Tech Questions (And Hopefully Answers)

Foolish me! Bought an almost up-to-date computer, a MacBook Air with M1 chip. Very nice except it cannot do the one thing I want it to do without an added bit of gear. Which is to record a mix — like every DJ wants to do. In the old Apple days you could use the headphone out as a line-in for recording. No longer. Another stupid Apple decision.

So I’m asking for recommendations on brand and model for an external USB audio interface. I have a standard RCA to 3.5 mm audio-out from my amp and the MacBook Air has USC-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections. I’m not looking for a high-end piece of gear, just functional and reliable — and I’m price sensitive.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

I was all set to record my Lee Scratch Perry Sonic Frolic Birthday Mix today — and now, if I’m to do it today, LSP’s birthday, I have to drag my antique old MacBook out, which works but is very, very slooooow and has crap interconnectivity with the net. Big pain, practically it means being back to sneaker net!

As someone who uses an old G5 for all my music and graphic work precisely because I can’t update anything and have to learn new functions, I’m not the best person to answer, but I would record on the old Mac. Then open it in target mode so the new Mac can read its hard drive.

As I typed that I remembered a Mac in target mode can only be connected to with a firewire cable. Does firewire still exist?

You should be able to find a good value audio device by Focusrite brand. Probably £100.

I still use a G5 Mac for audio. Can’t use the web on it any longer or much else but audio is still just audio so it works perfectly for that.

Thanks. I’m looking at the Focusrites thanks to @deepconcentration pointing me that way in the "other’ forum. Honestly, they’re a bit on the pricey side for me — and what confuses me is that I don’t see RCA or 3.5mm line inputs. They look like big old XLR inputs. Which may be the way I have to go I suppose. Granted I’ve never been a tech person, but I’m not a complete idiot. Close, but not all the way. I’d better look at what other outs I have from my mixer before I drive myself nuts. (Too late, some may say. Too much Lee Scratch Perry already!)

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Somewhere, somehow. I see Firewire icons on the old machine. I seee cables on Apple. It’s all the bloody cables and interconnectivity that can drive one potty. I think I’ll actually use a thumbdrive. Last time I burnt a CD-ROM. That was nostalgic.

Ah yes the Focusrites are aimed at audio recording track by track. For a mix you just want one stereo input so there’s probably a more suitable basic audio interface. I only thought of the Focusrite as i have something similar in my music room with synths and drum machines.

Maybe I should get some of those so I have an excuse for the Focusrite!

Let me just advise anybody else who has a similar problem that this is a big irritating rabbit hole! There is just about no gear that is reasonable without overkill features, etc. Lots of old stuff with lousy reviews. I’m about to try a refurbished Focusrite 2i2 3rd Gen. Besides the issue of the inputs, it really is about the best looking thing out there. Haven’t quite finished my research.

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If you want something really simple that emulates the old mic in/headphone out of a regular laptop, a simple usb-c interface might just do the job.

If you just want to record mixes… you could buy this inexpensive usb interface
then record mixes into Audacity which is a free program, once recorded you can normalise and do some basic mastering on it, works fine for me…

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Thanks to all for your input. Lots of good suggestions and I value your experience and wisdom. I’ve looked at everything suggested and still have one more avenue to explore. I will say that everything I’ve seen has one or another drawback whether it’s cost, features, clunkyness, imminent obsolescence or whatever. I’ll report back more fully in a few days when I find out whether my current direction works out or not. And also address what I have learned about the field in general and what’s available. I did it so you don’t have to!

Can you believe that 35 years ago I was at the cutting edge of digitizing audio? I did the very first consumer CD-ROM with about 600 sound samples from various records, all taken from vinyl! There was only one piece of digital gear available and no internet for endless research. I conjured up the production process by the seat of my pants. Before my bloody time! I enjoyed doing it tremendously - thought I was at the forefront of a brand new way of discovering music. The CD-ROM sold for I think it was $150 a piece and we sold all 1,000 copies. Came in a big box with a manual on how to use this new medium of multimedia interactivity, as it was then called with great hype.

Now, we have Spotify, which in its way is the result of those early days. For awhile in the late ‘90s I tentatively worked on an internet music service that I called SoundSwell that would have been Spotify with bells and whistles. Guess who is not much of a businessman!

I’m happy being old school, but I don’t like feeling like a dinosaur, which is somewhat how I feel with what’s going on with tech now. And, to give you all fair warning, the rate of change is projected to increase, i.e. more change faster. Get ready.


Please forgive a copy-and-paste job from the “other” forum where I asked the same questions.

Marts73’s question/topic about digitizing vinyl got me thinking about it again - and so here we are.

Sorry, I’ve been distracted and forgotten to report on how things worked out.

I looked through everyone’s suggestions and essentially when it came to buying gear things fell into three categories.

Firstly, cheap audio adapters such as the Audio-Technica ATR-2X. There are dozens of them, all look about the same and have one big drawback which is that they are mono. No good for Adrian Sherwood productions!

Next there is a variety of relatively low-end interfaces, such as the IK Multimedia iRig Stream or Behringer UCA20. Generally I felt the problem with these was that they were limited in their features, looking near obsolete in their specs (USB 1!?), or reviews were dismissive of their general build quality. A lot of them were out of stock also.

Top of the pops, so to speak, were near professional interfaces, various models of the Focusrites for the most part. For me, they were on the expensive side and I’d need to buy new cables between mixer and interface. It all became a bit much for me.

However, I eventually had the brilliant idea of looking at the back of my mixer - and there was a USB socket! Wheels began to turn in my mind and I read up on specs, etc. After some period of frustration, I figured out that with one extra cable from Apple @ about $19, some firmware updates on the mixer, and a few other minor software settings I’d be able to send a signal direct from the mixer to the MacBook Air via USB.

And it worked. And I made a short test mix. And since then I’ve done about sweet bugger all with it! So I’ll probably have to figure out the software part all over again when I get back to the job because there appear to be holes in my memory. It was reasonably straightforward however. Mostly a matter of defining inputs and outputs on some MIDI controller that is part of the MacOS.

Thanks again for everyone’s various suggestions. Even though I didn’t use any of them in the end they were very useful in helping me think through the task.

I guess the big lesson was LOOK AT THE BACK OF YOUR MIXER!

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