Audio Interface Problems

 17 Mar 2009

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So a long time ago I had a Echo Gina 20-bit audio card. I recorded my first album with it. It was great. I upgraded it eventually for a Layla 20-bit. This card was also great. Both of these were PCI card devices and worked flawlessly.

Then college hit and I decided that I need a true 24bit high khz audio interface so I sold the Layla and bought a MOTU Ultralite. Into the world of Firewire audio I go. For the most part this card worked ok. I was annoyed at a couple of the problems I had with it. First it would never work in WDM mode for Sonar, only ASIO. At random times it also wouldn’t work but not too often. I was using it with a HP Firewire PCI card that had a VIA chipset.

Then I decided that when I got my Zendrum I would need to get a portable solution. I decided to use my new work laptop that was a Intel Core 2 Duo machine with 4 gigs of ram. Much better than my 2 gig Intel Pentium 4 desktop. I bought my zendrum and BFD2 and took my work laptop home to install XP and a bunch of software. Software all installed fine until I tried to install the MOTU drivers. I got a blue screen of death. I was incredibly mad. I barely used this card and now it won’t work? For the life of me I couldn’t get the Ultralite to work right even when I got around the Blue Screen of death by rebooting the computer a bunch of times and praying. Fed up I decided to sell it and a bunch of other audio gear in order to buy a new sound card and a new Line6 Pod (Upgrading my Pod Pro to a Pod X3 Live).

Ebay stuff worked out and I decided I would buy a Presonus FP10 since they were selling really cheap and it meant I could sell off my Mic Pre-amps as well. This is another Firewire card. When I first installed it I was thrilled. It installed fine and had really low latency. As I played Zendrum more and more the sound card would sometimes not work at all. No sound, no midi, no anything. I eventually found out that these symptoms can mean a bad firewire chipset. I ordered a new Firewire PCMCIA to replace the crappy Bestbuy Dynex card. I also tried plugging the Presonus into my desktop. Even on the desktop some things wouldn’t work the way they should. I also discovered that BFD2 chokes on my desktop as well. Latency was high and CPU usage was higher. My desktop is seriously dead as far as sound production goes.

As I began to look at my situation I realized another big problem. The FP10 isn’t portable at all. One of my reasons to record on my laptop is the Zendrum might mean playing live somewhere other than my apartment. The FP10 really doesn’t solve this issue in a nice way. This and all of my firewire issues (and the fact that Apple doesn’t even have a Firewire port on the new Macbook’s) made me decide to return the Presonus using Musician’s Friend’s return policy. I haven’t even gotten my new PCMCIA card yet but I’m pretty sure this is the right choice.

I’m also trying to figure out what I want to replace my Desktop with when the time comes. Right now I have my Asus laptop (running Debian, going great) which I love to work on and my work Laptop is a lovely Lenovo x61s with Debian. My desktop mainly used to server as my music studio and also my gaming machine. My gaming recently has largely come down to ONLY World of Warcraft (on the computer at least). This makes me want to go Mac. If I switched my desktop for a Mac laptop, I’d have a portable music studio that could play wow. My entire computing life could be in a posix world. This sounds very enticing.

The problem I’m struggling with is justifying the cost. For the cost of a Apple Macbook (or Macbook pro) I can build a SCREAMING windows system (top of the line Nvidia card, 8 gigs of ram, etc). Is paying a ton of money for a Apple laptop worth it? My co-workers say it is if I put a non-zero value to my time. That’s a good point. I’ve spent a lot of time and money into trying to get an audio card working nicely in windows and been having many issues. Most are not huge but I’m VERY sick of googling firewire cards to see what chipset they have.

My current setup: I’m now using the crappy audio interface that’s in my Line6 Pod X3 Live. It can record my vocals and guitars (what I need anyway) and playback latency is great. No problems when using my laptop. My desktop still can’t handle BFD2 so I’m afraid the current desktop really is dead to me as far as music goes. I’m using my Korg Padkontrol as my midi interface. Ridiculous but it works. This doesn’t solve my long term problem of Zendrum playing live though. I really don’t want to bring my guitar pedal and midi pad controller to a gig to function as a audio interface and midi interface. It will work for now since I don’t have anything better but eventually this needs to change.

What I’m thinking about: A Apple laptop with a nice small portable audio interface. This does mean that I have to ditch my Sonar/Project 5 software which would be very sad. I would want to keep using Rapture and Dimension of course but since they have VST, AU and RTAS versions I feel pretty confident that I’ll be able to use them on anything. My current thoughts are pointing me towards the Digidesign Protools LE series and getting a MBox2 maybe? I’ve heard these things work really nice (and are stable) and then I’d have a Protools system if I wanted to keep using Protools. I’m also heavily looking into Ableton and Logic as other options. Clearly if I don’t go Protools I would be able to try out other audio interfaces. I’m looking at Edirol and Echo ones. Echo doesn’t make a non-firewire interface (pci but that’s not portable for a Macbook) but I’m hoping that on the Macbook I’d have better luck.

Any advice? I’m looking for any options for audio interface and recording software to use with an Apple laptop. I’m also open to going back to MOTU for audio interface. Anything that’s solid and works well with the Apple Laptop. Solid enough to gig with!