'd do much more than allow me to somehow get my guitar signal into my tablet in a rudimentary way. Since my tablet is Android, the iRig software for it is horrible. I have virtually no amp models anywhere near useable in a recording, and maybe 2 that are sketchpad quality acceptable. I was hoping to use it for noodling around and recording some ideas, but by the time I deal with all of the cables and floppy shit dangling around that I need to secure in order to play, I find it easier to just use something else. Waste of money. If you own Apple stuff, I'm sure it's better.

    The Boss has a lot of cool modelling options, actually, and the thing is compact and easy to implement. You can plug it into a computer to use as an interface or use it on its own as a stand-alone recorder, but it's best with the computer. I think this device fits the bill of the above much much better than the iRig, but trying to use it for an actual recording, everything sounds kind of thin and umm, not-clear-in-the-high-end. Honestly, I never noticed how bad it was until I heard better.

    The Behringer mixer promises that I can use the L and R main outs to go directly into the computer via USB, but, the truth is that the product description was misleading. You get one channel in, and the other is just dead. I actually had the thing replaced when I bought it, because I thought it was faulty, based off of the product specifications and my phone conversation with Behringer about it. After they sent me a second one that did the same thing, I called Behringer back and they admitted over the phone that the A/D converter in the mixer was only for mono and that it was only connected to one channel. Ugh. For me, it meant it was a total waste of money, since I only bought it for the purpose of recording two things at once, by panning hard L and R. I won't even bother getting into it beyond that, except to say that the Behringer preamps on the mixer are actually not bad.

    The Presonus VSL rack unit really takes the cake here. It sounds great, and until a Win10 update screwed up my mojo, it worked phenomenally well. I recorded an album with it, where I had live drums and scratch bass, guitar, and vocals, then went back and overdubbed replacements for the scratch tracks (for the bass, I actually used the "scratch track" as take one and the overdub as take two...but that is just the unnecessary detail) - I was able to throw amp sims, cab sims, and pedal sims on the guitar and bass and still hear everything perfectly in time, while recording 12 tracks of drums. The sound quality is so much better than the other options I have. I'm sure there is still room for improvement, but, like I said, 10% better sound quality might cost me ten times as much money.
     
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  10. eayottes

    eayottes SS.org Regular

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    That and a table with % of driver issues for each interface on each OS (MAC, Win7, Win10) would be the ultimate audio interface buying guide IMHO.
     
  11. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    For Win10, it might be 100% issues and 0% actual functioning! :lol:
     
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  12. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Double
     
  13. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    There is always something fishy going on when some major update for W10 comes. Operating system is installing drivers itself against how it really should be done, so it automatically installs them in wrong way during the update. After that people don't know how to uninstall the drivers properly, and install them again. I wiped my os's registry from all installed driver files and it still has some problems. So it's still a mystery how to treat those drivers in W10.
     
  14. eayottes

    eayottes SS.org Regular

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    Until now, I've never encountered driver issues in Windows 10 (knock on wood) with the Steinberg UR22MKII. That being said, I agree, others may have gone through hell (e.g. Focursite 2i2 and 2i4 owners).
     
  15. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

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    Never really seen much about the Babyface to be honest - only people recommending it on forums. My opinion of RME is that it's pretty utilitarian. Their product names make no sense. The devices are ugly, cramped with stuff. Their website looks like it's from about 2005. But apparently the quality is excellent, drivers are incredibly stable, and

    Apogee, as someone said earlier, is a bit like Beats in some ways. I'd liken them more to Apple actually. There's a price premium if you just look at specs. My main caution would be, as I mentioned, that the DUET is quite old now. In fact, I just checked and this model was released in 2013. That's when the iPhone 4S came out. That doesn't make it bad, but it does mean that you're buying into older technology.

    By the way, I just noticed the new Universal Audio Arrow... looks almost exactly like DUET, and it's the same price. Though you need thunderbolt 3.

    Totally agree. I think something like the DUET is probably where the cost:benefit really starts to level off.

    I did almost stump up extra cash for the UA Apollo, but £800 for just a two channel interface was a bit hard to swallow when I don't do this professionally.
     
  16. eayottes

    eayottes SS.org Regular

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    Yeah I saw it. It looks interesting but unfortunately I have an Asus sabertooth z77 motherboard so Thunderbolt 3 is not an option for me unless I change motherboards. Moreover, there seems to be a lot of Windows users complaints (and returns).
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2018
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