What's the best sound card/interface?

Looking for a proper sound interface, external, usb (I’m on windows)
I have right now the Lexicon Alpha, served me well except that there’s always insane amounts of noise on all inputs (XLR/those red-and-white ones, doesn’t matter what I use for input, mic/LP) and, also, I’d kind of expected to be able to send different signals to the monitor output and the main output. It’s of course just a 2/2 iface.
So any tips on how to read hardware specs, how to judge these boxes, are appreciated!

Currently I’m looking at NI Komplete Audio 6, because it’s on sale. Does anyone here have that particular device? Does it allow two separate outputs to send to from Renoise?

I have the Komplete Audio 6. It’s my first and only “proper” external audio device so I really can’t compare to something else. But I’m happy with it and works perfect with renoise. You can choose from outputs 1/2 or 3/4 or even the spdif digital ones from within the renoise mixer outs. I’m on mac.

I’m using a scarlett focusrite 2i2, which is incredibly popular, and I really like it.

Me too.

Me three although I ocassionally regret not having a secondary stereo output. For connecting an extra set of speakers etc.

Assuming the 2 preamps being of similar quality (same price range) and the NI card having more outputs I’d probably get the NI Komplete 6 card now.

I’ve got Roland Octacapture on my studio and a Scarlet 2i2 for quick and dirty recording sessions. Scarlet 2i2 have just one pair of outputs.
IMO Roland Octacapture has a quite good bang for the buck value. Octacapture has 8 XLR+jack inputs and 8 balanced jack outputs. Each output pair has one individual mixer, which is great for monitoring purposes. Inputs are definately better than Scarlet’s and have auto-level function which is a big plus on my use.

Only negative thing is a headphone amp which isn’t that good with high impedance headphones.

Thanks for all the response so far, I’m definitely gonna see if I can get the NI card, it’d be around 190 including some coupons so vs the scarlet it’s a no brainer for me. 2i2 is probably what I should’ve been getting back when I bought the alpha.

FWIW if you’re going to get serious about audio quality of an I/O then be aware there are much high quality options than affordable all-in-one interfaces. I learned this the hard way by putting up with awful sounding stuff from M-Audio for years, thinking that I was trying to be professional sounding when rubbing sandpaper on my ears may have been less frustrating. Once you step up to better sounding converters and appreciate the difference then there can be no going back. The only trouble is that it costs a lot. But that’s the thing with audio production, hard to get away from the quality = money equation.

Not saying you should do this yourself, but I’ve been pretty happy with my TC Electronic interface as an optical host to my two Mytek converters, one for AD and another for DA. I’ll probably never ever sell them.

Thanks for the advice. Optical meaning SP/DIF right? Because that’s on the NI interface too.
Is the t.c. electronic a rack mounted device?
Just for comparison, how much was that total setup? And if you needed one separate out for headphones, would that be different/more expensive?
I’m really bugged by the fact you can’t see the quality of components from the outside of the friggin box. Damn that came out neanderthal.

One thing I should mention is that I want to be able to use it on the go (ie anywhere I can find a mains), wanna be set for production at home as much as for performing live.
I’m looking at some other boxes with likewise functionality - Akai’s box comes close too, no digital though - if I’m getting one it’ll probably be the NI

Oh and does anybody use it on Windows with ASIO? Can you select the output combinations then, too?

Buy RME … expensive, but best drivers on the market. Rock solid stuff. Super versatile.
And they have pretty good DA/AD converters already (excellent specs).

But I agree with Mr Mark Dollin: dedicated high-grade converters are an upgrade.
Nonetheless, the most obvious thing that matters are your monitors and your room acoustics.
I’d rather invest in those things, first. And in dedicated converters maybe later on.

Also, for the inputs think about a decent mic preamp. Together wih a decent mic that
will make another hearable difference, and much better S/N ratio compared to an onboard solution.
E.g. I bought the True Systems P-Solo and I use it for vocal/acoustic guitar recording and as a high quality DI-box for e-guitars.
Highly recommended.

Ok there are three levels of data transfer that I know of, in order of quality (less jitter):

SP/DIF < Optical < AES

The T.C. unit I use isn’t rack mount, just an old 24D. I don’t use the converters in it - it is simply the host that interfaces with my computer. I let the Mytek’s do all the magic. The output is routed through a SM Pro Audio M-Patch 2 Passive Volume Control and Monitor Switch before it goes out to the different monitors I have - that way I run the computer audio at 100% (0dB) so there’s no bit-reduction on the way out. So just all that gear alone would be around $3000 brand new. I just had to do it to justify the client work I was doing. No point in doing professional grade work on hobbyist equipment (within reason). These days I do a lot more acoustic and synth recording as well, so I want as little digital muck on the way in. Call me fussy.

If you want portable and cheap then the suggestions in this thread are reasonable. I’ve a little E-Mu Tracker Pre that I lug around with me if I’m travelling and writing ideas on the laptop. Very affordable, decent sound, and yes it’s got a headphones jack and volume control.

You can’t see the quality by the look of a box. You have to hear what it does in a relatively controlled environment, A/B’d with other gear. Expensive hobby. Finding good advice helps a lot. I’ve got a reliable engineer friend who has tested a lot of stuff, so I just end up buying his favourite bits of kit. Gearslutz is very good too if you take the time to sift through it and find reputable advice there.

Oh and speaking of Preamps, this is my current fav: http://www.baeaudio.com/pages/products/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=204&Itemid=253 Everything sounds wonderful through it! Mind you, if I were using ribbon mics I’d probably re-tube my tube preamp and use it for some dirty colour.

My goal in this is getting A. better recording quality and B. be able to send stuff from renoise to either main out or headphones (DJ style prehear).
I’m sure about B already, not so sure if I’m getting A with it too.

This is an interesting point, that has come up before in many other places. I use a M-Audio Delta 1010, and for the routing options it offers me it has done everything I need. I know they`re cheaper than the high-end competitors, but what audible differences are there?

even a realtek chip sounds good as a high priced audio interface but the problem is the latency. if you dont need much i/o, you can go with a delta audiophile 192 or equal. its cheap and good!

… and dont believe the bullshit of mr_mark_dollin

I had the 1010 for a long time. The difference is with everything do do with the convert quality. Deeper smoother bass, less abrasive mids, slicker highs, even greater dynamic representation. To an undiscerning ear the difference are subtle, but when you’re on the hunt for quality then the difference is really important because you want to make something that should still sound wonderful after a million listens, not fatiguing and harsh after the second listen. There’s better converters out than than the Mytek, and they will keep evolving the quality as technology improves. This in theory filters down to the consumer grade stuff - onboard sound sounds a whole lot better than expensive converters 20-30 years ago. It’s all a question of how much you want to spend and what you expect from your production quality. If your demands are very high then it may be better just to hire a studio with the right gear with an engineer who knows what they are doing.

How about the EIE pro from Akai? Any happy owners?

In this price range (sub 500 euros) you are basically paying for the number and quality of mic preamps in most cases, you will probably find any difference in conversion negligible as production is generally out-sourced to a handful of factories in China who use similar components in everything they produce. I’d say avoid the Akai on the basis that 4 mic preamps for that price probably means they have cut corners elsewhere.

I would pay as much money as you can for a box with the minimum I/O you need (especially if you will not be using multiple mics), as this means the manufacturers cost will be spent on A/D converters, better quality components, driver development, etc.

I would think the NI box sounds ideal for your purposes(although I have never used one), considering the above.

I own a Fireface 400 and actually thought this would be super-sufficient for years. Actually it is, but lately I tested a high end DA-converter
from Lake People and it simply sounded better. E.g. the highs were less harsh, more silky and pleasant to the ears.
But I’m not sure if those differences can properly be heard on most of the low budget monitors.

But about on thing I’m sure: there are hearable differences between different DA converters.

its like the same as ppl that want to tell me that a 320k cbr mpr doesnt sound as good as a flac…

personnaly i own a fireface 400 and it rocks no noise just what i make and just this you can buy it for 400-600 euros on audiofanzine but i you want more inputs you can take fireface 800 but it cost an arms.
in fact it works on linux,mac and windows(except that in linux the midi doesn’t works for the time),i have try on the both os