How to Connect Firewire Devices To USB C/Thunderbolt 3 Port Without Losing Audio Quality

Have you ever used Firewire audio interfaces?

Most of them are now outdated and retired from the recording studios. Maybe the upcoming versions of DAWs won’t support them as well.

However they are NOW not an ideal choice for recording studios, some of them are still considered very good even by modern standards.

SUCH AS, MOTU 896 Firewire is known as a legendary audio interface when it comes to conversion quality.

EVEN, I have one piece in my studio.

BUT, what if you want to upgrade your Mac PC or a Windows computer to the latest hardware and software? The problem is there is no Firewire output in the latest Mac computers.

Well, solutions are there.

You can easily connect your Firewire audio device to the latest iMac with the help of certain adapters.

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BUT, not all Firewire to USB-C adapters is compatible with the new iMac. So in this guide, you will learn how to connect firewire to USB C in audio devices.

Tip: If you want to know more about USB-C you can refer to PCmags article on USB-C

That’s the reason you should read this guide till the end.

What is USB C?

USB C is the latest version of USB ports among the 7 generations of USB.

USB generations
Source: OnLogic

Apart from USB-2, it has oval shape connector which is easier to connect with USB-C compatible devices.

USB C connector

One of the best things about USB C is, unlike other USB connectors, you can use the connector in a symmetrical way like from both the up and downsides.

USB C port

USB-C is now used in most digital devices such as gaming consoles, mobile phones, and laptops.

USB-C data transfer rate

  • If USB C connector is connected to USB 3.1 port, it is capable of transferring 10GBPS.
  • If you connect the USB-C connector to USB 3.2 port then it can transfer data upto 20GBPS.

What is Thunderbolt 3

what thunderbolt 3 cable

Thunderbolt 3 is the latest version of the thunderbolt, exclusively used in Apple devices.

Where thunderbolt 1 and 2 required an external power source to operate in active mode, thunderbolt 3 can operate in both active and passive mode.

In passive mode, thunderbolt 3 provides a top speed of 20Gbp, while the active thunderbolt 3 cables provide 40Gbps speed.

Thunderbolt 3 can be used for several types of data transfer works and also works with USB-C devices. Even USB-C Cables can be used as thunderbolt 3 as long as you use good-quality cables.

Most USB-C devices can be used with a Thunderbolt 3 cable so you can use USB-C audio interfaces like Motu M-4 with any device that has a thunderbolt-3 connection.

But, Thunderbolt 3 devices can not be used with USB-C ports as they use discrete Thunderbolt chips to function.

As thunderbolt 3 and thunderbolt 4 are exclusive products of Apple so you will not find Thunderbolt ports in Windows devices.

But, you can use thunderbolt cables with USB C ports.

Firewire To USB C/Thunderbolt 3 On iMac and other Apple computers

This process is done by one of my friends who had tried to connect his MOTU 896 Firewire with his latest edition iMac.

He researched a handful of adapters by purchasing and returning them on Amazon and other marketplaces and finally got the audio interface working smoothly.

To go with the same process you’ll need 3 things,

  1. A Firewire 400 to 800 adaptor which supports Apple computers. (Only if you have a Firewire 400 device because there is no adaptor available for firewire 400 to USB C).
  2. A Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt 2 adaptor that should also support Apple computers.
  3. Apple Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C adaptor that you can buy on Amazon.

These 3 adaptors will make your life a lot easier with Fire-wire audio interfaces and Apple computers.

Here’s a tutorial video on how to use those 3 adaptors to get the system to work properly.

How to Connect Firewire To USB-C in Windows Computers

As thunderbolt connectors and cables work with USB C ports we can use the same process in windows. So, just like Apple computers, we need 3 things to connect Firewire devices to Windows computers.

Here are these

  1. A Firewire 400 to 800 adaptor (Only if you have a Firewire 400 device). It can be of any brand.
  2. A Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt 2 adaptor that should also support Apple computers.
  3. A Firewire 800 to USB-C/thunderbolt adaptor.

That’s it…

Now follow the below video tutorial to connect your Firewire audio interface with a Windows computer via Thunderbolt 3 port.

Actually, I have the latest Windows laptop with a thunderbolt port and got this technique worked successfully on this.

The Motu 896 Fire-wire is successfully connected to my computer’s thunderbolt port without any data loss and connection errors.

However, Thunderbolt USB-C ports are much faster than Firewire ports you should not expect the speed you get with the thunderbolt device.

BUT, when you are struggling in connecting your old Firewire devices with thunderbolt-only computers, such as iMac, Mac Pro, and other Mac-based devices then this technique works great.

FAQ On Firewire Audio Interface to USB C/Thunderbolt 3

Can I get lossless audio quality in Firewire to thunderbolt 3 USB-C connector?

It depends on the data transfer load. If you transfer data more than the capacity of Firewire capacity then the quality will lose. BElow the data threshold, there is no quality loss.

What is the price of Firewire to thunderbolt 2 USB-C connector?

Firewire to thunderbolt 2 adaptors are sold by Apple. This costs anywhere between $25 to $100.

How do I connect FireWire 400 to Thunderbolt?

I have already shown above how to connect FireWire 400 to Thunderbolt.

How can I use the legacy firewire audio interface devices on a USB-C port?

You can use legacy firewire audio interface devices on a USB-C port through FireWire to USB-C connectors.

Conclusion

Audio recording technology is continuously evolving over time. Decades back, the system was in the analog domain.

Then digital audio recording technology was born.

Evolution continued…

Especially, in device connectivity, we’ve seen 7 major generations.

The very first connection type was USB 1.1 and now we are using a thunderbolt 3 USB-C connection.

Every generation provided us with more speed and data accuracy.

BUT, with time our favorite hardware becomes outdated just only because of connectivity upgrades.

These types of techniques help us a lot in using our old devices with the latest computers.

I hope this tip will help you in connecting your old Firewire audio interface to the latest computer with Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port, USB C/thunderbolt 3 to firewire 400, or firewire 400 to USB C/thunderbolt 3 devices.

And, don’t forget to share this tip on your social media channels to help others.

Good day…😊

You may also like to read,

Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing, and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.

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17 thoughts on “How to Connect Firewire Devices To USB C/Thunderbolt 3 Port Without Losing Audio Quality”

  1. I will note that a USB type C connector can fit both a USB type C port and a thunderbolt3 port. and the thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapter is not USB-C unless I am mistaken and Apple actually made one of those but I don’t think they did. USB-C is both awesome and really annoying because it combines so many different things like HDMI, thunderbolt, USB, display port not into one port but into one port with multiple protocols. And if your device doesn’t support the protocol your other device has……..

    those are some great videos, I’ve had a few chats in the comments.

    Reply
  2. Hi!
    Thank You for this article. I want to buy new M1 Mac and I use MOTU 896HD with firewire port. Should I expect any MOTU drivers issues after connection with your method?

    Reply
    • That could be a problem. M1 macs need drivers designed specifically for M1, and unless MOTU has ported the M1 drivers specifically over to M1 *AND* apple has ported firewire-over-thunderbolt , you might be out of luck.

      Welcome to the world of planned obscelessance. And its a damn shame, I have some really nice firewire gear too.

      Reply
      • Stuff not made for the M1 runs fine with an emulation technology called Rosetta 2. This includes VST’s and interface drivers. Apple did a great job carrying mission critical into their future, Planned obscelessence is a boogeyman.

        Reply
  3. Nice article, very helpful. Would this work if coonect to Thunderbolt 3/USB C hub or should connected straight to the Mac?

    Reply
  4. I’ve been able to use my Rme Fireface 400 with this method, but everytime I restart the computer I need to unplug and then replug the adapter in order for windows to see it.
    Do you have the same problem?

    Reply
  5. I have an ancient EZQuest Firewire external hard drive, which I never use but always expected I would be able to use with my current iMac 2020 27 Inch desktop by using the correct adapter. You mention “audio” connections but not just connecting any Firewire device. Is there any solution to my problem? I have some digital photos on that drive that I haven’t stored elsewhere. Thanks for all your help on this.
    Jim Haberman

    Reply
    • Firewire to USB C Converters work well with all firewire devices, but I suggest you to first checkout the details of that firewire-USB C adaptor on Amazon along with the customer reviews, their official websites, review websites and forums before buying.

      Reply
  6. Hi,
    I tried your setup using Thunderbolt 2 to thunderbolt 3 USB-C + Thunderbolt 2 to Firewire 800 + F800 to F400 cables with my Dell G3 3500 laptop running under windows 11. I want to be able to use my Echo Audiofire 12 Audio interface on it.
    It happens to behave not correctly. When i try to read a wav file on bandcamp or Ableton. I get a glitch sound for 1 second then nothing anymore.
    I can see Ieee 1394 Controller (coming from Thunderbolt 2 to Firewire 800 cable) and the correct Echo Audiofire 12 peripheral under configuration panel.
    But things goes wrong somewhere. Does anybody experimented same issue or have any idea of what i could miss or did wrong ?

    Reply
  7. hi there, i have a motu 896 mk3, not hybrid, and was working super well on an old mac til i died basically. i got a “new” second hand machine but its running OS monterey and have all the dongles to connect it, i realise the drivers will be an issue as they were only issued until OS 10.14. any way around this? thanking everyone in advance.

    Reply
  8. I was doing just fine with my 2013 MacBookPro connected to 2 ADAT Light-piped MOTO 8Pre s that only have firewire 400 ( dongle adapter into thunderbolt port on the MacBookPro) until I updated to OS Big Sur. MOTU TechLink reply is that High Sierra was the last OS that would support FireWire. I’ve been trying to FIND High Sierra to download to a portable drive that I could boot from, but I can’t find a copy of High Sierra. . TechLink also said I could buy another current MOTU 8 Pre that has USB to the MacBookPro. I could still ADAT to one of the older 8Pre s. Not going that route.

    Reply
  9. this is great! I have an old M-AUDIO sound device that has 6-pin Firewire. But my mac does not have USB-C. I only have the USB-B. I can not find an adapter that would seem to work. The ones on Amazon have bad reviews that say they will fry your USB port.

    Reply

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