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LT vs Flagship Helix as a DAW interface


boynigel
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I purchased my LT long before I ever thought I’d be using it as a DAW interface.  Now that I am, I’m considering upgrading to the flagship helix for the SPIDF connectivity.  My thinking being that I’d be able to circumvent the (probably not the greatest) mic “preamp” of the Helix since I have a good mic pre that has SPIDF out.  This, unless I’m missing something, would allow me to go out of my mic pre’s via SPIDF, sans-conversion, into the helix, sans Helix pre’s, straight thru to my DAW.

 

I just want to make sure my logic isn’t flawed here, and if anyone has been getting great results using a LDC condenser into their LT, I’d love to hear about it.  Maybe I’m not giving the LT’s capabilities enough credit in regard to using it to process an LDC coming into it…or maybe my suspicions are warranted?

 

Of course I can just try the mics w/my LT but I won’t have access to them for another week so I figured I’d see if I could find out anything here in the meantime.

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Not sure I understand - your LT doesn't have a MIC input. If you want to use a MIC with Helix as AI you'll need the Floor model.

Since the Floor model also has SPDIF you'll be able to compare your SPDIF Pre and the Helix Mic Input. 

The SPDIF IN should work fine for that purpose.

My question would be - why spend the extra $ on the Helix Floor? For the same $ or thereabouts you can get a proper AI with multiple Channel Inputs, SPDIF and ADAT expansion capabilites, and it'll likely have as good or better preamps as Helix and definitely better latency if you're processing anything ITB.

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On 6/27/2022 at 6:02 PM, rd2rk said:

Not sure I understand - your LT doesn't have a MIC input.

 

 

yes, but it's my understanding that I could patch a mic pre to one of the LT's returns.  less than desirable but do-able...unless it sounds gross that way.

 

 

On 6/27/2022 at 6:02 PM, rd2rk said:

My question would be - why spend the extra $ on the Helix Floor? For the same $ or thereabouts you can get a proper AI with multiple Channel Inputs, SPDIF and ADAT expansion capabilites, and it'll likely have as good or better preamps as Helix and definitely better latency if you're processing anything ITB.

Good point, and I'll give you my reasoning to correct if I'm wrong.  I had a TERRIBLE experience with a USB AI interface years ago.  Terrible latency/performance.  Returned it. Totally turned me off to USB.  Changed to, and stayed w/firewire until my recent upgrade to a new machine.  to be fair, this was around 2007-ish.  My new Mac Studio has all of its USB ports spoken for and I'm wary to bringing a hub into the mix (were I to go with a USB AI), my fear being that it will hurt performance...but maybe USB is night and day better now than it was 15 years ago.  

 

That said, my Mac Studio has 4 unused thunderbolt ports but all the AI's that use that are kinda breaking the bank for me...at least for now, on the heels of recently purchasing the new Mac and other essentials.  I'm guessing there are likely USB 2.0 to Thunderbolt adapters, but I'm paranoid about those from another (poor performance) experience.

 

You're probably going to remind me that the Helix is a USB interface.  yep, but it performs w/no latency that I can detect...and I don't know if this is due to USB advancements as a whole, or something unique to how the Helix utilizes USB, allowing it to perform better than other USB devices?

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On 6/27/2022 at 6:27 PM, boynigel said:

 

 

yes, but it's my understanding that I could patch a mic pre to one of the LT's returns.  less than desirable but do-able...unless it sounds gross that way.

 

 

Good point, and I'll give you my reasoning to correct if I'm wrong.  I had a TERRIBLE experience with a USB AI interface years ago.  Terrible latency/performance.  Returned it. Totally turned me off to USB.  Changed to, and stayed w/firewire until my recent upgrade to a new machine.  to be fair, this was around 2007-ish.  My new Mac Studio has all of its USB ports spoken for and I'm wary to bringing a hub into the mix (were I to go with a USB AI), my fear being that it will hurt performance...but maybe USB is night and day better now than it was 15 years ago.  

 

That said, my Mac Studio has 4 unused thunderbolt ports but all the AI's that use that are kinda breaking the bank for me...at least for now, on the heels of recently purchasing the new Mac and other essentials.  I'm guessing there are likely USB 2.0 to Thunderbolt adapters, but I'm paranoid about those from another (poor performance) experience.

 

You're probably going to remind me that the Helix is a USB interface.  yep, but it performs w/no latency that I can detect...and I don't know if this is due to USB advancements as a whole, or something unique to how the Helix utilizes USB, allowing it to perform better than other USB devices?

 

Coupla things.

 

Using a mic with a preamp of ANY sort is going to give you WAY better results than using an INST/LINE input.

 

USB works. I have 11 devices, mostly MIDI controllers, Helix, Powercab, Catalyst, Scarlett 18i20, HD). Two hubs, one straight USB, one USB to C.

Windows 10, i7-7th gen laptop, 16gb.

Apart from occasional USB ground issues (annoying background hiss when using high gain amps/pedals at volumes that lollipop off my neighbors - pull one or another unused device to remedy), works flawlessly.

Of course I have no idea what your "terrible experience" was, but I can definitely tell you that today's USB AIs are much improved over those of just a few years ago.

And if you're wondering about bandwidth, unless you're working with VERY large projects, like, several dozen tracks, USB has MORE than enough bandwidth.

Lastly, a USB to Thunderbolt Hub costs <>$20.

 

Don't confuse the end-to-end latency of Helix (2-3ms) with the latency from monitoring through a DAW.

The above system gives me 7.6ms RTL through my Scarlett, 12.5ms using Helix. That's at 48k and 64spls.

Those are the DAW reported numbers (Reaper, Ableton, Cakewalk).

Though I've never measured Helix, I've measured the Scarlett using proper measurement SW (Oblique RTL) and that's pretty accurate.

Lastly, the Scarlett has 10 Inputs/12 Outputs plus expansion capability via ADAT to 18/20.

 

Price comparison - IDK what you paid for your LT, but you'd likely get around $700 on fleabay.

A used Floor on fleabay is around $1100. I would not buy something like this used off fleabay.

A 3rd gen Scarlett 18i20 retails at $550, and you still have your LT.

 

Lastly - I'm partial to the Focusrite stuff, but Behringer has an equivalent (?) for $280.

IDK how equivalent they are (check the features and specs) but I hear they're actually pretty good for home use.

 

Anyhow, hope I've provided food for thought.

Now I need food for ME!

 

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I have not read the full discussion between you and rd2rk, but I'm using my hx stomp returns at LINE level with a mic/micpre connected to it often for rehearsal, I've even used the stomp for 4 mic drum recording. I think I've tried it with condenser as well but mostly use dynamic while playing bass/singing at the same time. It sounds fine for what I do and the latency at 64 buffer size is acceptable when monitoring thru daw/w effects. When I record "serious" vocal takes I use my ferrofish/rme raydat, but the stomp would probably work well also.

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On 6/27/2022 at 2:28 PM, boynigel said:

I have a good mic pre that has SPIDF out. 

 

IMO... upgrading to a floor just for SPDIF ports isn't a wise investment. Have you used SPDIF in the past? It can be problematic. There are special cables required (it only LOOKS like an RCA, it isn't RCA) & there are clock rates to consider. 

 

On 6/27/2022 at 2:28 PM, boynigel said:

Of course I can just try the mics w/my LT

 

Yes, plug your mic pre into a RETURN on the Helix.... win/win! 

You already own the LT and the Mic Pre. 

 

On 6/27/2022 at 2:28 PM, boynigel said:

unless I’m missing something, would allow me to go out of my mic pre’s via SPIDF, sans-conversion, into the helix, sans Helix pre’s, straight thru to my DAW.

  • In that scenario, there is a conversion happening... the MIC PRE is converting the analog mic signal into digital, then sending to the HELIX Floor SPDIF input. 
  • If you connect your mic pre to your LT RETURN.... that is all analog, the Helix is doing the conversion to DIGITAL. 

The END RESULT is that there is only ONE analog to digital conversion taking place. The LT route will be just as pure as the Helix Floor / SPDIF route. 

 

 

All that said... I'm a big fan of keeping the Audio Interface separate. If you really want the SPDIF option I would put the price difference of an LT > Floor into a dedicated interface instead. @rd2rk has already made some great suggestions and points on this subject earlier in the thread.  

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All good info here. i probably could have worded things better as many of the points you guys made, i was already aware of, but big thanks to @rd2rk for putting the focusrite stuff back on my radar.  I did a dive into it this morning and ordered myself a Scarlett 8i6 3G as it has all the connectivity i need, given that i track one instrument at a time being a one-man show, and it was only $299 delivered.  I've also decided to get Helix Native for 99 bucks.  In the long haul that'll make things easier as i won't have to bother routing cables for recording, re-amping or whatever, it'll free up a port on my computer, allow me to keep the Helix hooked up to my live rig...basically it'll keep me in the box, and my helix on the floor. 

 

@codamedia yes, i have used spidf before with my old Mbox 2 Pro firewire interface.  It worked well/reliably with that setup.  the only hiccups were user error in the event that my preamp's sample rate knob wasn't set to that of the session.  

 

idunno...i think $400 for an AI that does everything i need and Helix Native will be money (on the cheap) well spent.  And maybe i'll get lucky and the Focusrite Air preamps will make it less likely that i even desire to hook up my external spidf pre?  We shall see.  thanks again all.

 

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