Audio Interfaces/Sound Cards for MIDI Controllers - Working Live

This post has been a long time coming. My sincere apologies to Vilhelm to whom I promised this post and then got delayed two weeks over what I said. Anyway, better late than than never I guess!

So the idea for this post and inspiration was given to me by a reader called Vilhelm. He brought up the topic saying that there really wasn't that much info on the internet about which audio interfaces/sound cards can be used with MIDI Controllers that lack built-in sound.

Now theoretically, you can actually go ahead and use any damn audio interface you want. Anything that floats your boat that gets the job done is the right one to use. But there are some that work better than others and in this post I am going to focus on the the controllers I would choose for working live.

The reason why I am choosing live situations is because – a)That's what got me in to MIDI Controllers in the first place and b)It is often the situation where people want to know which ones are the most suitable.

If you are solo performer things will be that much simpler. However, if you decide to hook up for some live PA action – that is where problems begin. DJs do not have this problem though. They will just plug in to the same Mixer and be done with. But if you are a modern DJ who uses a laptop and a controller, hooking up might be confusing. For this, I find the best solution is to either hook up to the same analogue mixer and output from their or use an audio interface that has robust I/O and routing capabilities.

For now, here are some of the smaller audio interfaces that can used in Live situations (i.e. with laptops). Most of them are meant for recording situations but they have the requisite I/Os and dedicated monitoring capabilities to work for live situations. All of the images link to their product pages where you can get more detailed information about them and also find some user reviews and ratings.

Apogee Duet FireWire Interface


My first option would be the Apogee Duet for simple and high quality audio interface. Although it is meant for recording, it can be translated in to live performance. It has balanced and unbalanced inputs. Two outputs for powered speakers and also headphone monitoring. You will be losing out on the functionality of the knob but you have your MIDI Controller for those works. This is a FireWire 400 audio interface and should be used with a Mac. For new MacBooks, Apogee has a FW800 to FW400 adapter.

Native Instruments AUDIO 4 DJ Interface

Next are the purpose built audio 8 and audio 4 Dj audio interfaces from Native Instruments. These are made for DJs and performers who want pro quality sound. With switchable inputs and cool number of outputs, you will have all your bases covered.

PreSonus Inspire 1394 FireWire Audio Interface ¹


This here is the Presonus Inspire 1394 FireWire audio interface. I am deliberately choosing smaller interfaces so that they are easier to carry (and okay to keep in public view). Presonus has a name for making good quality audio interfaces and this one is a favorite for small start up home and project studios. It has separate headphone and line outs. Works on both OS X and Windows. It has balanced mic inputs as well so you can have someone MC-ing along. This boxes can be daisy-chained, so you can have up to 16 inputs and proportionate outputs with multiple Presonus Inspire boxes.

Behringer U-CONTROL UCA202 USB-Audio Interface


If you want a USB interface for REALLY cheap, you have the Behnringer UControl UCA202 USB audio interface at your disposal. At only $30, you cannot be asking for more than what it already provides. It gives you a pair in and a pair out with separate headphone monitoring (1/4") and it even has digital audio out via the optical S/PDIF out.

Mackie Onyx Satellite Recording Interface Factory B-Stock ¹


This piece from Mackie has been on my radar for quite some time now. Even though Mackie is not primarily known for making audio interfaces, this is a great little piece that will serve double purposes. The Mackie Onyx Satellite is a FireWire Interface that has two parts. The pod and the dock. The idea here is that the pod can be carried along for location work and the dock will stay attached to your studio back home. Why this appeals to me is because for under $200 I can get something that will essentially act as two separate audio interfaces. Once I am done with my live work, I can easily come back to my studio and plug the pod back in, without having to worry about rewiring the entire thing. After all, I do not have the budget to buy two audio interfaces! I am just a poor musician.

Native Instruments AUDIO KONTROL 1 USB 2.0 Audio/MIDI Interface


Since this is the Control MIDI blog and this post is about audio interfaces, I cannot help but mention this nifty little piece from Native Instruments. This is another purpose built audio interface meant for working with software and it incorporates MIDI functionality. So this can act as your secondary controller. It is meant to be used with a few specific apps but since there's MIDI, it is as good as a second MIDI controller waiting to be mapped to your favorite software. It is a FireWire device and works on both Mac and Windows.

Stanton FinalScratch OPEN DJ FireWire Audio Interface ¹


Stanton brings this piece of audio interface goodie that has all the I/Os a digital DJ can ever need. The Stanton Final Scratch Scratchamp is a FireWire Interface and has 2 pairs of output and 2 pairs of input along with 1 pair of auxiliary input and one balanced mic input. That's everything you will ever need onstage. Further more, Stanton advertises this as a system meant for audio apps like Live and MixVibes.

Stanton SCS.1m Digital Mix Controller


This is the second most expensive piece that I am going to mention on this post. This is the Stanton SCS.1m Digital Mix Controller. This amazing piece that has scribble strips, infinite rotary knobs and a four channel setup for one helluva digital DJ-ing experience. It is also a great FireWire audio interface that has been designed for DJs and live performers. This one retails for about $600-800 depending on where you are buying it form.

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And this is just for kicks because most of us mere mortals do not need this kind of power. This by far the most expensive piece on this post. It has amazing Allen&Heath audio quality. The name speaks for itself. It is an interface that has a lot of MIDI control, everything glows under UV and a lot of them are backlit. All in all, if you want to blow about $2800 on some fantastic audio and MIDI gear – this beast is it.

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When it comes to using audio interfaces at home with your MIDI controllers, your choice is completely your choice. It is only restricted by the laptop/desktop that you are using and the amount that you are willing to spend on it. If you any of you guys and gals have suggestions, do drop a line. I will add the thing on the list. Till next time, keep 'em fingers busy! And if you are planning to buy something in the mean time, it is a good time to head over to MusiciansFriend.com. They are are having a grand sale, look below:

Save Up to 90% on Almost Everything at MusiciansFriend.com (exp: 8/31)

  1. gravatar

    # by Vilhelm - August 8, 2009 at 1:07 AM

    Great post as usual. No worries about the delay btw :)
    I just bought the Apogee Duet. :D I understand you´ve got one of those too. The thing is, I have a newer version of the Macbook Pro but no firewire adapter. Can I connect the Duet to my external hard drive and connect my hard drive to my computer. Would I lose sound quality if I do that?
    Thanks!

  2. gravatar

    # by Shailpik - August 8, 2009 at 1:39 AM

    Hey Vilhelm :)

    Well no, I don't actually own the Duet, yet. but I am planning to get it real soon. Just some formalities I need to sort out before getting it.

    As for connecting through the HDD – it will cause tremendous latency. Apogee offers a converter cable, you can look in to that.

    Try this – http://www.apogeedigital.com/store/standard-cables.php

  3. gravatar

    # by Vilhelm - August 8, 2009 at 5:20 PM

    thanks!
    I see that the converter cable is free, so I´ll just order one of those. the Duet is awesome btw. You should look forward to it :)
    /Vilhelm