Do you want to record music in the best possible way? Do you want your sound quality to be the highest quality it can be?
This is where audio interfaces come in!
If you’re recording with a desktop or laptop computer, audio interfaces are VITAL in recording the best sound from your instruments.
Read more to learn about audio interfaces and how they work!
What is an Audio Interface, and How Does it Work?
In technical terms, an audio interface converts microphone and instrument signals into files that your computer and production software can READ AND RECOGNIZE.
We’re sure that was DIFFICULT to understand, so we’ll make it easier for you to understand.
In layman’s terms, an audio interface is what allows you to record music using your computer!
The interface allows you to record audio, separate tracks, and easily record various sounds – from podcasts to an entire band.
What Are Audio Interfaces Composed Of?
Some interfaces come with built-in features like:
- A USB port
- Dynamic range
- A wide variety of sample rates
- A midi controller, and other features!
Many interfaces complement well with other music equipment. Some of that equipment are:
- XLR inputs,
- XLR cables
- XLR microphone
- Pre-amps, and other equipment!
There is always a dedicated audio interface in the room in a typical recording studio and several monitor speakers, condenser mics, USB microphones, and much more music equipment!
There is not a SINGLE studio that does NOT have an audio interface and even a mixer!
Their digital audio workstation of professionals will always contain this equipment to produce the best music!
What Does an Audio Interface Do?
An audio interface allows any audio recording to be placed on your computer.
The most basic audio interface allows separate audio tracks to be grouped and edited through inputs and outputs.
Interfaces have different ways of connecting to the computer. These are:
- Thunderbolt audio interfaces
- USB audio interfaces
- FireWire, and more!
This process can be REVERSED!
The computer converts its digital signal to an analog signal heard through studio monitors connected to speaker outputs or headphones connected to the headphone output!
Benefits and Drawbacks
As significant as it is in music, an audio interface has its benefits and drawbacks. No product is perfect anyway!
Here are those said benefits and drawbacks an audio interface has!
Here are some of the most beneficial features you will get if you use your very own audio interface!
Records Audio With More Control
The product opens more opportunities to play around with your audio, especially with multiple inputs!
Unlike the default sound recording systems, the interface solely FOCUSES ON AUDIO.
Its functionality lets audio recorded be its real sound with no unwanted noise and unnecessary frequencies.
Allows to Record Instruments That Require Multiple Inputs
If you plan to record music with only your computer or laptop, you are LIMITED to how many things you can record due to the built-in inputs in your said computer or laptop.
With the interface, you have additional inputs to work on; you can be CRAFTY and change the settings of said inputs!
The product’s beauty gives the musician opportunities to experiment and explore!
Separate Tracks Can Easily Be Edited
In addition to having more control over the inputs, the interface allows you to group these channels properly in your software!
When recording with many microphones and an interface, the audio will transfer to the computer, allowing for the picked-up audio to be separated from each other, making it easier to edit!
Instead of a chaotic DISASTER, it becomes a disciplined group of people wanting to achieve the same goal!
Here are some of the harmful drawbacks you might experience when using an audio interface!
PC With Slow Processing Power Will Affect the Function of the Audio Interface
A PC or laptop that does not have the best processing power will NOT record audio PROPERLY.
The interface will not perform at its best if not accompanied by good power. Unwanted noise can be picked up, latency can occur, and the audio can be JAGGED.
Many Software Are Needed to Fully Utilize the Interface
It’s already a big problem if your pc or laptop does not have the best power. It’s an even BIGGER problem if your pc cannot handle the software REQUIRED for the interface to fully function.
As simple as it sounds, the software for the interface to fully operate is CRUCIAL in the process of recording audio.
Without the software, where will the tracks go? It’s essential to have a good pc or laptop to fully utilize BOTH computers and interfaces!
Is an Audio Interface Necessary?
The short answer is YES, IT IS NECESSARY.
It is ESSENTIAL for music production because it allows you to use your recording software on your computer, allow you to hear what you’ve just recorded, and allow digital signals to be read.
When it comes to digital and analog signals, musical instruments emit analog signals. Since computers cannot process analog, it needs an audio interface to CONVERT it from analog to digital.
In layman’s terms, you need an audio interface to allow recordings to be placed on your computer!
The built-in sound card in your computer will not suffice if you want the highest quality of the audio recording.
If you want your audio to sound like a professional recording and have good direct monitoring of your audio, you NEED an audio interface!
Audio Interface vs. Sound Card: What’s the Difference?
Before comparing the two, let’s briefly discuss a sound card.
A sound card is an expansion card responsible for PRODUCING SOUNDS on a computer or laptop that can be heard through multiple inputs like speakers and headphones.
From that description, it makes you wonder. Isn’t an audio interface a sound card also?
YES, yes it is! You could say that the audio interface is an EXTERNAL SOUND CARD.
So what’s the difference between the two if they do the same basic job? If they’re the same, why should I buy an audio interface?
While computers and laptops have sound cards in their system, it does not give you the capabilities to sound professional, and it fails to produce the actual sound recorded!
How to Choose the Right Audio Interface
There are several ways to choose the PERFECT audio interface for you.
While finding that is different for everyone, these are the GENERAL steps in choosing the most suited audio interface!
1. Consider Your Budget
First and foremost, when choosing the best audio interface, you need to know your BUDGET.
Do you want an affordable interface or an expensive and HIGH-QUALITY interface?
You should never take your budget for granted because investing in a product as delicate as interfaces can either make or break the money you spend.
If you plan on recording for a short time, don’t go for the very expensive products! But if you plan on using the product for the long run, then go for what suits you the best in both quality and longevity.
2. Do You Plan on Recording Music or Recording Pure Audio?
Consider knowing what you plan on doing when buying the product.
Do you plan on recording music? Do you plan on doing things like podcasts or content videos?
This step is ESSENTIAL in identifying the purpose of buying an interface.
If you’re going to buy an interface for music, you need an interface with a good amount of inputs due to connecting microphones to properly record all kinds of instruments.
If you’re going to buy an interface for other purposes, identify if you need more inputs than the usual two. Since talking is not as intricate as music, you do not need many inputs!
3. Do You Want To Control The Volume Of What You’re Recording?
Multiple interfaces require inputs to receive an input signal from recording.
If they are recording a person talking, the microphone – a USB microphone, a condenser microphone, or any other microphone, receives the audio and transfers it to the interface.
Then, the interface allows the signal to be MANIPULATED; if the person is talking with a loud voice, the person in charge of the interface can either tone it down or edit the signal!
The same goes for musical instruments! There are instances wherein a home studio could make a certain instrument louder than usual.
For example, a studio with bad acoustics can make the drums sound like it’s trying to ruin the ears of the people in the studio!
To compensate for that, interfaces are then used to control that!
4. How Many Instruments Do You Plan On Recording?
Recording many instruments is a different story.
You will need to use many pieces of equipment, like:
- A USB mic
- DAW software
- A MIDI keyboard, and other equipment
Using these will ensure that the music produced is recorded BEAUTIFULLY.
For example, a drum kit cannot be recorded properly if it is not mic’d properly! Meaning a mere one USB microphone won’t CUT IT.
When buying an interface, you need to consider ALL THE POSSIBILITIES in the recording.
- What is the sample rate of the interface?
- Is it compatible with my MIDI controller on the computer?
Figure out the things you have to record when choosing the best interface!
What Are Technical Terms to Know When Looking Into Audio Interfaces?
The topic of the audio interface is quite a technical topic. You need to know how sound works, how many inputs the interface has, and more.
This article section will show you the different technical terms when discussing the product to better understand how they work!
Latency is often regarded as the delay between live and playback audio.
Often, you will have a bit of latency when watching live performances. But in a recording studio, the ideal should be that recordings have LOW LATENCY.
Having even a good amount of latency is NEVER GOOD. It’s like hearing random noises during recording and RUINS it.
This is why when recording, interfaces are CRUCIAL!
Do you want to achieve zero-latency monitoring? You have to be sure that your computer and interface are well-equipped with good processing power and capabilities!
The drivers are like BRIDGES. They allow the interface to communicate with the computer.
The computer and interface cannot work together without it!
The drivers are also responsible for reducing latency. They make it so that the latency is not even NOTICEABLE!
Pre-amps, also known as the microphone preamplifier (mic pre-amps), amplify microphones.
They do not NECESSARILY amplify the microphone, but they amplify the very small signal in a microphone to be recorded properly!
Since there are frequencies that even microphones cannot pick up, it is ideal that a microphone is connected with a good interface to be great and reliable.
Mic preamps are responsible for allowing the real sound of recordings to be heard and clear!
Phantom Power is the process of delivering direct current to microphones, particularly condenser mics!
In layman’s terms, if you want condenser mics inputted in an interface, you need phantom power to do the job!
It sends electrical currents through the microphone cable, activating the capacitor and working TOGETHER with the interface.
It’s through the power that ALLOWS the mics to record with ease and clarity!
One is familiar with the term “16-bit” or “24-bit,” right?
That is basically what the bit depth is!
When choosing interfaces, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to go for the 24-bit because the more bits, the greater the headroom when recording.
In other terms, 24-bit allows one to record hot signals without clipping the audio!
- 24-bit is AMAZING for a recording studio because recording quieter noise floor is better.
- 24-bit does NOT record unnecessary noise!
In short, 24-bit > 16-bit!
The sample rate is a bit more complicated to understand.
First and foremost, there is a range of sample rates. The following ranges are 44100Hz, 48000Hz, 88200Hz, and 96000Hz.
To easily understand the sample rate, let’s compare it to frames per second (FPS) when playing a computer game.
When playing a computer game, the higher the FPS, the more the computer can register and take, meaning smoother and clearer gameplay.
When talking about sample rates, it is that! The higher the sample rate, the BETTER.
In Comparison to Services like Spotify
However, with higher sample rates comes more hard work for your computer and other software!
For example, since Spotify has an audio delivery sample rate of 44100Hz, any music recorded in any higher sample rates will have to be trimmed down to 44100Hz.
Spotify does NOT have the capabilities of reading higher sample rates, so the music recorded in said higher rates have to ADJUST to Spotify’s required audio delivery. Sucks right?
In short, sample rates are what capture audio in its purest!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are the most FAQs asked by several people regarding the topic! If the article did not provide the information you wanted to see, hopefully, this section will!
Can You Mix Without an Audio Interface?
You CAN mix without an audio interface, but the quality of the recording will not be AS GOOD without one!
You do NOT need the interface because computers and laptops have built-in sound cards that allow them to record sound even without an interface!
A USB mic can be recorded well without an interface. Because all it needs is a USB port and you can record!. But it cannot reach a professional level!
The best time to mix without an audio interface is when you do not require multiple inputs to capture sounds from external instruments and microphones.
Although it is possible to mix without an audio interface, capturing sounds will be difficult.
The sounds will not be as reliable, and you will not have good references for sounds.
How Much is an Audio Interface?
These interfaces cost around $30-$300.
Although most audio interfaces are affordable, the BEST audio interface can cost around $400 and above.
Many audio interfaces used by musicians are often the most expensive interfaces as they want the BEST QUALITY of sound in a professional recording.
If you’re looking for an audio interface at an affordable price, the lowest it can go is $30! However, if you want a good quality interface, the price can go up to $300.
Do Expensive Audio Interfaces Make Sound Quality Better?
While it may not be obvious for casual listeners, expensive audio interfaces make the sound quality BETTER!
- Expensive audio interfaces not only make the sound better, but they also offer MORE FEATURES like the number and type of audio or MIDI inputs and outputs.
- An expensive audio interface sounds better than your typical interface because it uses higher-quality microphone preamplifiers and analog-digital (A/D) converters.
In short, costly interfaces make audio production sound better due to its additional features, higher-quality built-in functions, and various inputs to work with.
What is the Difference Between an Audio Interface and a Mixer?
Essentially, the audio interface and mixer MANIPULATE and USE an audio signal according to their functions.
An audio interface converts analog signals to digital signals due to its compatibility with computers. An analog signal AUTOMATICALLY converts to a digital signal passing on the computer.
While a mixer is a device with inputs and outputs used to process and route audio signals.
While both products have different functions, they both complement each other! An audio interface would GREATLY benefit from a mixer to control more inputs.
Sound can also be easily routable and manipulated through the use of both audio interface and mixer!
In conclusion, audio interfaces are ESSENTIAL in producing studio-quality recordings of music!
An audio interface allows you to control multiple channels from multiple instruments and produce the best sound possible!
We hope the article helped expand your knowledge of audio interfaces.
Good luck in your future musical endeavors!