Are you looking for a way to amp up your home studio? Is an audio interface FOR YOU? Or you’re not sure if you need it?
The short answer: Yes, if you are SERIOUS about your music career!
Read through this article to know if you need an audio interface, how it works, and which you will pick!
What are Audio Interfaces?
Audio interfaces are typically rectangular boxes with dials, knobs, and buttons on the outside.
And you’ve probably seen them without recognizing it!
Audio interfaces are the pieces of hardware that allow you to get sound into and out of your computer or other devices.
They transform audio impulses from different musical instruments into digital signals that your computer can interpret.
Audio interfaces are the same as the sound cards in your phone or computer. Most audio interfaces can be thought of as external sound cards.
They all accomplish the same: allowing audio to enter and exit your device.
Do I Really Need an Audio Interface?
You’ll need an audio interface if you wish to record to your computer program using a USB mic, a guitar, or your keyboard.
You’ll also need an audio interface if you wish to connect your computer to your studio monitor speakers.
An audio interface is frequently required if you want higher sound quality when making music.
An audio interface is essentially a supercharged sound card designed for producers, DJs, and musicians.
Terms You Should Know
These are the terms you need to know to fully understand audio interfaces:
- Ins and outs – Sometimes known as inputs and outputs. These are the locations where the audio interface’s inputs and outputs are connected in (outputs).
- Input devices – If you’re recording your own playing and performances with just one microphone or instrument, you’ll need one input. However, there are a few sorts of inputs to check for on an audio interface. Instruments like the guitar will require a line-level input on the audio interface.
- Output devices – An audio interface typically has two outputs. They supply power to your monitor speakers, one for the left and one for the right.
- MIDI – Abbreviation for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI allows electronic and digital instruments and microphones to communicate with one another.
- Latency – Noticeable delay between the real sound and its reproduction in the speakers or headphones is latency.
- Drivers – Software programs that allow an audio interface to communicate with a computer.
- Direct monitoring – A feature of audio interfaces that allows you to hear the analog audio inserted straight into the audio interface. Direct monitoring has the potential to minimize and eliminate latency.
Pros of Audio Interfaces
Audio interfaces allow desktop computers to provide a more PROFESSIONAL sound than a standard sound card.
Computer sound cards are not designed especially for recording music; they are designed to fulfill a variety of software.
Because an audio interface is designed expressly for this purpose, the sound card provides high-quality sound.
Most audio interfaces feature additional functions such as ‘phantom power,’ an extra power source for different microphone types, specifically condenser microphones.
Latency is the time lag between playing a note and when the computer recognizes it. This might be as little as a second, but it makes recording almost difficult.
Thankfully, audio interfaces help you avoid such issues!
Multiple Inputs and Outputs
Audio interfaces not only boost a computer’s acoustic capabilities but also broaden the inputs and outputs accessible to you.
This allows you to record several instruments at once, such as a keyboard and vocals. It also allows you to record something like a synthesizer.
Most interfaces make it possible to connect 1/4-inch instrument cables or XLR microphone cables directly to your studio monitors without the need for adapters.
That said, they’re great to pair with studio monitors!
They also feature direct speaker outputs, reducing the number of items you need to try to plug into your laptop or computer.
Line inputs on audio interfaces allow you to connect to other devices. You can find line inputs on the front or rear of an audio interface.
These typically contain inputs that handle both XLR cables and 1/4-inch cables.
No Amp Needed
Often neglected, an audio interface allows you to record an electric guitar or bass without needing an amplifier.
This is because audio interfaces have pre-amps, which can ENHANCE the signal. So even if you only have a laptop and a pair of headphones, you can still record your guitar.
That’s pre-amps for you!
Cons of Audio Interfaces
This may not be ideal for those who want to stick with a minimal look with their setup. So, be wary that you might need extra space for the audio interface!
Some interfaces are quite expensive, especially if you plan to spend on other audio gear. Luckily, there are a lot of affordable options!
But an audio interface may not be practical if you are really tight on money.
Choosing an Audio Interface
Audio interfaces connect easily, so they should also be easy enough to use! Here’s what you need to consider before buying one.
USB Audio Interfaces
USB is rather simple to use!
Simply connect it to an open port on your computer, and your audio interface should be up and running in no time.
You don’t even need a power source for your audio interface anymore because it’s powered by USB.
Most producers find USB audio interfaces to be the MOST CONVENIENT. Purchase the most recent USB 3.0 audio interface.
These days, many retailers will try to offer you cheap USB 2.0 audio interfaces to clear out their old stock.
Because USB 3.0 is obviously quicker than USB 2.0, you should look for an audio interface with the QUICKEST connection available.
Macs may not have a USB port, but you can always get an adapter.
FireWire Audio Interfaces
The advantage of utilizing Firewire over a USB connection is that Firewire can stream larger amounts of data with lower latency.
With low latency comes better sound quality!
Most Firewire audio interfaces also support expansion, allowing you to connect extra devices to increase inputs and outputs.
Remember to always turn on the computer after connecting the Firewire connection!
Firewire is divided into two types: Firewire 800 and Firewire 400.
Check the ports that your computer allows and purchase an audio interface that corresponds to the port on your computer.
Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces
Firewire ports are no longer included in the latest Macs. Thunderbolt, a newer standard, has taken its place.
Thunderbolt was first pricey and considered luxury goods, but thanks to firms like Apogee, you can now obtain audio interfaces at consumer-level costs!
Furthermore, Thunderbolt connections are definitely bound to be obsolete in a fast-changing world of tech.
What Sound Quality Are You Looking For?
When it comes to buying an audio interface, sound quality is going to make or break it. Note that the higher the quality, the higher the price!
When finding a decent audio interface, you should look into its bit depth, converter quality, and sample rates.
Remember that digital recording changes your analog signals to bits and bytes.
For instance, a 16-bit standard may generate some background noise and may not be as good quality as, say, a 24-bit recording.
24-bit recording produces finer, more professional results with less background noise.
A/D or D/A converters can be analog to digital or digital to analog.
Converters are devices that convert sound into digital data, then take the digital data from the computer and convert it to audio output.
As a result, you’ll want to invest in an interface with good converter quality. Your recordings will sound considerably better when they come out of the computer this way!
Sample rates are the amount of audio and data that your equipment records at any one time.
Higher sample rates, in principle, may collect more information and convert it into a more pleasing sound.
A greater sample rate in an audio interface may be quite beneficial if you want to generate high-quality, professional music production.
What’s the Price Tag?
Audio interfaces range in price from around $20 for the simplest to about $7,000 for the most advanced.
Another reason it’s critical to consider what you need from an audio interface before purchasing one is the cost.
Can you afford to buy all the necessary parts? Can you save money on an audio interface if you don’t need one that’s very complicated? Do I need an audio interface?
How to Make Music With an Audio Interface
Audio interfaces are great, but what if you are still saving up for them or are not convinced about their uses?
Here are some ways for you to pursue your music production with the help of audio interfaces!
1. Connect an Adapter to Your Computer
It is easy to get a simple adapter or cable that will allow you to plug straight into your computer from a guitar amp or keyboard.
This helps you record on a DAW such as Audacity on a PC or Garageband, which is pre-installed on most Apple devices.
The issue with this method is that it relies on the sound card installed on your computer or laptop.
2. Use a USB Microphone
There is now a wide range of USB mics available that you can connect to your laptop and begin recording with.
You could use your USB mic to capture almost any ‘live’ sound, from voices to a guitar amp to a violin. The quality will most likely be fine!
However, you’ll need a good quality amp and a space with good acoustics for recording electronic instruments like guitars or synths.
This is so you don’t wind up with a lot of unintended echoes on your recordings.
3. Use Virtual Instruments
When you think of a recording studio, you may see a complete band with drums, guitars, and vocals.
But the fact of contemporary recording is that you can make entire songs with only a laptop or computer!
You can create virtual instruments from samples of actual instrument recordings or have them computer-generated.
Many pieces of software come pre-loaded with multiple instruments like drum loops, allowing you to build a full song even on your phone!
Many professionals actually use this method!
A MIDI keyboard connects to your PC through USB and allows you to play these sounds in a way that seems nearly genuine.
Digital connections are one of the easiest and most accessible music inputs you can use at home.
NOTE: If you’re a music producer who only wants to record vocals with only one microphone or two, pick an audio interface with two inputs and outputs. However, if you’re a music producer or artist looking for external gear and record music such as drums, guitars, and other equipment, you’ll need something with more inputs and outputs.
Steps for Setting up an Audio Interface
So now, you’re ready to add an audio interface to your music production. How are you going to do it?
Here are a couple of necessary steps to get started with your own audio interface!
Step 1: Download and Install the Latest Driver for Your Audio Interface
Make sure you have the most recent driver for your audio interface downloaded and installed before beginning to actually use it.
Different drivers may exist for different types of computers; for example, the most recent driver for audio interfaces on Macs is a Core Audio driver.
Step 2: Get Out Your Audio Interface and Its Cords
Examine which cord is the audio interface’s power cord and which is the cord that connects to an external power source.
Look for the cord that links the interface to the computer as well. Both of these will be crucial in the coming phases!
Step 3: If It Has a Power Cord, Plug It In.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be shocked how many people forget that audio interfaces may require you must hook an external power supply and hence into one.
As previously said, plug your power cord into both sections; you must hook your power cord into your audio interface and a wall outlet or other power source.
Step 4: Connect Your Device to Your Audio Interface
Now connect your interface to the device you intend to use it with.
Although you’ve already heard that audio interfaces may be connected to other devices, this is typically a computer.
Connecting your audio interface directly to your computer or another device rather than through a USB hub is preferable.
Step 5: In Your Operating System, Select Your Audio Interface.
The next step is to locate your settings in your operating system as a whole. This may be found in any device you use, typically a computer.
To access your interface settings on a Windows PC, go to the Start Menu > Control Panel > Hardware & Sound > Sound. Then navigate to the Playback and Recording tabs.
You should be able to view your audio interface and its various components there.
To access your audio interface settings on a Mac, go to the top left of your menu bar and click the Apple logo.
Step 6: Select Your Audio Interface in Your Digital Audio Workstation Software
You’re almost certainly using digital audio workstation (DAW) software when you’re recording and experimenting with audio.
To name a few, these softwares include Ableton, FL Studio, Garage Band, and Logic Pro X.
To pick your interface in your DAW program, launch it and go to the settings area.
Typically, a choice will appear indicating which device linked to your computer will be utilized for output and input devices.
Step 7: Select an Input from Your Audio Interface
If you choose an interface with many inputs, you’ll most likely be using several sorts of inputs, such as microphones, MIDIs, drummers, guitars, and basses.
To use a certain input from your audio interface — and so record audio with it, you must first select which input to use.
Pay close attention to the numbers of your inputs and where they are positioned. Depending on the DAW program you’re using, this might be useful.
If you’re still confused about some things and wish for answers, we will answer them in the following section!
How Many Inputs Does an Audio Interface Have?
Most interfaces have VARYING inputs.
Some interfaces connect with as little as two inputs, but some can also require more inputs.
What Microphone Do You Need?
It depends on what gear you’re comfortable with. If you want something minimal and light, use USB microphones.
A USB interface is easily accessible and comfortable to use.
What’s the Best Audio Interface?
Besides having quality components, the best interface should have great quality, inputs that can work well with your needs, make your music production great, and such.
You can also check out Universal Audio – it provides one of the smoothest audio interfaces.
So, do you really need an audio interface?
If you’re someone who seeks to make better quality music, you will need an audio interface to get the best overall experience.
Audio interfaces work great on so many levels. Pair it with studio monitors, and your audio recording system at home will be the best.
A good audio interface will never fail your musical work.