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Ask - USB and FireWire Troubleshooting

April 18, 2012

I enjoyed your feature on mixers [“Roundup,” March 2012], and because of it, bought the Phonic digital mixer with the USB+FireWire board. I love the mixer, but sometimes USB works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve also tried FireWire, but it has problems too. I’ve downloaded the updates and am using Windows. What’s wrong?
That’s not a lot of information for troubleshooting, but we’ll give it a shot, as USB and FireWire issues are pretty similar for any interface, whether on Windows or Mac.

Don’t use USB audio devices with a USB hub (including powered hubs), but connect directly to the motherboard’s USB port. A USB card (e.g., PCI or PCIe) can also give good results, but avoid using combination USB/FireWire cards. Sometimes Windows won’t recognize a USB device if it’s turned on before the computer has booted; boot first, then turn on the USB device. With the Phonic mixer, make sure you’re plugged into a USB 2.0 port, not a USB 1.1 port. Finally, the device driver may not have installed correctly—with most USB driver installations, you install the software before connecting the hardware.

For FireWire, make connections with both the computer and Phonic turned off — although FireWire is supposedly hotswappable, there have been isolated, but verified, incidents of damage to FireWire ports due to hotswapping. As with most interface manufacturers, Phonic recommends a TI (Texas Instruments) FireWire chipset. If your computer doesn’t use TI chips, you can buy an inexpensive FireWire interface card with the TI chipset. Also, avoid daisy-chaining any other FireWire device (like a hard drive) with the interface. As with USB, FireWire audio devices are selfish and want a port all to themselves.

With either USB or FireWire, if problems still persist after following the above advice, swap out cables. Cables aren’t always perfect, and you won’t hear any crackling to tip you off when they’re carrying data instead of audio.


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