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Is Thunderbolt gratuitous for an audio interface?
Old 24th February 2017
  #1
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vitamins's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Is Thunderbolt gratuitous for an audio interface?

Thunderbolt interfaces are almost always significantly more expensive than their counterparts. Thus, I am trying to determine if this cost is worth it.

Is there any real difference in functionality between a Thunderbolt interface and a USB 2.0 or FireWire interface? While Thunderbolt technically offers a lower latency, is this difference even perceptible in practice?

Is Thunderbolt in an audio interface mostly a gimmick designed to make consumers think an interface is cutting-edge and in some way superior? Or does Thunderbolt really offer tangible benefits?
Old 24th February 2017
  #2
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ScottBrio's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
It's definitely capable, but I tend to shy away from any connector Apple is pushing, especially after firewire.
Old 24th February 2017
  #3
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pentagon's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Thunderbolt is only important if you are working with large amounts of bandwidth. Greater than 64 I/O (more than 128 channels total) for 44.1k/48k. 1/2 the channel count if going double the sample rate (etc). If there's DSP info being passed it will play into using the bandwidth so there's an exchange in lowering channels. But in the end it is more about bandwidth than latency. And USB3 can cover much the same for cheaper.

Otherwise for lower channel counts, USB2 can do the work. Low channel count stuff with a Thunderbolt is a gimmick. I would avoid FireWire, though, because it is a dead format.
Old 24th February 2017
  #4
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chrismeraz's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I am happy with my FireWire setup, so I would recommend that if cost is important to you. I will not be able to scale it up very much from the number of track counts that I have now (usually mixing less than 24 tracks at 96kHz with the FireWire Apollo), but it just depends on what your plans are for the future. I'd go with FireWire now, as you will probably want to change your interface anyway within a few years, as you figure out more precisely what your needs are and as new products emerge.
Old 24th February 2017
  #5
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by vitamins ➑️
Thunderbolt interfaces are almost always significantly more expensive than their counterparts. Thus, I am trying to determine if this cost is worth it.

Is there any real difference in functionality between a Thunderbolt interface and a USB 2.0 or FireWire interface? While Thunderbolt technically offers a lower latency, is this difference even perceptible in practice?

Is Thunderbolt in an audio interface mostly a gimmick designed to make consumers think an interface is cutting-edge and in some way superior? Or does Thunderbolt really offer tangible benefits?
Well that generic questionnaire is recurring there almost every week and doesn't really make much sense IMO.. a there is already tons of post about it.
It's always important to put that in the context of particular rig and then compare exiting interfaces, alternatives.
Considering budget, whether one would purchase new or used, I/O and performance needs and other gear.

Thunderbolt, regardless of what's Apple is "pushing", is only current computer external interface, which is able to encapsulate PCIe communication with all of its characteristics and features.. If particular driver and are hardware well designed, than it will be always bit more efficient than USB for example.
I've mentioned it many times.. USB 3.0 is just that gimmick IMO, unless you have so much channels (regardless it's some external I/O or channels to some DSP processors at interface), which doesn't fit to 2.0 bandwidth. But TB is fundamentally different, because it offers DMA to hardware buffers.

If that difference will be so important for you, is hard to tell generally of course. Computer bus used by your interface is just one piece in puzzle.. everyone has slightly different project and workflow.. etc.
But if you want highest efficiency and most headroom for your native processing, then pick either PCIe or TB interface with good drivers.

Firewire was good and if you have (or can buy used) some good interface with it, you can still use it at any computer thanks to either PCIe or TB adapters.. with the exception of most current PC notebooks, which doesn't have Expresscard slots nor TB.
However currently, it's thing of past.. it worked for well over decade, but it was naturally superseded by TB, which offers lot of advantages as generic high performance bus.. not just for audio interfaces, but also for storage, imaging devices, network adapters, external GPUs etc.
So except of those legacy audio interfaces, it's very unlike, vendors will introduce anything new with FW.

Michal
Old 25th February 2017
  #6
Deleted 46dc28f
Guest
Apparently Apple doesn't think so. RIP, DongleBook Pro.
Old 25th February 2017
  #7
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norbury brook's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
there are so many great USB2/3 options there no need for 99% of people here to use TB unless they're working primarily on a MAC laptop. TB is external PCIe, most of us who aren't tied to Apple and don't need to sit in a coffee shop with our DAW have internal PCIe, have had , and will have for years. So to answer your question; no it's not needed at all unless you fir into one of the above categories.



MC
Old 25th February 2017
  #8
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pulsar modular's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
What if I use a Mac and want to sit in a coffee shop with my DAW, do I need TB?
Old 26th February 2017
  #9
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🎧 10 years
Thunderbolt can potentially offer better low latency performance than any USB interface because the connection to the CPU is comparable to PCIe. Those who are satisfied with the LLP of current USB devices are unlikely to benefit from TB. However, for those seeking the best possible LLP with an external interface, TB is a worth considering.
Old 26th February 2017 | Show parent
  #10
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by pulsar modular ➑️
What if I use a Mac and want to sit in a coffee shop with my DAW, do I need TB?
Only if you don't want the other Mac users with TB sneering at you.
Old 26th February 2017 | Show parent
  #11
Gear Head
 
vitamins's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by pentagon ➑️
Thunderbolt is only important if you are working with large amounts of bandwidth. Greater than 64 I/O (more than 128 channels total) for 44.1k/48k. 1/2 the channel count if going double the sample rate (etc). If there's DSP info being passed it will play into using the bandwidth so there's an exchange in lowering channels. But in the end it is more about bandwidth than latency. And USB3 can cover much the same for cheaper.

Otherwise for lower channel counts, USB2 can do the work. Low channel count stuff with a Thunderbolt is a gimmick.
Is, something like the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre, for example, a gimmick?
Old 26th February 2017 | Show parent
  #12
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by vitamins ➑️
Is, something like the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre, for example, a gimmick?
No, not a gimmick. The Claretts are high quality, low latency, interfaces with above average specifications and audio performance. IMO, Thunderbolt offers much better potential for audio going forward than USB. Again, high performance Thunderbolt interfaces are probably not worthwhile for those satisfied with the performance of existing USB units, but are worth considering for many others who seek an external interface with excellent low latency performance.
Old 26th February 2017 | Show parent
  #13
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pentagon's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by vitamins ➑️
Is, something like the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre, for example, a gimmick?
Gimmick.
Just taking their numbers against a quick test on a Babyface Pro (USB2) interface.

Logic Pro X

Clarett @ 96kHz, 32 buffer, they have RTL at 1.67ms
https://global.focusrite.com/clarett...ndtrip-latency

Logic Pro X
Babyface Pro @ 96kHz, 32 buffer, I have RTL at 1.5ms
Old 26th February 2017
  #14
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pentagon's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
It is possible to have a lower RTL with thunderbolt but once again, it depends on implementation. And as you can see, the Clarett doesn't have a good one (but also a bargain interface.)
And the real bonus is bandwidth for large channel counts with Thunderbolt. But there's always a new connector/speed around the corner (USB3.1 gen2 and USB-C for Thunderbolt3, etc.)

Is the ms level we're talking about noticeable? nope. So gimmick.
Old 26th February 2017 | Show parent
  #15
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by pentagon ➑️
It is possible to have a lower RTL with thunderbolt but once again, it depends on implementation. And as you can see, the Clarett doesn't have a good one (but also a bargain interface.)
And the real bonus is bandwidth for large channel counts with Thunderbolt. But there's always a new connector/speed around the corner (USB3.1 gen2 and USB-C for Thunderbolt3, etc.)

Is the ms level we're talking about noticeable? nope. So gimmick.
The Claretts have excellent LLP on Mac. Although I'm still waiting for proper testing, I've heard that the Claretts are very stable under load even though the latency is not quite as low using Windows (but still above average); the drivers are still in beta, so Windows performance may yet improve. My impression is that the hardware punches above its weight (good quality preamps, converters), but the drivers still need work. I'd say that the Presonus Studio 192 is more of a gimmick, using USB3.0, yet has well below average LLP. The difference in usable latency between the two is huge.
Old 7th September 2017
  #16
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Do Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces require software drivers or are they class compliant like some USB audio interfaces?
Old 7th September 2017 | Show parent
  #17
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ChrisLudwig's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Keyote ➑️
Do Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces require software drivers or are they class compliant like some USB audio interfaces?
They require drivers
Old 7th September 2017
  #18
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login's Avatar
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
RME gets USB audio quite right, and they only use TB/USB3 when really needed: 64 or more channels in their MADI face line.

RME still uses USB2.0 with their interfaces that have 32 inputs. So yeah, TB is not required unless you need high channel counts.
Old 7th September 2017 | Show parent
  #19
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by login ➑️
RME gets USB audio quite right, and they only use TB/USB3 when really needed: 64 or more channels in their MADI face line.

RME still uses USB2.0 with their interfaces that have 32 inputs. So yeah, TB is not required unless you need high channel counts.
Or if you want a whole bunch of other goodies such as those found on, say the Presonus Quantum. Which include...

1. shortest latency according to Takfat's comments on his thread within the past few days ..numbers that rival anything RME has been able to do..... with no dsp in the circuitry etc.....(a big statement from Takfat as far as I can determine.... I sometimes think he owns rme). I haven't checked one out myself yet, but will.

2.Planet earth's absolutely loudest headphone monitoring... for those of us who have been screaming for high-power headphone amps inside interfaces. The amps are 150mw as opposed to the normally-found 18mw.

3. Word clock i/o for extensive sync

4. Adat i/o

5. Vast array of setup choices for inst in...line i/o....mic pre i/o... bypasses pres where you'd want it.

6 100 billion channels of audio (if you want that in the interface you buy today and plan to use for the next 8 years or so where you may eventually need 100 billion channels).... note I made 100 billion up cuz I forget what the Presonus numbers are... but they are very generous.

7. Talkback, dim, mono buttons etc on the interface itself

8. Other features that escape me at the moment.

So there's one TB interface you may want to at least read up on. Aside from Takfat's stellar words for the unit, there are a lot of groovy things there as far as I can see.
Old 8th September 2017 | Show parent
  #20
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by vitamins ➑️
Is, something like the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre, for example, a gimmick?
From my experience its no gimmick. The low latency is a plus, but its the stability that blows me away. I use Logic on a MacBook Pro that is running lots of background tasks besides my DAW and I have never experience any hiccups or audio glitches.

I think there is something special about the PCI level TB based drivers on MacOS. But I'm not sure if Windows systems have the same degree of stability with the current generation of TB drivers.
Old 8th September 2017 | Show parent
  #21
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by ScottBrio ➑️
It's definitely capable, but I tend to shy away from any connector Apple is pushing, especially after firewire.
That just doesn't make sense. FireWire was available in 97 and in all mac pros from 99.
That's 14 years as a port on 90% of their computers and it still works now with a thunderbolt adapter.

But back to the OP.....

Thunderbolt makes sense for audio in the same way that PCIe SSD drives make sense.
So if you have huge channel counts with loads of live inputs plus playback and record simultaneously then TB is a clear winner.

If you are running an 8x8 interface and low latency is not an issue then by all means go USB.

On a side note, the price of TB being so much more expensive than USB is solely down to INTEL and not Apple.
Old 8th September 2017
  #22
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3 Reviews written
🎧 15 years
I think you will also find this split along Mac/PC lines as well. On Mac - I have been using TB for 5+ years - rock solid performance - lowest latency period (for an external connection). Would never want to go back to FW or USB. I believe the PC TB solutions have been much more problematic.
Old 8th September 2017
  #23
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by ADKChris ➑️
Quote:
Originally Posted by Keyote ➑️
Do Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces require software drivers or are they class compliant like some USB audio interfaces?
They require drivers
Thanks!
Old 8th September 2017 | Show parent
  #24
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by DannyMac ➑️
That just doesn't make sense. FireWire was available in 97 and in all mac pros from 99.
That's 14 years as a port on 90% of their computers and it still works now with a thunderbolt adapter.
Firewire was a complete success for its run. Being native to the OS was not something Windows had an advantage of. Windows apps had to have their own drivers written, which some developers were either not motivated to create or were not able to write solid ones. In addition to MS being as unhelpful as they could be, same as Apple having awful USB performance because they wanted people to not regard it as a port for use other than peripherals. Both can be blamed for not supporting both FW and USB to their potential while 2.0 was still the USB standard.

I would say Apple screwed up worse on the release of Thunderbolt 1 & 2 on its way to 3. Although Intel is indeed responsible for it beyond birthing it with Apple (such selective early licensing being their big misstep), Apple gave it as much of a push as it did their computers in general and failed to show their average user why they should care about T-bol. As a result it was largely misunderstood and ignored by everyone except power users for many years, a real lost opportunity. And now FINALLY, at v3, Intel has pretty much admitted it blew it and has made it royalty free for manufacturers. Plus it's fully an Intel development from 3 onward, so hopefully it will have its place as a "good thing to have on any computer" that it didn't have for so long.
Old 8th September 2017
  #25
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
Agreed. I quite like the ThunderBolt concept. And I look forward to having ThunderBolt 3 fully integrated into the CPU and having lots of high-performance TB3 devices to choose from. Still waiting for the first consumer TB3 interface to be released.

But... I'm not so bullish this will happen based on Intel's "suboptimal" multi-year rollout of TB1, TB2, TB3, the dearth of working TB3 products, issues with TB products on the market, confusing external converters, etc.

Last year, I spent a lot of money on a top-tier laptop partly because of the speedy TB3 port. Dell and Intel tricked a few of us when they secretly gave installed a crippled low-power TB3 port. Dell has confessed to the deed but in cryptic language the average consumer has no way of appreciating.

So I don't think the ThunderBolt concept is gratuitous. But, if history is any indicator in the rapidly evolving tech world, the long-winded, botched rollout create market headwinds that will be difficult to overcome.
Old 9th June 2018
  #26
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
Is Thunderbolt going to be like Firewire in the next years? Isn't the Usb 3 way more future proofing? I am still using my old Firewire interface. My pc and my laptop have both intergrated firewire ports and usb 2.0 ports. So when I thing of upgrading my stuff to thunderbolt or Usb 3.0 I will have to buy a new pc and a new laptop because the manufactures, for e.g. uad doesnt accept running their products through pcie to thunderbolt or usb adapters. In my opinion the dilemma of choosing is not only latency. Thunderbolt has the ability to deliver more power to the interface than usb 2.0 or 3.0. I have red about people having problems connecting condenser microphones with phantom power on usb 2.0 interfaces because the power that was delivered to the microphone was very low. I thing that most of these interfaces have no external power supply. The latency is greater in usb because of the controller that sits between the cpu, pci bus and the device and the way it handles the data packages. The other question is that how well thunderbolt is going to work on windows platform? And if manufacturers abandon thunderbolt in the next years, isn't better to stick with usb? Having a usb audio interface you will be able to connect it to any computer in the market and it will be more future proofing, but then you loose the benefits of thunderbolt.
Old 31st August 2018 | Show parent
  #27
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by pentagon ➑️
It is possible to have a lower RTL with thunderbolt but once again, it depends on implementation. And as you can see, the Clarett doesn't have a good one (but also a bargain interface.)
And the real bonus is bandwidth for large channel counts with Thunderbolt. But there's always a new connector/speed around the corner (USB3.1 gen2 and USB-C for Thunderbolt3, etc.)

Is the ms level we're talking about noticeable? nope. So gimmick.
I don't understand, how is less than 2ms RTL not good latency?
Old 1st September 2018 | Show parent
  #28
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Monkey Man's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by pentagon ➑️
Thunderbolt is only important if you are working with large amounts of bandwidth. Greater than 64 I/O (more than 128 channels total) for 44.1k/48k. 1/2 the channel count if going double the sample rate (etc). If there's DSP info being passed it will play into using the bandwidth so there's an exchange in lowering channels. But in the end it is more about bandwidth than latency. And USB3 can cover much the same for cheaper.

Otherwise for lower channel counts, USB2 can do the work. Low channel count stuff with a Thunderbolt is a gimmick. I would avoid FireWire, though, because it is a dead format.
Agree 100%, mate.
Old 2nd September 2018 | Show parent
  #29
Gear Head
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle ➑️
Or if you want a whole bunch of other goodies such as those found on, say the Presonus Quantum. Which include...

1. shortest latency according to Takfat's comments on his thread within the past few days ..numbers that rival anything RME has been able to do..... with no dsp in the circuitry etc.....(a big statement from Takfat as far as I can determine.... I sometimes think he owns rme). I haven't checked one out myself yet, but will.

2.Planet earth's absolutely loudest headphone monitoring... for those of us who have been screaming for high-power headphone amps inside interfaces. The amps are 150mw as opposed to the normally-found 18mw.

3. Word clock i/o for extensive sync

4. Adat i/o

5. Vast array of setup choices for inst in...line i/o....mic pre i/o... bypasses pres where you'd want it.

6 100 billion channels of audio (if you want that in the interface you buy today and plan to use for the next 8 years or so where you may eventually need 100 billion channels).... note I made 100 billion up cuz I forget what the Presonus numbers are... but they are very generous.

7. Talkback, dim, mono buttons etc on the interface itself

8. Other features that escape me at the moment.

So there's one TB interface you may want to at least read up on. Aside from Takfat's stellar words for the unit, there are a lot of groovy things there as far as I can see.
I've been looking at this one as a possible upgrade from the Clarett 4pre. Do you think I would notice a change in quality (good or bad) in the AD conversion?
Old 2nd September 2018 | Show parent
  #30
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by wuliwong ➑️
I don't understand, how is less than 2ms RTL not good latency?
It is not good latency if you never experienced it.
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