Best Firewire Audio Preamp interface for the price?

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
KVRist
41 posts since 5 Jul, 2005 from Bahrain

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 2:00 am

Hi, I'm stuck between these interfaces:
Mackie Onyx 400F - can be found $560
ART TubeFire8 - about $500
Presonus Firestudio Tube - $620

What I need:
1- best preamps, they gotta be powerful, colorless, natural, warm. I'm gonna be recording guitars, vocals and drums.
2- quality built-in AD converters
3- good built-in headphone preamp for monitoring the audio
4- unbalanced output for future Monitors
5- near zero-latency ASIO support

any opinions, thoughts, experiences, recommendations?

Rad Grandad
34028 posts since 6 Sep, 2003 from Downeast Maine

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 8:05 am

I have the presonus firestudio 26/26 no tube, no reason for a tube either in my opinion. My only complaint is after two years suddenly the firmware died which seems odd, 100 bux to fix it. Of the three firestudio products now available I would suggest the firestudio project unless you're planning on expanding. It does have asio but the direct monitor kicks ass and is zero latency. I use it for recording guitars, hardware keys and vox, typically I record three trax on guitars, stereo pair out from my xt live and a dry signal out of the bypass on my aby box into one input for re-amping. I also montior my stereo pair with fx from my Alesis Midiverb IV (but do not record them or I record the fx to two more trax) and I can also take the second signal from my aby box and run it into my Marshall pre-amp. From there I use cab impulses on the Marshall. All total when I have to motivation I can record 7 trax of guitars (six if instead of the Marshall I record the mono signal from my dead box and Boogie head).
A toxic person needs someone to attack when their ego is threatened.

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KVRAF
6179 posts since 4 Oct, 2007 from Escaped At Last

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 8:22 am

Focusrite announces Liquid Saffire 56 - im sold big time already

Don't go for tube pre's if you want colourless, go for class-A solid-state jobs IMO

KVRist

Topic Starter

41 posts since 5 Jul, 2005 from Bahrain

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 1:31 pm

Hink wrote:My only complaint is after two years suddenly the firmware died which seems odd, 100 bux to fix it. Of the three firestudio products now available I would suggest the firestudio project unless you're planning on expanding. It does have asio but the direct monitor kicks ass and is zero latency.
I'm very well considering the Presonus', however I've seen reviews here and there with terrible build quality claims from some people receiving DIY's, connection dropouts, pops and clicks etc.
http://forum.recordingreview.com/f50/pr ... iews-6210/
I'm glad you clarified the ASIO performance coz thats an important factor, along with the preamps ofcourse. The Firestudio Project goes for pretty cheap as well..
NEKRO.MACHINE wrote:Focusrite announces Liquid Saffire 56 - im sold big time already
Don't go for tube pre's if you want colourless, go for class-A solid-state jobs IMO
Seems very expensive!

I'm still confused, I've read glowing reviews about the Onyx 400f but not so much about the ASIO drivers..
Is there a post in this forum or elsewhere that I can actually listen to recordings with the interfaces to evaluate the preamp quality?

KVRist
108 posts since 4 Jun, 2007 from London / Surrey

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 1:36 pm

have a look at the saffire pro 40 then.

you won't get the liquid pres, although we have no idea how those are gonna sound anyway (they're third-generation and stripped down and you get 2 for the price of less than 1/2 of the old liquid channel... so something's gotta give)

imo the saffire line is about the best bang-for-buck pre there is.

of course you can do better, but it will cost you. "for the price" they win, and the law of diminishing returns applies a little quicker here.

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KVRAF
6179 posts since 4 Oct, 2007 from Escaped At Last

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 2:03 pm

terminal3 wrote:have a look at the saffire pro 40 then.

you won't get the liquid pres, although we have no idea how those are gonna sound anyway (they're third-generation and stripped down and you get 2 for the price of less than 1/2 of the old liquid channel... so something's gotta give)

imo the saffire line is about the best bang-for-buck pre there is.

of course you can do better, but it will cost you. "for the price" they win, and the law of diminishing returns applies a little quicker here.
Yeah i agree, the green series pre-amps in the saffire 40 (they are not in the cheaper saffire models) sound very good and clean for the money (i just got a little over excited at the announcement - you know what its like :oops: ) Because im looking into expanding my setup (an M-Audio ProjectMix IO) and the saffire pro 40 was top of my list until focusrite dropped that info!

Its a toss up between those two or an M-Audio Profire 2626 which Justin3am uses, reports good things from (he is a sound bs free dude) and the profire use's M-Audio's 'Octane Series' mic pre-amps which are also very good sounding for the money, and as i use an M-Audio interface myself already the ASIO drivers are solid as a rock i must say. So for exapnding my pshyical number of I/O's is either going to be one of those three mentioned

Hope that helps and yes i have heard nothing but trouble regarding mackie's driver's but not experienced it first hand

All the best to you

Dean

KVRist

Topic Starter

41 posts since 5 Jul, 2005 from Bahrain

Post Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:11 pm

This post made me reevaluate.. I've done some more research, between $400-$600 price range:
Focusrite Saffire Pro 40, Presonus Firestudio Tube, M-Audio Profire 2626
Knowing which would be a better solution for me has to come down to some listening or hands-on testing the units; too bad I live in a 3rd world country and have to order the thing to actually see them in action .. :lol:

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KVRAF
6179 posts since 4 Oct, 2007 from Escaped At Last

Post Sun Jan 18, 2009 3:01 am

My best advice would be to go on over to http://soundonsound.com - and checkout the reviews section to see if they have been reviewed as their advice is usually honest and if their are any issues with the product being reviewed they dont hold it back, you can also see if they have been revieved at: http://musicradar.com and also harmony central is usually not bad either for information.

Good luck with whichever one you decide to buy mate and FWIW i really do not think you can go wrong with either of the three on your list man

Dean :)

KVRian
1116 posts since 18 Jan, 2004 from Los Angeles, California, USA

Post Sun Jan 18, 2009 3:26 am

Lots of good advice here, but just wanted to make a quick note that might be helpful in finding the right pre-amp/interface.

You mentioned wanting the pre-amps to be "powerful, colorless, natural, warm". That's not an entirely clear description because "warmth" is part of a coloration, "natural" often means that no frequency sticks out in an offending fashion while "colorless" tends to mean a very neutral and "accurate" representation of the sonic material, rather than emphasizing the most musically pleasing aspects. By "powerful" I'm guessing you mean that you want a lot of gain with low noise: is that accurate?

Anyway, many engineers will have several different pre-amps, just like they have several different mics, to bring out certain aspects of a sound or to balance certain qualities in a given mic and make it sound its best. Thus, it will get a lot easier to choose an interface when you reconcile what qualities you are looking for in an amp, since there was a bit of contrast between the adjectives you used originally.

Also: Dean, great advice as always. I wish you were at NAMM this year, but Brent and I did our best to make sure you were there in spirit. :)

KVRist

Topic Starter

41 posts since 5 Jul, 2005 from Bahrain

Post Sun Jan 18, 2009 5:15 am

Per Lichtman wrote:You mentioned wanting the pre-amps to be "powerful, colorless, natural, warm". That's not an entirely clear description because "warmth" is part of a coloration, "natural" often means that no frequency sticks out in an offending fashion while "colorless" tends to mean a very neutral and "accurate" representation of the sonic material, rather than emphasizing the most musically pleasing aspects. By "powerful" I'm guessing you mean that you want a lot of gain with low noise: is that accurate?
Didn't expect someone to actually measure my words to such fine detail! But hey I see your point here, I was honestly looking for everything in one package which isn't possible. Quite frankly, I mentioned "colorless" and "natural" to capture the audio I'm recording in the best possible way with lots of headroom to play around with the "clean" signal.. and by right you are, powerful= lots of gain, low noise..

But I've also mentioned warm because I've been put off with some of the recordings I've heard, not necessarly by these preamps; I'm talking about these digital interfaces in general.. sounded very dry, static, harsh and yes, way too digital.. I hope you guys are familiar with metal, the music I want to record is to be somewhat similar sounding to the warmth of Dream Theater's Scenes from a Memory, but that album is recorded on tape anyway.. Opeth's Damnation is a good choice - balance of that sharpness and warmness.. I don't expect my 500 buck preamp to sound as good as these professionally recorded albums, but at least you're getting an idea where this is coming from :)

KVRian
1116 posts since 18 Jan, 2004 from Los Angeles, California, USA

Post Sun Jan 18, 2009 5:32 am

Okay, that gives me a much better idea. :)

If you're even thinking of "the tape factor", then you're going to want to de-emphasize that "clean" aspect and bring in a lot of color at some point. If you're going to roll it off with a tape emulation, or low-pass filter or high shelf later or vintage compressor later on, then making sure that you capture "all the frequencies" may just be adding more work.

I haven't had a chance to test the three interfaces being mentioned so I can't comment specifically. I have worked with other pre-amps from those companies and I think that Focusrite would be the one that tends to have the most distinctive coloration (on their other gear), while PreSonus has offered some of the best value (in terms of good pre-amps at a low price) and M-Audio's pre-amps tended to be a bit beefier/more in your face/less detailed. In fact, if you read through the producer interviews in CM, you'll find people using their old M-Audio interfaces, in place of more expensive gear, when they want a less detailed but beefy sound.

Now, these new products all appear to have a bit cleaner sound than the previous ones I encountered by these companies, so take that last paragraph with a lot of salt. I think Dean is right: you probably can't go wrong.

From a future expansion standpoint, I would advise you to make sure that you take the digital I/O of the interface into account too. You never know when you'll want to run a pre-amp into external converters or upgrade the sound of the DAC, so ADAT and SPDIF can become important down the line and might save you from having to buy another interface if you want to change/upgrade your sound.

KVRian
1116 posts since 18 Jan, 2004 from Los Angeles, California, USA

Post Sun Jan 18, 2009 5:44 am

sa3atsky wrote: But I've also mentioned warm because I've been put off with some of the recordings I've heard, not necessarly by these preamps; I'm talking about these digital interfaces in general.. sounded very dry, static, harsh and yes, way too digital.. I hope you guys are familiar with metal, the music I want to record is to be somewhat similar sounding to the warmth of Dream Theater's Scenes from a Memory, but that album is recorded on tape anyway.. Opeth's Damnation is a good choice - balance of that sharpness and warmness.. I don't expect my 500 buck preamp to sound as good as these professionally recorded albums, but at least you're getting an idea where this is coming from :)
Opeth's Damnation has a very warm sound, and you're right that an awful lot of new music will sound harsh by comparison. Listen to how much the "smooth" aspect of the sound is emphasized. Part of that can be brought out EQ and nuanced volume editing but its also about making sure that the parts make space for each other. No one part (either in terms of instruments or gear) will give that sound alone, but in getting closer to that sound within your budget, I would focus most intently on matching the tone you want: the noise and gain should be secondary considerations, unless you are working with a particularly demanding (a.k.a. ribbon) microphone in that area.

In terms of low priced software that performs well in those areas (and at a high class level), I would urge you to look at the more traditional parts of the Audio Damage line (like Fluid, Dub Station, etc.) and Stillwell line (especially the Vibe EQ). Those can help to capitalize on whichever interface you choose and get you closer to that warm sound you're after, without sacrificing energy or musical intensity (which is very different from "loudness").

KVRian
1116 posts since 18 Jan, 2004 from Los Angeles, California, USA

Post Sun Jan 18, 2009 5:50 am

Btw, when you said "Scenes", did you mean "Scenes from a Memory"? Anyway, a lot of those same things held true for that album.

A lot of newer bands seem to feel like increases in the capability to record or add high frequency content has to be applied on every track... for every part. It's almost like a lot of people aren't listening for "clashes" in the same way that they used to, but I'm young so I can't really fairly say that. :) If you really start to listen for that, the space, the room, the contour of a part instead of just how loud it is, then you can make the arrangement sound a lot more interesting. Compare the albums you mentioned to "Cyanide"...

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KVRAF
6179 posts since 4 Oct, 2007 from Escaped At Last

Post Mon Jan 19, 2009 6:24 am

nice one Per good to hear you had a good time there mate

Also sa3atsky mentioning Opeth always is a good reference point for IMO a 'Good' sound which has 'warth' subjective i know but IMO its makes sense for Opeth and the guy from Porcupine Tree whom produces and also frederick nordstrom (well starting with the 'My Arms Your Hearse' record and onwards as the previous albums whilst good and in my record collection were not quite there sound wise)

Dean :)

KVRian
1116 posts since 18 Jan, 2004 from Los Angeles, California, USA

Post Mon Jan 19, 2009 6:43 am

Yeah, it would have been hard to have a bad time: Jordan Rudess (keyboardist from the aforementioned Dream Theater album) was demoing the new Omnisphere patches among other things. Good times indeed.

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