USB vs Firewire vs Thunderbolt Interface?

Hi peeps,
My beloved Tascam FW-1884 is coming to the end of it’s useful life and I’m trying to find the right replacement interface. I bought a MOTU 828 MkII Firewire off a friend after hearing much about their reliability but have - after days of cursing and trying everything under the sun - can’t get it to work properly with Cubase or any other audio app. Much reading has suggested some issues with legacy firewire drivers for the MOTUs and the latest ones aren’t working at all.

So I’m pondering going for a new interface but and perplexed by all the chatter about formats…
Worried Firewire is old tech and have had plenty of problems with older drivers,
USB2 has less bandwidth and I have pretty poor latency with the Focusrite Scarlett I have in the studio at home
My mobo can take Thunderbolt but is that OTT for my needs?

I make music for a living (for TV & Film) so need something very solid. I don’t use a huge amount of I/O - max 6-7 channels but have very high track counts largely of orchestral VSTs. So will USB 2 do the trick? Any suggestions please!

Core i5 Windows pc
Asus 170-P mobo with USB-C
Windows 7 64 bit
TI chipset PCIE card
Cubase 9 Pro
Sonar X2

If looking for reliable stuff, assuming you run 96k then - why not internal cards like RME stuff.
RME AIO with addon board 4 inputs - if that is enough.
There is only one ADAT if to extend more, and that is 8 channels 44/48 or 4 channels more 96k.
If you need outs for surround, there are addon boards for 4 channels as well.

So 6 channels in and out 96k with the addon boards. Extendable on ADAT. But this is line level stuff, no preamps. They can be set as either -10dBV or +4dBu. If MOTU stuff you got has analog outs, you are done.

Never heard about anybody complaining about RME. I had my HDSP 9632, PCI version of AIO, for 8 years and not an issue. 64 samples buffers.
Before that I had 9636 Hammerfall 5-6 years or so.

2010 when I got my current daw, I tested firewire for the sake of it. And pretty much same experience as your latest tries. Tested various boards, cables and interfaces for three months and not working as I want, or getting lower latency than 128. And maybe worst, I was sucking 8% of cpu(30% one core) of my brand new i7-daw just keeping audio up, no daw started. God I tested settings and drivers.

So unless wanting to move interface around a bit, why not internal card. If doing 96k I would not trust usb to do 96k 6 channels in and out - but maybe I am prejudiced. Thinking that much data over usb with acceptable jitter in 96k 12 channels.

Well usb does work and I can get the latency down really low. I recently got a zoom l20. It’s not something I would recommend for your purpose but the latency and reliability is as good if not better than my old Yamaha n12 FireWire desk. I think usb has come a long way and it surprised me how good it was.

My thoughts are FireWire is out now and not the way to go for a new interface. It is also notoriously hard to set up for some reason. Thunderbolt may be your best bet for an external interface or as suggested above go for internal. I don’t use 96k so can’t comment on that. Do you?

I can’t comment on TB, but I have used several FW interfaces and now I have RME USB interface. If you go with any RME interface then USB/latency (@ very low settings) and VSTi count is not of any concern. Super solid.

Thunderbold is PCI express. USB and Firewire are stone-age technology in comparison. Bus transaction latency on a usb compared to pci express is 1ms compared to 15us for pcie. And the amount of processing is a lot higher for usb than pci. No doubt that TB is far superior, unfortunately also more expensive. Firewire is between, but is dead end.

Thunderbolt makes sense on a laptop as it is PCIe
But on a stationary computer it makes more sense to use the PCIe slots.
Performance depends more on the driver than on the interface standard.
Using a Usb2 connected RME interface can outperform a different interface on thunderbolt.
Bandwidth is of cause the biggest difference, on Usb2 you are typical limited to 8 channels plus one or two ADAT = 24 channels.
On usb3 you can get 192 channel interfaces,.
On thunderbolt, a lot more.
Have a look at this

Hi guys,

Do you know, how it is with jiter? USB has quite big one. What about FW or TB in this parameter, please?

Thanks for the input peeps. On further digging my pc can’t get Thunderbolt into it so that’s a no-go until the next one in a year or two. I’ve given up on the 828 and picked up a Focusrite 18i20 (USB2) to see if I can get the latency OK with my setup. I’ve never really looked into (or understood) card systems. But I will have spare PCIE slot going…so my choices there would be:

  • Some kind of RME thing with the break-out box for ins and out (but £££££)
  • Pick up a motu 2408 Mk3 and the PCIE card for a lot less (but a bit wary of motu drivers after my 828 experience).


If you are looking for flexibility, and performance… RME Fireface UFX+. Thunderbolt, USB 3, Two ADAT Channels, MADI, MIDI, etc. Rock solid dependable low latency service. Stop robbing Peter to pay Paul, and buy something that just works when you turn it on!


Latency seems to be about the quality of the drivers as opposed to the interface type. On my macbook pro I was using an Apollo Duet (thunderbolt). I then borrowed a RME Babyface Pro (USB2), and I was shocked at how much lower I could get the latency…like 1/3 of what I was getting with the Apollo.

For all the knocking on FW and USB, there’s something to be said about mature, supported technology. As long as PC OS makers continue to support the driver architectures that allow these interfaces, and HW vendors make the cards, FW and USB are totally appropriate. TB is fine too, though it’s more of an issue where it’s mandated. (Looking at you, Apple).