FireWire or USB? What’s The Best Audio Inteface? Cons & Pros

Main Difference Between FireWire vs USB Audio Interface | Integraudio.com

Today most of the audio interfaces communicate with your computer either through a USB connection or a FireWire connection. But most computers can be upgraded at a very low cost to have FireWire functionality. I did some research to find out what’s the best audio interface for my computer and here’s what I found.

The USB is a commonly used audio interface within the music industry. USB is cheaper to use and implement because almost all devices provide USB support. FireWire is, without a doubt much faster and advanced than USB and still remains the best option for video and audio editing.

Which option is best suited for you? Let us examine what the Firewire and USB audio interfaces are and what are the pros and cons of these two audio interfaces.

What is FireWire?

FireWire is a high-speed real-time interface for the Serial bus used for data transfer between enabled devices.  It offers sustained high speeds of over 3,200 Megabits per second, making it a preferred choice for digital audio/video camcorders, PCs, and home entertainment units.  

FireWire provides a high-speed data transfer between devices. Apple was one of the contributors who created FireWire in 1995. USB, which was developed the following year, was originally supposed to assist Firewire by interconnecting hard disks, audio interfaces, and video equipment.

What is a USB?

The USB Audio Interface stands tall among its peers as the most commonly used audio interface within the music industry.  USB is considered slave technology as it is dependent on another host device to work and transfer data. It needs a computer to manage the network and to send and receive data. USB with decent data rate speeds of 480 Mbps or 60MB per second, become perfect for use with external data storage devices and audio equipment. 

USB permits communication between devices through a host controller like a desktop computer. Although they have similar technologies and functions, there are several differences between USB Audio Interface and FireWire.

Pros & Cons of FireWire

Pros:

  • FireWire devices use a higher bandwidth than USB 2.0. The FireWire 400 and 800 models support high bandwidth speeds of 400MBps and 800MBps, whereas the USB 2.0 is limited to 480MBps. In reality, this can be as low as 280MBps due to design constraints.
  • Speed is where FireWire triumphs over USB. FireWire is incredibly quick, and the later models can process as much as 800Mbps.
  • Due to the greater bandwidth, FireWire can manage more inputs and outputs and maintain stability and good performance.
  • They exchange data using one cable, which minimizes the number of power points and, by extension, the potential for danger. You can also change and sync your devices.
  • FireWire streams data in both directions at the same time.
  • FireWire devices are used solely for audio and video purposes in your computer, so there won’t be any interference from other activities that it is trying to handle.
  • FireWire can cascade or daisy-chain, which means that devices of the same family can connect simultaneously to create even more inputs and outputs without extra wires and adapters. USBs do not have this capability.

Cons

  • FireWire is pricier as you are required to purchase an expansion card which is then inserted into your computer’s motherboard. You will also need to buy the appropriate cables. These cards are easily accessible for desktop PCs but not for laptops. So you can upgrade your computer to have FireWire, but this will involve buying additional hardware.
  • To use FireWire, you must have a supported chipset to operate the device correctly.
  • If your laptop or computer lacks the following slots, Cardbus, PCMCIA, or ExpressCard, there is no way to install FireWire.
  • Additionally, if your PC has no available PCI or PCI Express slots, you would have to remove one device before you could set up your FireWire.

Pros and Cons of USB Audio Interface

Pros

  • All computers have USB support incorporated
  • It is more cost-effective than FireWire because USB is already equipped with USB support.
  • You can find USB quite readily available, whereas not all devices are compatible with FireWire.
  • The newer version of USB (3.1) can reach as high as 10Gbps, making it a worthy competitor. Not only can it handle greater video and audio transactions, but it can also manage an entire
  • Operating System on its external hard drive.
  • USB 2.0 can handle 127 devices
  • It can be used for a range of hardware equipment.

Cons

  • The USB 2.0 can only average a speed of 480 Mbps.
  • Uses packets data which means that the sent packets of data must finish transmitting before the device can receive more data. This can be slower than FireWire.
  • Unlike FireWire, USB devices cannot be connected to form daisy chains.
  • USB Interfaces struggle to maintain an uninterrupted connection. If you are transferring large batches of data, then FireWire might be the more reliable choice.
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 2nd gen - Main Difference Between FireWire vs USB Audio Interface | Integraudio.com
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 2nd gen – (Source)

FireWire Features

  • A Plug and Socket Connector – this has the capacity for as many as 63 devices. It also has a data transfer rate speed of 400 Mbps.
  • Peer-to-Peer Communication – It does not need a CPU (Central Processing Unit) in a computer for audio devices to be connected.
  • Plug-and-Play Support – This technology is nifty because as soon as a device is connected, its settings are automatically identified and configured without needing to reboot your entire computer.
  • Hot Swapping Support – Hot Swapping is when you can exchange or replace one of the components without shutting down the system to load your settings.

USB Features

  • 3D Spatial Imaging – 3D Spatial imaging on a USB sound card creates amplification equivalent to the level of a recital hall or an auditorium. They are not only valid for video game sound effects.
  • Surround Sound – A good quality USB sound card paired with decent speakers can deliver outstanding audio results from your computer. Creative Lab’s X-Fi Xtreme sound card can have the effect of Dolby Digital Surround sound 7.1.
  • MP3 Encoding – Certain USB Audio Interfaces have MP3 Encoding support built-in. This feature is advantageous because it lowers the stress on your computer’s processor. With this digital feature, your PC does not have to perform the strenuous task of reading and playing your MP3 files. This will alleviate the pressure on your processing unit, ultimately freeing up space for it to perform better at other tasks and resources.
  • SP/DIF Ports – A Sony/Philips Digital Interface port facilitates digital audio signal transfers from different devices. If you are concerned about corrupting the quality of your audio, this will help as it does not convert them to an analog signal before a connection can occur. SP/DIF Ports are helpful if you set up your PC to a home theatre system. They will generally provide excellent sound.
FireWire vs USB? | Audio Interfaces

FireWire 800 VS USB. 3.0 Which is better?

FireWire 800 doubled the capabilities of the original technology. It supports several new cables and increases the distance of connections possible. Alternatively, USB 3.0 or Superspeed USB is supposed to achieve a commendable 5Gbps. However, in all likelihood, this is closer to 3.2Gbps. This speed is still ten times faster than USB 2.0. USB 3.1 and 3.2 are already in motion to be manufactured, which will raise the bar further. It has a higher performance, capacity, and better power balance than USB 2.0. FireWire.

 

The takeaway

If you want to record sound from the comfort of your home, then the USB Audio Interface is the cheaper, more readily available option. It has an external device that has several outputs for auxiliary connection to speakers and headphones. On the other hand, if you are a professional audio editor, a recording company, or someone who needs to grapple with high volumes of audio and video, FireWire is a better choice for you. Regarding professional video and audio editing, FireWire is the more superior option as it is faster and more advanced.

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