Audio Interface Saga
Once upon a time, I bought Pro Tools, which is software for recording and making music electronically. I spent a lot of money on it, and when I got it home, I discovered that it won’t even work with a sound card. (It can, with a piece of software that emulates an ASIO driver, but it doesn’t work all that well.) So, having already spent most of my money, I ordered the cheapest audio interface I could find.
I bought the TASCAM US-122MKII online for about $80. When it arrived, that’s when I discovered that it wouldn’t work with my PC speakers. I needed powered monitor speakers, and it turns out those are even more expensive. I was out of money, so I made do with headphones. I learned to appreciate the microphone inputs and did some recording with it. As a computing device, it was unreliable: it would often lock up and I would have to disconnect and reconnect it. I figured I would eventually upgrade to something else.
Months later, I finally bought a pair of Yamaha HS50M powered monitor speakers. I plugged them in, and … SCREECH! There was this horrible background noise, the main frequency of which was right around 990 Hz. After hours of troubleshooting, I concluded that it was not my speakers, it was not my cables, and there was no outside source of EMI. The source of the noise was probably my computer, but it was passing, electrically, right through my audio interface. Thinking that a quality audio interface should stop that sort of thing, I went shopping for a new one (again as an unplanned expenditure for which I really didn’t have money).
I brought home a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB. Focusrite is probably the leading brand in this space, at least for consumers like me. This was the least expensive model that had the features I wanted (namely zero latency input/playback mix). I plugged it in, and the noise was greatly reduced, but it was still there. I got some balanced TRS cables, which the US-122 did not support, and those reduced the noise even further. I can still hear the noise, but it is low enough that I can live with it. Meanwhile, I had a terrible time making the Saffire work with Pro Tools. The bottom line is that, if you have the Saffire configured for a different sample rate than is used in the Pro Tools session, Pro Tools will just give you cryptic error messages (or nothing, if you have the messages turned off) and refuse to play. The US-122 didn’t have that problem because it only supports one sample rate, 44.1 kHz, and I guess Pro Tools decided it was okay to convert or something. Pro Tools wouldn’t do that for the Saffire. It was a huge annoyance, but I resolved to tolerate it.
Until the next day, when I tried to use Adobe Premiere. In Pro Tools, you set a sample rate for your whole session. With Premiere, you can mix and match assets with different sample rates. I was using video that contained audio recorded at 48 kHz, and I was mixing it with audio recorded at 44.1 kHz. Because the Saffire was configured for 48 kHz, Premiere would play the video and would play any audio I put into the sequence, but it wouldn’t play the 44.1 kHz source audio directly. Reconfiguring the Saffire all the time was no longer an option. I ended up having to go back to the PC speakers to finish my work. It’s worth noting that I didn’t have this problem with the US-122; it would play any source material without trouble.
So, today I’m going to call the Focusrite people and find out if there is anything I can do. We’ll find out what their support is like. Meanwhile, I think I will need to consider my options for other audio interfaces. Update: I talked to Focusrite. The technician I spoke with wasn’t very helpful at all. I was kind of hoping he would tell me it is a problem that is fixed in their 2i4, but he insisted that all audio interfaces behave this way. I don’t really believe him. However, I’m not ready to spend a bunch of money just to find out.
(As a point of comparison, I actually have a third audio interface. My DigiTech RP1000 multi-effects controller for my electric guitar is also an audio interface. It also only supports a 44.1 kHz sample rate.)