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Offline Ultfris101

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USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« on: January 13, 2015, 12:56:14 PM »

background:

I decided to expand the playback options for my mixing station. Headphones initially opened up a whole new world of detail for me over my awful computer speaker system which was more than 10 years old.

A few months ago I replace the old speakers with a new Logitech 2.1 setup that I had originally bought for my kids' computer but decided better to only give them headphones so we don't have to listen to their Youtube Minecraft videos but can keep an eye on them. Not high end by any stretch but not bad and gave me a better assessment of stereo imaging and low end with the sub.

Now I decided to add in real monitors and picked up a pair of JBL LSR 305s which seem to get generally positive reviews and reportedly are fairly flat and a key factor in a beginner's price range. Very happy so far but only had them a few weeks. I will probably get a sub (JBL LSR310) as well. My basement is fairly large but with a low ceiling. I thought about getting the 308's but decided to stick with the 305's. Maybe I shouldn't have but we'll see.

Anyway, they expect balanced input which I knew. I thought I would be ok using RCA > XLR adapters out of my Audioengine DAC which is ok at lower levels but when I turn them up the interference they are picking up becomes noticeable. I have to run across power cords and stuff without some rearranging so I'm sure that's not helping. Plugging my USB Pre2 in and running balanced out of that solved the issue of course.

Questions

 - Does anybody here have experience with USB audio interfaces like the ones from Focusrite (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/892515-REG/Focusrite_Scarlett_2i4_USB_Audio.html), Mackie Onyx (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/734207-REG/Mackie_ONYX_BLACKJACK_Onyx_Blackjack_USB.html) and the like? The USBPre2 works great but of course I like to use it for recording so pulling it in and out of the gear chain all the time isn't ideal.

 - Is there something else that's relatively economical I should consider to drive these? I'm definitely going to research my cabling a bit and see if I can configure everything to allow unbalanced to work but maybe there are other options I'm not thinking of. I don't need them to run particularly loud most of the time so I may be ok with them at lower levels where the interference isn't audible to me but I think I'd prefer to get rid of that all together I think.

thanks for any suggestions or even just chime in with what you're doing to get beyond basic computer speakers.

I'm actually starting to think I might rig up a surround arrangement.
Mics: Schoeps MK5,MK41 CMC6,KCY,KC5 | AKG ck63,ck1 C460B,C480B | DPA 4061 | Naiant X-R card,hyper | CA-14o,c
Pres: Sound Devices USBPre2 | Naiant Tinybox | Church Audio 9200, UBB
Recs: Zoom F8 | Edirol R-44 | Sony PCM-M10 | Tascam DR-2d
Video: Sony CX550(2), CX580, HX9

LMA: http://archive.org/bookmarks/ultfris101

Offline Fried Chicken Boy

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2015, 03:49:32 PM »
I've been using an Edirol UA-101 for several years as an external soundcard with my desktop computer.  It was discontinued awhile ago by Roland but it's still supported and works well with some old M-Audio monitors I have.  Other than having optical rather than coaxial for the digital I/O, I have no complaints with it and am happy with the way it functions and sounds.  I got it after having an aftermarket (and not inexpensive) internal soundcard go teats-up on me and didn't want to deal with the headaches of taking the computer apart, replacing cards that may become obsolete, etc.  In my opinion, the outboard soundcards are the way to go. 

I don't have any experience with the Focusrite or Mackie boxes, but the reviews appear to be solid for them.  FWIW, Roland makes a few boxes similar in function to those offerings that may be worth checking out. 

Offline chinariderstl

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2015, 06:30:33 PM »
Marking thread. :)
Mics: Audio-Technica AT853's, Avantone CK-40 (Busman mod), Busman BSC1's, DPA 4022's, DPA 4060's
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Offline Ultfris101

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2015, 08:56:26 PM »
Thanks for weighing in. There's a lot of discussion over at gearslutz but the focus tends to be on the recording use rather than for running monitors.

I would like to have a switching interface so I could flip a switch and toggle between headphones, computer speakers, monitors, etc which is into monitor control interfaces I think.

I'm going to use my USB Pre2 for a while and use my r-44 standalone I think but will try one of these out eventually.



Mics: Schoeps MK5,MK41 CMC6,KCY,KC5 | AKG ck63,ck1 C460B,C480B | DPA 4061 | Naiant X-R card,hyper | CA-14o,c
Pres: Sound Devices USBPre2 | Naiant Tinybox | Church Audio 9200, UBB
Recs: Zoom F8 | Edirol R-44 | Sony PCM-M10 | Tascam DR-2d
Video: Sony CX550(2), CX580, HX9

LMA: http://archive.org/bookmarks/ultfris101

Offline Ultfris101

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2015, 09:29:44 PM »
Thanks. That's the kind of thing I was wondering about. Sounds like an opportunity to learn something.
Mics: Schoeps MK5,MK41 CMC6,KCY,KC5 | AKG ck63,ck1 C460B,C480B | DPA 4061 | Naiant X-R card,hyper | CA-14o,c
Pres: Sound Devices USBPre2 | Naiant Tinybox | Church Audio 9200, UBB
Recs: Zoom F8 | Edirol R-44 | Sony PCM-M10 | Tascam DR-2d
Video: Sony CX550(2), CX580, HX9

LMA: http://archive.org/bookmarks/ultfris101

Offline DigiGal

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2015, 02:27:05 PM »
If you are looking to make a jump up in quality you may want to consider DAC's from Benchmark or Grace Design.  Both the Benchmark DAC 2 and the Grace Design m920 currently offered are excellent DAC's/monitor controllers.  They each have older products that can be picked up used for lower dollars.

You didn't list a specific budget range but I'd guess these suggestions are a bit on the pricey end of economical for you.

I picked up a used DAC 1 myself direct from Benchmark a few years back as folks traded up to other products when Benchmark was running a trade in program.  Used from them was really like buying new because they were fully checked out and refurbished as necessary by the manufacturer and they came came with a manufacturer warranty.  DAC 1 doesn't have monitor control features of the DAC 2 but my software can perform the functions.  I'm on a Mac which has built in Optical Output so USB wasn't necessary for me to get the level of quality I was after.

Like Sound Devices both Benchmark and Grace Design are excellent products designed and built in USA with great support should it ever be needed. 

http://benchmarkmedia.com/collections/digital-to-analog-audio-converter

http://www.gracedesign.com/products/monitor_controllers.html
Mics: AKG CK91/CK94/CK98/SE300 D-330BT | DPA 4060 4061 4266 | Neumann TLM 103 | Senn ME66/K6/K6RD MKE2 MD421 MD431 | Shure VP88 SM7B SM63L SM58 Anniversary Cables: Gotham GAC-4/1 Quad w/Neutrik EMC | Gotham GAC-2pair w/AKG MK90/3 connectors | DigiGal AES>S/PDIF cable Preamp: SD MixPre-D Recorders: SD MixPre 6 | Marantz PMD 661 Edit: 2011 27" 3.4GHz Quad i7 iMac High Sierra | 2020 13" MBA Quad i7 Catalina | Wave Editor | xACT | Transmission | FCP X 

Offline voltronic

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2015, 04:09:04 PM »
While I haven't used any of their USB interfaces, but I can say Focusrite makes quality boxes.  I use a Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 (FireWire) and it's great.  Lots of I/O options, with a nice software mixer that you can use to upload a routing scheme to it and then take the unit mobile for location recording, etc.  (On AC power that is...)

Very well built with nice preamps for what I record at home, but I'm sure they're not in the same league as Benchmark or Grace, but then again neither is the price.

The USB interface in their line that most closely matches it would be the 6i6, but if you don't need the SPDIF and the additional balanced analog I/O, the 2i4 would probably be enough for you.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/974164-REG/focusrite_scarlett_6i6_usb_audio.html

I wouldn't bother with the Mackie.  It will be well built, but very limited on features (like 24/48 max).
DPA 4061 ~ Line Audio CM3 ~ Naiant X-Q ~ AT 853  |  Naiant PFAs ~ Shure FP24  |  Zoom F6 ~ Sony PCM-M10
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Offline Ultfris101

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2015, 06:57:50 PM »
Thanks for the comments. Yes, I'm keeping the budget toward the low end now. The 6i6 was interesting because of the many output options which is really what I'm after. Since I don't do any recording the preamps would be a waste for me.

I'm starting to think what I should do is focus on getting some sort of solid monitor control like the Mackie Big Knob or similar and then use the DACs I have. Then I would have options to easily plug something else in the chain to feed the monitors. Chuck's ISO in the Yard Sale brought that into focus for me. While I can improve my DA component it's not bad and I can put my USB Pre2 in when I want to.

My main priority right now is simple switching between playback systems for comparison I think. The Grace and Benchmark DACs would be nice to have but not where I want to spend my $$ right now.

Honestly, my listening sophistication isn't to the point yet that I can discern big differences between AD/DA schemes anyway. There may be some bad ones out there that I would notice but simple tests I've done going both digital and analog from my USBPre2 to my R-44 didn't yield appreciable differences that I could detect. Other parts of my playback chain probably have bigger impact right now. Not to mention my room which I'd like to spend some time analyzing.

Quite by chance my PC's built in sound card based on a Realtek chipset is pretty good. I can't tell a difference between it and my AudioEngine D1's output.
Mics: Schoeps MK5,MK41 CMC6,KCY,KC5 | AKG ck63,ck1 C460B,C480B | DPA 4061 | Naiant X-R card,hyper | CA-14o,c
Pres: Sound Devices USBPre2 | Naiant Tinybox | Church Audio 9200, UBB
Recs: Zoom F8 | Edirol R-44 | Sony PCM-M10 | Tascam DR-2d
Video: Sony CX550(2), CX580, HX9

LMA: http://archive.org/bookmarks/ultfris101

Offline DigiGal

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2015, 12:16:03 PM »
Okay, for simple monitor switching on lower end of budget check out the
Radial MC3 Passive Monitor Controller with Subwoofer and Headphone Outputs

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MC3

Mics: AKG CK91/CK94/CK98/SE300 D-330BT | DPA 4060 4061 4266 | Neumann TLM 103 | Senn ME66/K6/K6RD MKE2 MD421 MD431 | Shure VP88 SM7B SM63L SM58 Anniversary Cables: Gotham GAC-4/1 Quad w/Neutrik EMC | Gotham GAC-2pair w/AKG MK90/3 connectors | DigiGal AES>S/PDIF cable Preamp: SD MixPre-D Recorders: SD MixPre 6 | Marantz PMD 661 Edit: 2011 27" 3.4GHz Quad i7 iMac High Sierra | 2020 13" MBA Quad i7 Catalina | Wave Editor | xACT | Transmission | FCP X 

Offline Ultfris101

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2015, 12:50:07 PM »
Yes, this might be exactly what I need. thank you!

My powered monitors and sub all have their own level/trim adjustments and on the sub phase adjustment as well. Do you think that would play well with also having similar controls on the controller assuming I just use one or the other for the most part?

In my case I have a sub (JBL 310s) that works with the monitors and provides crossover management. I would guess that in this case I would probably want to send the monitor-A  signal to the sub as I am now and let it continue to handle that, feeding the monitors from the sub. Otherwise I'd need to incorporate some sort of outboard crossover management.

lots to think about . thanks again! the concepts are starting to gel a bit more.

For all the music listening I've done over the years I really haven't spent much time learning about this stuff. I usually listen in  my car or on earbuds as I travel.
Mics: Schoeps MK5,MK41 CMC6,KCY,KC5 | AKG ck63,ck1 C460B,C480B | DPA 4061 | Naiant X-R card,hyper | CA-14o,c
Pres: Sound Devices USBPre2 | Naiant Tinybox | Church Audio 9200, UBB
Recs: Zoom F8 | Edirol R-44 | Sony PCM-M10 | Tascam DR-2d
Video: Sony CX550(2), CX580, HX9

LMA: http://archive.org/bookmarks/ultfris101

Offline Fried Chicken Boy

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2015, 10:47:31 AM »
Apologies for muddying the waters a little more, Ultfris, but there's some interesting reading over at GS regarding monitor controllers. > https://www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/874613-need-help-choosing-monitor-controller.html

Offline Ultfris101

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2015, 11:12:31 AM »
Thanks. I don't think it's muddying it at all. I've been spending time at GS as well. I'll check this out and see if it's something I haven't looked at.

At first I wasn't really sure what I was looking for but I think monitor control is really what I'm after.
Mics: Schoeps MK5,MK41 CMC6,KCY,KC5 | AKG ck63,ck1 C460B,C480B | DPA 4061 | Naiant X-R card,hyper | CA-14o,c
Pres: Sound Devices USBPre2 | Naiant Tinybox | Church Audio 9200, UBB
Recs: Zoom F8 | Edirol R-44 | Sony PCM-M10 | Tascam DR-2d
Video: Sony CX550(2), CX580, HX9

LMA: http://archive.org/bookmarks/ultfris101

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Re: USB Audio interfaces with balanced outputs
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2015, 02:32:55 PM »
Apogee Duet 2 has balanced TRS outputs, Duet 1 does not.

 

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