An audio interface is a piece of hardware that connects microphones, musical devices and other signals to your computer and converts external sound from an analog format to a binary digital format and the other way around.
Types of audio interfaces:
USB Audio interface: Those are the most common audio interfaces and mostly the cheapest. The advantage of an USB Audio interface is it’s universal connectivity. USB interfaces are easy to install as you can connect them directly to any usb port on your computer without having to use external drivers or other software. They are a perfect option for most of the applications of a home based producer.
Fire Wire Audio Interface: They are typically used for audio/video purposes. Fire Wire audio interfaces support a higher bandwidth and can send data faster than an USB interface. This increases the stability and performance of your recordings. They are commonly more expensive than USB interfaces and not supported by all types of computers. Your computer configuration must have a card bus, PCMCI or an express card slot to connect a Fire Wire audio interface.
PCI Audio Interfaces : Have the format of an expansion card and need to be mounted in a PCI slot in your computer. Overall more complex to use and most basic computers don’t have a PCI slot. The advantage is that they offer a fast transfer speed and that they are expandable by simply adding more cards. They don’t have analog inputs so you need to buy them separately and connect them with the card using an external ‘breakout box’.
PCM-CIA : Or PC card, is a flat and compact extension that’s inserted in a card bus slot in your computer. They are less common and hardly used anymore.
Why do I need an Audio Interface?
They are an essential part of a music studio. An Audio interface will improve the sound quality from your recordings and allows you to record several external devices simultaneously through multiple input and output options.
You can make music without an audio interface because every computer has an built up sound card but they have a lot of limitations. The drivers of your built in sound card won’t reproduce the same sound quality as an audio interface.
To record, master and mix your music you need the most pristine and transparent sound possible in order to achieve professional results, without jitter and interferences that you have with a built in sound card. Most audio interfaces include effects such as EQ, Reverb and compression that will help you improve the quality of your mixes instantly.
An audio interface will expand the sonic potential of your studio set up and offer you a more professional environment for your recordings.
The more you will grow, the more professional your music studio will become in which case, using an audio interface will be mandatory.
If you don’t use any external software but just your computer, VST Plugins and samples it is ok to start out with a sound card but if you want to bring your music to another level, you might want to acquire more professional equipment and buying an audio interface is an essential part of any music studio.
What is the best Audio Interface?
That question might be difficult to answer. There is huge choice of audio interfaces to choose from and prices might vary a lot. Like I have already mentioned before, you will need to consider which one suits your personal needs and preferences.
You need to identify the amount and quality of inputs and outputs, pre amps and other features that you need based on different aspects:
Let’s have a closer look at some of the aspects you might need to think of before you buy an audio interface by explaining some of the most important components and some technical features of an audio interface, the most important one being it’s configuration.
This will help you make a choice and understand better how an audio interface works and which one you should go for !
How to choose an Audio Interface?
The best audio interface will be that one that reproduces the most accurate playback without any latency or distortion and how well it handles input level signals. Like any other audio device, exceptional sound quality comes with a price!
The more digital convertors and the higher the quality standards of those convertors, the more expensive. Same goes for the amount and quality of mic preamps and in-and outputs available on a specific audio interface.
There are some great values out there for an affordable price though ( see ‘Which one do I recommend’ down the page )
There are some technical features that you need to take in consideration before you buy an audio interface and the configuration is the most important one.
The amount of in-and outputs ( I/O configuration) you need depends on the amount of external devices you have to connect. If you are home based producer with just a keyboard, you’ll obviously need less inputs that if you are band with 2 keyboards, an electric guitar and a singer.
The most basic audio interface has a two-channel desktop, an XLR and a ¼” socket and gain level control. They are ideal for most basic studio purposes and are easy to carry when you are a musician on the road.
More complex audio interfaces can handle hundreds of level signals simultaneously and can be served by combination sockets and super channels that enable you to deal with any kind of signal. Some even include effects like Reverb, EQ and compression on every output channel.
Audio and Midi I/O
If you are a Singer and/or acoustic guitar player, you will need only 2 pre amp inputs, which is a basic setting for most of the most affordable models and sufficient to handel mic signal level inputs .
If you are using a good quality condenser microphone, be careful to check for Phantom Power, to get the most optimal sound out of your mic.
This configuration is enough to handle mic and line in like inputs from acoustic and electric guitars and digital pianos.
If you need to add a keyboard or an other midi device you will need to have a midi I/O . The inputs must be capable to handle both in line and instrument level signals.
As a beginner you might choose for the cheapest option but I’d recommend to go to a model that offers a superior I/O configuration from what you might need right now, in order to have the configuration that you will need later when you build up your home studio and when your music skills improve. This will spare you from having some bad surprises!
Bit and sample rate:
Bit Is the resolution. The more bit rate the more accurate the play back will be. Check out to choose an audio interface with a min of 24 bits , which is a standard for most audio interfaces. The sample rate is represented in Hz is is the amount of units from a signal and how they interact to recreate the sound that we hear. This is quite technical and I will not elaborate more but it can useful to understand when you buy an an audio interface.
Which one do I recommend?
I am using the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 2 out usb recording audio interface.Why?
A producer/friend recommended me to use the Scarlett Audio Interface when I showed him my studio. He is DJ/ Producer for 15 years and has an extreme knowledge of music software and he can talk about audio interfaces for hours, so I trusted him and I don’t regret my choice. It’s definitely a great value and I can recommend it without any hesitation!
To give you an idea of how my home studio configuration looks like:
I am using Ableton live 9 Suite and Ableton Push ( which is connected to an usb port in my I Mac).
This is a quite basic home studio but I am using a lot of VST Plugins as well and a mic sometimes.
For my needs, the Scarlett 2i2 audio interface is a great value and I would definitely recommend it for this kind of studio set up and for beginners. If you recognize yourself with this description, you will not regret your choice!
The reasons why I’d recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 2 out usb recording audio interface above any other USB audio interface?
I hoped his helped you understand better what an audio interface stands for and why you need it in your home studio.
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My name is Angélique. I am a full-time music producer and blogger.I created Children of the Electronic Revolution to give you all the tools you need to help you become the successful music producer you dream to be !