USB vs Firewire

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User offline. Last seen 7 years 50 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2009-01-04

Hi Everyone,

I am new to this forum and audio recording in general. However I am excited that I found out about Ardour and hope to some day be able to contribute to the community.

So I would like to start doing some home recording. As I understand it I need to purchase an audio interface. After doing some research about this it seems like there are two major types of interfaces: USB and Firewire (I have also seen PCI mentioned, please feel free to share anything you know). My initial understanding is that Firewire seems to be the most preferred. However, I am not sure if thats true, and if so why.

Could someone explain to me whether either USB or Firewire is superior to the other for audio recording, and if so why? I have heard that USB transfers data in spurts, and can't always maintain its advertised speed. That doesn't seem ideal for recording audio. However maybe their isn't a difference.

Any help is greatly appreciated. The type of interface I buy will determine the Mac laptop I buy. I would like to get a MacBook, but they don't have Firewire. If Firewire is definitely necessary then I will pay more for a MB Pro, but I would like to know for sure first.

Thank you!


dahnielson's picture
User offline. Last seen 29 weeks 6 days ago. Offline
Joined: 2008-01-22

FireWire is what you should choose. Only USB1 is class compatible (will work under GNU/Linux without a special driver) but can only support a simple stereo channel. USB2 devices can support more, but there are simply no drivers for those devices yet.

Also there's a big difference between USB 2.0 and FireWire. The USB protocol was designed to be fairly simple and cheap component wise why it need the CPU to help it out. That is not a big problem for most applications and devices the protocol was designed/envisioned for -- but far from ideal for high performance applications.

The FireWire protocol on the other hand do not require any help from the CPU and will mind it's own business.

So check out the FireWire decives supported by FFADO or consider a PCI audio interface (like one from the M-AUDIO Delta series).

User offline. Last seen 4 years 13 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2007-08-03

there's a 3rd option for laptop without firewire : the PCMCIA cardbus interface.
If you are fortunate enough (aka rich), you can get an RME cardbus interface that you can connect to a Multiface II external IO box :

see the interface here:

see the multiface II here:

The two are connected via a firewire cable but RME uses its own proorietary protocol for data transfer. ALSA in linux provides a driver for this system that is excellent. But if you go OSX, I am sure RME provides drivers for its products.

Quite many ppl are using this laptop configuration. And the quality of the multiface IO box is excellent. But again, it is a bit pricey. Also depends on you needs (number of IOs, sample rate, bit depth, latency).

If you have a desktop, it is to be connected to a PCI or PCIe card called Hammerfall DSP.