Audio interfaces are used to take your analog signal that’s coming from your microphone and convert that analog signal over to a digital signal that can be read by the computer. The audio interface then converts that digital signal, ie, the ones and zeros back into a signal that we can hear and so therefore it also does digital to analog conversion.
An audio interface is the best way to get sound into your computer and it could also improve sound quality. It’s a device that typically has one or more inputs and at least one set of outputs.
An audio interface solves this problem. It connects to a computer by USB and when I sing or play my guitar it converts the audio signal into a digital signal that my computer can record.
Let’s just say, I’ve got mics in my studio and an electric guitar and I want to record them on my computer, but my computer doesn’t have the right inputs, then I would use an audio interface.
At its heart, an audio interface really does just one simple thing route audio in and out of your computer or mobile device. And is one of the critical components in any audio chain.
Do you want to get quality sound from your microphone to your headphones?
Have you been thinking of getting an audio interface and do not know how to choose one?
If so then stick around, and continue reading the rest of the blog below.
So What are Audio Interfaces Used for?
A common question is why not just use the computer’s built-in microphone and speakers or headphone jack.
There are two reasons for this. The first is audio quality.
The onboard microphone speakers and headphone jacks in a computer are simply not designed for maximum audio quality, and instead, they’re designed to be functional at a certain price point.
Second, those onboard audio capabilities are severely limited for recording music, and for broadcasting streaming or podcasting we need more versatility and much more control.
Simply put, an audio interface is definitely the way to go if you want great sound quality.
How does an audio interface work?
The primary function of an audio interface as I mentioned is to get sound in and out of your computer or another device.
An audio interface does this using what are called analog to digital converters on the inputs and digital to analog converters on the output.
Basically, sound travels through the air as sound waves. it’s picked up and transmitted by microphones or picks up as analog voltages.
The converters in the audio interface change that analog voltage into digital ones and zeros that the computer can understand and then the process is reversed when you play audio back through the Interface.
The digital ones and zeros are converted to analog and then into sound waves. Now all of this takes place in the background so you really don’t have to worry about it.
But it is the primary function of the audio interface. But out here in the real world, all you have to do is feed the sound in and hook it up to speakers or headphones to get to work.
Sample Rate Conversion
These days audio interfaces all offer great-sounding converters, so you really don’t have to worry about sound quality.
However, you do want to make sure your audio interface supports 24-bit conversion, up to at least a 44.1-kilohertz sample rate, or perhaps a slightly higher sample rate of 96 kilohertz or 192 kilohertz might be even better.
This bit and sample rate determine the accuracy of the analog-digital and the digital to analog conversion.
Audio interface connection format to your computer
An important consideration when you’re looking at an interface is its connection format to your computer.
These days various flavors of USB and thunderbolt are the most common formats but there are several versions of each and there are other formats out there as well such as AVB firewire and more.
Choose the audio interface with the format that matches your computer
Inputs and outputs
Next, you should look at the input and output connections on the audio interface, and the number of channels the input connections allow you to get signals into the audio interface.
Examples include microphone inputs obviously for microphones and you want to ensure that the interface has 48-volt phantom power for use with condenser microphones.
You may also need line-level inputs for keyboards, mixers, and other audio gear, instrument inputs for guitars and basses, and digital inputs which can allow for expanding the interface with additional gear.
For output connections, you’ll commonly see line-level outputs for routing to external audio processors.
You will also get monitor outputs for hooking up studio speakers, headphone outputs for feeding headphones and earbuds, and digital outputs for routing to digital gear.
You may not necessarily need all these types of connections, however.
At the most basic you’ll probably want to be able to get a microphone into the interface as well as a guitar and a bass or maybe a keyboard.
The number of channels you need depends on how many sources you need to record at once.
If you’ll only ever use your voice for a podcast then a single input may cover you.
If you’re recording a band playing live you’ll need lots of inputs to cover all the instruments and vocalists.
keep in mind that if your audio interface offers a digital input you can use that to expand the number of microphone and line inputs.
In many instances likewise, the output connection array you need will depend on what you’re doing.
At a minimum, you’ll want stereo monitor outputs for speakers and at least one headphone output.
More line outputs give you greater versatility for routing signals but that may or may not be necessary depending on what you’re doing.
Additional headphone outputs are very useful if you’re working with another musician or if you’re doing an in-person interview.
A word that you may see come up with audio interfaces is latency.
latency is the time it takes to get the signal into the interface route it into your computer and send it back out to headphones or speakers.
And we’re talking about just a few milliseconds in most cases, but believe it or not, this can be quite noticeable.
It can almost sound like an echo in some cases and so, most interfaces provide a means of controlling this latency.
This might be a knob on the front panel that allows for direct monitoring without latency. Digital signal processing inside the interface or other methods.
Just ensure that the interface you choose allows you to record with zero or near zero latency and just about any modern interface will have a way to do this.
Speaking of built-in DSP or digital signal processing some interfaces provide this as an
It can be used for onboard mixing of signals for adding effects for various types of
processing and more.
it’s a great feature but may or may not be essential for what you’re doing.
Midi Inputs and outputs
Another feature that may or may not matter to you is midi inputs and outputs.
These are connections that allow you to remote control external midi devices such as keyboards, hardware effects lighting, consoles, and more.
Some audio interfaces provide these midi connections as a convenience, but there are also dedicated standalone midi interfaces available, should you find you need midi connections later and your interface doesn’t have them.
Do you need an audio interface?
Every computer comes with a sound card built-in. If you don’t need to record a mic or any external sound then that may be all you need built-in.
Sound cards are fine but you will get better quality from a dedicated interface if a microphone is all you need.
You may be thinking, why not use a USB mic? And yes, there are circumstances where you may use a USB mic.
A great one to try in my opinion is the Rode NT USB Mini.
It’s a great mic for podcasting and even vocal recordings.
USB mics are convenient but they don’t have much room for expansion and this is where audio interfaces come in.
Features of Audio Interfaces
This is like a volume knob for whatever you connect in, since different mics, guitars, and gear send different levels of volume into the interface.
A gain knob helps you set the interface so that it’s not too loud and it doesn’t distort.
Phantom power is usually marked plus 48v. Phantom power is necessary for microphones that require power. These are usually condenser microphones.
Condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamic mics and they work better for a lot of singers.
As I mostly use condenser mics in my studio, having phantom power is necessary and it gives you more options for mics in the future.
This allows you to hear the signal straight from your mic or instrument that you plug into your audio interface along with the music from your computer.
The reason you want to do that is when you record with a computer, it introduces some delay called latency in the recording process.
With direct monitoring, you’ll hear your voice before it gets routed to your computer which allows you to sing in time with the music.
Without this delay that could put you off time. If you’re a vocalist you really need this feature.
Next, you have a headphone jack and this is super important when recording with a mic.
You don’t want your mic to be picking up the music from your speakers, so best you wear some headphones when you record.
Analog-to-digital conversion rate
Last is a feature you don’t really see.
It’s the analog-to-digital conversion rate and it’s measured by sample rates of 44.1 48/9/ 192 kilohertz lots of options. higher sample rates offer higher quality
but for most music and podcasting and video applications, 44.1 or 48 is all you need so don’t get caught up in those numbers.
Budget Audio Interfaces
Focus rite 2i2
The most popular interfaces cost around $100 to $150 dollars. This is the budget range. The best one in this price range is the Focus rite 2i2.
The first two stand for the number of inputs, and the second relates to the number of outputs.
This little box gives you value for money.
There are two inputs for mics and guitars, and you can also use this as stereo inputs as well.
It has outputs for your speakers and headphones.
Most small interfaces like this one are powered by USB, so you just need one cable to your computer.
It also has a bunch of other features that are super useful.
iRigPro by IK multimedia
If you want audio interference with MIDI in and out, the next one will be great for you.
The iRig Pro by IK multimedia costs $150 bucks, so if you’re looking for something super portable and compatible with an iPad or any tablet this could be a good option for you.
It is really compact and feels like a thick remote control. It’s got a combo mic and instrument input with phantom power.
But to keep it small it only has one output for headphones.
But there is an iRig duo option with speaker outputs and two inputs.
Best of all they even include MIDI in and out. MIDI allows you to connect keyboards through your audio interface to your computer.
These days most keyboards have USB but not all do. keyboards use an old MIDI connector
If you’ve got an old keyboard that doesn’t have a USB, find an audio interface that includes this feature.
Click Here For More Information
Mackie Pro effect 6
This is an interface and mixer combo costing only $150.
So, what makes this unique?
First, you may be more familiar with the mixer form factor. You can use this as a standalone mixer without a computer or as an audio interface with your computer and it’s got built-in effects.
I think this is a great option if you record at home and play live on stage.
You don’t even need your computer to add effects to your voice or instruments.
You can use this as a USB audio interface as well.
Mic and instrument inputs, gain knob is here, headphones and speaker outputs, and even direct monitoring are all available.
You get a lot for $150. Here 6 inputs, and quality effects, and it’s built like a tank. I was honestly super surprised with this thing.
This interface has a button for high Z. High Z inputs are best for instruments with low levels of output like an electric guitar.
The other type of input is called line. It’s for things that you plug in that already have a high volume.
It could be a keyboard, a synth, or even an old turntable. If you’re a guitarist, check to make sure that the interface you’re
looking at has a high Z input. It’s also sometimes called an instrument input.
Click Here For More Information
Premium Audio Interfaces
So, about those more expensive audio interfaces?
Well, you get more inputs or outputs and some other very cool features.
But does it justify the high price? Well, it depends on where you are in your production career.
Some of these interfaces feature better mic preamps.
Oh, what about the mic preamps?
Well, every interface and mixer includes a preamp that boosts the sound of a mic.
Some mic preamps aim to add some color and some try to be as transparent as possible.
Higher-end audio interfaces like those by Universal Audio give you high-quality mic preamps.
Between you and me for home producers, the difference in sound may not be a big deal to you.
Arturia audio fuse 8 pre-right.
This audio interface can connect to other audio interfaces and extend the inputs.
I’ve got it connected with a single cable to the universal Apollo 8 and now I have 16 channels.
It just combines everything into one, super convenient.
But wait! Who needs all these inputs?
Well, it is useful if you’re recording a band, or how about a drummer with multiple mics?
It’s also useful if you’ve got a bunch of keyboards and synths and you want to keep unplugging and plugging them in.
I’ve got everything in my studio connected.
Click Here for More Information
Apollo 8 costs over.
Why the jump in premium for the universal audio? Well, UAD Audio interfaces also include what’s called DSP processing.
DSP processing allows It to use the computing power inside the interface to apply effects, instead of taking up your computer’s power.
Universal Audio makes high-quality plug-ins that are only compatible with their interfaces.
You sound great but you may only be ready for them when you’re ready to upgrade your studio.
You don’t need it when you’re just getting started.
If you are interested in getting yourself the unit then, click here
IK Multimedia Irig stream
This audio interface helps you stream online.
So how do this work? Well, these are great for live streams podcasts, and gaming online.
This one works with a tablet or a laptop, so plug in any audio source and then mix in your voice, as well with the input for a mic or a mic/headphones combo.
It even has a loopback feature so you can be outputting from your music application while talking and then sending everything to your live stream.
The Bottom Line
An audio interface is great when you want to play your guitar and microphone inputs. Audio interfaces deliver better quality sound than a regular computer.
If you want to take your music production journey to the next level then an audio interface is a must-have.
Personally, this is the one I recommend if you are just starting out.
Check out some of our other articles related to audio and audio interfaces.
Best Midi Keyboard for FL Studio
Difference between headset amplifier and audio interface
Check out the following video for a better understanding of Audio Interfaces.
If you would like to read more articles like this then check out the articles below