Which Audio Interface - Firewire, Thunderbolt or USB?
Published: Thu May 15, 2014
Which Audio Interface - FireWire, Thunderbolt or USB 3.0?
by Danny Edwards
When buying an audio interface for your home studio you need to decide which type of connectivity suits you the most. We consider the big questions - will FireWire still work in a few years? Is Thunderbolt worth the extra money? Let's find out.
What are the differences between FireWire, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0?
Many sound engineers have favoured FireWire over the years due the high-speed capability of it and the fact that it seperates your audio stream from everything else, whereas USB devices have the possibility of interference with other USB devices. FireWire has now been overtaken by both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt for data-speed, and less and less new computers are coming fitted with a FireWire port, which has seen it fade out over recent years. A lot of people will still have a FireWire port on their current computer, but Apple and some high-end Windows devices are coming with the newer Thunderbolt capability. This does not render FireWire interfaces completely useless as you can buy adapters that allow FireWire devices to work through a Thunderbolt port and you can get hold of them pretty cheap. It is still quicker than USB 2.0!
Thunderbolt is the one that steals the show. It is unbeatable if you want maximum data speed and is the most future proof of them all coming equipped on all Mac and high-end Windows devices. The best of the bunch, Thunderbolt is the clear choice for professionals that need the extra power. Thunderbolt may not be for everyone - it is pretty expensive and replacements such as cables are pricey. As more Thunderbolt audio interfaces come onto the market, the price is expected to drop which would make Thunderbolt the perfect option for everyone. If your computer pre-dates 2011 then it will not have a Thunderbolt port - you will need to check this before considering Thunderbolt.
Faster than FireWire but only half the speed of Thunderbolt - USB 3.0 is cheap and works with many current devices out there. A lot of new devices are coming fitted with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 compatibilty side-by-side, so if you want something future proof but don't need the extra power (and expense) of Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 could be the right choice for you. Some sound engineers don't like the idea of putting their audio through the same stream as other USB devices, which is where FireWire comes back into play as a cheap short-term option, or Thunderbolt as a long-term investment.
Can't Decide? Get a Hybrid...
What audio interface will you choose?
The new Focusrite Saffire PRO 26
comes with both FireWire and Thunderbolt connectivity, allowing it to work on older FireWire equipped devices (pre 2011) with the assurance that Thunderbolt will allow it to stay modern for years to come. A hybrid device like this would be the perfect candidate if you want to get the longest life-span out of your audio interface. And if you want to use Thunderbolt in the future but don't have a computer new enough, the Saffire PRO 26 means you can still make use of it right now without having to spend a fortune on a new Mac/Windows device. The safest bet with longevity and performance in mind - check it out here!
If you are have any FireWire, Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 related queries or you are struggling on how to get your audio interface working, our tech experts at Dolphin can offer you some knowledgable advice. Ask us below!