snap, crackle, shut up

The crackling problem I was having with the new interface is solved. A lot of people had said “sounds like a clocking issue.” As it turns out it wasn’t firmware, drivers, some kind of surprise incompatibility, power/grounding problems, USB interference, a defect, etc. — it was a very simple cable issue.

The interface is connected to the ES-3 via an ADAT Toslink optical cable. It’s weird and toylike, like a very thin plastic straw. The core is transparent plastic, wrapped in a reflective coating. An LED (not a laser) on the output connector pulses at very high rates to transmit data through the tube to a detector on the other end. I guess the advantage is, electromagnetic interference isn’t a factor and you can transmit a lot of data over a very thin “wire” — but it’s kind of needlessly complicated.

If you bend the cable too sharply, you cut off the signal. Or if the connector isn’t firmly snapped into place, or there’s dust in the way, you don’t get a great signal. I’m pretty sure it was one of the latter that was the problem. Pulling out the connectors at both ends and dusting them with compressed air fixed the crackling.

So:

  • I’m not using any Behringer gear anymore. (Yay!)
  • The Scarlett is physically much deeper — it extends all the way to the back of my rack box, making the jacks much easier to access.
  • Either the size of the chassis is acting as a much better heat sink, internal spacing of parts prevents heat buildup, or it’s better designed or using better parts in an electrical sense (or all of the above); it runs cool without needing to use the fans I put in that rack box. I could probably put another 1U device into that box if I had a need for it rather than dedicating it to ventilation.
  • It looks a bit nicer 🙂 and has LED indicators to make levels very clear on the analog inputs, a mute button with a light to tell you it’s muted, etc.
  • Total latency is very low. ASIO latency is almost nothing. I have the buffer set to 64 samples and might even be able to go lower than that — I’ll see what I can get away with in a complex setup with multiple ins/outs and a bunch of running plugins and MIDI data flowing. Also, I’m not using the best USB port for the job yet; a USB C-to-C cable is on the way. Anyway this is good news for modular integration with the DAW — I may not have to do any timing correction at all.
  • My hope is that the extra speed will mean I won’t get the random glitches I had before. Sometimes these would make it into the recording (and I’ve had to apply some creative edits to fix those), sometimes they were audible while recording or during playback but not actually present in the data. What prompted me to actually go for this upgrade was hearing from a couple of people who’d also gone from Scarlett 1st gen or Behringer’s clones to 3rd gen, and had these problems disappear.
  • The zero-latency monitoring features in the thing make it easier to diagnose routing issues and other problems. Also if I were going to play live I could still use the interface without a computer, in theory.
  • It may be psychological, but it seems like the headphone amp sounds better.

With that resolved and the new VHO, things are ready for a new album. I’ve been concentrating my thoughts elsewhere, with work and other changes. I do have a possible idea for an album that has a consistent pulse in a single tempo, never stopping, slowing or speeding up. That would be unusual for me, but I’m curious to see how that would fit into an “ambient”/drone context and with the idea of a journey.

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