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Does Thunderbolt vs. USB matter for an audio interface?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> General Gear Goto page 1, 2  Next [all]
Author Does Thunderbolt vs. USB matter for an audio interface?
bwhittington
I am shopping for a new audio interface. At first, I was filtering for thunderbolt outputs because I have a Mac, but I am wondering if thunderbolt's speed advantage actually translates into better performance in an audio interface. That is, are there other bottlenecks that make USB more than adequate for this application?

I mainly want something portable for trips but with lots of inputs for home use (oops, opposite goals hihi) making me think that possilby I'll end up with two interfaces in the end. I like the Apogee Duet or RME Babyface for their size and seeming simplicity, but USB 2.0 eek! seems old skool. Thoughts?

I was otherwise looking at the Antelope Audio Zen Tour as a thunderbolt option with i/o suitable for both my home and away use, except that it is about 3x the size of the others, making it slightly more of a commitment to bring along (though still a laptopish footprint and smaller than what I currently use).

My hotel room recordings are just portable modular doodles with possibly one mic for field recording type ambience. My current interface uses firewire, and seems to work fine. I'd like to get the right device for the long term, if the connection speed is a true benefit in actual use. Thanks!
owen
I was recently looking at interfaces I can't afford for some reason, and Apogee says this:

Quote:
Ensemble’s proprietary Thunderbolt driver has been written from the ground up for Mac OS X Mavericks, resulting in unmatched performance and efficiency. Latency has been reduced to an astounding 1.1ms round-trip*, allowing you to monitor through your DAW, plug-ins included, simplifying your workflow and leveraging the power of your Mac. Even when your session’s DSP demands require a higher buffer setting, Ensemble’s ultra-low latency means no longer having to choose between power and speed.


So yeah, you get better latency than USB/Firewire. Presumably more I/O bandwidth too, but I doubt that would matter unless you are streaming hundreds of tracks. For simple things Thunderbolt is overkill - though its daisy-chaining capability may help cable organization.
sduck
Considering apple is phasing out old-style usb ports on it's computers, you'd probably be better served in the long run with something else. It's dongle city here on my new macbook pro... (but my old MOTU ultralight MKIII still works great through a firewire dongle)
dubonaire
You can't go wrong with the Antelope Zen Tour. Excellent hardware with excellent FPGA software now as well. I don't have one, but if I was going to buy a portable interface that would be my pick hands down.

It has more features than you need though.
itsritual
With RME's amazing drivers it doesn't really matter. They even tell customers not to worry about it, and to worry about the I/O options you need.

Here you can see RME's USB 2.0 options just barely behind their TB/USB 3.0/PCIe options, but ahead of everyone else.



From here:
https://www.gearslutz.com/board/12811489-post1536.html
dubonaire
I just don't know why you would bother with USB if you are on a Mac though and the Antelope has near zero latency on TB.
johny_gtr
I think if you have no activities like real-time recording of 40 channels you will have no benefits of TB connection instead of proper written drivers for USB2.0 connection like RME.

I had Apogee Duet and have RME Babyface. If you don't need midi in/out and ADAT I ill choose Duet. Duet has simplier mixing interface and sounds (maybe only for my ears) better.
dubonaire
johny_gtr wrote:
I think if you have no activities like real-time recording of 40 channels you will have no benefits of TB connection instead of proper written drivers for USB2.0 connection like RME.

I had Apogee Duet and have RME Babyface. If you don't need midi in/out and ADAT I ill choose Duet. Duet has simplier mixing interface and sounds (maybe only for my ears) better.


Yes but my point is why would you bother? You don't lose anything using TB, you just gain massive bandwidth and low latency, even if you don't need it. And you don't have to worry about anything.
hamildad
MOTU 828ES Thunderbolt/USB Audio-Interface £982 (DV247.com)

MOTU 828Mk3 Firewire Audio Interface £260 (bought last week on ebay)

what you lose in using TB is £722.

hihi

all depends if you want top spec, but the connectors seem to change at a far higher speed than the interfaces, so I wouldnt buy anything as 'future proof'
esa-electronics
i wonder if usb uses more processing power in your daw to access as i always prefered firewire for this reason as it uses no extra cpu but dont know about TB.
johnsmith12345
I like thunderbolt even to free up limited USB slots on laptop..
cornutt
I'm old school and I wouldn't run more than four channels through USB, even 3.0. USB's wire protocol has some limitations that are difficult to work around.
calaveras
The old school logic on USB vs Firewire was that USB is asynchronous, Firewire is (or can be) isochronous.

This meant that USB functioned somewhat like TCPIP, making a best effort to get all your data from point A to point B, but not making any effort to do so in a timely manner. It might send data packets 1-1000 politely one after another, then pause, take a breath, and send packets 1001-2000 in a huge burst.
(this is also why you often see USB audio devices at 2 channels even though USB 2.0 at 480Mbps can theoretically support dozens of channels).


While Firewire could stream data, in two directions at ones, with a time contingent delivery. So your data should not have jitter induced by the data interface, or dropouts from a failure to effectively stream the data continuously.

Fast forward 12 years, there are a number of pro audio companies that are using custom USB chips that allow them to stream data reliably, even over USB 2.0. (frankly I was highly skeptical when I first saw this at AES, but the proof is in the pudding, witness the Antelope Orion).


As far as Thunderbolt. The TB spec is an extension of the PCIe spec. It's basically the same thing as several lanes of PCIe. So it does not burden the host CPU any more than any other accessory on the PCIe buss. However a badly written driver, especially one that insists on loading a graphical interface kext at boot up, can load the host. But the current gen of multicore processors make this less of a concern than it was a decade ago.

There are some TB3/USB C audio interfaces out there. But most of them are TB2 on a the displayport mini connector. So you still will require a dongle to connect the device. To my knowledge nobody makes a TB2-TB3 cable, similar to the old school Firewire 800 one end, Firewire 400 other end cables.

If I was making this decision for myself, or trying to guide a friend in their purchase, I'd not concern myself with the connector or host data buss.
I'd examine the use case; multitrack recording 8+ tracks at a time vs singer songwriter shit using maybe 2-4 tracks at a time.
dubonaire
calaveras wrote:
To my knowledge nobody makes a TB2-TB3 cable.

If I was making this decision for myself, or trying to guide a friend in their purchase, I'd not concern myself with the connector or host data buss.
I'd examine the use case; multitrack recording 8+ tracks at a time vs singer songwriter shit using maybe 2-4 tracks at a time.


Apple sells a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.

I agree with you regarding the use case but I still think Thunderbolt is so easy on a mac why not? It's fast, flexible and can be daisy-chained. And if you don't want to not spend too much Focusrite's Clarett range is exceptional value.
sutekina bipu-on
Isn't firewire still the best? I always thought Firewire was somehow isolated from the device it's plugged into. I couldn't find anything to back it up on google but I always had no bus noise with Firewire interfaces while USB would let a little bus noise thru. It is also noticeable on my Xenyx mixer which is Firewire and USB both.
calaveras
dubonaire wrote:


Apple sells a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.

Yeah, but it is not the same thing as a cable.

This is kind of a gripe of mine.
TB3 is not an extension of TB2. It's a different thing, with a different connector, that is not compatible. Kind of like Serial Attached SCSI.

When we all used Firewire, you could hook up IEEE:1394 devices that were firewire 400 and firewire 800 with adapters that just adapted the physical connection. It worked, but at 400 speed.

Likewise, From SCSI to SCSI III the various different types of SCSI could be adapted with the right cables and connectors. Not all the way up from the first version of SCSI to the last. But you could mate SCSI-I to SCCI II, and SCSI II with SCSI-III more or less.You just had to have a 80 to 68 pin cable or whatever.

That the TB2 to TB3 adapter costs $50 has me thinking it's an active component, similar to the TB to Firewire dongle. I've looked it up and the pinouts for the two cables are a bit different.
dubonaire
calaveras wrote:
dubonaire wrote:


Apple sells a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.

Yeah, but it is not the same thing as a cable.

This is kind of a gripe of mine.
TB3 is not an extension of TB2. It's a different thing, with a different connector, that is not compatible. Kind of like Serial Attached SCSI.

When we all used Firewire, you could hook up IEEE:1394 devices that were firewire 400 and firewire 800 with adapters that just adapted the physical connection. It worked, but at 400 speed.

Likewise, From SCSI to SCSI III the various different types of SCSI could be adapted with the right cables and connectors. Not all the way up from the first version of SCSI to the last. But you could mate SCSI-I to SCCI II, and SCSI II with SCSI-III more or less.You just had to have a 80 to 68 pin cable or whatever.

That the TB2 to TB3 adapter costs $50 has me thinking it's an active component, similar to the TB to Firewire dongle. I've looked it up and the pinouts for the two cables are a bit different.


Sure but that's really only a temporary situation and you certainly don't need TB3 for audio.
calaveras
The problem is that all the New Macs are TB3 only. I'm not clear on how it works going the other way, from a TB3 device to a TB2 host.
sutekina bipu-on
calaveras wrote:
dubonaire wrote:


Apple sells a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.

Yeah, but it is not the same thing as a cable.

This is kind of a gripe of mine.
TB3 is not an extension of TB2. It's a different thing, with a different connector, that is not compatible. Kind of like Serial Attached SCSI.

When we all used Firewire, you could hook up IEEE:1394 devices that were firewire 400 and firewire 800 with adapters that just adapted the physical connection. It worked, but at 400 speed.

Likewise, From SCSI to SCSI III the various different types of SCSI could be adapted with the right cables and connectors. Not all the way up from the first version of SCSI to the last. But you could mate SCSI-I to SCCI II, and SCSI II with SCSI-III more or less.You just had to have a 80 to 68 pin cable or whatever.

That the TB2 to TB3 adapter costs $50 has me thinking it's an active component, similar to the TB to Firewire dongle. I've looked it up and the pinouts for the two cables are a bit different.


I don't have any computer with thunderbolt but i'm sure you could cheaply get a USB C cable and see if matching the pinouts does or doesn't work. Then you could be the first person to tell the internet if that works or not?
dubonaire
calaveras wrote:
The problem is that all the New Macs are TB3 only. I'm not clear on how it works going the other way, from a TB3 device to a TB2 host.


The adaptor works in both directions.
dubonaire
dp
Rex Coil 7
I'm pretty tired, and I probably shouldn't be logged in right now (y'know, cuz tired). But I'm confused and could use some help here on this TB thing.

I'm building a new computer. Liquid cooled Intel i3-8100 (8th generation, 4 core/4 threads, 3.6ghz), ASUS Prime Z370A mobo, 16gb (for now), and SATA3 SSD (256gb) + SATA3 1TB HDD @ 7,200 rpm. Nice and fast CPU, highly rated mobo, pretty much everyone's favorite everything for an audio computer, so sayeth the experts on Tou Yube and the brightly lit of the Mighty Internati.

This mobo is set up to accept the ASUS ThunderboltEX3 card. I'll be running Win7/Live 9 (by design, due to long standing support, and years of honing both to an edge) in pretty much the same manner as most folks use Live. Audio phrase looping, MIDI looping, track/clip playback ... y'know, nothing special really. So there's all the background data.

My confusion comes from wondering about whether or not Thunderpants is the pain in the ass it's made out to be. I've read a number of horror stories regarding very difficult setup and problems, granted 99% of the complaints come from gamers and uses of older mobos and other-than-eighth-gen CPUs.

This wouldn't be an issue, but when I go to buy the audio interface for this rig there's some hard cash involved (looking at the Clarett pretty hard). So it's a consequential decision, for sure.

Can anyone provide any coaching or advice on this? I don't mind spending what it takes (the TB card and the TB interface) but if going with Thunderfart is a major hassle and unstable I'm not interested in ceaseless babysitting of a tool that is supposed to serve me, not the other way around.

I sure could use some advice.

Thank you. we're not worthy
olesandström
I had to take the same decision two weeks ago... Thunderbolt vs USB. After a lengthy research I went for USB and got an RME Fireface 802. Had RME before and they are just great: ultra stable firmware, clear sound, great pre-amps. I am recording up to 8 tracks at the same time and don’t have any noticeable latency.
Rex Coil 7
olesandström wrote:
I had to take the same decision two weeks ago... Thunderbolt vs USB. After a lengthy research I went for USB and got an RME Fireface 802. Had RME before and they are just great: ultra stable firmware, clear sound, great pre-amps. I am recording up to 8 tracks at the same time and don’t have any noticeable latency.
Do you play keyboards?
ranix
This is new to me - I just (last week) built a PC.

The i3-8100 is one of the Coffee Lake chipsets I believe. These, as well as the AMD Ryzen chips, have native on-chip USB 3.1. The USB ports are actually plumbed directly to the CPU without any I/O controller in between the port and the CPU at all.

I believe but I am not certain that (some of) the USB ports on your motherboard ought to have lower latency than this thunderbolt card.

It should have about the lowest latency possible and should give my Atari a run for its money, but I am not sure modern operating systems are actually capable of that.
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