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Microphone Month 5

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Pre-amp Comparo on small channel count USB/Firewire devices


Is there anyplace that I can look at noise specs of the built-in mic pres for small channel count USB and Firewire I/O devices?
I'm in the market for one of the following:
USB devices:
Alesis IO|2 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/io2/
Edirol UA-25 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/UA25/
M-Audio Fast Track Pro http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/FastTrackPro/
Mackie Spike http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Spike/
Firewire devices:
Presonus Firebox: http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/FireBox/
M-Audio Firewire 410: http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Firewire410
Does anyone know of a shootout that's been done to check the self-noise of the mic pre-amps in these devices?
Thanks for your time,
September 28, 2005 @01:52pm

September 30, 2005 @03:17pm

I can't say exactly why you haven't received more replies, but I'm betting it has to do with the fact that most people buy these boxes for their features and convenience, not for their specs. Any mic preamps the various interfaces have are useful more because they're there, not because of how good they are.
I CAN say that the relatively low voltage and current available across the USB or FireWire buss kind of sets a fairly impenetrable limit as to how good the noise and distortion specs are on the built-in mic pres on any of these units. Better specs require much more voltage and current, and I'd imagine that all of these units are operating with as much performance and quality as the available voltage and current can supply.
The market is so crowded with prosumer gear now, almost all of it has to be at least decent. I'd speculate that the all the units on the list you have assembled fall into the same general quality band for the reasons I listed above and others, with none of them being noticeably much better or much worse than any others. Any inferior product would quickly fall behind, with any number of very similar competing products waiting to fill the gap. That's how crowded the market is in this area.
September 30, 2005 @04:03pm

The units I'm seriously considering seem to all have external power supplies; wall wart kind of things.
At least the Firebox does as well as the Spike.
You called me out, though. I'm a home recordist trying to get by on minimal financial outlay and I like the convenience of the audio/midi I/O all in one package.
September 30, 2005 @04:19pm

i have the m-audio firewire 410 and i am running it through my mackie 32.8 and i have no problems with the sound and it is running right along side with my mackie mdr24/96 standalone HD recorder... it sounds great. my set-up is Nuendo with firewire 410. mackie 32.8 w/24 expander and mdr 24/96. i record all drums, guitars, bass, and ext,keyboards (not plug-in) on the recorder. but all my vocals are done in nuendo with the anteres mic modeler plug-in and i cant and wont complain.
September 30, 2005 @05:43pm

Okay, wall warts are a step better than USB/FW buss power (sorry, I don't really work with this kind of stuff much, so I don't know which ones have what), but you're still looking at minimal voltage (almost certainly under 20 volts, probably under 9 volts) and current (definitely under 1 amp, but probably under 500 mA, and both at the output voltage) to work with. This kind of situation is not going to yield amazing specs regardless.
But that's also not the point of this kind of gear, as I mentioned earlier. All of them are probably going to sound fine, none stellar, certainly not to the point of people buying them for their "sound," and none significantly better or worse than the others.
Which means that I think you should be shopping for this stuff based on features, compatibility, price, and things like that, rather than on audio specs.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an all-in-one solution, many people want that. That's precisely the kind of purpose these things were designed for.
September 30, 2005 @08:40pm