Any recommendations for a new (budget) USB audio interface (+ USB filter?) and a pair of monitors

Hello folks,

First of all, a shout-out to Steve, Peter, Koz and Bill, how are you guys doing? I know I’ve been MIA for a very loooong time, but I’m still alive and kicking :sunglasses:
I hope you are doing well too.

My speakers died, I lost my mic preamp (the good old ART Dual Pre USB) and my new(ish) desktop mini-pc (Intel NUC) has a crappy/noisy audio output. So I’m in the hunt for a new pair of speakers and an audio interface (USB).
Main use will be to listen to music while I work at my home office, but even though I haven’t been playing my guitar or recording anything for a long time, it would be nice to have a decent mic input (for condenser T.bone mic) and a decent headphones output as well.

I’m trying to keep the total budget under 200 euros.

For speakers, I’m pretty much convinced in getting a pair of Presonus Eris 3.5 studio monitors. That’s as big as I can fit in my desk. They’re within budget (under 100€) and according to the reviews they seem to have a very neutral signature which appeals to me.

For the audio interface I’m not sure yet… Presonus Audiobox USB 96 is a good candidate, Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD comes next.
Other alternatives could be Presonus iOne (or iTwo but I doubt I’ll need 2 inputs), or Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen.
Focusrite is a bit more expensive, Behringer is on the cheaper side.

A friend of mine landed me his Presonus AudioBox USB (the original version I believe). I have no speakers to test at the moment, but I’ve done a test recording with my condenser mic (T.bone SC-1100) and I’ve tested the headphone output with 3 different headphones.

Both on the recording and on headphones out I can hear some noise (a hiss and some white and high frequency noises).
The noise/hiss on the headphones is there even if I turn the volume all the way down and doesn’t seem to change much if I raise the volume on the knob.
If I connect the Audiobox to my laptop I can hear some noise too, but at difference frequencies.
When I press the 48V phantom power button the noises change too.

If I connect it to an USB power bank (no data connection to the PC, just 5V coming from a battery) it’s dead silence (yes it’s powered, I can hear perfectly the sound coming from the mic crystal clear).

So I guess the Audiobox isn’t filtering properly the 5V coming from the computer’s USB (which usually are full of noise, especially in the high frequencies).

Other than that the Audiobox sounds likes a decent interface, but the noise/hiss coming from the USB and leaking to the recording and headphones (and probably speakers if I had one) is a problem… I wonder if Behringer or Focusrite do a better job filtering the USB’s 5V or if I should consider getting either an USB filter or a USB hub with external power supply.

The USB filters seem to be a bit on the expensive side (50-150 € for the ones I found online). I never had one, so not sure how efficient they are…
Powered USB hubs are cheaper, but its PSU might be noisy too…

Any recommendations?


We thought you fell off the earth.

If I connect it to an USB power bank

That’s blame shifting. Affordable computer makers make sloppy USB five volts on the theory that interface makers are going to spend the bucks to clean it up later. Affordable Interface makers cut corners based on the idea the computer is going to spend the bucks to make clean, well regulated USB five volts.

If nobody spends the bucks, you get noisy interfaces, buzzy sound, and the famous USB microphone “frying mosquitoes.”

The hissy headphones may be a cousin to that. People make chip speaker and headphone amplifiers that don’t ever actually change volume. It’s the product makers job to put a volume control device ahead of the chip. To “pre-condition” the sound to the right volume. The chip is always running at full volume amplifying its own noise and the noise of its power system.

Again the power system shows up.

This is a picture of the back of a rock-crusher Crown DC300 speaker amplifier. The actual sound amplifier is those little round things down both sides. All that large, expensive, heavy stuff in the middle is the power or “battery” system to run it all.

Screen Shot 2021-05-12 at 9.45.57 AM.png
Making clean, well regulated power is expensive and zero people want to pay for it. Not quite zero. We note very few Mac people have these problems, and the ones that do can be traced to the people that left their laptop batteries fall apart from old age.

So you are personally causing all these problems.


Almost! I was on the edge, but then I found out the earth was not flat, so I couldn’t fall over the edge :smiley:

That’s blame shifting. Affordable computer makers make sloppy USB five volts on the theory that interface makers are going to spend the bucks to clean it up later. Affordable Interface makers cut corners based on the idea the computer is going to spend the bucks to make clean, well regulated USB five volts.

That’s the absolute truth unfortunately…

I’ve been digging for USB filters, the one I found to have fair claims of being efficient at the task costs more than the audio interface itself…

Powered USB hubs seem to make some people happy and they’re much cheaper…
It’s probably going to be a bit of a lottery on the quality of its PSU. The good part is that it should be pretty straightforward to replace the original PSU with something a bit more decent and that doesn’t cost me a kidney!

Powered USB hubs seem to make some people happy and they’re much cheaper…

We stopped recommending those when somebody found a USB hub that was so … affordable that it put wall power noise into the sound.

Also, you’re clear that the microphone has to be in the hub by itself. There is no sharing the hub. USB sound doesn’t take a break. It’s real time and it can’t wait while the hub pays attention to your USB mouse or USB keyboard.


USB filters, the one I found to have fair claims of being efficient

Power regulation and cleaning has to come from somewhere and it’s not tiny or cheap.

I tried one of those USB filters and it didn’t do much. It didn’t produce world peace or cure cancer, either. Imagine my disappointment.


Hahaha Bruno - good to see you back, alive and well :smiley: :sunglasses:


Hi Bruno. Great to hear from you.
Doing fine here thanks, despite the pandemic. Glad to hear you’re OK.

I’ve not used them, but Presonus has a good reputation and the reviews look good. For the price and size they look like a good choice.

Behringer interfaces seem to be excellent bang for the buck. The ones that are advertised as having “Midas pre-amps” are said to have a noticeably lower noise floor with microphone inputs than the “Xenyz pre-amps”, though the Xenyz pre-amps are cheaper.

The t.bone SC 1100 still takes some beating at it’s price point, though if you can get one at a good price, the Rode NT5 (S) may be worth considering for acoustic guitar. There’s a review of the NT5 here:

Not sure about headphones, I’m looking for some for myself.

For cheap headphones, I’ve had two pairs of t.bone HD 880. Both have now died, but worked well for about 5 years each before the (non-replaceable) cable started to break down. The sound quality is excellent for the very low price (24,90 €), but I’ll be spending a bit more on my next pair of cans.

I’ve had two pairs of t.bone HD 880. Both have now died,

My Sennheisers have fixed cables, and my first set I got out of the trash when we moved edit rooms. The philosophy was, “They’re trash anyway, let’s see if I can force them apart and find the break.” I could. So now I have a set with one short cable on the Left muff. They’re large, sealed over-ear, and very pleasant to listen to, so I bought a second set.

I don’t think they’re made any more. eH-150.

Screen Shot 2021-05-13 at 4.36.05 AM.png
No, they’re not a gift from the angels, but I have a number of different headphones and I like these the best. I have no trouble watching a movie in these.

The Hollywood Movie Standard Sony headphone’s job is to show you sound errors before anybody else can hear them and it does that very well. I’m not sure that’s a good goal for a casual general user.

Screen Shot 2021-05-13 at 4.40.35 AM.png
I have a pair of Koss Pro-4AA, Pro-3AA, and Behringer HPS3000. These are of the same philosophy of surgical accuracy at the expensive of physical comfort. The Pro-4AAs weigh as much as a Land Rover, get sweaty, and surgical accuracy is over-rated. I can’t wear them long-term.

Any others…?

I bought a set of Sony MDR-V150 at a music/book store while on a job in Hawaii. They are pretty dreadful.

I have a set of Sennheiser HD414. Remember those? Still running and remarkably serviceable since I bought the wrong replacement foam muffs by accident. Much improved bass and, of course, I didn’t write down the part numbers. At least I think I didn’t write them down.

Nobody buys wired headphones any more and wireless can be a serious problem for sound production. Wireless cut corners to force the convenience of “cutting the cord.” You’re never quite sure if that noise you’re hearing is actually in the show you’re producing, or the wireless connection briefly losing its mind.


I do (I like wires) - the last set I bought fro travelling were these
P3 S2.png
I love 'em


Thanks for the suggestions Steve and Koz.

I’m not looking to buy a new mic though. I’m not even sure if I’ll be using this T.bone any time soon. My main focus now is a decent set of speakers and some device that can drive them properly, but since I lost my ART preamp, if I can get a device that can do both input and output that’d be great and more future proof.

I already have fair good amount of headphones too (all wired).
Big ones are Sennheiser HD595 (the first version, ie. 120 ohm). I think they don’t make it anymore. The cans are still in good shape, but the headband is literally melting and the replacements I found online are way too expensive for such an old pair of headphones. I’ll probably try to come up with a DIY solution when I get the time…

Then I have a few smaller ones… such as KOSS KSC75 clip-on and Sennheiser PX100. I have to replace the foam covers on the cans once in a while, but those are cheap and easy to find. Same size fits both KOSS and PX100. I rarely use them nowadays though…
I used to carry one of them around with the laptop, but now I have a Sennheiser PC8 USB headset, that I use for conference calls and it’s great for that purpose. Sometimes Amazon has them for nearly half the price, a real bargain. Not suitable for “studio” recording, they have a fair amount of white noise, but for the purpose (conference calls) they’re 100x better than any laptop’s built-in mic/speakers. The people on the other side of the call are always amazed on how clear and noise-free I sound.

I also have a pair of tiny Radiopaq jazz IEM. They’re VERY sensitive! If you touch the cable softly you can hear a loud tap inside your ears and if you plug them to a noisy source such as a laptop’s headphones out you’ll get very audible white noise (much louder than with the PX100 or the Koss, on the same device). But on my old Sandisk Sansa MP3 player they work great. I think they have detailed neutral sound. I was using them mostly when I was traveling. Not much traveling lately though…

Now with the pandemic and all the work-from-home thing and the constant skype/zoom calls, etc… where I need to use my headset, I honestly don’t feel much like putting any headphones on my head unless I really have to…

Regarding speakers, a couple of years ago I bought a pair of Edifier R1280T “bookshelf” speakers for the living room. The deal breaking feat for them was the remote control for volume, since I have them directly connected (RCA cables) to both the cd player and the TV and neither have volume adjustment on the line-out. The bass can be a tiny bit too present sometimes, but I’m generally happy with them. Could have an on/off switch on the remote, but its power consumption is low (2W or so when silent), so I leave them on most of the time.

For the office I don’t need the remote, so the Presonus Eris 3.5 sounds like a better option, especially since they have TRS inputs, which the Edifier don’t.

My biggest doubt now is which audio interface shall I get… I’m glad I could try this Presonus Audiobox before buying. I honestly thought it would have better isolation from the USB noises. Behringer and Focusrite are the most appealing alternatives I saw. I believe Behringer UMC202HD uses the MIDAS preamp. Not sure about the Focusrite Scarlett.

The noise isn’t that much, but it’s an annoying hiss. Hisses annoy me more than white noise. A spectrum analysis on a recording reveals a peak around 500Hz and another peak around 6.5kHz or 7.5kHz.

I’ll borrow a powered USB 2.0 hub later today from a friend. I’ll give it a try, more out of curiosity than anything else…

I’ve tried the powered USB hub, the noise is 10 times louder!

And the funny thing is that the noise level actually got quieter the more I raised the volume of the output!

Another interesting experience… I tried unplugging the other USB devices I have connected to the PC (mouse, keyboard, etc…) and the pitch of the hiss changed everytime I unplugged/plugged a device.

My 2c worth, if I may.

USB filters do help, but…there is a “gotcha”.

All USB chips/interfaces, have a certain power up sequence that is dependent on the slew rate (rise time) of the supply.

A USB filter (essentially a DC filter) will use inductance and capacitance to form a low pass filter and these two will cause a delay and slow down the rise time of the DC before it reaches around 3V which is the legal “absolute low” of USB’s 5V levels.

Because of this slow rise, some USB chips will not initialize whilst others will become very erratic.

So what you have, is a catch-22 situation, the more filtering there is, the less the noise but greater the chances of the USB chip/interface not initializing and responding.
The less the filtering, well I’m sure you can guess.

(BTW that is also one of the reasons why the 2 power connections on USB are slightly forward relative to the data pins.
This guarantees that the DC is applied before data to initiate the turn-on sequence and data is disconnected before DC when connecting and disconnecting a USB interface.
Have a look at your USB lead, the two outer pins are the power pins).

Over and above, what Koz wrote in a previous post is very true, in general MAC’s are much cleaner than PC’s/laptops.

Another big contributor to audio noise is the charger used with laptops.
As an experiment (if you are using a laptop), disconnect the charger and see if the noise drops.

If your PC/laptop has built-in bluetooth, you could try that and feed the audio in to an external bluetooth transmitter which your computer will pickup.
Keep in mind though, that bluetooth audio does have some latency, depending on your situation/use, this may or may not be a problem.

Please note however that the audio levels for bluetooth transmitters, are normally designed to be line level.
If you are using mics, then you will need a mic pre-amp in series and if your mic needs phantom power,
then ensure that the pre-amp can supply this too.
It goes without saying that the mic pre-amp should not be USB powered. :smiley:

For the interface box, my personal favourite is the Scarlett, but of course your milage may vary.

As for monitors, the Presonus 3.5 and 5 are good.
I have a pair of each and I’m happy.
Of course they are not in the same league as Genelec, but in my opinion better than Yamaha, whose tweeters are very harsh and sound like nails on a blackboard.

Hope this is of some help.


Another idea, have you considered using optical/Toslink?

It may take you a bit over your original budget but I suspect you won’t have any noise issues.

By the time the audio gets transferred via USB to the computer, it has already been digitized
onto Toslink and hence will have much more immunity to noise.
There is also no physical connection between your computer and the analog audio parts.
The Toslink feed acts as an optical barrier to DC and therefore no common earth/ground.

Note that the U24-XL is only needed if your soundcard/computer does not have optical input.
Very few have.

I have not included any direct links to the products as that may be viewed as advertising or endorsing them.
A quick Google search and you will find them, of course there must be others.

Something like this:

the two outer pins are the power pins

I knew that part.

It’s a good idea to get the USB connector in straight when you connect or disconnect a cable. Ask me how I know that.

Oblique Question.

Do you know the power negotiation sequence for USB-C? It’s not just five volts. That’s so last year.

Google will admit there is one…


included direct links to the products as that may be viewed as advertising or endorsing them.

Unless a forum elf asks you to…

What are typical products in this area?


Do you know the power negotiation sequence for USB-C? It’s not just five volts. That’s so last year

Here you go, happy reading: :smiley:

The above is for Texas Instrument devices but it’s pretty much the same for others.
Most USB chip sets are very similar and often made under license and used by many manufacturers.

What are typical products in this area?

There aren’t actually that many.

The ESI-Audio unit:

This one has Toslink input and USB-C output.

I’m sure there may be a few more.

Going from Toslink to RCA (Analog Audio) and vice versa, there are plenty.
However Toslink to/from USB, are more difficult.
I know that Teac used to make but that was a while back and could not find anything on their site now.

Here are some misc analog to Toslink and vice versa:
(Note however that some will be better than others, have more available sample rates etc).

If you want to experiment with Toslink in your own circuits, DigiKey (and others), stock plenty of modules:

Getting really technical and if you would like to design your own ADC and feed that into a Toslink TX module,
Texas Instruments make many different models, you just need to choose one that has the same output protocol as Toslink.
Of course designing the PCB and all the important decoupling and filtering that goes with mixing analog and digital is part of the fun. :smiley:

For those that may be having noise problems and are using a computer (not a laptop) as it uses PCI-e and are on Windows,
found this soundcard that has optical input and output.

It costs around USD 100 and can do 24 bit up to 192Khz sample rate, so they claim…read the fine print just in case.

Must stress that I have never used one, so therefore cannot vouch that is does what is says, but it does look very interesting due to it having optical ports.
I’m assuming that the default input and output can be set to them as opposed to the 3.5mm analog inputs and outputs.

In theory by connecting an analog to optical converter to it’s optical input and the opposite to it’s optical output, one would have a completely isolated (DC wise) audio system.
These converters are pretty cheap and cost about 10-15 bucks each.

Official link:

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Another interesting item I found was a USB isolator:
It supports USB 2 but not full speed (480Mb/s), just up to 12Mb/s which is what audio interfaces use.
Not sure what the isolation is in dB’s and frequency response but interesting none the less.
Found it on amazon and for that price, decided to order one to experiment with.

The tallish black rectangular item looks like an isolated DC-DC converter to power up the secondary side
and the multi-pin black item to the right of it, seems to be some kind of encapsulated transformers (or perhaps opto-couplers) to provide the isolation for the differential data pins.
Clever little product and may just be the solution to bgravato and others that already have existing external USB sound interfaces and have noise problems.
Also assuming it’s O.S. agnostic so will work with Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Thank you Paul for all the valuable information!

These last few days have been quite hectic (tomorrow will be too). I’ll analyze this in more depth during next week. But here are some quick comments in the meanwhile.

Optical link sounds like an interesting approach. One downside I see is one more piece of equipment cluttering my desk… which I’m trying to avoid…

I will be using this on a mini-pc (Intel NUC). I’ve tried a different power supply on the NUC, but I got the same noise, so either the PSU is not (one of) the culprit(s) or the ones I used, both have the exact same flaws… (I have a third one I can try, but no high hopes on that one either).

I used to have a PCI sound card when I was still using a “normal size” desktop PC on a mid-ATX tower. I’ve gone the mini-PC route about 6 years ago. Much less power consumption, much quieter and barely occupies any space. No PCI(e) slots though, so USB is the only way to go… It has one USB-C as well, but that’s already in use for connecting the second monitor. So USB 3.1 is pretty much what I have available.

I’ve thought about connecting the USB ground to the “earth” ground, to see if it makes any difference, but I haven’t tried that yet…

I have an older mini-pc (Gigabyte Brix). I plan on trying the Presonus Audiobox on it as well as on a laptop (both AC connected and on batteries).
But honestly if that works better it doesn’t help me much anyway… I want to use the audio interface with the NUC (daily for listening to music while I work). I can use a different PC/laptop for the rare occasions when I need to record something from the mic, but for listening it must be on the NUC, which is my daily driver at the moment (and I’m hoping to use it for a few more years).

I’m an electronics engineer (though I work more with software than with hardware), so I could go the DIY route, but I know how that’s going to end… About 9-10 years ago I bought a MIC-preamp chip, a bunch of japanese capacitors, etc… most of those components are still inside their original sealed bags…
I also meant to make a headphones amp, among other things… but I must be realistic, that’s not gonna happen in a near future.

Please let me know how it goes with that USB Voltage Isolator. BTW that’s probably USB 1.1. Yes it’s compatible with 2.0, but 1.5 and 12 mbps is the (low/high) bandwidth for USB 1.1 (which should be enough for an audio device, so no problem with that).

You mentioned the Focusrite Scarlett… do you think it could have better filtering on the USB connection than the Presonus Audiobox or the Behringer UMC202HD? All 3 are within my budget.

Genelec studio monitors are out of my budget… Presonus 3.5 definitely seems like the better option under 100 euros. The cheapest Genelec I found is 245 and I think that’s for 1 monitor only, not a pair.

There is a fuzzy rule of thumb here. In general if your interface has this button.

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Then it has some USB power filtering. There has to be a formal power supply there to make clean 48 volts for your condenser microphone. Some condenser microphones use that on the condenser element itself and any noise or instability would be the kiss of death.