Recommendations for an interface under $1000 interface?

Has anyone ever worked with the RME gear? A pro voiceover artist asked yesterday if I knew anything about the RME babyface Pro. She’s on a scarlet now and is having problems with the headroom on the preamp. The scarlets have noticeable noise issues. Lack of headroom usually isn’t a problem for musicians but it can get in the way for voice actors. The interface doesn’t have to have the preamp, but I think it would be handy if it did.

She’s only needs to record herself. She owns a TLM49. No music…which also means she needs a pre that won’t color the sound. Zero latency monitoring is real important. I was looking at Apogee, but I can’t see any real clear advantage that it has over the RME. The other things she’s up against is using a 2011 mac pro cheesgrater which means she doesn’t have thunderbolt.

Budget wise she wants to stay under $1000, and I think that’s reasonable for the type of work. As much as it would amuse the hell out of me if she bought a John Hardy or Pueblo Audio preamp then ran it to a CraneSong, Burl, or Weiss converter, I think for what she’s doing, a good sub $1k preamp is reasonable. Many times picking an I/O is about channel expandability, work clock compatibility, and scope of application. If she ever needs to get on a bigger system she’s got a key to my building.

Any thoughts?
Thanks guys.

Thanks guys.

Lack of headroom is an issue for voiceovers? In what way? Man, it’s just talking, surely she doesn’t need anything but a mic and virtually any half-decent interface like the one she is already using?

Instead of recommending anything I’d be asking her to show me what her problem was, because whatever it is, I’ll be surprised if it goes away simply by shelling out $1k on new kit.


When you go from a soft voice to a shout in the same pickup line the headroom on the preamp makes the input level able to tolerate a wider range of volume transients.

And both of us get noise floor problems from the Scarlets (I think since the units don’t have a dedicated power supply and the outputs aren’t balanced). Its real faint but we can both hear it on either of our systems.

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I own a baby face and love it in my mobile rig I’ve recorded keeper takes on it while camping:) The preamps aren’t awesome but for voice over should be okay. If headroom is a problem I’d get a compressor or a nicer preamp to use with the Scarlet.

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If she’s a pro she’ll have mic technique. Or you could record the extremities in separate takes.

You don’t simply back off a mic. The conditions that apply to mic technique for a music vocalist don’t apply to a dialogue tracking and mixing. You have to deal with louder and abrupt volume changes and you do not get to make fader rides.

I need clarification on this:

Isn’t the dynamic tolerance for peak db and clipping into the converter a function of the headroom on the preamp?

My understanding is that the capsule of the mic needs sufficient (voltage??) to achieve certain degree of detail…a better preamp will allow for a larger range of SPL before clipping?

Using compression is not an option here. This is why VO booths are setup with multiple mics for cues where voice volume changes are extreme. For material where a character (for example we recorded her cast as a temperamental schizophrenic diety character for a video game) who goes from loud talking to outright screaming, she’s probably gonna have to use my VO booth because I have matched high end mics I can do this with. But for her home studio spot, I can’t tell how much dynamic range you gain (if any) from a jump from 50 something db of headroom to 70 something on a preamp.

@Paul999…you have a boatload of high end analog pres…do you notice a difference in volume tolerance when you use one with more headroom?

…she’s got a lead on a used Grace pre. We’re waiting to hear back from the seller.

Headroom is kind of an obsolete term. The ceiling is set at 0dBFS and it isn’t going anywhere. A bad preamp built into an interface might distort a bit before hitting that ceiling, and that’s definitely something to watch out for, but really the issue here is noise.

Anybody can adjust the preamp level so that it doesn’t clip when you yell into the mic from 6 inches. That’s basic “how to adjust a preamp 101.”

Is it really the preamp causing the noise? It could be, but I’d make sure that was actually the case before blowing $1000 on a new preamp only to find out the issue is not much better. I’d be more inclined to get a second mic to handle the higher levels than getting a new preamp. You can get way more effective dynamic range that way than you can with a new preamp.

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The capsule gets it’s voltage from the phantom power. It’s the mic’s job to take that phantom power and apply the correct voltage to the plate. Any preamp with phantom power is going to provide something pretty close to 48V. That has nothing to do with noise or headroom or clarity or anything.


I think so. The scarlet doesn’t have a power supply and gets some weird static through into the Crane Song. I’ve tried different cables, three different generations of scarlets, I’ve run them from a desktop vs from a laptop, I just concluded these are noisy preamps. There’s absolutely zero hiss or humm when the Avids are connected and the Crane Song is nearly wide open. I get a little bit form the Motu 828mk2 but not nearly as much.

Over at her studio I think her Presonus monitors and some bad grounding in her condo is probably causing some of it, but I’m quite sure a bit of its coming through the focusrite. Probably not enough to piss anyone off, and she usually hits it with some Izotope plugs before sending them out, but I was thinking if we could get rid of some of that it wouldn’t hurt.

AH!!! Ok. Got it! Thanks.

The last question I’d have is how much of a difference the power supply makes, and what does ‘discrete circuit’ vs normal one mean (for a dummy like me) as far as a preamp goes?

I don’t have any tests to back this up, but my instinct tells me that you are more likely to have issues if the interface is powered from the USB. Or at least it seems like a computer is more likely to give dirty power. Do you have an extra interface you can lend her just to check if it makes any difference?

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I do… I have an extra motu and a presonus I can send over there. Hmmm.

To clarify, I keep several of those Scarlets handy for when I play live or rehearse with bands and use MainStage, but I’ve messed around with using them for recording. Do you think the difference I hear between the Blue Robbie preamp and Focusrite preamp through is mainly caused by the tubes in the Blue? Out of all the difference, do you think that would be the biggest factor?

What else in the build quality between a $50 focusrite scarlet solo and a $1000 Blue Robbie would be next in line for that 2-4% of a subjective sonic difference between them?

I’m not even going to try to speculate what you can and can’t hear and the reason behind it. If you like a piece of gear better than another piece of gear, you should use the one you like. It may be the power supply. It may be the preamp. It may the power in the room has conditions that don’t play well with the interface. It may be the video card RFI. You can either try to fix it with time by troubleshooting and finding the root cause (May turn out to be a fruitless endeavor) or you can try fixing it with money (may also be fruitless, but it takes a lot less time)

If you want to know why something sounds the way it does, then you should start by building your own, trading out parts and seeing what kind of difference it makes. Until you do that, all you are doing is guessing. Guessing is fine, as long as you know your are just guessing.


Thanks man. I appreciate the insight :slight_smile:

I am not nearly as technically knowledgeable as Boz on the subject. What I can tell you is from my experience of using the “boatload of pres” :slight_smile: To be honest I am not sure what people classify as high headroom. (in fact, I’ll ask that in another thread). I have used pres that react to transients really quickly and don’t compress towards their upper range (when they break up) very much or not at all. Some pre’s like the UA 610 very much compress without negative distortion as you get to the top of their available SPL until they get into very audible and or unpleasant distortion.

I am not sure if people classify pres that are clean until they hit breaking point high headroom or if they call pres that gently compress with subtle distortion until they finally distort in an awesome and glorious way high headroom? I am not sure if high headroom pres are ones that you can crank 50 db with little noise floor.

As Boz pointed out the converters 0db distortion point is fixed…or is it? I’ve found that most convertors sound much better when the pres are padded down into the sweet spot and you don’t go past -18 to -12. No matter what I do get the odd vocal take where someone come in and lay down a perfect take as I am setting levels and they hit 0DB or a little more. When using an interface pre you are doomed. When using a good quality pre you may be able to use it. Interns inevitably square wave vocals during certain parts. Sometimes they are useable. Sometimes they distort but in a good way.

I don’t really know why compression is out of the question. My wunder CM7 mic naturally compresses. You can actually hear the tube compressing when you push it hard in a great way. When the tube mic compresses a little and the mic pres compresses a little you get some forgiveness. I wouldn’t be afraid of using the behringer multi comp. Low headroom (as in the sweet spot is narrow). It is crazy transparent though. Plus you get four.

Not sure if I helped here or confused the issue:)

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Why not? I’ve had loads of spoken word sessions in my studio. Nobody’s ever suddenly started shouting down the mic after I’ve set the levels, but if they did, I’d tell them to back off. It’s a case of do it or you’ll get a shit recording. I’ve had whispers though, and in those cases, I tell them to move up close to the mic. Simple. The point is, you’re going to have to deal with it at some point in terms of the final mix, in order to level it out, and rather than mess about with automation, compression etc, you might as well get the source right - and save yourself $1k.

Looks like you have two problems here, avoiding distortion with loud passages and noise in the soft ones, headroom is not something you need to worry about.

How much headroom you have does not have to be an issue when recording, typically you would want to set your levels so that the loudest passages don’t clip, you basically scream into the mike and set the input volume so it doesn’t clip. Assuming there is minimal background noise this should be able to handle most cases.

If I understand you correctly, if you basically record silence this results in audible noise in the recording?
If so, this is probably what’s killing your ability to record loud passages since the soft parts need to be louder than the noise, you can’t back off the volume enough to handle the loud parts.
I hate to ask but is everything being recorded to 24 bit? Sorry, I fix things for a living, I hate to overlook things.

Your best bet is to troubleshoot where the noise is coming from, grounding issues are the worst but all too common, if using a laptop and a usb powered device, does the noise go away when the laptop is unplugged and running from the battery? that’s the easiest test. If this makes the noise go away then you found the problem.
if it’s a combination laptop + powered interface leave the laptop unplugged and try different power outlets around the house, if it’s a desktop, try the same, sometimes having the computer and interface on the same power strip helps, sometimes they need to go to different jacks. I had a case where the monitors needed to be on the same strip as the PC otherwise I’d get hum in my recordings. Sometimes I needed to turn them off and rely on headphones just to record.

These issues can be hard to track down and sometimes impossible to resolve. The more things in your signal chain the harder to track down so start with the simplest setup possible.

I’m using a Scarlett 2i4 USB interface into my laptop and haven’t noticed noise problems. The noise floor seems quite low. I often use an AT4040 and a Rode NT1-a. Ninety percent of the time my PAD is engaged.

Its common practice and often requested in writing as far as deliverable are concerned. In my experience the dialogue directors (film) and software engineers (games) want all decisions around color and effects in the hands of the dub mixing division. I was told exactly this: We they hire actors for what they sound like and don’t need you screwing with their tone. (Unless I’m the mix guy).

These aren’t commercials, radio drops, audiobooks, or medical/legal/accounting instructional courses. Full length feature films and video games have a lot more dynamic.

backing off the mic when loud is definitely not a good option. You definitely need to have a setup where you can be loud and quiet without changing the tone. It just seems to me that in this situation, two mics is absolutely a requirement. I think 3 would be best if you are dealing with whispers, conversation level, and yelling. Saving $1000 doesn’t do you much good if it makes you not get the job.

I still think a low noise preamp/interface is important, but will be less effective than using multiple mics. Another tlm49 cost more than a new preamp, but if cutting down noise on quiet passages is what you want, it will be waaaaaaay more effective.

But also again, if your preamp is contributing obvious amounts of noise, you need to look into that as well. I just know that I’ve used plenty of cheap preamps that don’t have noise issues (and some that do).

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