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Choosing an Audio Interface
The more things change, the more they stay the same; that’s the cliché, right? True at times, but when it comes to the way audio is routed throughout a radio facility, the cliché is wrong. AoIP wasn’t even a dream 15 years ago, and there have been many advancements made as of late in how we get audio in and out of a computer.
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How to choose an audio interface mostly depends on needs. How complex is your audio routing scheme? If a facility simply broadcasts a digital play list all you’ll need is a connection between the hardware that houses the audio files (and hosts the software that helps you compile the play list) and your audio console. Firewire, USB, AES, it doesn’t really matter.
Looking a little deeper, one of the great developments in audio technology has been the democratization of quality converters. It’s no longer necessary to spend tons of cash to get converters that can output digital signals up to 96kHz or even 192kHz. Manufacturers of high-end equipment will tout the design of their input stages and the ability to output a balanced signal over long cable runs, for example, and with good reason. For many real-world applications, however, the most popular audio interfaces at all price points will do a good job.
As for the choice between Firewire, USB or AES connectivity, all of these protocols will deliver audio of equal quality; the robust construction of AES cables (especially when compared to the Alesis ADAT connections that were a popular alternative a decade ago) leads many radio professionals to gravitate toward this format. If you need AES inputs from a piece of equipment that has AES outputs only, and the ability to route an interface to a console via Firewire or USB, purchasing an interface with multiple connections will not bust the bank.
If you're looking for plug-and-go technology, USB interfaces offer convenient options. Yellowtec's PUC2 is a USB-powered sound card with digital and analog audio interfaces. This AES-3 device delivers 24-bit/192kHz performance. It's modular design gives the option to connect to a variety of interfaces, including analog line input/output and a microphone interface.
The US-2000 from Tascam is a 16-input audio interface condensed into 1RU. It features eight studio-grade mic preams, with two mic inputs on the front panel. An additional six balanced 1/4" line inputs are provided, as well as four balanced line outs and stereo digital I/O. This interface comes with Cubase LE4, a 48-track workstation for Mac or PCs.
For laptop users, Tascam's US-800 is a lightweight, multichannel recording interface that offers eight inputs and four outputs. Six XLR mic inputs feature phantom power and 192kHz/24-bit audio converters. It also includes S/PDIF digital audio/MIDI I/O.
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