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

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

Post by bgravato » Wed May 12, 2021 2:51 pm

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 8-)
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?

Thanks,
Bruno

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

Post by kozikowski » Wed May 12, 2021 4:59 pm

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."

https://www.kozco.com/tech/audacity/cli ... neClip.mp3

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.

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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.

Koz

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

Post by bgravato » Wed May 12, 2021 11:44 pm

kozikowski wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 4:59 pm
We thought you fell off the earth.
Almost! I was on the edge, but then I found out the earth was not flat, so I couldn't fall over the edge :D
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!

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

Post by kozikowski » Thu May 13, 2021 12:31 am

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.

Koz

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

Post by kozikowski » Thu May 13, 2021 12:36 am

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.

Koz

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

Post by waxcylinder » Thu May 13, 2021 10:04 am

bgravato wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 11:44 pm
kozikowski wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 4:59 pm
We thought you fell off the earth.
Almost! I was on the edge, but then I found out the earth was not flat, so I couldn't fall over the edge :D
Hahaha Bruno - good to see you back, alive and well :D 8-)

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

Post by steve » Thu May 13, 2021 11:21 am

bgravato wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 2:51 pm
First of all, a shout-out to Steve, Peter, Koz and Bill, how are you guys doing?
Hi Bruno. Great to hear from you.
Doing fine here thanks, despite the pandemic. Glad to hear you're OK.

bgravato wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 2:51 pm
I'm pretty much convinced in getting a pair of Presonus Eris 3.5 studio monitors.
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: https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/rode-nt4-nt5

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.
9/10 questions are answered in the FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

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

Post by kozikowski » Thu May 13, 2021 12:07 pm

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.

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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.

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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.

Koz

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

Post by waxcylinder » Thu May 13, 2021 1:57 pm

kozikowski wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 12:07 pm
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 https://www.bowerswilkins.com/en-gb/node/866
P3 S2.png
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I love 'em

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

Post by bgravato » Thu May 13, 2021 2:24 pm

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...

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