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Have AT2020, Need USB Audio Interface.

takieda

As the title suggests, that's basically what I'm asking, however, some background, as well as a few further questions for understanding.
I'm the son of a stage musician, with no real knowledge of sound design and how audio systems really work. I sunk my head in computers and never really looked back. Also, I suffer from the problem, "I don't know music, but I know what I like." Now, I find myself in the odd position of needing to know a LOT more than I ever have before, and I'm a bit stuck. I'm trying to get a good recording 'studio' put together so that I can record a bunch of voice for voice acting purposes - no real money here, though it *may* build into that in the future. I also have a few friends that are in the same predicament, wanting to do some voice acting for fun and games 'n' all that, and one that actually *WOULD* like to break into the business.
So now, I stumbled across an AT2020 on my local craigslist for $60 and (assuming at the time that it was the AT2020 USB - not knowing there were two versions) jumped on it. I've since had the pleasure of testing it at a local music shop and I am VERY impressed (in my own non-professional way) with the sound quality, but I had it plugged into an ~$800 mixer going through a set of studio monitors that I have no way of affording. That coupled with the fact that I have to record this audio onto a computer means I have to work with a bit of a different set of equipment and budget to boot.
So through all this, and a LOT more reading (I swear I'm going cross-eyed now), I've effectively realized there's no use in me trying to "adapt" this to plug into my line input on my computer's built in audio "interface." I know I need a USB Audio Interface (I'd go with Firewire or ADAT in a heartbeat if a) I could afford it, and b) I had the necessary computing hardware to support it). I also have looked at things from what I consider to be a logical technical perspective and have decided on some "features" that I think should be essential to the device (though some may be superfluous and others may be more important than I realize - please point it out if you can or so desire). These features are as follows
*USB Interface (preferably USB 3.0, but I have not found one that supports this, no matter the price)
*1 XLR input with Phantom power
*preamp (though I don't fully understand a preamp, or why it's needed here)
*ASIO 24/96 support
*1/4" jack headphone output (is there such a thing as a 1/4" balanced stereo jack? and if so, do they make headphones that use this, and is this really useful at all?)
*External power adapter availability
*as low a price as reasonably possible.
I've found one unit that sort of meets this, but I can't seem to find a unit that sports all the above features (aside from very expensive units, and units that *don't* support 24/96 audio - which may not be as important as I'm giving it credit for) - the Cakewalk by Roland UA-25 EX USB. As far as I can tell, it meets all the above requirements (aside from USB 3.0), while making it larger than I'd otherwise like, due to the extra in's and outs. I can also get it for roughly $100, which, while currently outside of my budget, wouldn't kill me to get in the next few weeks (I a poor broke bum - forgive the colloquialism).
Hopefully this wall of text isn't too rambling. Thanks for your time and consideration in this.
May 13, 2012 @03:21am
TimOBrien

* There are no usb3 units and they are unnecessary. Usb2 does fine up to 16 independent channels.
* You need a preamp built in because mic voltages need to be boosted up to line level.
* You dont need 24/96. Unless you have a bazillion$ studio 24bit/44.1khz is all you need.
* balanced outputs are unnecessary unless you are running lines hundreds of feet long.
Here is a starter guide: http://www.tweakheadz.com/soundcards_and_audio_interfaces.htm
You should bookmark and read through all of Tweak's guide.
May 13, 2012 @02:21pm
takieda

* There are no usb3 units and they are unnecessary. Usb2 does fine up to 16 independent channels.

That's good t'hear, so less to search for then.
* You need a preamp built in because mic voltages need to be boosted up to line level.

*does more reading on the subject - still not sure about what it means, and why devices like guitars and keyboards don't need preamps
* You dont need 24/96. Unless you have a bazillion$ studio 24bit/44.1khz is all you need.

Is there a potential possibility of studios that I might work with in the future requiring 24/96 format? As I understand it from a photo editing standpoint, always start with the best quality you can get, then work it down to what you need. And for my own purposes, wouldn't 24/96 provide better source for postprocessing work?
* balanced outputs are unnecessary unless you are running lines hundreds of feet long.

Having looked through a LOT of different AIs, I'm seeing a trend of HAVING balanced inputs, and as I want to use as few connectors and short of cable as possible (this is to be portable for me, and I certainly don't need to be hauling 20-30' cables anyway), it's going to be balanced connectors on both ends anyway. I doubt balanced v. unbalanced will ever creep up as an issue in the setup I'm working on. (I am slowly learning as I work through this stuff).

Very good reading for what I've read so far. It certainly puts me more on the map of what I need/don't need (considering most sales people will try to throw the latest greatest at you, or at LEAST what they THINK everyone needs to have).
You should bookmark and read through all of Tweak's guide.

Done and working through it sir. It's good to see a much more layman's description of what does what, and why.
As per the above, as a product getting me started with all this, would the Presonus Audiobox USB do a good job for me? I see some negative reviews, esp. with concern to the Phantom Power on the device. As all reviewers are not equal, I'd expect that the ones who gave it great reviews would either a) not have a problem/defective device that lower reviews suggest, or b) be lower on the rung of the "audiophile" ladder, when compared to the ones who gave it such harsh reviews near the bottom. As such, is it more likely that the people who gave it poor reviews (like hum with Phantom Power, or it getting significantly hot) had defective units, OR are simply more critical than those who gave it rave reviews?
All that, and how would you consider it compared to the Cakewalk by Roland UA-25 EX?
All these questions are, of course, directed toward anyone willing to answer them, not just the first responder :)
Thanks for all your time and consideration.
May 14, 2012 @12:00am
jpleong

USB interfaces in your price range: http://www.sweetwater.com/c695--USB_Audio_Interfaces/params=eyJkaW1lbnNpb24iOnsiUHJpY2UgUmFuZ2UiOiIxMDAwMDEzIn19
USB 1.0 is sufficient to handle a single vocal mic, even at extreme resolutions. But, as already mentioned by Tim, you don't need more than 24bit 44.1/48k for what you're describing.
JP
May 14, 2012 @02:51am