Caveat: None of this is gospel! I may have made some mistakes, so please double check my findings before you drain your piggy bank!
I was aghast at how little I knew of the multichannel interface market of the last few years. I guess its time to catch up. I’ll be looking at 8 channel plus ADAT I/O interfaces running USB
Not so long ago, this was a no brainer. With some rare exceptions, the interface was MOTU or RME, usually firewire, but the odd USB2 interface claimed speeds fast enough (though I didn’t do much testing of those) and a few PCI units still holding on. 8 channel mic pre’s with ADAT outs were plentiful, and at least that still seems like the case
For this post, I’ll be looking at USB solutions. I know from recent experience, that some of these are pretty finnicky with some USB 3 drivers, and require BIOS to be switched back to USB 2, and I’ll try and note that if I can. I still don’t have any real round trip latency numbers on the behringer devices that have taken even the pro world by storm over the last few years and I don’t even know if they have actual ASIO drivers (spare me the ASIO 4 All stuff please). I’m not interested in the mostly vaporware thunderbolt interfaces for this, nor would want to hang my hat on firewire still being a thing in most newer desktops never mind laptops. Ethernet audio looks very, very interesting to me, and I’d love a lot more education about it coming my way. From a talk with a few manufacturers, it doesn’t seem to me like its as viable an option as I’d like, but I doubt I need to worry about that for long, but for now, USB
There are TONS more of these (MOTU alone has a bewildering array) but I want to limit these to units that have at least eight actual mic preamps on them. I hate to cut these off because there are quite a lot that you could make work, but I want this list to at least pretend to be manageable. Kind of freaking out that I’m not seeing an RME entry on here. I am looking into the RME OctaMic XTC, which seems to fall in this category, but is listed under their mic preamps instead of their USB interfaces. Waiting on some info from RME.
This company makes a lot of what I consider in Don’t Get Jacked, as highly dubious claims about clocking, and will sell you incredibly expensive clocks if you’d like. That said, these interfaces have a lot of interesting features which may or may not be useful to you. In general, if you are in the 8 mic pre+ADAT market, you will probably find another interface that not only is far far cheaper, but will likely suit your needs better than any of these (if you need MIDI for example). Additionally, I have no idea what these drivers are like. With the hype surrounding these products coupled with the lack of substantive information about them, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t have another Apogee interface situation on our hands. In short, if you are a believer in word clock magic, you’ll probably want to save the frustration and buy one of these, as you will eventually do it anyway, but if you are a member of the reality based community, you might want to look elsewhere.
Its always a toss up with Behringer stuff. Some of it is an unreal value, at any cost, easily besting rivals at ten times the price, and often boasting features even its more expensive competitors can’t match. Seemingly just as often, they offer crap that isn’t tempered even by the amount you “save”. I don’t know how well the current drivers for the models listed work, but I am trying to find out.
For a breath of fresh air, here is a company, that although they certainly have a hugely pedigreed name, not only are they not afraid to be completely upfront with information, but they also have many products in the “value” category, well tailored to this particular market. Aside from a dicey <ahem> start with DICE-II drivers in their firewire interfaces, Focusrite’s USB drivers, while not the fastest on the market are quite mature and stable at this point. They have done a good job of communicating with the community, and enter the dreaded forums when need be. While nobody is beyond reproach, Focusrite certainly earn my trust as a trustworthy company.
When it comes to absolute speed and stability, MOTU and RME are the two horses in a two horse race, with the rest of the field trailing behind in various positions. As we move on away from firewire, it is a scary ride to watch these guys try and get the same I/O count over USB. I installed an 896mk3 Hybrid in a broadcast station, where it ran 24/7 on air for more than 3 years, and when it finally croaked, MOTU was only too happy to honor the warranty. The new 8pre USB is the successor to the firewire 8pre I had installed in dozens of studios and reccomended to many hundreds more. Unfortunately, you may not necessarily find what you want, features wise, among these particular models, but if they do fit your needs, these are a great way to go!
Presonus and Focusrite seem to be locked in a deathmatch, with the winner being us, the consumers. These two continue to offer features aimed right at the 16 input market and in a nonstop game of one-upmanship, drop product after product screaming our names. If you need the Full Monte (DI’s, MIDI, wordclock and ADAT), chances are these guys have what you are looking for, and you’ll just watch the current offers, sales and specials to pick between. Like Focusrite, Presonus had a disastrous run with DICE-II early on (as did so many other companies), but also like Focusrite, their USB drivers are now stable and mature.
The company that brought you Cubase and Wavelab! And much more importantly for everyone, ASIO and VST. When Steinberg brought Nuendo to market, it was the first time many of us had heard of RME. The early Steinberg branded RME gear really brought about a shift in what we could expect in terms of quality, reliability and support. I’ve had legendary forum flame wars with RME, but only because I knew what they were capable of and always respected them, no matter how heated it got. Steinberg seems to have teamed up with other hardware manufacturers since then, and I have no idea who’s making the UR824, but I hear a lot of praise for it in the forums. I’ll be investigating this one as time goes on.
I’ve been hands on with this one, though it was sketchy. Could have just been the guy’s laptop setup. This one is pretty full featured, with Word clock in and out, midi and DI’s. Not too sure how well the drivers work.
This company seems to be hit or miss when it comes to guitar processors and recording systems, but they are always willing to jump in with both feet when a market presents itself. I don’t know firsthand how their UAC-8 performs, but it certainly has the right feature set for many of the potential users. I’ll see what I can dig up.