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Can Helix be used as a serious Audio Interface?

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Hi,

 

What kind of quality (and usability) can I expect from the Helix? As an audio interface, would it compare, in terms of sound quality, to a RME or Focusrite Clarett? My guess is, that guitar-wise it would but microphone-wise it would be behind a 'real' interface (more noise, more latency). Can you prove me wrong?

 

When it comes to handling, switching between different outputs (i.e. 2 sets of active speakers); is that easy and quick? Can the volume be adjusted really quickly?

 

P.S.

My idea is to replace a RME Babyface Pro with a Helix.

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"Can you prove me wrong?"

 

Want proof?

 

Buy a Helix. Compare it to your Babyface. If you like it, sell the Babyface.

If you don't like it, return it!

 

THAT'S the ONLY proof that matters!

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Hi,

 

What kind of quality (and usability) can I expect from the Helix? As an audio interface, would it compare, in terms of sound quality, to a RME or Focusrite Clarett? My guess is, that guitar-wise it would but microphone-wise it would be behind a 'real' interface (more noise, more latency). Can you prove me wrong?

 

When it comes to handling, switching between different outputs (i.e. 2 sets of active speakers); is that easy and quick? Can the volume be adjusted really quickly?

 

P.S.

My idea is to replace a RME Babyface Pro with a Helix.

 

My experience with the Helix as an audio interface is underwhelming. I was getting a c.4ms roundtrip latency with my Mackie Onyx Blackjack. The Helix gives me 10+ms roundtrip latency.

 

I couldn't make a call on the quality, but the numbers didn't lie.

 

I should add that the Helix is a monster modeler and effects unit regardless!

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I haven't measured the latency because I always use direct monitoring with it, as I suspect most people would. As far as the mic preamp, it's the same as the preamps in the StageScape M20d mixer, and it's not noisy at all. I certainly can't complain about it as an interface.

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My experience with the Helix as an audio interface is underwhelming. I was getting a c.4ms roundtrip latency with my Mackie Onyx Blackjack. The Helix gives me 10+ms roundtrip latency.

 

I couldn't make a call on the quality, but the numbers didn't lie.

 

I should add that the Helix is a monster modeler and effects unit regardless!

Latency in regards to what? You can set-up an effects chain in Helix and then record dry with direct monitoring and have no latency in what you're hearing, then reamp your tracks back through your effects chain or do your effects ITB after the fact?

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Latency matters using Helix (or any other) as an Audio Interface for Softsynths like Omnisphere or Serum. Or Drum tracks using Addictive Drums or BFD software. When you hit the note on a midi keyboard you want to hear the note, immediately. True Audio Interfaces worth their own salt are not just about playing guitar thru it onto a Cakewalk audio track.  ;)

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Latency in regards to what? You can set-up an effects chain in Helix and then record dry with direct monitoring and have no latency in what you're hearing, then reamp your tracks back through your effects chain or do your effects ITB after the fact?

 

Pure I/O latency from the driver. 

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Can you prove me wrong?

 

 

Ok.. I know I'm old and grumpy.. but when did this become "a thing?" I've seen it now few times on here... and it just seems like such a jerky way to ask a question or try to get answers.

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Pure I/O latency from the driver. 

So you mean if you're monitoring through your DAW? I guess for my use, it hasn't been any issue because I can't see any reason to monitor through the DAW instead of direct off the Helix. I'm having a hard time seeing where it would be necessary, even if you're going to use ITB effects on the final track.

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So you mean if you're monitoring through your DAW? I guess for my use, it hasn't been any issue because I can't see any reason to monitor through the DAW instead of direct off the Helix. I'm having a hard time seeing where it would be necessary, even if you're going to use ITB effects on the final track.

 

If the OP wanted to bypass the DSP in the Helix and use it purely as an Audio Interface - perhaps to use an ampsim like Scuffham Amps - then he'd want to monitor in realtime

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Latency: Actually I thought that latency would be too high with software monitoring. And it might be. But then, software monitoring wouldn't make sense with the onboard effects and the D.I.-out possibility.

 

My theoretical impression from the above comments is, that a 'serious' audio interface will produce a better sound in combination with a microphone. For guitar sounds a direct (and DI) recording straight from the Helix might just be the best way.

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If the OP wanted to bypass the DSP in the Helix and use it purely as an Audio Interface - perhaps to use an ampsim like Scuffham Amps - then he'd want to monitor in realtime

Yeah, I get that. What I'm saying is, if tracking latency is an issue, its pretty easy to monitor with a full tone off the Helix and record a dry track you can process with whatever software you want. If you're talking about just using it as an input to play/jam through software, Helix seems like hardware overkill anyways. And wouldn't the machine's processor/RAM dictate the ITB latency, anyways? 

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Latency: Actually I thought that latency would be too high with software monitoring. And it might be. But then, software monitoring wouldn't make sense with the onboard effects and the D.I.-out possibility.My theoretical impression from the above comments is, that a 'serious' audio interface will produce a better sound in combination with a microphone. For guitar sounds a direct (and DI) recording straight from the Helix might just be the best way.

I actually don't think you'd see any significant improvement with any other interface when comparing the mic input, really. I mean if you want to use a specific preamp, which isn't uncommon, you can just plug that into the Helix and bypass its onboard preamp. I think where the Helix is more limited compared to dedicated interfaces is the ability to record and directly monitor a bunch of channels at once.

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I don't think the latency is much of any problem, since there are ways to use Helix direct (even if you are recording dry tracks) that are simply fabulous.

 

The real question is I/O quality and flexibility. For quality, it is good enough that I no longer use any other interface (I was using a MOTU Ultralite MK III that I liked very much) for bass, guitar or mic. 

 

For flexibility, as long as you are one guy doing one instrument at a time, I think it's great. Also, I've done 3 stereo tracks of simultaneous recording a LOT with zero problems with throughput.

 

If you are recording a full band, obviously, it's the wrong tool for the job.

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Yeah, I get that. What I'm saying is, if tracking latency is an issue, its pretty easy to monitor with a full tone off the Helix and record a dry track you can process with whatever software you want. If you're talking about just using it as an input to play/jam through software, Helix seems like hardware overkill anyways. And wouldn't the machine's processor/RAM dictate the ITB latency, anyways? 

 

Sure, a Helix is overkill for an Audio Interface when you can get a Scarlet for $100.

 

I was replying to the OP's question which was "Can Helix be used as a serious Audio Interface?" - you're right to point out that latency isn't much of an issue - I thought I'd mention it though.

 

WRT Latency - sure the PC has a major part to play in total roundtrip latency, however as I mentioned earlier the Helix gives me almost twice as much latency as my old $100 Mackie interface using the same PC/software.*

 

*Caveat - I haven't tried it since the early driver - perhaps this has improved

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That is an important point right there.

If you are buying this product MAINLY to use as a primary studio recording interface, imho that is crazy.

If you are buying this product to use as a guitar processor and also to use as an interface in addition, that's totally I think what it's designed for.

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Rupert Neve-design heritage preamps on the Clarett combine with Thunderbolt speed makes it a no-brainer. Aside from the fact that, unless you're only ever going to be using a single mic at a time, there's smply not enough I/O for it to be a serious audio interface. When you're recording, you need tools that simply get out of your way and let you focus on the creative process, not tools that you constantly have to figure out how to work around their limitations. 

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...unless you're only ever going to be using a single mic at a time, there's smply not enough I/O for it to be a serious audio interface. When you're recording, you need tools that simply get out of your way and let you focus on the creative process, not tools that you constantly have to figure out how to work around their limitations. 

 

 

This is so true. My own recording that I do is just me, doing one instrument (but sometimes multiple tracks - acoustic + electric + schmaltz or second amp) at a time. Go much beyond that and I think you need a serious interface.

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So far as I've experienced, transparent A/D converters are pretty much a commodity nowadays, and the difference between low and high end has become smaller and smaller.

 

If using the same outboard preamp, I'd be surprised if any of us could pass a level-matched blind ABX test comparing any two post-2012, over-$100 audio interfaces. Even preamps are a really subtle difference when compared to mic choice, mic positioning, room acoustics, mix choices, effects settings, etc., etc.

 

The Helix converters are extremely low noise - I seem to remember hearing that they use a clever technique involving two converters on one signal at the same time to drop the noise floor several dB lower than usual. The Helix mic preamp is clean and neutral and I have no complaints about its sound quality.

 

As others have mentioned above, latency (if using software monitoring) and number of ins/outs are the main things to consider in my opinion.

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Personally, I wish they had used the extra memory space and hardware space for MORE guitar stuff versus an audio interface with a really good guitar processor included, in the first place. But that's just me. As always YMMV.

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I use a Focusrite 18i20 USB into a 7th gen i7 HP laptop with 16gb, Sonar Platinum DAW.

 

Round Trip Latency is 13.1ms, 44.1/128.

 

Just for kicks I switched to the Helix driver. RT Latency went to 22.8ms.

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So far as I've experienced, transparent A/D converters are pretty much a commodity nowadays, and the difference between low and high end has become smaller and smaller.

 

If using the same outboard preamp, I'd be surprised if any of us could pass a level-matched blind ABX test comparing any two post-2012, over-$100 audio interfaces. Even preamps are a really subtle difference when compared to mic choice, mic positioning, room acoustics, mix choices, effects settings, etc., etc.

 

The Helix converters are extremely low noise - I seem to remember hearing that they use a clever technique involving two converters on one signal at the same time to drop the noise floor several dB lower than usual. The Helix mic preamp is clean and neutral and I have no complaints about its sound quality.

 

As others have mentioned above, latency (if using software monitoring) and number of ins/outs are the main things to consider in my opinion.

 

This is my experience too. The preamps and converters these days are so linear with noise floors below the input signal (assuming you gain stage correctly). Latency is the main difference, and that is usually a driver related thing.

 

If the Helix is using the dual input ADC method, then it is probably the same method that Yamaha used in their Magicstomp and other products. This was a common method in the '80s and '90s before the days of commodity high bit depth sigma delta converters, especially for instrumentation systems and industrial controls. The principle is to connect two (or more) ADCs to the same input, with the 'secondary' ADC taking the input from a low noise preamp set to a fixed gain (eg. +12dB, -12dB if looking at large signals, or even have the primary at +6dB and the secondary at -6dB). The firmware in the microcontroller/DSP then chooses the sample from the converter with the highest value that isn't clipping (+ other tweaks based on hysteresis around the crossover point(s)). This maximises dynamic range without artefacts when sudden transients appear. Analog gain trimming and/or digital calibration is used to avoid non-linearity at the crossover point. The only drawback is that it uses an extra ADC converter. But, since most ADC converters provide a pair of channels (or groups of 4/8/etc), using an extra converter for your most critical input(s) is not usually a big problem. That's why Helix has 'seven' analog inputs. 4 returns, 1 mic, 1 aux, and 1 high dynamic range guitar input using two ADC inputs. This means pretty much any signal can be inserted into the Helix's guitar input without worrying about having to set the 'best' gain for maximum SNR without clipping. It lets Helix do all the gain increases/reduction in the digital domain. 

 

So IMO, the Helix is an excellent candidate as a primary guitar input. A second low latency interface might be useful if you want to record a live band where you want low latency for soft synths / samplers.

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Personally, I wish they had used the extra memory space and hardware space for MORE guitar stuff versus an audio interface with a really good guitar processor included, in the first place. But that's just me. As always YMMV.

 

 

I would submit that there is not one single other thing they put in there that in any way diminishes everything Helix could be for guitars. And pretty much everything in there is primarily for guitars, even the stuff that might look like its not.

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If Helix didn't have its audio interface capabilities... I would have gone with a competing product.

 

In this market, it would have been too big of a missed opportunity. Especially when there was so much backlash of the HD series lack of proper ReAmping capabilities.

 

So like Peter said above it has helped the helix far more than hurt it.

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Well, that's another opinion all right.  ;) As I said, YMMV and that's ok.  Usually, however, when one is skilled at all trades he is a master of none. 

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I'm having problems with popping on playback using the Helix as my audio interface. The project is as basic as can be - one audio track, so I can't imagine I'm taxing either my computer or the Helix resourse-wise.

 

Helix version is 2.20.

SONAR X1 (DAW) 

Windows 7 

i5-2400 processor running at 3.10 GHz 

8 gb of Ram 

64 bit.   

 

I've played around with different USB inputs , changing the ASIO buffer setting to large, but nothing seems to work. I have 6 USB inputs , most of which are being used (HELIX, a hub to control wireless mouse and keyboard, Presonus Faderport, Yamaha MX49 keyboard, camera). I've attached a file showing the SONAR ASIO settings. Anyone encounter a similar problem or have any suggestions?

 

     

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I'm having problems with popping on playback using the Helix as my audio interface. The project is as basic as can be - one audio track, so I can't imagine I'm taxing either my computer or the Helix resourse-wise.

 

Helix version is 2.20.

SONAR X1 (DAW)

Windows 7

i5-2400 processor running at 3.10 GHz

8 gb of Ram

64 bit.

 

I've played around with different USB inputs , changing the ASIO buffer setting to large, but nothing seems to work. I have 6 USB inputs , most of which are being used (HELIX, a hub to control wireless mouse and keyboard, Presonus Faderport, Yamaha MX49 keyboard, camera). I've attached a file showing the SONAR ASIO settings. Anyone encounter a similar problem or have any suggestions?

I believe the problem is plugging Helix into a hub as opposed to directly into your computer. They recommend you don’t use a hub when updating the Helix due to connectivity issues so I imagine it would be the same for recording. I would try it direct in and hopefully that will alleviate your problem.

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I'm trying to figure out this answer.

 

To those saying latency doesn't matter because there's direct monitoring... Some of us use the DAW's effects and loop tracks using the DAW. The only way that works is to monitor through the software. Works great with a real interface, and actually, worked fine for me too with the Helix.

 

I just wish I could route stuff in the DAW without using block paths in the Helix. It sucks losing a block path simply to get a click out to headphones. 

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I'm having problems with popping on playback using the Helix as my audio interface. The project is as basic as can be - one audio track, so I can't imagine I'm taxing either my computer or the Helix resourse-wise.

 

Helix version is 2.20.

SONAR X1 (DAW) 

Windows 7 

i5-2400 processor running at 3.10 GHz 

8 gb of Ram 

64 bit.   

 

I've played around with different USB inputs , changing the ASIO buffer setting to large, but nothing seems to work. I have 6 USB inputs , most of which are being used (HELIX, a hub to control wireless mouse and keyboard, Presonus Faderport, Yamaha MX49 keyboard, camera). I've attached a file showing the SONAR ASIO settings. Anyone encounter a similar problem or have any suggestions?

Oh yeah. I hooked up Helix, just to see how it operated as an interface. I used no hub and got plenty of latency-esque sounding clicks and pops. My bet is that the drivers pretty well blow.

 

If i remember, the pops werent there on the export (not that- thats much better) so maybe try an export and see if you get a clean track. This was 7 months ago or so. Im a little foggy on the whole thing

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Oh yeah. I hooked up Helix, just to see how it operated as an interface. I used no hub and got plenty of latency-esque sounding clicks and pops. My bet is that the drivers pretty well blow.

 

If i remember, the pops werent there on the export (not that- thats much better) so maybe try an export and see if you get a clean track. This was 7 months ago or so. Im a little foggy on the whole thing

 

I've been using Helix as an interface with Windows 10 for two years and haven't had any issues with it. I've recorded quite a bit with it. The Windows drivers are fine. Pops and clicks are usually a symptom of some sort of other hardware conflict somewhere in the system. Things like wireless adapters and touchpads seem to be common culprits... Although, with my setup, I've not had to mess with any of that.

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I've been using Helix as an interface with Windows 10 for two years and haven't had any issues with it. I've recorded quite a bit with it. The Windows drivers are fine. Pops and clicks are usually a symptom of some sort of other hardware conflict somewhere in the system. Things like wireless adapters and touchpads seem to be common culprits... Although, with my setup, I've not had to mess with any of that.

I've also noticed some pops/clicks being caused by static electricity when connected to PC through USB. Things that have alleviated some of that was to be sure Helix/PC were plugged into the same power circuit (I am now using a UPS), and spraying the flooring in your area with static guard, especially if your area is carpeted. Static from your body will jump over to the Helix pretty readily. I could easily reproduce the popping by rubbing my socked feet on the carpet and touching the capacitive touch buttons on Helix. 

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I've been using Helix as an interface with Windows 10 for two years and haven't had any issues with it. I've recorded quite a bit with it. The Windows drivers are fine. Pops and clicks are usually a symptom of some sort of other hardware conflict somewhere in the system. Things like wireless adapters and touchpads seem to be common culprits... Although, with my setup, I've not had to mess with any of that.

I feel ya Phil. I’m going to say that you are probably correct here. The computer is plenty powerful enough and there was really no reason to crank the buffer down.

 

The one thing that disturbed me about it all a bit though.…… When I was sending audio out of helix (or midi in this case) attempting to trigger sounds in TH3, bias, whatever, I really had a lot of trouble getting it to work properly. It was getting hung up quite a lot. I blame this on helix because I got the same result with so many different get tar programs.

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Thanks for all the input. I think I've gotten past the problem. I unplugged ALL the USB devices I had and just kept shuffling them around a couple at a time until it seems like I hit the magic combination. The pops are gone - for now. Just too many USB devices...... 

 

I do have another question. I once in a while record parts into an application called BandHub, which is a collaborative website where players all over the world contribute parts to covers and original  songs. When using the Helix, there is latency of like a 1/2 a second into the BandHub app.  BUT... if I output my Helix into my UX2 (yes , yet  ANOTHER USB device) and send the UX2 into BandHub, there is no latency whatsoever - everything works fine. Any thoughts on why this might be the case? Could it be the Helix is just passing too much data into this bandhub app and the app can't handle it? Do you think that NOT having a USB3 port on my computer might be the issue?

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im planning  to swap my UAD Apollo with helix sound interface,im using screenflow software on my mac, when im using my apollo i can record the sound from my mac itself and from the guitar, how i can achieve this since helix dont have any mac software for this kind of purpose 

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If you are buying this product MAINLY to use as a primary studio recording interface, imho that is crazy.
If you are buying this product to use as a guitar processor and also to use as an interface in addition, that's totally I think what it's designed for.

 

Exactly.

 

Quote

im planning  to swap my UAD Apollo with helix sound interface

 

Why "in the world" would you do this since you have both units? Yes Helix has an audio Interface, but you have a better one in the Apollo (in my opinion). Just use them both in what they are designed for,  and I think you will be much happier. Example: my expensive car has reverse, but I won't use it going down the Interstate just because it has that feature as there is a "better" option... As always, YMMV. ; )

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On 5/18/2017 at 2:57 PM, spikey said:

Latency matters using Helix (or any other) as an Audio Interface for Softsynths like Omnisphere or Serum. Or Drum tracks using Addictive Drums or BFD software. When you hit the note on a midi keyboard you want to hear the note, immediately. True Audio Interfaces worth their own salt are not just about playing guitar thru it onto a Cakewalk audio track.  ;)

 

On 5/19/2017 at 6:28 AM, phil_m said:

I actually don't think you'd see any significant improvement with any other interface when comparing the mic input, really. I mean if you want to use a specific preamp, which isn't uncommon, you can just plug that into the Helix and bypass its onboard preamp. I think where the Helix is more limited compared to dedicated interfaces is the ability to record and directly monitor a bunch of channels at once.

 

On 5/19/2017 at 6:35 AM, PeterHamm said:

That is an important point right there.

If you are buying this product MAINLY to use as a primary studio recording interface, imho that is crazy.

If you are buying this product to use as a guitar processor and also to use as an interface in addition, that's totally I think what it's designed for.

 

3 hours ago, spikey said:

 

Exactly.

 

 

Why "in the world" would you do this since you have both units? Yes Helix has an audio Interface, but you have a better one in the Apollo (in my opinion). Just use them both in what they are designed for,  and I think you will be much happier. Example: my expensive car has reverse, but I won't use it going down the Interstate just because it has that feature as there is a "better" option... As always, YMMV. ; )

 

To sum up this lengthy thread:

 

High level pros use high end interfaces like the Apollo. They also tend to have lots of money.

 

Modern preamps vary little between the high end and the mid-range (Focusrite).

 

If you've got the entry level UAD 2x6, and you're mainly using it to record guitar, it's probably a toss-up on the swap, and you'll lose money selling the UAD.

 

If you've got a multi input UAD and/or you're recording plugin synths/drum programs you'd be losing a lot of recording and routing flexibility and the latency factor becomes an issue. Unless you're using the interface in a pro studio setting, you've already spent way more than necessary for the UAD vs a Focusrite and won't be able to recover that investment when you sell the UAD.

 

So, bottom line. Keep the UAD, split your guitar signal before the Helix to get a clean track and do your re-amping with Native. The ability to do that ITB is about the only real advantage to using Helix as primary interface.

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High level pros use high end interfaces like the Apollo. They also tend to have lots of money.

 

High-Level amateurs like me also use high-end interfaces like the Apollo, yet many also like me do "not" have lots of money, we just like high-end equipment and like me, paid it out with "NO INTEREST" over a 12 month period @ Zzounds. So you see, there are ways to get one with minimum pain in the wallet,  and so your idea that only the rich can afford such equipment is just wrong. But I do agree with you in that you usually get what you pay for regarding audio interfaces. That said,  if you are wanting a Helix and don't have a "high-end" audio Interface (or one at all), I'm sure Helix is more than capable of doing a good job for you. I just can't imagine ever trading out an Apollo for a lesser interface when you don't need to and that's why I asked ipran why... In fact, my opinion is that the audio interface on Helix was a nice "add-on", much like nice mud-flaps are on an expensive 4x4... Doesn't make the truck any faster though... ; ) 

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26 minutes ago, spikey said:

 

 

High-Level amateurs like me also use high-end interfaces like the Apollo, yet many also like me do "not" have lots of money, we just like high-end equipment and like me, paid it out with "NO INTEREST" over a 12 month period @ Zzounds. So you see, there are ways to get one with minimum pain in the wallet,  and so your idea that only the rich can afford such equipment is just wrong. But I do agree with you in that you usually get what you pay for regarding audio interfaces. That said,  if you are wanting a Helix and don't have a "high-end" audio Interface (or one at all), I'm sure Helix is more than capable of doing a good job for you. I just can't imagine ever trading out an Apollo for a lesser interface when you don't need to and that's why I asked ipran why... In fact, my opinion is that the audio interface on Helix was a nice "add-on", much like nice mud-flaps are on an expensive 4x4... Doesn't make the truck any faster though... ; ) 

 

My point was NOT that only rich pros use (or can afford) high end equipment, nor that you always, or even usually, get what you pay for. My point was that high end pros NEED high end equipment, if for no other reason than as a selling point for the idea that their studio is better than someone else's. The point I (and others) was making was that the practical difference between the preamps in the $900 UAD and those in the $400 Focusrite are nowhere near as big these days as they once were. However, the difference in latency can be critical when using plugins. The difference in latency between my 18i20 and the Helix is almost as much as the difference between my 18i20 and a UAD. Just not so much that it bothers a hack keyboardist/eDrummer like me!

 

I, too, am a ZZounds customer, 'cause when you WANT the best, or YA GOTTA HAVE IT NOW, and your tax refund is in the mail, ZZounds is great!

 

For guitar-centric applications, the Helix is certainly sufficient. Add Reaper ($60) or SONAR (FREE!) and spend the difference between that and ProTools on a better interface when you need it! Then when you hit the Lotto, get ProTools...:-)

 

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My point was NOT that only rich pros use (or can afford) high end equipment, nor that you always, or even usually, get what you pay for. 

Your right, that was my point. ; )

 

Quote

 The point I (and others) was making was that the practical difference between the preamps in the $900 UAD and those in the $400 Focusrite are nowhere near as big these days as they once were.

True, but OTOH you cant run or add high-end FX plugins on very many of them "at will" like you can the Apollo. ; )

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16 minutes ago, spikey said:

True, but OTOH you cant run or add high-end FX plugins on very many of them "at will" like you can the Apollo. ; )

 

If that's what you need, the Apollo might be the right tool for you.

If that's not what I need, the Apollo is just an overpriced interface.

Horses for courses.

 

But it's not about us, it's about ipran's needs, and I think we already agreed that it would be a waste to trade down from his (her?) UAD.

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