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About one year ago I started recording my guitar sound using the IK Multimedia Stealth Plug CS and Amplitube 3. The sound was good, but I got frustrated really quickly because during recording I got random disturbing noises and sometimes the software crashed. Updating the drivers and software did not solved the problem, so I decided to buy an amp (VOX VT40+) instead of making music on my computer. I really love this amp and I'm glad that I do not need to turn on my computer to play music!

Now I like to record my sounds again using a microphone (e.g. the Shure SM57-LCE) and an audio interface (e.g. Focusrite Scarlett 2i4), but I did not buy one of these, yet. I was wondering why all the audio interfaces I've researched do not support USB 3.0. Any idea why? As I know, the advantage of using a Firewire interface is that it does not need to compress the sound, right? Would USB 3.0 fix that issue?

Best regards, Michael

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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I don't know where you read about USB interfaces needing to "compress the sound", but it's nonsense. For your application two channels will do; at 96 kHz and 24 Bit that's less than 5 MBit/s: even USB-1.0 can handle that without compression. and USB-2.0 is already more than ten times faster, so even in multichannel applications it's often plenty good enough.

What's taken as crucial for the performance of an audio interface is not so much bandwidth as latency, in particular when you're dealing with virtual instruments. FireWire has a design advantage here, not because of its higher data rate but because its topology allows devices to interact directly, and it can pretty much completely be implemented in hardware, with very reliable DMA performance. Whereas in USB there's a single root hub that needs to do some nontrivial packet management – not an issue for total bandwidth (just use big enough packages!), but it prevents reliable fast direct-memory access.

And this hasn't really changed with USB-3.0: it offers much better bandwidth than 2.0 (which however, as I said, is relevant only if you need a great lot of tracks) but is still worse than the old FireWire in terms of low-latency reliability, and much worse than Thunderbolt.

Again for your application, when you're recording from the amp with a microphone you don't need monitoring through software anyway, so latency doesn't matter either. So there's really no reason why you shouldn't be fine with just a USB-2.0 interface.

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Thanks for the background on USB and FireWire. I read a test of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 interface. In the test setup it had 11ms latency (but they mentioned that it should be less, at least its what the support of the Focusrite said). Would you say it is worth to get a PCI FireWire controller and a FireWire interface instead of a USB setup? –  Michael Jan 5 at 21:00
    
Depending on how complex your setup is, the USB might be all you need, and a lot easier to move around if you decide to go slightly mobile. What kind of computer do you have? The money spent on the firewire controller might be better spent on something else. –  elburzs Jan 6 at 0:15
    
I got a desktop computer and a notebook, both have enough power for recording and editing sounds. Getting mobile would be an option for the future. In case of getting mobile I would go with USB, cause I don't have a FireWire port on my notebook. –  Michael Jan 6 at 10:09
    
Agree with the answer that for his application a USB 2.0 interface is OK. But how about the original question: are there any USB 3.0 interfaces in the works? I record live bands and my USB 2.0 interface usually works for up to 8 channels at a time. I can find firewire interfaces, but don't want to invest in what I consider an obsolete technology. (While my MacBook Pro does have firewire, I'm moving to a machine without it). –  Webwriter Jan 13 at 16:07
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Focusrite Scarlett and an SM57 should be just fine. Combine it with a DAW like Ableton, Pro Tools, Cubase, Reason, Logic, etc, and you'll have a good setup.

leftaroundabout mentioned many of the main reasons so I won't repeat them all, but the main reason is that USB2 is often not the bottleneck for recording applications unless you're doing extremely large scale recordings. As well, USB2 is forward-compatible (in theory) with USB3, so there's very little reason to change what is working so far.

Also to consider is that Thunderbolt is now starting to gain traction, which has a higher bandwidth and some other conveniences that USB3 doesn't have, and is more or less an outboard PCI slot, so I think many companies will lean towards this and hold off on USB3 (like the UAD Apollo).

RME have released this USB3 interface, but you can see it's mainly because of the MADI interface.

http://www.rme-audio.de/en_products_madiface_xt.php

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Thanks for your reply and taking the time! I thought about excepting your answer, but the answer of leftaroundabout had more background on USB and FireWire and its kind of what I asked for (and I'm on your side that you do not need to repeat it). However, you mentioned a "real" USB 3.0 audio interface, which was also part of my question. So I gave it a +1 –  Michael Jan 5 at 21:09
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There are some but I believe the main reason as to why there aren't more is that:

  • They are more expensive.
  • The company's target audience design are mostly your home/bedroom studio affordable. equipment where you wont be recording a full live orchestra and need 3.0 to send so much data.
  • Also, a big reason is that most laptop and desktop aren't and wont be pre-built with USB 3.0 ports for a few years to come so you would have to purchase/install USB 3.0 ports in your desktop or purchase an 2.0 to 3.0 adapter... which brings me to the question I came here trying to possibly learn.

If as an example I were to purchase a USB 3.0 compatible interface like RME's MADIface XT or a Firewire 400/800 interface and use a converter to USB 2.0 to connect to the existing USB ports in my laptop, Would the converter automatically lower the speed and clarity rendering it pointless to pay extra for a faster interface?

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