Firewire or USB, that is the question

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Firewire or USB, that is the question

Post by blueknob » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:57 am

:geek: I'm giving thought to buying an audio interface to record my band. Not for huge mega productions but mostly for rehearsal/demo type situations. I have in mind 8 or 12 input, 8 output interface, there are a few that seem perfect, but I'm unsure about the data comms, Firewire or USB.

The overall plot would be to take a laptop connected to this inteface and use it just as a multitrack recorder, then when back home do editing/eq/fx on whatever sytem/method available.

From what I've read, USB 2.0 is about 480Mb/s and Firewire 400 is the same. I've read Firewire can do tx/rx concurrently (full duplex), whereas USB has to timeshare (half duplex). I'm not equipped for USB 3 or Firewire 800.

So is there any advantage one over the other for my purpose?

My laptop has the "AISO for all" installed and has a 1364 port so wonder if I could use both simultaneously. Although this isn't a requirement.

One interface is the Behringer FCA1616 which has the option of USB and Firewire, one of many.

Thoughts, suggestions, opinions??

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Re: Firewire or USB, that is the question

Post by meatballfulton » Tue Mar 28, 2017 1:51 pm

Short answer: use USB

Long answer: Firewire has many advantages over USB but one huge has been displaced by Thunderbolt. All of the major interface mfrs who supported FW have either dropped those products or are moving to Tbolt.

The real question is what does your computer support? Macs had native FW support for a long time and now have Tbolt, but in the Windows world it's nowhere near as common. So if you are using Windows, you might as well use USB interfaces.

Another issue with FW on Windows is that not all FW chipsets work well with audio interfaces, before buying any FW interface make sure you check with the mfr for information about what chipsets are supported.

As far as using two interfaces on Windows, this is more of a problem than on Macs where you can set up "aggregate" interfaces. Most DAWs do not support multiple interfaces natively so the Mac aggregation feature makes multiple interfaces appear as a single interface. I currently have a Yamaha Motif (16 in, 6 out) and a Focusrite Saffire (20 in, 20 out) aggregated as a 36 in, 26 out interface. Windows has no equivalent feature as far as I know.
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Re: Firewire or USB, that is the question

Post by cornutt » Tue Mar 28, 2017 9:14 pm

If you're in the Mac world, it might be worth looking into some of the new MOTU interfaces that have Thunderbolt interfaces. The 624 is in the ballpark of what you are looking for. They probably won't be cheap, but...

My problem with USB is that it uses a master/slave communications protocol. Because of this, the effective data rates are a lot lower than the raw bit rate, and the latency varies. I would not trust it with 8 ins and 8 outs. For a small portable 2x2 interface, it's fine.
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Re: Firewire or USB, that is the question

Post by Solderman » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:06 pm

Just to throw my hat in the ring, you would benefit from finding out ahead of time who makes the 1394 interface in your laptop, and ask the support team or find an FAQ to verify the audio interface you want is supported. I found out by pure chance that my MotU 828 mkII firewire was supported by a Clevo/Sager laptop I bought in late 2004, because MotU has this bad habit of not telling Windows users feck all. The firewire on the much newer Lenovo T61 Thinkpad I have from 2007 did NOT support it, so I ended up getting an Echo Indigo I/O and using its PCMCIA slot.

You said you don't have USB3, but I recommend not seeking it out. There are some small audio interfaces that support it, but you may run into issues with the USB3 cable itself. All USB3 ports are fully backwards compatible with USB2 and generally work as advertised. Also USB3, while providing a significant increase in bandwidth over USB2, still has the exact same latency issues.

My concern with Thunderbolt is that it's so vastly overpowered compared to firewire, that you are wasting alot of its potential even with a 56 channel 24/96 interface, so I can't see anything that uses it being cheap, including the supporting hardware itself. Does Windows 10 even support the protocol yet?
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