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Front Panel USB Ports on PC desktops not recommended for USB Audio or MIDI Devices.

A common error we see with customers is when a USB Audio interface or USB MIDI Interface / Keyboard or a FaderPort is connected to the front panel connections on a PC Tower or Desktop computer. Most people are not aware that by doing this they are effectively plugging into a USB Extension cable that internally routes through the computer case to a pin header on their motherboard. Whether the system was built custom or it was purchased brand new at a store from a name brand provider, the system design is the same. 

We do not recommend the use of USB Extension cables for 2 primary reasons. 

  • The longer cable reduces the chance that data will communicate correctly.
  • There is a signal drop of about 3db in signal strength when going through the extender. 

The cable that ships with your product is usually 1M (approx. 3 feet) or 1.5M (approx. 5 feet). USB MIDI and USB Audio devices generally don't fare very well when the cables extend beyond 1.5M, actually the shorter the cable the better chance for error free use you are going to have. 

The length of this USB Extension found inside computer desktop cases is most often between 12" and 24" in length. The cable is most often poorly shielded or not shielded at all. The shield provides protection from stray electromagnetic and radio frequency (RF) interference that can prevent data from making it's way through the cable correctly.

In this example of a PC tower, we have highlighted with a red line where the Front Panel USB Port has it's internal cable extend a total of 18" from the front of the case down through the center and across the board to the pin header on the main board for USB. By plugging your USB Cable into this front panel port, you are effectively extending your USB Cable another 12" to 24" (in this example, 18"). 

This is enough for the device to drop out, increase chance for pops and clicks in audio recording and playback, not have enough power for bus powered devices to operate correctly (ie, FaderPort motor not working correctly, etc). If you have a USB MIDI Keyboard your keyboard may have note on / note off issues, notes may hang, button presses may not register, the list goes on. 

 

Even plugging in a powered USB hub between the front panel and your device may not resolve the issue. The best solution which is always recommended that you use a USB Port on the back panel of the system (seen here in green and red lettering).

On the back of your system you'll have several USB ports to choose from. Find one that his unoccupied to plug your device into. This should resolve any operational issues you have with device connectivity and/or device drop outs, motor not working, etc. 

This article is applicable to any USB Audio and/or USB MIDI Device. It also applies to USB Hard Drives, USB Cameras, and USB Flash Drives. 

The problem can only be resolved by contacting the makers of these systems and urging them to do a better job of shielding these internal cables more effectively, purchasing after market cables that guarantee better shielding, or avoiding the front panel ports altogether and make a habit of only using the ports on the back. 

 

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