USB or Firewire?Often when I recommend USB sound cards people tend to turn up their noses. USB? Shouldn't it be Firewire? Is USB simply a problem?
Well, yes. USB is rightly discredited. Manufacturers have tried to quickly get a USB sound card on the market. Why, I do not know, maybe to achieve significantly more users (USB is more common to find in PCs than Firewire) and to avoid the licensing fees for Texas Instruments. The first USB sound card was only available with USB 1. It offered a theoretical speed of 12 Mbit / s, which is suitable for mice, printers, keyboards and the like. But for a sound card? Very doubtful. For years most of USB sound cards were avoided like the plague. Complicated installations, crashes and high CPU utilization for music creation were a hindrance. If you want an external sound card, Firewire only was used.
Although Firewire's better reputation as the standard, it is not entirely unproblematic. One of the absolute worst vulnerabilities is that firewire does not handle hotplugging - to disconnect the device when it is on. If they did that anyway, it often happened that the Firewire chip in your sound card or computer, or even both burned. Really bad. USB is recommended for no hotplugging, but that's mostly because you should not risk losing data in USB memory sticks, etc.
Another disadvantage is its sensitivity to the used controller. On paper, it is positive that the Firewire own controller allows the processor to work undisturbed, but there are high demands on the quality of control. It is more the exception than the rule that the control is of poor quality and quite often you can forget it to work stably in a creative environment.
Back to USB then, how does it look today? First of all, we now have USB2, which is about 50 times faster than USB1, so theoretically it's no problem to manufacture cards with more inputs and outputs than you need. USB does also not need a dedicated controller, the processor that handles the traffic. It can be alarming to the CPU to run the DSP also taking care of USB, but since we now have processors with two cores there is always room to calculate the USB traffic, without disturbing the music programs, or that you get less power to the DSP engine to calculate reverb, etc.
And latency? USB has higher latency than the supposedly Firewire. Historically, this rule has always been so. But it begins to compensate. It is very dependent on how well the manufacturer writes the driver. Firewire is usually still a bit better, so look at your sound card you want to use before. Latency is perhaps not so important. There are exceptions of course. The driver of sound card manufacturer RME are so good that they offer less latency on USB than Firewire.
Finally it can be mentioned that the above is not something you need to consider when choosing a solution from us, we always adapt our hardware to work perfectly on both USB and Firewire. If there are any questions you are always welcome to contact us, of course.