Side by Side: USB Audio Interfaces
Jul 1, 2013 7:00 AM, By Chriss Scherer, editor
We've become so comfortable with editing audio on a computer, it seems strange to think about how we accomplished the same tasks with open reel tape. It's even easy to take your audio setup with you on the road.
But before the editing can begin, the audio has to be brought into the computer from a microphone or line-level source. The stock, built-in sound card can handle this, but usually not with the desired quality or convenience. Here are some USB audio interfaces that will simplify the task. The units we selected all offer at least a mic and a line input. Most tout high quality mic preamps with phantom power. Some will also accept instruments (guitar, bass). Some units include a copy of a basic audio editing software program as well, which may be useful for a portable setup.
Want more interfaces? We listed another set in the April 2012 issue, which is easily accessed at RadioMagOnline.com.
This desktop interface has two analog inputs and outputs, two S/PDIF digital inputs and outputs, two Class A microphone pre-amps, volume, mono/stereo dim controls, Aphex's optical compression and the HeadPod 4 technology. The IN2 brings high-quality mic pres, transparent optical compression, and Aphex's HeadPod 4 headphone amplification system. By allowing compression to take place in the analog domain, before going through the A-to-D conversion process, before going through the USB-to-DAW transfer, the best possible recordings can be achieved.
ART USB Mix
This three-channel interface comes in a compact case and is USB powered. It accepts balanced XLR or unbalanced 1/4" instrument inputs with switchable impedance, switchable +48V phantom power, balanced 1/4" TRS inputs for stereo or mono line-level sources, 1/4" TRS output jacks, a stereo 1/4" TRS headphone jack, and independent controls for both sets of inputs, main output, and headphone monitor. A green/red LED shows signal presence and clipping. USB playback from the computer can be assigned to channels 2 and 3. An ac adapter is included if USB power is not available.
Mackie Onyx Blackjack
The Onyx Blackjack combines the sonic benefits of Mackie's Onyx mic preamps with high-end Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters and workflow-friendly features. It features two Onyx mic preamp channels, each featuring built-in DIs. Both channels also deliver 48V phantom power. The studio monitor and headphone outputs have independent level controls. The Onyx Blackjack is bus-powered via USB. It also comes with Mackie's Tracktion 3 Music Production software. The unit sits with a 25-degree inclination, allowing for full view of all controls at all times.
Presonus AudioBox USB
This simple, 2-in, 2-out USB recording interface connects via USB 1.1, and it includes two dual-purpose front-panel mic/instrument inputs with Class A mic preamplifiers and 24-bit converters that sample at up to 48kHz. It is USB powered. An internal analog mixer with zero-latency monitoring enables accurate monitoring. It includes a free copy of the Presonus Artist DAW software for Mac and Windows. Additional features: 48V phantom power, headphone jack with level control, main-output level control, and LED clip indicator for each channel.
The US-122mkII starts with two quality XLR microphone preamps with phantom power. There's also a pair of balanced line inputs and a guitar-level in for direct recording. The stereo signal is sent to a computer at up to 24-bit/96kHz quality. It connects via USB 2.0, which also provides the unit's power. Zero-latency monitoring is available for recording without the delay going to a computer and back. It also includes a MIDI input and output. The interface includes a copy of Steinberg Cubase LE4. Drivers are available for Mac and Windows.
The Audiogram3 is a compact audio interface with a mono and stereo input channel. The mono input channel features a combo connector that can be set for microphone or line level input, while the stereo channel has phone and RCA connectors. LED indicators show signal presence and peaks. The interface is USB powered and works with USB 1.1. The mic input provides phantom power. The unit operates at 16-bit/44.1kHz and works with Windows and Mac. It includes a copy of Steinberg Cubase AI.
For portable use, a peripheral device is the simplest way to enhance a computer's audio I/O while still keeping the setup compact....
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