What Does Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Mean for Producers and Musicians?

What Does Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Mean for Producers and Musicians?

The following in part is an excerpt borrowed from an article by Craig Anderton (Read the full article here)

With computers and interfaces transitioning to ⚡ Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 using USB-C cables, here’s what Producers and Musicians need to know about this new technology.

With the computer interface connection standards like Thunderbolt and USB continuing to evolve, it is only inevitable that the result is going to be more complications, like looking for different cables, different connectors and adapters. Don’t you just wish that with all this kind of evolution there would be a simple solution, so that you could just get on with producing music? Well we think there is with the USB-C Connector.

That’s the potential of the latest USB-C connector, as used with both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 for data and power transfer as you’ll be charging your computer over USB-C. All of those USB Type-A, B, Mini-A, B, Micro-A, and Micro-B connectors will be all gone. Instead, you’ll have a bunch of high-quality USB-C cables capable of handling plenty of power. Even that AC adapter for your audio interface that wasn’t compatible with anything else on the planet you won’t even need, as long as the computer it plugs into has enough juice to power the interface.

This Sound so good … Well, that time is here. Like all major changes, there are going to be some initial issues as specs and gear settle into something new, but these advanced protocols already offer significant advantages.


What Does Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Mean for Producers and Musicians?

All using the Same Connector!

SB-C is intended to be a universal cable and connector specification. A USB-C connector is a significant improvement over the bulky connectors of the past: it’s reversible, so you can’t plug cables in upside down, and it is wicked thin so it will fit in just about anything — which is why many new smartphones use USB-C. This also means USB-C hubs can be smaller, and you’ll be able to fit more ports in tablets and small laptops. The term USB-C describes only the physical cable and connector, not the data speed or charging capability.

Because Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 (the latest generation for USB) use the same connector, it’s not surprising that some people are confused over which is which, or think they must be the same — but there are significant differences.

Thunderbolt 3 is currently the fastest data transfer protocol. It can transfer up to 40 Gbit/s with short cable runs (depending on whether you’re using passive or active cables — more info below), and 20 Gbit/s with longer cables. USB 3.1 Gen 2 tops out at 10 Gbit/s. (Note these figures are best-case — not all peripherals can run at those speeds.) Thunderbolt is also bidirectional and provides four lanes for PCI Express Gen 3 and eight lanes for DisplayPort 1.2 connections. What’s more, you can also daisy-chain multiple Thunderbolt devices so they share a single Thunderbolt port; whereas every USB device is a selfish little critter that needs to connect via its own cable to its own port.

So here’s the bottom line: if you want an audio interface with no perceptible latency, and/or need to drive multiple monitors or external high-speed graphics cards, Thunderbolt 3 is the ticket.

Thunderbolt 3 was designed to be the “one protocol to rule them all,” so it can connect not only to Thunderbolt-aware devices but also to older protocols like HDMI or FireWire via adapters. Perhaps more importantly — and one of the reasons for confusion — is that Thunderbolt 3 can also connect to the billions of USB devices.

Although USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices use an identical USB-C connector, this is solely for connecting to USB peripherals (some do support sending signals to Display Ports, but this isn’t guaranteed), which brings us to the connector version of New Rules:

Some Very Important Thunderbolt 3 Information:

Although Thunderbolt 3 always uses USB-C connectors, not all USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 3 ports. Similarly, not all USB-C cables are Thunderbolt 3 cables.

USB-C is not Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3 uses USB-C connections to transfer data and power. However, USB-C is simply a connector type; it doesn’t determine the type of data used by the connector. For example, USB-C connections can be used for Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1, and other data protocols, so USB-C connections are not always interchangeable.

Does your USB-C connector support Thunderbolt 3?

To determine if a USB-C port or cable connector supports Thunderbolt 3, first look for the Thunderbolt icon. The Thunderbolt icon on a USB-C port or cable means the connector supports Thunderbolt 3.

Whilst there are many types of Thunderbolt 3 cable available, Universal Audio recommend any length active or passive Intel-Certified Thunderbolt 3 cable. Other variables however may need to be taken into consideration when integrating other peripherals.

What about the Universal Audio Arrow ?

The Universal Audio Arrow interface is one of the latest Audio Interfaces on the market that requires a Mac or PC computer with available Thunderbolt 3 via USB-C port. The Arrow is not backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 1 or 2 ports nor is it compatible with the Apple MacBook*, which features a USB-C port but does not support Thunderbolt.


All technical details can be found in the Apollo / UAD-2 Knowledge Base: https://help.uaudio.com

A USB-C cable and the Thunderbolt 3 port on the Universal Audio Arrow interface. Note the lightning bolt logos on the port and cable that indicate Thunderbolt compatibility; the 3 on the cable indicates it’s suitable for Thunderbolt 3 data streams.


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