OT: High quality USB audio options?

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OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ed Wildgoose-2
Hi, I apologise for the OT posting, but it's hard to find critical audio
reviewers who can comment on the state of high quality USB audio.

Does anyone have a shortlist of high quality USB audio cards with 6-8
analogue outputs and excellent linux support?  Reasonably price
insensitive.  Low latency of output is not important, prefer decent DACs

I would ideally stick with PCI/Firewire, but for various reasons this is
hard to achieve with a new mini-itx box that I would like to use for
this application

Thanks for any thoughts on cards to look at

Ed W
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Arnold Krille-3
Hi,

On Thursday 29 April 2010 17:25:18 Ed W wrote:
> Hi, I apologise for the OT posting, but it's hard to find critical audio
> reviewers who can comment on the state of high quality USB audio.
> Does anyone have a shortlist of high quality USB audio cards with 6-8
> analogue outputs and excellent linux support?  Reasonably price
> insensitive.  Low latency of output is not important, prefer decent DACs

Here is the catch:

USB1 (which has a defined audio-standard from the start) doesn't have enough
bandwidth for more then 4 channels, which resolves to two in and two out.
USB2, which has enough bandwidth for more then four channels of audio, didn't
have an audio-standard for a long time. Which makes developing a driver rather
hard. Since some time there seems to be a defined standard, but as most (all?)
vendors did their development before that, there are practically no devices
that support that standard.

And USB3 is to new to have audio-devices...

> I would ideally stick with PCI/Firewire, but for various reasons this is
> hard to achieve with a new mini-itx box that I would like to use for
> this application

I am using kind of the same hardware. Using one pci or pcie for a firewire
controller or an audio card is no problem. Not even on 1U 19" devices...

> Thanks for any thoughts on cards to look at

Arnold

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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Clemens Ladisch
Arnold Krille wrote:
> USB1 (which has a defined audio-standard from the start) doesn't have enough
> bandwidth for more then 4 channels, which resolves to two in and two out.

Depending on the sample rate and sample width; with 24 bits at 96 kHz,
full duplex does not work, while 16 bits at 48 kHz manages eight channels
if there are no other devices on the bus and you bend the rules a little.

> USB2, which has enough bandwidth for more then four channels of audio, didn't
> have an audio-standard for a long time. Which makes developing a driver rather
> hard. Since some time there seems to be a defined standard, but as most (all?)
> vendors did their development before that, there are practically no devices
> that support that standard.

The very latest ALSA has some support for USB Audio 2.0 devices (that
specification is not the same as USB 2.0), but the only known actual
device is a development board.

> And USB3 is to new to have audio-devices...

USB3 bandwidth isn't needed for audio anyway.

> On Thursday 29 April 2010 17:25:18 Ed W wrote:
> > Does anyone have a shortlist of high quality USB audio cards with 6-8
> > analogue outputs and excellent linux support?

"Shortlist" would imply that there is a longer list.  :-)

Anyway, here is the list of all known, currently supported USB high
speed devices (not all of which fit your criteria):

* SB Audigy 2 NX (digital I/O not supported)
* E-Mu 0202/0404/TrackerPre
* Edirol UA-1000/UA-101 (mixers are not supported)


Regards,
Clemens
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ed Wildgoose-2
In reply to this post by Arnold Krille-3
On 29/04/2010 18:11, Arnold Krille wrote:

> Hi,
>
> On Thursday 29 April 2010 17:25:18 Ed W wrote:
>    
>> Hi, I apologise for the OT posting, but it's hard to find critical audio
>> reviewers who can comment on the state of high quality USB audio.
>> Does anyone have a shortlist of high quality USB audio cards with 6-8
>> analogue outputs and excellent linux support?  Reasonably price
>> insensitive.  Low latency of output is not important, prefer decent DACs
>>      
> Here is the catch:
>
> USB1 (which has a defined audio-standard from the start) doesn't have enough
> bandwidth for more then 4 channels, which resolves to two in and two out.
> USB2, which has enough bandwidth for more then four channels of audio, didn't
> have an audio-standard for a long time. Which makes developing a driver rather
> hard. Since some time there seems to be a defined standard, but as most (all?)
> vendors did their development before that, there are practically no devices
> that support that standard.
>
> And USB3 is to new to have audio-devices...
>
>    
>> I would ideally stick with PCI/Firewire, but for various reasons this is
>> hard to achieve with a new mini-itx box that I would like to use for
>> this application
>>      
> I am using kind of the same hardware. Using one pci or pcie for a firewire
> controller or an audio card is no problem. Not even on 1U 19" devices...
>    

Wow, that's a bleak situation...  In the setup I was designing I need my
single expansion slot on the itx board - may need to look at mini-atx
instead.

So assuming I find some board which has Firewire, can someone please
offer an opinion on the state of linux firewire audio? I have lurked on
the FFADO list for a while and watched the kind of probems coming up,
also scanned the supported hardware list, but I can't get a feel for
whether I can really get this stuff rock solid stable in the way that my
RME 9632 (PCI) is?

I had my eye on the Echo Audiofire12 firewire as a baseline?  I have a
reasonable budget here, but also I don't want to waste what is a fairly
significant amount on something that isn't well supported.  Probably I
don't have the capacity right now to work on drivers for stuff, so I
would really like something which works solidly out of the box?  
Anything else I should look at? (8 analogue outputs is the desired
configuration)

Also I am doing volume control in the digital domain (bit shifting), so
I do value DACs with a wider than average range of linearity and low noise.

Thanks for any pointers

Ed W
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ralf Mardorf
Ed W wrote:

> On 29/04/2010 18:11, Arnold Krille wrote:
>> Hi,
>>
>> On Thursday 29 April 2010 17:25:18 Ed W wrote:
>>  
>>> Hi, I apologise for the OT posting, but it's hard to find critical
>>> audio
>>> reviewers who can comment on the state of high quality USB audio.
>>> Does anyone have a shortlist of high quality USB audio cards with 6-8
>>> analogue outputs and excellent linux support?  Reasonably price
>>> insensitive.  Low latency of output is not important, prefer decent
>>> DACs
>>>      
>> Here is the catch:
>>
>> USB1 (which has a defined audio-standard from the start) doesn't have
>> enough
>> bandwidth for more then 4 channels, which resolves to two in and two
>> out.
>> USB2, which has enough bandwidth for more then four channels of
>> audio, didn't
>> have an audio-standard for a long time. Which makes developing a
>> driver rather
>> hard. Since some time there seems to be a defined standard, but as
>> most (all?)
>> vendors did their development before that, there are practically no
>> devices
>> that support that standard.
>>
>> And USB3 is to new to have audio-devices...
>>
>>  
>>> I would ideally stick with PCI/Firewire, but for various reasons
>>> this is
>>> hard to achieve with a new mini-itx box that I would like to use for
>>> this application
>>>      
>> I am using kind of the same hardware. Using one pci or pcie for a
>> firewire
>> controller or an audio card is no problem. Not even on 1U 19" devices...
>>    
>
> Wow, that's a bleak situation...  In the setup I was designing I need
> my single expansion slot on the itx board - may need to look at
> mini-atx instead.
>
> So assuming I find some board which has Firewire, can someone please
> offer an opinion on the state of linux firewire audio? I have lurked
> on the FFADO list for a while and watched the kind of probems coming
> up, also scanned the supported hardware list, but I can't get a feel
> for whether I can really get this stuff rock solid stable in the way
> that my RME 9632 (PCI) is?
>
> I had my eye on the Echo Audiofire12 firewire as a baseline?  I have a
> reasonable budget here, but also I don't want to waste what is a
> fairly significant amount on something that isn't well supported.  
> Probably I don't have the capacity right now to work on drivers for
> stuff, so I would really like something which works solidly out of the
> box?  Anything else I should look at? (8 analogue outputs is the
> desired configuration)
>
> Also I am doing volume control in the digital domain (bit shifting),
> so I do value DACs with a wider than average range of linearity and
> low noise.
>
> Thanks for any pointers
>
> Ed W

Hi Ed :)

from experience I don't belief that my guess is a good one, but I might
mistaken. There are extensions, so you could have more PCI slots. At
least the interrupt might be a problem, regarding to your design.
I don't have money, but a lot of people are willing to donate gifts,
unfortunately a lot of hardware doesn't work with Linux :(, hence I'm
unable to use their gifts and ask them to endow their hardware to
somebody who doesn't use Linux.

If your budget is reasonable, keep open for other solutions, than the
ones you keep in mind. Perhaps it would be good, if you reword your
needs, resp. to consider the essentials of your needs.

Just, just and just 2 cents,

Ralf
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Jonathan Woithe
In reply to this post by Ed Wildgoose-2
Hi Ed

> So assuming I find some board which has Firewire, can someone please
> offer an opinion on the state of linux firewire audio? I have lurked on
> the FFADO list for a while and watched the kind of probems coming up,
> also scanned the supported hardware list, but I can't get a feel for
> whether I can really get this stuff rock solid stable in the way that my
> RME 9632 (PCI) is?

It does depend on the device.  If the device is well supported by the
developers then my personal experience is that a suitably configured system
can be very stable indeed.  I've personally run my rig continuously for 8+
hours at a time with no issues (and that was on a single-core laptop).

To get a true feel for the state of play I suggest you post either to
ffado-users or ffado-devel and ask.  You'll hopefully get feedback from
those who own the different devices currently supported which will in turn
allow you to gauge where things are at.

> I had my eye on the Echo Audiofire12 firewire as a baseline?

My understanding is that the Audiofire devices will work well.  However, I
don't own one and I haven't used one under Linux; those who have would be in
the best position to offer opinions, which is why I recommend you ask on the
ffado lists.

Regards
  jonathan
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ralf Mardorf
Jonathan Woithe wrote:

> Hi Ed
>
>  
>> So assuming I find some board which has Firewire, can someone please
>> offer an opinion on the state of linux firewire audio? I have lurked on
>> the FFADO list for a while and watched the kind of probems coming up,
>> also scanned the supported hardware list, but I can't get a feel for
>> whether I can really get this stuff rock solid stable in the way that my
>> RME 9632 (PCI) is?
>>    
>
> It does depend on the device.  If the device is well supported by the
> developers then my personal experience is that a suitably configured system
> can be very stable indeed.  I've personally run my rig continuously for 8+
> hours at a time with no issues (and that was on a single-core laptop).
>
> To get a true feel for the state of play I suggest you post either to
> ffado-users or ffado-devel and ask.  You'll hopefully get feedback from
> those who own the different devices currently supported which will in turn
> allow you to gauge where things are at.
>
>  
>> I had my eye on the Echo Audiofire12 firewire as a baseline?
>>    
>
> My understanding is that the Audiofire devices will work well.  However, I
> don't own one and I haven't used one under Linux; those who have would be in
> the best position to offer opinions, which is why I recommend you ask on the
> ffado lists.
>
> Regards
>   jonathan
>  

You know the posts? "My firewire is ok when using distro xy, kernel z,
but when using audio distro ab, with kernel c it doesn't work.
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ralf Mardorf
Ralf Mardorf wrote:

> Jonathan Woithe wrote:
>> Hi Ed
>>
>>  
>>> So assuming I find some board which has Firewire, can someone please
>>> offer an opinion on the state of linux firewire audio? I have lurked
>>> on the FFADO list for a while and watched the kind of probems coming
>>> up, also scanned the supported hardware list, but I can't get a feel
>>> for whether I can really get this stuff rock solid stable in the way
>>> that my RME 9632 (PCI) is?
>>>    
>>
>> It does depend on the device.  If the device is well supported by the
>> developers then my personal experience is that a suitably configured
>> system
>> can be very stable indeed.  I've personally run my rig continuously
>> for 8+
>> hours at a time with no issues (and that was on a single-core laptop).
>>
>> To get a true feel for the state of play I suggest you post either to
>> ffado-users or ffado-devel and ask.  You'll hopefully get feedback from
>> those who own the different devices currently supported which will in
>> turn
>> allow you to gauge where things are at.
>>
>>  
>>> I had my eye on the Echo Audiofire12 firewire as a baseline?
>>>    
>>
>> My understanding is that the Audiofire devices will work well.  
>> However, I
>> don't own one and I haven't used one under Linux; those who have
>> would be in
>> the best position to offer opinions, which is why I recommend you ask
>> on the
>> ffado lists.
>>
>> Regards
>>   jonathan
>>  
>
> You know the posts? "My firewire is ok when using distro xy, kernel z,
> but when using audio distro ab, with kernel c it doesn't work.

Broken English again ;) postings? Hm, threads ;).
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Adrian Knoth
In reply to this post by Clemens Ladisch
On Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 08:28:08AM +0200, Clemens Ladisch wrote:

[whatever]
Sorry for posting to the list. Clemens, did you receive my mail
containing patches for the maudio MIDI firmware package?

Looks like my mails are not getting through to you...


Cheerio

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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Arnold Krille-3
In reply to this post by Ed Wildgoose-2
On Friday 30 April 2010 12:32:37 Ed W wrote:
> I had my eye on the Echo Audiofire12 firewire as a baseline?  I have a
> reasonable budget here, but also I don't want to waste what is a fairly
> significant amount on something that isn't well supported.  Probably I
> don't have the capacity right now to work on drivers for stuff, so I
> would really like something which works solidly out of the box?
> Anything else I should look at? (8 analogue outputs is the desired
> configuration)

As Jonathan said, not every developer has access to all devices. I know the
various Audiofires seem to work from looking at the usage figures. I know from
my own experience that the Focusrite devices work good which is why I keep
pushing them a bit.

Have fun,

Arnold

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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Arnold Krille-3
In reply to this post by Ralf Mardorf
On Friday 30 April 2010 17:26:52 Ralf Mardorf wrote:
> Jonathan Woithe wrote:
> > My understanding is that the Audiofire devices will work well.  However,
> > I don't own one and I haven't used one under Linux; those who have would
> > be in the best position to offer opinions, which is why I recommend you
> > ask on the ffado lists.
> You know the posts? "My firewire is ok when using distro xy, kernel z,
> but when using audio distro ab, with kernel c it doesn't work.

You know the usage figures?

Comparing them to the number of complaint-posts (which are very often
depending on the fw-controller in the machine and the kernel-version, not
necessarily on the distribution), I can say that firewire on linux might have
some percent more problems compared to alsa-supported-pci-devices. But that is
because the user base of alsa is far wider and probably the most of the
devices in use are probably captured by the ICH?- and AC97-drivers...

And its always the guys with the problems speaking up immidiately (even if its
not really a problem) but the people where it works only very seldomly speak
up. Hint: If your device works well (both firewire and alsa) tell the
developers[*]. Consider it a virtual hug.
Or hug them in person on this weekends LAC

Arnold

[*] Also applies to developers of apps you use successfully. ;-)

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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ralf Mardorf
Arnold Krille wrote:

> On Friday 30 April 2010 17:26:52 Ralf Mardorf wrote:
>  
>> Jonathan Woithe wrote:
>>    
>>> My understanding is that the Audiofire devices will work well.  However,
>>> I don't own one and I haven't used one under Linux; those who have would
>>> be in the best position to offer opinions, which is why I recommend you
>>> ask on the ffado lists.
>>>      
>> You know the posts? "My firewire is ok when using distro xy, kernel z,
>> but when using audio distro ab, with kernel c it doesn't work.
>>    
>
> You know the usage figures?
>
> Comparing them to the number of complaint-posts (which are very often
> depending on the fw-controller in the machine and the kernel-version, not
> necessarily on the distribution), I can say that firewire on linux might have
> some percent more problems compared to alsa-supported-pci-devices. But that is
> because the user base of alsa is far wider and probably the most of the
> devices in use are probably captured by the ICH?- and AC97-drivers...
>
> And its always the guys with the problems speaking up immidiately (even if its
> not really a problem) but the people where it works only very seldomly speak
> up. Hint: If your device works well (both firewire and alsa) tell the
> developers[*]. Consider it a virtual hug.
> Or hug them in person on this weekends LAC
>
> Arnold
>
> [*] Also applies to developers of apps you use successfully. ;-)
>  

Wow, your argumentation is awfully good :). To be honest, there are some
Linux audio coders I venerate and I'm from Oberhausen the Ruhr area -
you can call it the same place where LAC will take place - , but
regarding to the hug, I'm a little bit autistic, no joke, perhaps a
handshake should explain my esteem. I guess I won't be able - I don't
have money - to visit LAC, but I'll try to do. Again, you get me, your
argument is perfect :).

Full ACK.

Ralf
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Ralf Mardorf
Ralf Mardorf wrote:

> Arnold Krille wrote:
>> On Friday 30 April 2010 17:26:52 Ralf Mardorf wrote:
>>  
>>> Jonathan Woithe wrote:
>>>    
>>>> My understanding is that the Audiofire devices will work well.  
>>>> However,
>>>> I don't own one and I haven't used one under Linux; those who have
>>>> would
>>>> be in the best position to offer opinions, which is why I recommend
>>>> you
>>>> ask on the ffado lists.
>>>>      
>>> You know the posts? "My firewire is ok when using distro xy, kernel z,
>>> but when using audio distro ab, with kernel c it doesn't work.
>>>    
>>
>> You know the usage figures?
>>
>> Comparing them to the number of complaint-posts (which are very often
>> depending on the fw-controller in the machine and the kernel-version,
>> not necessarily on the distribution), I can say that firewire on
>> linux might have some percent more problems compared to
>> alsa-supported-pci-devices. But that is because the user base of alsa
>> is far wider and probably the most of the devices in use are probably
>> captured by the ICH?- and AC97-drivers...
>>
>> And its always the guys with the problems speaking up immidiately
>> (even if its not really a problem) but the people where it works only
>> very seldomly speak up. Hint: If your device works well (both
>> firewire and alsa) tell the developers[*]. Consider it a virtual hug.
>> Or hug them in person on this weekends LAC
>>
>> Arnold
>>
>> [*] Also applies to developers of apps you use successfully. ;-)
>>  
>
> Wow, your argumentation is awfully good :). To be honest, there are
> some Linux audio coders I venerate and I'm from Oberhausen the Ruhr
> area - you can call it the same place where LAC will take place - ,
> but regarding to the hug, I'm a little bit autistic, no joke, perhaps
> a handshake should explain my esteem. I guess I won't be able - I
> don't have money - to visit LAC, but I'll try to do. Again, you get me

I guess on English the correct words are, "you cop" or "you catch out"
me, myself and I :).

> , your argument is perfect :).
>
> Full ACK.
>
> Ralf
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Re: OT: High quality USB audio options?

Kaj Ailomaa
In reply to this post by Ed Wildgoose-2

>
> Wow, that's a bleak situation...  In the setup I was designing I need
> my single expansion slot on the itx board - may need to look at
> mini-atx instead.


Usb does seem bleak. Alsa supports mainly stereo usb devices. The only
devices I have tried are M-Audio FastTrack, stereo (which works fine)
and M-Audio Quattro, 4 channel I/O (which only works in stereo mode with
44.1 kHz by default). There were some postings about yet another M-Audio
device on the alsa-user-list; the Fast Track Ultra, 8 I/O, just a few
weeks ago (doesn't seem fully supported though):

http://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/forum.php?thread_name=s2t4a74a3ad1004241058kaddef401yc5982b2288dd9aa4%40mail.gmail.com&forum_name=alsa-user

I am currently trying to find a solution with a portable computer and an
external audio device. The only viable solution for me seems to be firewire.
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