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 Post subject: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2014 5:03 pm 
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Hi folks,

I need to record line level inputs onto a laptop through a USB port. I need XLR inputs, and I really would also like to have RCA inputs, and this is where I am coming into difficulty.

I would also like to be able to use phantom powered (+48V) microphones, and while I though this would be hard, it apparently is not. I like the Focusrite products, and they are compatible with my Macbook Pro, since they sell them on the Apple store.

I think I am going to have to come up with RCA-to-balanced XLR cords so I can plug it into my stereo preamp line outs, to record vinyl LPs into Audacity. Sound quality is also important; since I guess the fact that you are using the USB input to the laptop, the analog to digital conversion is in this unit. I have only ever used analog inputs, in the past.

Can anybody tell me about a unit that has both the XLR line / powered mic inputs and RCA line inputs? Or, am I going to have to resort to RCA-to-XLR cables?

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:45 am 
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NeilBlanchard wrote:
Can anybody tell me about a unit that has both the XLR line / powered mic inputs and RCA line inputs?

I'm not aware of any such audio interface: I've looked for something similar in recent past and ended up with founding about nothing, as almost always you will got XLR + 6,35mm TS/TRS jack inputs (balanced) on recording/studio interfaces, while unbalanced Cinch (RCA) inputs are reserved for audiophile-grade external amps/preamps with USB streaming capabilities (where no AD is so provided).

So probably the only real option for a single box with both those inputs should be looking for some "portable" mixers with at least a tape-in, which record and stream through USB (like the Mackie ProFX).
Besides, if you should find a suitable interface with both TS jack and XLR inputs, you may also use something like the Neo+ Oyaide RCA-to-TS cables, alternatively to Cinch-to-XLR cables.

Sound quality may be an issue: I can't speak for registering/encoding with Audacity, but just for playback/monitoring, I've auditioned several small, portable interfaces (M-Audio, Tascam, Focusrite, E-MU and some others) and they're usually not that great, sometimes rather poor (personally I ended up with a firewire-based TC Electronics unit - TC is the parent company of Tannoy - which was - IMVHO!!! - the only good sounding one I found among those "portable" interfaces), while usually the ones I liked most (I mean sound-wise) were either noticeably or far more expensive than those above mentioned ones (I'm talking about RME Fireface UC, Tascam UH7000, an outrageous expensive Grace combo, and others of which I don't recall the names atm).
Anyway you should state a budget, shouldn't you?

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:35 am 
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Thank you for your reply! I went into this thinking it would be an analog interface, and the ADC would take place in the laptop. It would be great to find that type of analog only unit.

I think I will have to go with the Cinch (RCA) to XLR cords; for when I record from my Audible Illusions Modulus 2c (gotta' hear my LP's again!). And the XLR will also be useful to record live events with my AKG mics, and also for feeding line in from a PA mixing board to record speakers and music (and sometimes interpreters).

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 8:43 am 
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NeilBlanchard wrote:
Thank you for your reply! I went into this thinking it would be an analog interface, and the ADC would take place in the laptop. It would be great to find that type of analog only unit.

I'm not aware of this sort of breakout box, breakout cable or breakout interface, but you would need also a stereo line input on your Mac (I don't know whether it has or not, but in case it would probably be a 3,5mm TRS jack, so you'd need a two female cinch to one 1/8 male TRS adapter).
Btw, as far as I know onboard AD conversion is not that great, even on Macs.


NeilBlanchard wrote:
I think I will have to go with the Cinch (RCA) to XLR cords; for when I record from my Audible Illusions Modulus 2c (gotta' hear my LP's again!). And the XLR will also be useful to record live events with my AKG mics, and also for feeding line in from a PA mixing board to record speakers and music (and sometimes interpreters).

Just a side note: as you know a couple of XLR inputs is not necessarily a stereo pair (as a recording mic or a musical instrument is usually not a stereo device), so double check whether either the very same interface or the interface bundled software let you manage those inputs as a stereo input line (because the phono pick up is a stereo device: to be fair, I'm quite convinced that MacOS will be able to aggregate two mono sources into a stereo input with no additional software in order to perform a stereo recording, so either the OS or Audacity should do that trick well, but anyway double check it).

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:34 am 
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My Macbook Pro has USB ports only for audio in. The 3.5mm line in / mic was problematic anyway on older models.

I'm pretty sure Audacity can handle both dual mono and stereo channels. I have had good luck with the ADC in my iMac.

I really appreciate your input on this Luca - like a lot of things, it helps to have some solid information as a starting point. I'm likely to take the plunge with the Focusrite and a pair of cinch-to-XLR cords.

The 2i2 unit is ~$150 and the cords are $17 each plus shipping. That is a bit more than I had hoped to spend, but ... it seems like it is needed.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:40 am 
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Hi Neil,

Welcome to the party! I've been copying LPs to digital sporadically for a few years now. Mostly, with the m-Audio Firewire 410 that's also used for SPCR sound recording/measurements, but also with a similar m-Audio USB device called Fast Track Pro. Both have XLR mic inputs, several line inputs & a single USB or Firewire connection to the PC, and capable of 24bit/96khz. Mostly, I've used the Firewire 410 because it gives me the max res option w/o hassles. I record off the rec line out from my preamp, though I've also used the actual main output line as well; can't recall which was better or whether there was a significant difference. In any case, the digital copies are good enough that I have a very hard time telling the difference. The trick is maxing the record level without ever exceeding 0 dB -- digital overload is just as nasty as amplifier clipping. Both of those external sound interfaces are discontinued, but lots used, and newer products about.

There's tons to choose from, something like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is probably a minimum starting point, and as Luca pointed out, there are far pricier devices that may get you better results. Since your main interest is copying LPs, I kind of doubt the benefits of the pricier devices are worth it. I've been playing with a Tascam UH-7000 & I haven't decided yet whether there's an audible benefit for my LP copying. But continuing to try and find out is sort of fun. :lol:

An Aside: The single most amazing experience I had with the transcribing was the discovery of ticks & pops filtering with iZotope RX3 software. Using just default "High Quality" settings for Vinyl Declick & Decrackle, the changes made to the digital copy are shockingly good to me -- this digitally doctored copy improves on almost every single LP I own, including the ones virtually never played, pricey high res 200 gram discs. With the surface noise virtually gone, they are almost invariably more enjoyable to listen to than the LP on my Linn LP12. Naturally, I've stopped listening to the LPs altogether -- at least not directly.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:15 am 
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Thanks Mike, I was hoping you'd answer this thread. I've recorded a fair number of my LP's and for most of the pops and static, I've been happy with Audacity's tools. But, I may just give iZotope RX3 a try.

We've talked about things audio in the past. My Linn Axis has a spiffy Dynavector cartridge, and I have a VPI 16.5 record vacuum. It is great to hear my LP's again.

The other think I will use this for is plugging into a PA mixing board and recording that. Starting with cassettes, and then my 10" reel-to-reel (a wonderful Tandberg TD-20A SE) and now recording on a laptop with an SSD just makes all the struggles in the past seem strange ...

I also have some excellent AGK microphones that work very well in a Blumlein Pair. I've recorded tracker pipe organs and small choirs with these, and they are very good. Their power supply has now failed, so having the phantom power on the Focusrite will be cool.

That Tascam unit looks sweet, but a lot more costly.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:28 am 
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NeilBlanchard wrote:
Thanks Mike, I was hoping you'd answer this thread. I've recorded a fair number of my LP's and for most of the pops and static, I've been happy with Audacity's tools. But, I may just give iZotope RX3 a try.
It is amazing -- makes no changes to the music that I can hear yet virtually eliminates that tell-tale vinyl surface noise so that it's really hard to tell what the source is. On good 200g LPs, the end result is stunning.

NeilBlanchard wrote:
We've talked about things audio in the past. My Linn Axis has a spiffy Dynavector cartridge, and I have a VPI 16.5 record vacuum. It is great to hear my LP's again.

Yes, we have... and will do again, I'm sure. 8)

This is totally off topic, but you mention the Axis. Funny thing is, a couple months ago, I finally decided my LP12/Ekos was no longer the cat's ass I had always thought it was, despite it sound just the same as ever, and I sold it off. With the proceeds, I had more than enough $ to buy several old Lenco L-78 and 75s, a bunch of improved parts (like main bearing & idler wheel), and a new Origin Live Silver tonearm for one of the turntables I will (re-)build from those parts. Yeah, I caught the Lenco rebuild itch. If they turn out anything as good as what the enthusiasts say, I'll give you a holler. Maybe you'll be interested in one if I end up building all 3 Lencos. :wink:

This is more or less the design I'm aiming for.
Image
from Lenco Heaven.

Or maybe this one.
Image

I also used the proceeds from the Linn TT to buy a bunch of power tools like table saws, routers, etc to finally build the Linkwitz Orion 3.3 spkrs, parts for which had been gathering dust for nearly 7 years. They sound superb but make me a bit too aware of differences in recording quality -- not that my system didn't let me hear them before, but now I can hear just how terrible some are, even when I love the music! I need good quick & simple tone controls now. lol!
Attachment:
finished.jpg

Attachment:
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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:37 am 
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NeilBlanchard wrote:
That Tascam unit looks sweet, but a lot more costly.

Nonetheless something like that UH-7000 has IMHO/IME an high performance/price ratio, comparatively higher than that Focusrite's one, even if that latter costs - I mean, here in Italy - just about 1/4 of the Tascam's price.
Whether that can be useful to you, IMO it mostly depends of which DAC will play your liquid music.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:03 pm 
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I just ordered the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and a pair of 5' RCA to XLR cords from Guitar Center, so I don't have to pay shipping, and I'll pick them up at the closest store. It cost just shy of $180. I'll try it when I get it, and report back.

By the way, the inputs are either 1/4" or XLR - I had not seen this type of combo jack before.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2014 5:31 am 
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FYI - Monoprice carries XLR cables and adapters.

When I see 1/4", I think guitar pickups.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2014 5:41 am 
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Right, the Focusrite unit is aimed mainly at musicians.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:45 am 
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I got my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and RCA-to-XLR cords, and I used them with a Macbook Pro to record an LP (Ry Cooder's "Paradise and Lunch" from 1974) with Audacity. It all worked just by plugging it and selecting the 2i2 as the input. I set Audacity to 96kHz / 24bit (which is the best the 2i2 is capable of, I think), and the resulting recording is pretty darn good.

I listened to the recording with my AKG K-501's on my iMac (after saving the Audacity files to it across my network), and it sounded as good as it did listening to my stereo during recording. I did notice some RFI interference from the laptop while typing the file name, etc.; though the laptop was sitting directly on top of the preamp.

I will try my microphones soon, as well. So far so good.

Mike, does the iZotope RX3 program have to be used to record, in order to then use the clean up processing? How much does it cost?

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:09 am 
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iZotope is used on the recorded file, you can keep the original intact if you wish, it creates another file. I was saving the originals for a while but decided there was no point, the iZotoped copies were always better anyway. ymmv. Price -- not cheap: https://www.izotope.com/en/products/audio-repair/rx/

With a USB DAC, I've found noise often creeps into the audio when other USB peripherals are actively used -- ie, mouse, keyboard, anything else plugged into the same bus. It took a while to figure this out experimentally, but using a motherboard with 2 USB chips, and keeping the DAC the only device on one chip seemed to minimize or eliminate the noise, which is usually a spurious (or constant, depending on other peripheral) hum or buzz. This might mean using only USB 3.0 ports for all other peripherals.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:51 am 
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I'll try the 2i2 on a different USB port next time - that is good to know.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:57 pm 
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I tried my AKG C 535 EB mics tonight, and they worked just fine with the 2i2. Ya' gotta' use XLR inputs (not the 1/4") in order for the 48V phantom power supply to work. My mic cords are in frightful shape - but I've got a working pair of 50 footers.

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 Post subject: Re: USB Audio Interface for Recording
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 6:58 pm 
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NeilBlanchard wrote:
My mic cords are in frightful shape

Talk about the wayback machine...I remember soldering up mic cables in my high school days - Belkin twisted pair inside a mesh shield and Cannon (XLR) connectors. Used for connecting AKG mics to little Sony mixer boards. There's an art to winding up 50 and 100' cables :D

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