Some people think that they should be looking for a USB 3.0 audio interface, instead of the standard USB 2.0 models - but I disagree.
[ RME Madiface XT Audio Interface ]
I've seen comments in forums where some musicians think that USB 3.0 will allow them faster transfer rates or let them record on more channels simultaneously - someone even brought the issue up here.
The fact is that USB 3.0 doesn't offer any practical advantage over USB 2.0 for recording music - and here's why:
USB 2.0 Has More Than Enough Bandwidth For Audio Recording
Let's consider a single channel of audio at the high sampling rate of 192kHz at 24 bits per sample (that's basically the highest rate of high-end audio interfaces).
That means we have 192,000 samples per second (I'll write 'per second' as '/s' for the rest of this article) with each one using 24 bits.
This equates to 192,000 x 24 = 4,608,000 bits of data to be transferred every second for a single channel of audio.
That's equal to 4.4 Mbit/s (I've rounded it up by approximately 0.01).
USB 2.0 can transfer 480 Mbit/s but has an effective throughput of 280 Mbit/s due to the overhead of the transfer protocols. This is the equivalent of over 63 channels of audio at the highest sample rate and greatest bit depth of the audio interfaces and DAWs currently available (280 / 4.4 = 63.63).
USB 3.0 can transfer a whopping 5 Gbit/s, or to put it another way, it has more than 10 times the bandwidth of USB 2.0 (5 Gbit/s = 5,120 Mbit/s).
So given that the possibility of having over 60 channels on USB 2.0 already already exists, a number of channels which is overkill for just about any home recording setup (and most professional studios), then there's really no current need for an audio interface to use USB 3.0 in terms of how many channels you can record or play back.
If you really want to, you can spend over $2,700 to buy RME's Madiface XT (pictured above) which runs on USB 3.0 and can handle up to 196 channels, but if you're like most of us, you won't have a need for it.
For more information see:
- Wikipedia's explanation of USB
- Audioadatper.net's Audio Interface Comparison Chart
- Apogee explains why they don't use USB 3.0
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