Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 03 Mar 2015

A few days ago I noticed that Focusrite is going to be releasing audio interfaces with Thunderbolt connectivity. They're calling this new line Clarett. Being their new misspelling of something red, in this case claret, a red wine.

http://us.focusrite.com/clarett-range

I'm sure I'll get one eventually. But that got me wondering if my Saffire PRO40 would work any better over Thunderbolt, than straight Firewire. Ever since I built this new computer, which has a different Firewire chip than my previous, I've not been able to use 96k (it's completely unstable), and even 44.1k/48k required the large Firewire driver latency setting to keep from constantly clicking.

My Asus Z97-WS motherboard has a Thunderbolt header, so I picked their add-on card, an Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter (they're the only company that seems to make one of these), and a FW800 9-pin to FW400 6-pin cable.

Wow, I should have done this long ago. The 96 kHz sampling rate is rock solid again, and I was able to reduce the Firewire driver latency to medium (short still clicks). Even the smallest ASIO buffer settings are fine, but still do require more CPU* than running with 20 ms of latency for playback, and 10 ms for monitoring while recording. So if you have a Firewire interface, and a Thunderbolt port, I'd recommend picking up an adapter cable, and going that way.


*EDIT: I should say, gives the CPU less time to the same amount of work.

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 03 Mar 2015

Oh, it looks like Zoom have some dedicated Thunderbolt audio interfaces too.

http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/tac-2
http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/tac-2r
http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/tac-8

Both Focusrite and Zoom interfaces support 192 kHz too.

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normen
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Post 03 Mar 2015

Not going though FireWire should in theory allow for lower I/O latency on the device, similar to PCI audio interfaces.

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 03 Mar 2015

Yeah, like really low. Thunderbolt is basically PCIe over a cable.

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C//AZM
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Post 04 Mar 2015

I have a UAD Apollo and with T-Bolt you get more plug in instances and less CPU drain from the chips. It's a noticable difference, especially at higher sampling rates.

Ostermilk
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Post 05 Mar 2015

ScuzzyEye wrote:Yeah, like really low. Thunderbolt is basically PCIe over a cable.
Then why not something like a Lynx or RME unit which is native PCIe and is still as low as you can go?

I was quite taken with all the talk of Thunderbolt before it arrived but post it's arrival it seems the pre Thunderbolt champs are still the post Thunderbolt champs.

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normen
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Post 05 Mar 2015

Ostermilk wrote: Then why not something like a Lynx or RME unit which is native PCIe and is still as low as you can go?
Because Macs don't have PCIe slots :)

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 05 Mar 2015

And I want my interface in the (physical) rack right next to me, with the ability to place the PC several meters away.

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normen
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Post 05 Mar 2015

ScuzzyEye wrote:And I want my interface in the (physical) rack right next to me, with the ability to place the PC several meters away.
Well is there any PCI interfaces that still have all the I/O on board? Mostly they're just digital buses, with an external A/D D/A box, no?

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 05 Mar 2015

normen wrote:Well is there any PCI interfaces that still have all the I/O on board? Mostly they're just digital buses, with an external A/D D/A box, no?
Lynx makes cards that have the I/O on board, accessed via break-out cables.

The closest you get to an internal card with an external box where you can use off-the-shelf cables (important if you want to be able to have your PC farther away than the packed in cable) is RME's HDSPe. It uses 6-pin Firewire.

Everything is either ADAT or MADI, which I don't really consider paired internal PCIe card to external interface, because those are a generic digital bus, which can be used to connect any pieces of studio equipment. You just happen to put a MADI card in the PC so it can connect to other MADI gear. Just like you'd put a Firewire card in a PC to connect to Firewire gear.

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normen
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Post 05 Mar 2015

ScuzzyEye wrote: Lynx makes cards that have the I/O on board, accessed via break-out cables.

The closest you get to an internal card with an external box where you can use off-the-shelf cables (important if you want to be able to have your PC farther away than the packed in cable) is RME's HDSPe. It uses 6-pin Firewire.

Everything is either ADAT or MADI, which I don't really consider paired internal PCIe card to external interface, because those are a generic digital bus, which can be used to connect any pieces of studio equipment. You just happen to put a MADI card in the PC so it can connect to other MADI gear. Just like you'd put a Firewire card in a PC to connect to Firewire gear.
RME and MOTU use a FireWire connector but its not FireWire. Having AD/DA on board isn't really a good idea with all the interferences inside the box.

Ostermilk
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Post 05 Mar 2015

Ostermilk wrote: Then why not something like a Lynx or RME unit which is native PCIe and is still as low as you can go?
normen wrote:
Because Macs don't have PCIe slots :)
That's a good enough reason... :D

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C//AZM
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Post 05 Mar 2015

That's a good enough reason... :D
Yeah that and the T-Bolt is cascadable. You can cascade a couple of interfaces, and even a drive or monitor in series.

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 05 Mar 2015

That's a good enough reason... :D
C//AZM wrote: Yeah that and the T-Bolt is cascadable. You can cascade a couple of interfaces, and even a drive or monitor in series.
That's part of the reason I prefer it over MADI. Like Alton Brown, I don't like unitaskers. MADI is just audio. With Firewire (and now Thunderbolt), I can connect other things to the same port.

I suppose if I had a dedicated studio I'd wire everything up with MADI to the rack.

Ostermilk
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Post 05 Mar 2015

That's a good enough reason... :D
C//AZM wrote: Yeah that and the T-Bolt is cascadable. You can cascade a couple of interfaces, and even a drive or monitor in series.
Good job I have no requirement for any of that then.  I've got a couple of PCIe slots and a couple of SATA sockets still free though... ;)

The thing with it is along with all these kind of technologies they of very limited interest to an end user unless engineers can provide products that maximise the potential of them.  Who cares if PCIe and Display Port signals are combined over Thunderbolt when manafacturers are producing TB performance beating interfaces for PCIe.

It's the requirements/performance of the interface that should be the primary focus of the user, the means of delivering those requirements/performance is the job of the vendors hardware engineers and the fodder for much of the mindless bloviation from geeks and nerds.

Even UAD who have produced some nice enough TB interfaces can't get their stuff together to write TB drivers for PC perhaps for that reason as there's nothing technically stopping them from providing PC support for their TB interfaces as I understand it.

Mind you they can't even deliver their existing driver/software packages in anything less the a 1.5Gb lump which installs 6Gb  of crap (including 2 complete sets of redundant backup MSI installers) you'll need to erase most of as there's no way of just selecting just the components you need.  But that's another story that's just arisen out of installing their recent v8 package.

Normen's explanation was a really valid one the rest is hypothesis unless you have a specific application that requires you to run 2 audio interfaces in series along with a drive and output that requires display port output and the options already available don't work as well for you.  Fortunately I'm not one of the very few likely to be in that camp.

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normen
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Post 05 Mar 2015

ScuzzyEye wrote: That's part of the reason I prefer it over MADI. Like Alton Brown, I don't like unitaskers. MADI is just audio. With Firewire (and now Thunderbolt), I can connect other things to the same port.

I suppose if I had a dedicated studio I'd wire everything up with MADI to the rack.
Its pretty amazing what Uaudio did with their Apollo line in the latest update. You can cascade up to 4 devices and get one big mixer with all inputs and outputs of all devices.

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 05 Mar 2015

normen wrote:Its pretty amazing what Uaudio did with their Apollo line in the latest update. You can cascade up to 4 devices and get one big mixer with all inputs and outputs of all devices.
I just looked that up. It is pretty cool, I could use a few more analog input jacks, but I think a ADAT pre-amp will be enough for now.

I also had to search out what Deadmau5 used. https://instagram.com/p/cxDceZOxxg/
So that's this card: http://www.rme-audio.de/en/products/hdspe_madi_fx.php
Connected to 6 of these: http://www.directout.eu/en/products/andiamo-2.html

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normen
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Post 05 Mar 2015

Mhm, MADI and Dante are the prevalent digital audio connections I see in studios nowadays.

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ScuzzyEye
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Post 05 Mar 2015

I like Focusrite, and would have picked up their RedNet (Dante) stuff...if I could have afforded it. :)

Does Reason support more than 64 I/O channels?

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normen
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Post 05 Mar 2015

ScuzzyEye wrote:I like Focusrite, and would have picked up their RedNet (Dante) stuff...if I could have afforded it. :)

Does Reason support more than 64 I/O channels?
Good question, doesn't look like it does. Yeah, Dante is quite expensive :/ For our stage I resorted to AES50 (Behringer/Midas etc.). You don't get as extensive networking but its rock solid and easy to set up.

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C//AZM
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Post 05 Mar 2015

Normen's explanation was a really valid one the rest is hypothesis unless you have a specific application that requires you to run 2 audio interfaces in series along with a drive and output that requires display port output and the options already available don't work as well for you.  Fortunately I'm not one of the very few likely to be in that camp.
I was only saying what you CAN do with it. Sometimes the primary focus is to get a solution with limited resources(money)while still getting a quality result. Remember there are lots of people with minis which only have one T-Bolt port.
I do most of my composing at home and I don't have the same requirements here as I do in the studio. At home I have a mini and I connect my t-bolt ssd external drive enclosure through the Apollo so it's not all that hypothetical. It's a nifty little system for home studio and I can easily see the need for someone to expand to two interfaces with a drive at the end.   If you're a PC user then at this time, no it probably isn't the best solution for you but it (tbolt cascading through interface) works well here and other people may be interested.


Ostermilk
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Post 05 Mar 2015

C//AZM wrote:
Normen's explanation was a really valid one the rest is hypothesis unless you have a specific application that requires you to run 2 audio interfaces in series along with a drive and output that requires display port output and the options already available don't work as well for you.  Fortunately I'm not one of the very few likely to be in that camp.
C//AZM wrote:
I was only saying what you CAN do with it. Sometimes the primary focus is to get a solution with limited resources(money)while still getting a quality result. Remember there are lots of people with minis which only have one T-Bolt port.
I do most of my composing at home and I don't have the same requirements here as I do in the studio. At home I have a mini and I connect my t-bolt ssd external drive enclosure through the Apollo so it's not all that hypothetical. It's a nifty little system for home studio and I can easily see the need for someone to expand to two interfaces with a drive at the end.   If you're a PC user then at this time, no it probably isn't the best solution for you but it (tbolt cascading through interface) works well here and other people may be interested.
I agree with all you are saying here.

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