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Best budget audio interface for recording?

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Hello everyone, I've been looking over some budget interfaces for a simple DAW and I'm interested in your opinion. I've yet to decide between a Steinberg CI1, PreSonus AudioBox, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, but the thing is I don't need any mic or MIDI inputs as I record with a usb keyboard and a Behringer C1-U (usb) mic. Most of the music recorded is just samples, but nevertheless I plan to buy an audio interface with at least one mic input for possible guitar recording. I have ATH-M50x headphones for monitoring (I'm looking to invest in some monitoring speakers later on as well).Here's my question: would I hear a difference in quality of sound between those audio interfaces at all? Also, since I record with a usb mic straight into the computer, can that kind of quality of recording match the quality of a mic going through the audio interface (through a regular XLR input)? In other words, can the built in audio interface inside the usb mic produce a decent quality, suitable for music standards these days? Or would the best choice be to buy a XLR mic and a decent audio interface altogether? If so, which audio interface (and possible mic) should I get? I'm looking to spend up to $200 on the audio interface alone. Once again, I'm very new to the topic, so please feel free to include some sources where I could read up on the subject (if you can). Thanks in advance! 061.gif

Edited by cobraviper

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Here's what I wrote to a friend a while back (with some edits).


1. Recording - For recording a range of instruments, you'll want something like a Mackie 802VLZ4, 8-channel Ultra Compact Mixer with High Quality Onyx Preamps ($200), but if you don't need that many channels, you could get by with the Mackie 402VLZ4, which is half the price ($100).
Voice recording - I currently have a Shure SM7B, which is a dynamic microphone. I got it via Massdrop for $300. By far the best microphone for the price. However, it needs at least 60dB to drive it, and cranking many pre-amps to this level brings in a good bit of noise. Which brings me to:
Pre-amps for Microphones - If voice recording is really important with low noise output with the Shure SM7B, then you really need two things: a Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 ($150), and a Golden Age Preamp-73 DLX ($500). The Cloudlifter CL-1 will provide 20dB of clean gain before it goes to the preamp, and the GAP-73 is the best non-pro enthusiast single channel preamp out there, and will provide up to 80dB gain, way more than you'll need to drive the Shure SM7b, and probably no noise. You might be able to get by with the GAP-73 MKII ($350) with the Cloudlifter CL-1, and still get no noise.
Other Microphone options - I got a used Blue Yeti Pro for $165, but they are $220 new. It's a USB Condenser microphone that has 24-bit/192 kHz digital recording resolution with an analog XLR output. Definitely another great option, and you don't need so much gain to drive it, making it a cheaper overall option.
There are also Ribbon microphones out there, but I know nothing about them. :)
2. Mixing - Recording the output, you'll either want a mixer (which I mentioned above), and have it output onto a computer (using a software DAW - Digital Audio Workstation), or record the output using an external recorder. I'm still playing around with this right now, and most likely the software DAW is where I'm focusing. There are free DAW's, and I actually bought a $50 one. One of the best ones out there is Avid Pro Tools 11, but I think it's around $700, but it goes on sale for $300 every couple of months. If you can deal with the free DAW's or the $50 one, then I'd stick with that. However, for the Avid Pro Tools 11 at $300, it's a great deal.
3. Listening - For listening, you'll want a good pair of reference headphones. "Reference" means that they don't tweak anything. What you hear is exactly how it's supposed to sound from the source. I use an AKG K7XX First Edition I got from Massdrop for $199. It's the best headphones for the price out there. However, for listening while mixing, you want something that doesn't leak out sound, which is what they call "Studio" headphones. For that, I use the AKG K553 Pro Studio Headphone ($120).
DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) - If you're using a computer, a dedicated sound card is good enough. You can find Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD's around the $70 range, and I have a couple of those, and just replaced the op-amps with two LME49720NA's. The same with ASUS Xonar Essence STX's, though they're harder to find, and closer to the $90 range used. New, forget about it. I also replaced the op-amps with two LME49720NA's. If you want to go one step higher, get a SMSL M8 ($180), or go full bore with the Grace Design m920 ($1500), which is a standalone amp/DAC/pre-amp.
Amplifier - I use the cheapest option, which is a LP-2020A+ Lepai Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier with Power Supply ($20). Sometimes you get a bit of noise, so the next best thing would be a JDS Labs Objective 2. You can put it together yourself for $69, but you'll need to buy the battery and power adapter, solder the parts yourself, and then find an enclosure for it. Or for twice the price, have it put together by JDS Labs. If you still get noise, then you'll want to get something cleaner. However, I don't get any noise at the volume I listen to, so I stick with what's cheapest.
DAC + Amp combo - Most mixers are pretty expensive, so I won't throw that in as an option right now. Probably the best DAC + Amp combo for the price is a Creative Labs E5. If you buy direct from Creative Lab's website, there are promo codes for either $10 to $40 off. I think the price is currently $200.
Hope that helps. I started out really small, and upgraded piece by piece. If the overall sound was much better, then I kept the upgrade, if I didn't, I returned it, or sold it. I suggest you doing the same, because the fact of the matter is, what you create needs to sound how you want it to sound, so you can't rely on others making your choices for you. Plus, if you can get by with the sound you like for cheap, then you don't need to spend hundreds or even thousands to achieve it.
Edited by El_Capitan

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Wow that was a lot. My thinking has always been, "simpler is better", usually! You can get an E-Mu 1212m PCIe-1x interface for around $160.00+- at

Musicians Friend, or Music 123. The DA converter Drivers are about the best you can get. The same as used by Pro Tools I think. The Behringer

Xenyx 802 mixer is really nice for about $80.00+-,. I use one for input and one for output. It has real nice analog modeled mic pre-amps "x2", channels

1 and 2. Both have balanced and unbalanced input output. The interface is 2 in 2 out which is enough, especially with the mixers. The mixer is 4-6

channel {2 single mic input} {2 double input instrument} any mic you plug in will sound good, they have phantom power also. Behringer makes very good

stuff with small price tags. E-Mu is an original, they developed those Drivers. Look around at the music store, you will no doubt find what you need.

Cocos Reaper is a great little Light Weight DAW that is completely affordable, and as good as anything else out there. I use Cubase 4 but that is because

it is what I am accustomed to. I hate the bloat of plugins and VSTi s. I like to choose my own. Reaper has none of that. Well that is my two cents.

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For what you are describing, you seem to already have what you need. A good USB condenser mic like a snowball or yeti will work well for guitar. If you really want an interface, I'd go with the Focusrite. You have some of the best headphones in the sub $200 price range, so you're good there.

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This is an interesting thread to me since I'm currently putting together a home recording studio of sorts..With my pc as the heart of it.. Reaper is a good choice and it's free but you get a nag screen on starting it up. If you want to purchase it is only something like $60.00.Protools is supposed to be the industry standard DAW but pricey.Are you recording any vocals?

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