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Best Budget Audio Interfaces for SM7B

Monday, June 18th, 2012 | by


As an engineer, I get asked all kinds of questions from home recording enthusiasts. Lately, following some of my recent online declarations of love for the Shure SM7BShure SM7B, one of the more frequent questions has been what preamp or audio interface to pair it with. So, we decided to test the SM7B with a slew of budget home studio interfaces.

Allow me to begin with the SM7B… While it seems to be gaining popularity, I think it is still one of the most overlooked microphones in the home studio world. It is used by dozens of top recording engineers all the time and has snuck its way in front of some pretty heavy-hitting crooners like John Mayer, Keith Urban, Bono, and a relatively unknown singer named Michael Jackson on a fairly obscure album called Thriller!

Not only is it a superb vocal mic, not only is it a staple in the broadcast and voiceover world, but it sounds fabulous on guitars amps, bass amps, banjo, mandolin, drums, and it is probably my favorite mic to put on a hi hat.

All that being said about the SM7B, it is also notorious for one more thing: low output. This means it needs a lot of gain… and if you’re recording something especially quiet you’ll need a ton of gain. Inexpensive preamps tend to not have have much gain, or they do at the cost of more noise. I set out to discover the best audio interface solution for the budget SM7B user.

The Test

The test was on a voiceover. This seemed like a good place to start, given that many new SM7B owners are using the mic for vocals or VO work. VO also offered a good medium-volume audio source. Here are the audio interfaces we tested…

Device Interface Bit Depth # Preamp Channels Street Price $/Preamp Channel Max Preamp Gain
Apogee ONE USB 24 1 $245 $245 63 dB
Avid Mbox Mini 3rd Gen USB 24 1 $210 $210 54 dB
CEntrance Micport Pro USB 24 1 $149 $149 n/a
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB 24 2 $149 $75 55 dB
Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 USB 24 2 $249 $125 60 dB
M-Audio Fast Track C400 USB 24 2 $250 $125 50 dB
Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB 24 2 $149 $75 60 dB
Presonus Firestudio Mobile Firewire 24 2 $249 $125 70 dB

We also tested every mic using a Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter, which is a phantom powered box that adds about 25dB of extra gain to a dynamic mic’s output level. [See our review of the Cloudlifter CL-1. --Ed.]

We sent a tone through each interface before every test to ensure that they were all adding the same amount of gain [50dB ±1 dB]. Once in Pro Tools, I applied the same compression, de-essing, and limiting to each pass. I did this to maximize the volume of each track as it would be in a real VO situation. After everything was organized in the session, I compared every clip, one after another, listening for sound quality and noise. Ready for the results?

The Results

To keep this simple, I have divided the interfaces into three categories: The ones I would not recommend, the ones I would recommend, and the ones I would recommend with a Cloudlifter.

Remember, these recommendations are targeted at SM7B users; the interfaces that are “not recommended” below might be perfectly suited to other tasks (including higher-output microphones and louder sources).

CEntrance Micport ProCEntrance MicPort Pro:
Not recommended for SM7B.

While the design is cool, as it fits nicely on the end of a microphone and is completely USB powered, it did not offer much gain without also adding the most noise of the group. While the Cloudlifter improved its performance more than any other interface, the Micport Pro was still too noisy for VO work with the SM7B.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i 2Focusrite Scarlett 2i2:
Not recommended for SM7B.

While the 2i2 sounded good… when paired with the SM7B it was simply too noisy. The Cloudlifter improved its performance a little, but not quite enough for my recommendation.

Mackie Onyx BlackjackMackie Blackjack:
Recommended for SM7B with Cloudlifter.

The Blackjack was probably the easiest interface of all. It felt good, and it played with Pro Tools very well. It also sounded the most sonically unique of the bunch as it was a bit more robust. Depending on what you’re recording that may be a good or bad thing.

As much as I really liked this interface, it had a bit too much noise for VO work with the SM7B. However, when paired with a Cloudlifter, I think it performed marvelously.

Apogee ONEApogee ONE:
Not recommended for SM7B.

This one is tricky. The SM7B paired with the Apogee ONE yielded too much noise for a VO. The Cloudlifter improved its preamp performance significantly and greatly reduced the noise. However, I would have a hard time recommending it over another similarly-priced interface that works fine without the Cloudlifter. And all cards on the table, I found the controls cumbersome to use compared to other interfaces with knobs.

Focusrite Scarlett 8i 6Focusrite Scarlett 8i6:
Recommended for SM7B.

To me, the 8i6 sounded just like the 2i2… only with less noise. It probably has the most noise of the interfaces I would recommend, but it also has more I/O capabilities than the others. This one probably wins the “bang for your buck” award.

M-Audio Fast Track C400M-Audio Fast Track C400:
Recommended for SM7B.

This baby is quiet, and sounds great! I felt like it had the tiniest bit of warmth to it compared to the others, and the noise floor was quite low. It also played very nicely with Pro Tools, which is more than I can say for some of the other contenders.

Presonus Firestudio MobilePreSonus FireStudio Mobile:
Not recommended for SM7B.

The Firestudio, by itself, was too noisy for the SM7B. And although the Cloudlifter improved its signal/noise ratio, the resulting cost is too high for my stamp of approval.

Avid Mbox Mini, 3rd GenerationAvid MBox Mini, 3rd Generation:
Not recommended for SM7B.

The MBox sounded great. It sounded very similar to the C400, with maybe a little higher noise floor. The problem is that it is $50 more expensive than the C400, and only has one mic input. It might be a decent way to go if you can save some money bundling it with Pro Tools software, and you really only ever need one mic input… but beyond that I’m not sure it’s the best option.

The Summary

SM7B with pop filterI think the most unexpected part of this test was just how similar most all these interfaces sounded. There may have been one or two that sonically stood out, but all the rest were fairly indistinguishable. My decision pretty much came down to noise and price. All that being said, the M-Audio Fast Track C400 stood out the most for me. If you are in the market for a small audio interface and a microphone, I strongly suggest you give the M-Audio C400 and Shure SM7B a try.

The Samples

Below are all the audio samples I based my evaluation on. Take a listen for yourself and see what you think!

Note: The VO script is not from Shure marketing. The talent, Eli Chastain, loves the SM7B as much as I do, and wrote this script at the session.

These samples have been processed using compression, de-essing, and limiting, as I would do if I were using the audio for a commercial voiceover. Download the 24-bit WAV archive, which includes the Cloudlifter samples, plus the dry/untreated tracks too, here [75 Mb .ZIP archive].

Interface 1

Interface 2

Interface 3

Interface 4

Interface 5

Interface 6

Interface 7

Interface 8

About the Author

Jason Miller is a producer and engineer based in Nashville, TN. Visit him online at JasonMillerMusic.com.

Schmowland StudiosThe SM7B sessions took place at Bryan White’s Shmowland Studios in Nashville.

matthew mcglynn

Interface Selection

Jason and I selected the audio interfaces for this evaluation based on two criteria:

  1. We required a 24-bit ADC, because in a torture test of preamp gain and noise, no 16-bit device could compete.
  2. We limited the selection to interfaces with a street price below $250.

We hope to publish a followup piece comparing high-end analog preamps.

Caution!

Readers, please be aware that this evaluation is not intended as a comprehensive review of any of the participating audio interfaces. I suspect all of these units perform admirably for common home recording tasks. Our results are specific to the Shure SM7B, a famously low-gain dynamic microphone, and a quiet source (a speaking voice).

Paired with higher-output microphones, or louder sources, any of these devices would probably sound great. See, for example, my own review of four low-cost USB interfaces from late 2009, as it includes a fuller evaluation of the Micport Pro: USB Audio Interface Shootout.

I encourage all readers to download the WAV audio archive and listen closely to determine which interface sounds the best.

Disclosures

This evaluation was conceived in conjunction with Shure, for the express purpose of identifying great preamp/interface devices to pair with the SM7B microphone.

Shure covered the cost of the sessions, but was not involved in the review or evaluation process.

We received no compensation from Avid/M-Audio, Focusrite, CEntrance, Cloud Microphones, Mackie/LOUD Technologies, Apogee, or PreSonus. These companies provided evaluation loans of interface gear for the purposes of this review. All this gear is being returned.

Special thanks to Front End Audio for a last-minute loan of an Mbox Mini, which could not be obtained in time from the manufacturer.

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Posted in DAW, Shootouts, voiceover | 71 Comments »




71 Responses to “Best Budget Audio Interfaces for SM7B”

  1. Big Dave

    June 19th, 2012 at 3:47 am

    Been asking this question for a wile.

  2. Steve Faul

    June 20th, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Interesting stuff. I’ve used SM7’s in a number of less than ideal radio station settings. It’s good to hear one get a tryout in better conditions. I noticed the set-up in the photo had the windscreen off and a pop filter in front. That might account for the high end boost I noticed on the tracks; I’m used to the SM7 having a more neutral sound. In a typical broadcast set-up these things are fed into a $600 Symetrix strip with the pre gain cranked to 3 o’clock.

    I liked the Advid Mbox the best for its low noise and slightly warmer sound, which compliments using the SM7 “naked.” But I have to say the M-Audio Fast Track might be worth the extra money. I’m a little disappointed more of these interfaces didn’t fare that well, but then again it’s a safe guess these things were engineered on the assumption they would be connected to a condenser mic.

    Great test.

  3. Jason Miller

    June 20th, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Thanks for the comments, Steve.

    Yes, the windscreen was pulled off… but that should have a minimal effect on the top end. I’ve never A/B’ed, but I doubt it would make a huge difference. I always pull the windscreens off SM7’s just because there is no reason to have them on in the studio. Not a lot of wind happening in there.

    I think the SM7 has much more presence than a lot of people might give it credit for. That, and Eli’s voice may just be a but more midrangey than others.

  4. Darren Morton

    June 20th, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I use SM-7’s in radio and v/o apps including talk-studio, fly-pack scenarios. Although they yield perfectly detailed and clear vocals -and handle judicious compression wonderfully- multiple channels of ‘em really demonstrate the noise-floor of most budget board’s pre-amps (A-H ZED’s and MixWiz’s in my case). Next budget cycle (10-days away!), I’m adding CL-1’s to the kits as I’m tired of multiple Grace or TrueSolo’s taking up space in the kits (btw, you won’t believe the low-end of an SM-7 through a Grace 101).

  5. matthew mcglynn

    June 20th, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    @Jason, “I’ve never A/B’ed, but…” < – that’s been the inspiration for many of the shootouts and reviews I’ve written. ;)

    @Darren, check out the 2-channel CL-2 also.

  6. Anil Yigit Filiz

    June 21st, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the great review, it was very interesting to hear the night/day difference between the preamps of these interfaces.

    As I listened the samples, the sound from Avid MBox Mini sounded so great that I wished you wouldn’t have marked it as “Not Recommended for SM7B” due to it’s price/lack of features. For someone aiming only for a great VO recording with SM7B I would definitely recommend the MBox based on these samples :)

  7. Jason Miller

    June 21st, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks for your input, Anil.

    It will all come down to opinions, and I think the C400 sounded as good, if not better than the MBox. With a lower price tag, and more I/O it was hard for me to say the MBox was just as good.

    By itself, great interface… compared to the competition, it’s less competitive.

  8. Patrick Leonardo Perez

    June 25th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    As I do a ton of v.o. work for e-learning productions, and I just purchased a SM7B I was struggling big time to match the right preamp! I initially bought the Blackjack, but returned it because at the time the Windows driver hadn’t been fixed and I got nothing but stuttered playback in Soundforge. My question though, is why did you choose the 50 db of gain mark for v.o. test–was it just decided because it seemed appropriate for close mic’ing (v.o.)? Not all, but several other engineers I’ve spoken with recommend, like a note you find with Shure, to provide 60 db of gain, which obviously might make it frankly inoperable with a moderately priced pre. :(

  9. Phil Hayward

    June 26th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Well, now I’m left wondering about my Babyface… it’s fine at 45db, distinctly middle of the road at 50db compared to this selection.

    As for these, yes the C400 does sound great… the MBox a close second (anyone else hearing a high pitched background whine on the MBox?)

  10. Jason Miller

    June 27th, 2012 at 7:20 am

    @Patrick There was nothing scientific about my choice to use 50dB of gain. I simply plugged in the first interface, and turned it up to a reasonable recording level. I measured the gain after, rounded to the nearest 5dB mark and tweaked the input of each preamp so they were all measuring at 50dB. While 60dB would be preferable, you can definitely capture everything with less gain, depending on your source volume.

    Additionally, most of the pre’s were turned up about 90% so if I required more gain for my test only a couple would have enough to offer.

    @Phil I noticed the whine more in the CloudLifter test of the MBox… not sure if it’s a phantom power thing…

  11. Luis Fernando

    June 28th, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Jason

    Now you can test sm7b with better pre-amps… to compare to interface pre-amps and show how important is have a decent preamp.
    My suggestions: Focusrite Isa One, Api 500 series (lunchbox – a lot of options)…
    what you think?

  12. Jason Miller

    June 28th, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    It’s possible… but I think I’ll just end up with a bunch of preamps that sound good with the SM-7. Nothing too huge to report there.

    I have been chatting with Matt about a few more SM-7 articles, though…

    Stay tuned!

  13. Bret Campbell

    June 28th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Jason, Matt, et. al.
    I will be making the time to check out all the samples, because I’m definitely interested in confirming.
    Warning, I’m biased. It does my cheap-skate little heart good to read a thumbs up to M-Audio. I have 3 of their converters in the studio and my “posse” have a various array. We are all convinced it is the very best product for the money.
    Just my thoughts.
    Bret

  14. Christopher Scott Cooper

    June 28th, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Simple, you get what you pay for. Hard to put decent electronics or ADCs or DAC in something that sells for $250.
    You were right to test with a low output mic, I see this from DIY’ers all the time. The noise floor is often equivalent or just slightly below the source content.
    And right on with “Build better pre amps” comment.
    Cheers,
    CSC

  15. Norton Lawellin

    June 28th, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Most inexpensive preamps sound OK up to about “7.” It’s between “7″ and “10″ where way more self-noise is introduced. You can capture a cleaner (less self-noise) signal at a slightly lower level, and then add a little gain to this cleaner signal at mixdown (if needed.) Less noise this way than cranking the preamp to “9.”
    BTW, same gain-vs-noise situation with most ribbons.

  16. Eric Michael Jordan

    June 28th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Keep up the great work…I can’t wait for this weekend to check out all the samples. My SM7B is fortunate enough to work with the RME Fireface 800, but I was curious as to which budget audio interface might work best for mobile recording. Jason Miller’s response was perfect!

  17. Brian Cleary

    June 28th, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    From a quick listen No 1. was the one that had the most warmth and tone.

  18. Ethan Winer

    June 29th, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Excellent report guys! Keep up the good work. You are doing what the major magazines are afraid to do.

  19. David Beneke

    June 29th, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Superb shootout! I often recommend, being a big fan of the SM7b to folks. I’ll get replies stating “it’s too noisy”, and I’ll say, wrong, it’s the pre-amp you’re hearing. This shoot out confirms that!

  20. Pierre-Alexandre Sicart

    July 3rd, 2012 at 8:24 am

    @Jason: The C400 does perform best of the lot. Thank you for this shootout!

    @Phil: Yes, I do hear a high-pitched background noise on the MBox, which, as far as I am concerned, disqualifies it entirely.

  21. ReaM

    July 11th, 2012 at 5:49 am

    I’m intersted in C400. Does anyone know if I can connect the Sennheiser 416 boom pole mic to it without probelms? C400 can be connected directly to a computer right? Thanks for the test!

  22. chris porro

    July 11th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    i also have grown to love the sm7. good advice i got years ago from…scott dorsey i believe. it does need lots of preamp as you said and when you do that you can get some noise. i use a RNP by FMR audio and a fireface 800 for the interface. RME makes some great stuff imo.

    i just blogged a comparison between some condensers and dynamics. the sm7 was my favorite once in the mix. audio samples here: http://chrisporro.com/?p=1138

  23. matthew mcglynn

    July 12th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    @ReaM, if you mean the MKH-416 , it’s a standard XLR microphone and yes it will work great with the C400. The C400 has a USB interface on it, and as such should connect easily to any modern laptop or desktop computer.

  24. ReaM

    July 18th, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Thank you, Matthew!

  25. blast

    July 22nd, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    I live in Nashville too. :) Anyway, I’m new to recording vocals and have a question, Why did you use the Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter instead of a regular preamp like DMP3 or studio projects vtb1? How can you be sure that’s not causing extra noise on some of the recordings? Those are relatively cheap and people say they sound great with a sm7b.

  26. blast

    July 22nd, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    In other words, I’m asking if you had one of those pre-amps you bypass the audio interface preamps altogether, right? I’m still learning. So if it bypasses them and gets a stronger boost it needs anyway there might be less noise? Please explain.

  27. Jason Miller

    July 27th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Because the whole purpose of the test was for preamp/interface combos.

    Sure… you could use any glorious preamp you want to, and connect to the line input of your interface.

  28. George Whittam

    August 10th, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Very useful comparison test! A lot of VO’s come to me with SM7b’s and I usually tell them to replace with a condenser due to unusable noise caused by less than stellar interfaces. I will now start recommending the C400, without reservations! We put one in at the Don LaFontaine Voiceover Lab in their “solo” booth, but never heard it on a dynamic since we don’t have any there in our 40+ mic collection. I heard the 2K whine on the Mbox, too, reminds me of the last Mbox 2 Mini. Pitiful. Shocked at how poorly the Apogee ONE faired in this test, though. I think the MPP with CL-1 is a great way to go for road-warriors. We had Roger Cloud on EWABS and he left us one to try out (sadly, the recording of the episode was lost).

  29. Harley

    August 17th, 2012 at 4:41 am

    Hi everyone,

    First up – thanks Jason for taking the time to conduct and so nicely present the results of these experiments, great work!
    I have to agree with Brian Cleary – I thought sample one had a really nice dimension too it – sadly the amount of noise that came with this PreSonus FireStudio Mobile sample rules it out for me too.
    Thought I might also mention I have tried the SM7B through a Motu Travler MKIII and found it way too noisey. I threw an Adesigns Pacifica in the middle and (from recollection) the Motu Travler was still to noisey for me – I will have to check this again tomorrow though…

    Cheers and thanks again Jason!

  30. Mike McHenry

    August 23rd, 2012 at 11:20 am

    You know, I love my 2i2, but I can’t say that I’m really using any dynamic mics with it. Thanks for posting this and for providing the samples that you have. Really great stuff.

  31. Stan W

    September 8th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I am thinking about selling my blackjack and getting the c400 because it has more features but I am concerned that the c400 only has 50db of preamp gain and the blackjack has 60db. I use a sm57 and sm58 to record. Should I replace my blackjack with the c400?

  32. Jason Miller

    September 10th, 2012 at 7:39 am

    If you want the C400 because it offers more features you need, go for it. I wouldn’t be concern about the gain at all. But if the Mackie is working for you… maybe just save your pennies.

  33. matthew mcglynn

    September 10th, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Stan, I agree with Jason — the only reason to replace any piece of gear is if it is no longer doing what you need it to do. If you are having gain/noise problems, maybe consider picking up a Cloudlifter, which will give your dynamics a big gain boost without additional noise.

  34. Stan W

    September 10th, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks. I just wanted to make sure the c400 had enough gain for a sm58 and that its digital converters were about the same as the blackjack. Just to let you know the price of the c400 is now $150 and the c600 is $250

  35. Martin

    October 6th, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I don’t know but for me the Avid Mbox Mini, 3rd Generation is the only one without the crappy noise coming from cheap pre/Ai.
    That said all of those Audio interfaces sounds horrible to me.
    Go for the ISA One or other over 450$ pre and a RME Hammerfall for Audio interface. Worth any penny. Don’t listen this and don’t buy any of those horrible products.

  36. Jason Miller

    October 6th, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Or, hell… just go buy a Neve. ;-)

  37. Martin

    October 6th, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Oh and do you a favor and buy the Fethead not the overpriced Cloudlifter

  38. Jason Miller

    October 6th, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I smell another A/B test in the works…

  39. James

    December 30th, 2012 at 3:32 am

    I wish you did the test without the cloudlifter, so I could just judge the interfaces on their own. but thank you nonetheless

  40. Matthew

    January 5th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I recently bought a Shure SM7B for recording vocals and I don’t have a massive budget for an interface so I came across this article. It was really informative and based on the samples, I definitely agree that the C400 was the most impressive of the bunch. Yet, with more research, I kept reading that a Shure SM7 needs at least 55-60 dB of gain to work well. Your recording begs to differ with such a rich, warm sound, though. So to get to the ultimate question, is there anything specific you did to get that sound despite the C400 only having 50dB? Thank you so much for your time.

  41. Shane

    January 8th, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I was thinking the same thing Matthew. I’m preparing to purchase the SM7b and have been reading forums for days that claim the Sm7b needs at least 60db to work well, yet his recordings beg to differ with such rich, warm, sound coming from the C400 with little to no noise. He said he recommended it, but not with cloudlifter. Could I get the same results just from C400 and th SM7B without cloudlifter? I’ve been researching and trying to figure out if I should purchase the SM7B, C400 as an interface(For low noise), and the Golden Age Project Pre 73 together to begin my first Home Studio, which I will be using to record rap vocals, and some singing as well. I hope he replies to me, I really would be grateful for his assistance.

  42. Jason Miller

    January 9th, 2013 at 6:38 am

    Hey fellas… sorry for the delayed response.

    @James… you can hear all the tests without the Cloudlifter… above the audio samples is a link to download all the files.

    @Matthew… Yes, the SM7 needs a lot of gain, but it’s all relative. If you’re tracking a screaming electric guitar, you won’t need that much. If you’re recording mandolin, you’ll probably need even more than 60dB. For our test, the C400 provided enough gain to have a good recording. Keep in mind, the VO talent has a fairly powerful voice. The C400 should work for most VO situations… but if you need more gain, you can always add the Cloudlifter, or the Fethead that has been mentioned in the comments.

    @Shane… I think you’ll be just fine without the Cloudlifter. If you want to add another preamp in the chain, you’re results will probably only get better.

  43. James

    January 20th, 2013 at 7:47 am

    oh, I missed the raw recordings, thanks!
    the sm7b and c400 chain actually sounds decent even without the cloudlifter, was the gain maxed out on it? if so its really clean.
    I suppose all that talk of the sm7b needing at least 60db of gain is wildly exaggerated.

  44. Tiago Silva

    January 28th, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Hey! After I read this review I decided to buy the Shure SM7B and M-audio Fast Track C400. The problem is that even with max gain I can’t get results any near to the ones you published :/ How can I get the SM7 to sound that loud without a Cloudlifter? Thanks in advance!

  45. Jason Miller

    January 28th, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Compression… limiting… No matter what mic or preamp you use, you’ll have to use some kind of processing to bring the average level up.

  46. John

    January 31st, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    There is such limited literature online on the Beyerdynamic m99, which took Matthew’s podcast shootout (on personal choice)– I’m wondering if the M-Audio Fast Track C400 or the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 would do the trick on this mic? And would it need the cloudlifter?

    Thanks for any thoughts!

  47. matthew mcglynn

    January 31st, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    @John, in short, either of those interfaces should be fine unless you have a very quiet voice. The M99’s sensitivity is higher than the SM7B’s: 3 mV/Pa vs. 1.1 mV/Pa. You will need lots of preamp gain, and will probably add more level in your DAW, but it should sound good when you’re done.

  48. Chris

    February 11th, 2013 at 6:01 am

    I used an SM7B in 2007 with the Apogee DUET the day that came out and told people about it working together as a great pair and then over the next few years that became the kit for mac users wanting a decent mic for the DUET, hey it’s a favourite studio mic of Wilco, Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen! with the DUET you still had to crank the gain up almost to max but because this had nice quiet preamps the noise floor wasn’t too bad even up that high and much better than a lot of the competition back then.

    I use Sound Devices now – MIXPRE-D and a USBPRE2 both work well with the SM7B which by the way I’d say you definitely need the windshields attached these aren’t so much windshields on this mic as they are pop screens.
    But even with the Sound Devices gear you still have to crank the gain up almost to full, I find these both almost on a par with my Apogee DUET 2 – someone told me they use the exact same preamps?

  49. michael k

    February 22nd, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Very helpful and detailed info to aid an aspiring VO actor constructing his DAW!

    I just ordered the C-400 from an on-line retailer, based on your review, and also, because one of the engineers that gives webinars for students enrolled at the Edge Studio recommends it.

    However, you all should be aware that the c-400 and c-600 have recently been listed as DISCONTINUED by most retailers, and they are extremely hard to find. And the price has been jacked up. The reason seems to be that inMusic who took over M-Audio, did not acquire these and some other products from AVID, although AVID claims that they will “continue to offer them (sic).” (see link below).

    But B&H told me they will be RE-issuing them…but when??? And one of the AVID salespeople told me that they ARE discontinuing them—What gives ???

    If you guys can get some more specifics, I’m sure we’d all be grateful.

    Also, what’s your take on the particular version of Pro Tools SE software included with the C-400 for a new Voice-Talent’s DAW??? Is there a better version of Pro Tools or will that suffice for now??

    Thank you much!

    http://forums.m-audio.com/showthread.php?33672-Fast-Track-C400-MP9-HP-DV7-1245DX

  50. michael k

    March 8th, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    anybody there????????

  51. Jason Miller

    March 8th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Hey Michael,

    I don’t know anything about the AVID/M-Audio/inMusic situation. The C400 was available at the time of our test, and it stood out. As far as it’s current availability goes, it sounds like you know more than I do.

    I’ve never used Pro Tools SE, so I can’t really have an opinion on it. For simple VO work, I’m sure it will have all the necessary functions.

    Good luck!

    Jason

  52. Carlos

    August 7th, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Hey man, just wondering when you used the c400, did you use a cloudlifter with it or did it work fine without? enough volume? thanks!

  53. Jason Miller

    August 9th, 2013 at 10:19 am

    The C400 seemed to offer a good amount of clean gain without the CloudLifter. That being said, something like a CoiudLifter would make your rig even more versatile as you’d be able to record even quieter sources (soft voices or acoustic instruments).

  54. Dan Ortego

    August 14th, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Excellent review so thanks! I’m just getting started with my pithy home studio and thus far I’ve tested for Mic’s and three pre-amps. Currently, I’m using the RE20 but I’m very tempted to order the seven SM7B. I have the Aphex J-Pre and I’m about ready to order the Cloudlifter-Z. I spoke with Roger Cloud and he highly recommended the ‘Z’ over the standard C1 for its adjustability. Combined with my J-Pre (65db), I’m sure will do well for what I have, and if I decide to change to the SM7B I’ll be in good shape.

    Frankly, the samples in this review has really changed my opinion, as all other sound clips I’ve heard with SM7B do not sound anywhere near as good as the samples included here. Fortunately, B&H Photo has an excellent return policy so I just may do it.

  55. Matt

    August 18th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Hey dude,

    I just wanted to say thanks for this great article. I’m no sound engineer, but I wanted to create a nice recording setup. After a ton of research I landed on the SM7B mic, after more research I found I needed a pre-amp, and after a few more searches I ended up here. I can hear a clear difference between the C400 and other interfaces. Thank you for writing this! :)

  56. Dan Ortego

    August 18th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    As a newbie I couldn’t really tell much difference between the various preamps although 4,5,7 & 8 appeared to sound less bright than the others.

    Personally, I opted for the Aphex J-Pre which I’m sure is way overkill but the horse is already out of the gate.

  57. Ethan

    August 20th, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Hello there. I got a Steinberg UR22 a few months back and have been using it as my AI ever since. I’m looking to get the SM7B for recording vocals but after all the digging online, the gain seems to be a big issue. The microphone input information for the UR22 is as follows:
    Microphone Input (Balanced)
    Maximum Input Level -10 dBu
    Input Impedance 4k Ohm
    Gain Range +16 dB to +60 dB
    Would you reckon this is compatible for the SM7B?
    I can’t find anyone who’s used the pair together so I’m really unsure of whether I should go ahead with the purchase..

  58. matthew mcglynn

    August 20th, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    @Ethan, any of these preamps is _compatible_. Some will give you less gain than you need, or more noise than you want. The specs won’t help you. If the UR22 has other features you desire, then buy it; if you have a gain or noise problem with the SM7B, get a Cloudlifter, and you’re done — every problem solved.

  59. John D.

    October 30th, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Hello Jason, I have a M-Audio FireWire Solo and my TUBEPre connected to it, recently I get a SM7B and I have the noise problem and the poor gain in. It really will help the Cloudlifter on this settup? I will buy another sound card if I really need to get a new one, but I can not spend much on it, so if I can get a good result with GL, I will be more than happy.

    thanks for the review Jason, it is being so helpful and the best review I have seen until now.

  60. matthew mcglynn

    October 30th, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    @John, the cloudlifter will give you ~20dB more gain into the preamp. If the noise you’re hearing is coming from the TUBEpre, then you’ll hear less of that in the DAW because you’ll be able to turn down the TUBEpre gain by about one-third. But if the noise is acoustic or environmental, or due to a problem in the mic, then you’ll hear MORE of the noise, because the cloudlifter will amplify it.

    Do you get the noise from the Firewire Solo itself, with the mic plugged in directly?

    I just want to be clear that the cloudlifter is not a magical noise filter. It simply reduces the need for preamp gain. If your preamp gain sounds bad, then the cloudlifter will definitely help. If your noise is due to something else, then you probably have to fix the something else first.

  61. Jonas Carlsson

    October 31st, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Great shootout of those sound interfaces. Hard not to fall in love with the C400. Something I don’t get is why the C600 is almost twice the price, where they are still available. They’re described as similar in every way, except of course for the numbers of I/O connections, so not sure what the deal is there…

    It may seem as an odd question but I have a number of friends that favour Focusrite products, such as the Scarlett line, mainly for their pre-amps. And they do sound fairly neutral and seem to offer decent dynamics. So I’m kind of torn between the Focusrite and the M-Audio/ Avid FT.

    I believe there are no officially published spec’s for the FT C400/ 600 series, and I would have liked to see those to pull the trigger with some confidence. Read somewhere the C600 was “less immaculate” than the Focusrite, which seems to imply overall quality rather than its response not being flat and correct.

  62. Jhon

    November 25th, 2013 at 10:36 am

    You have a perfect production voice. I didn’t notice any difference between 2i2 and fast track with or without Cloudlifter CL-1. Will be nice if you share some tips or some practices to develop this kind of broadcast voice. I can’t even get 10% of your voice from samples.

  63. Myrrhbear

    December 3rd, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Advice please: I read your older USB audio interface review, and this newer one, and am not sure how to proceed.

    I have a Tascam LD-74 condenser mic, which came with my Tascam US-122. The US-122 is not supported on Windows 7, so… I guess I have an expensive paperweight.

    I want to be able to use the LD-74 microphone to record singing/guitar, so I went searching for a solution for XLR to USB so I can plug my mic into my desktop PC. Also, I need something that works with Windows 7.

    I had been looking at the Shure X2U based on your earlier article, but I noticed that a lot of people were having problems with it making a hiss sound, so that dissuaded me from the purchase. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldGtW8OuXs4

    Since your new USB Interface shootout is specialized to combining these devices with the SM7B… I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

    > What device would you recommend at this point (Dec 2013) for:
    Connecting my Tascam LD-74 mic into my PC which is running Win 7
    For vocal recordings, (and guitar) ?

    I know very little about recording or audio hardware/software. Also a solid solution at a lower price would be my aim. Products with lots of reviews of breaking easily, or stopping working after a short time, or requiring a lot of trouble shooting, I am leery of.

    Any guidance would be much appreciated : )

  64. Artie Norton

    December 10th, 2013 at 6:40 am

    OK, so I’ve just been given some Amazon gift certificates for the holidays and am wondering if I should pick up an sm7b. I have a Focusrite 2i2 and do not have a cloudlifter. I currently own a M. Jolly modded MXL 910, but it seems to have too much presence when I’m singing loudly, and a sm48 that doesn’t quite have enough clarity for what I’m after. So here’s my question: should I pick up an sm7b without a cloudlifter or go with an sm58? Some have told me that an sm7b will work great with a 2i2 if I’m singing loud. Others have said that the difference between the two mics is negligible with my rather low budget set up. My Joly mic works great for my more breathy low volume ballads. As always, thanks for any help with this.

  65. matthew mcglynn

    December 10th, 2013 at 9:25 am

    @Artie, I’d get the SM7B. If you later determine that the 2i2 does not have enough gain to get a good signal out of the SM7B, you can add a cloudlifter later.

    But the SM58 with *any* preamp, cloudlifter or not, will not sound as good as the SM7B.

    (The SM7B will work well with just about any interface, if you are using it for loud sources; the only risk to the SM7B is that for quiet sources you might end up maxing out your preamp, thereby causing noise in the signal.)

  66. Artie Norton

    December 10th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you, Matt. I just needed a nudge!

  67. John D.

    January 2nd, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Hi Jason, I been testing the SM7B through the TUBEPre (12AX7 TUBE electro-harmonix INSIDE) and straight to the Maudio Solo, and the hiss is the same, cos is not a noise is just a hiss when you rise up the gain, also I have the same hiss with mu Shure Beta87A with the same gain, of course the SureBeta sound louder cos is condenser, but to find if the problem it is with the mic is a good test. I think with the cloudlifter I will get the extra clean gain that I need…Hopefully.

    I´m think about a new sound interface, I need low latency and clean INPUT for my Shure SM7B around 250$ max 300$ any advice, the M-Audio Fast Track looks quiet out of date to find one, any other option to consider.

    Thanks Jason for your time and share.

  68. Isaiah

    February 13th, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Was the Cloudlifter shown used while recording the the samples? Or were they straight from the audio interfaces?

  69. Jerome

    April 9th, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Great article!
    very useful to me :-)
    thanks for running that comparison and providing the sample files

  70. Jon

    April 25th, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Super good help! Thanks so much for taking the time!!!

  71. marianne

    July 16th, 2014 at 8:23 am

    So helpful, thank you

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