So, what is an audio interface?
What’s in an audio interface?
Inputs & Outputs:
For example, a singer-songwriter may want to record a vocal take and an acoustic guitar simultaneously. So a simple two-in/two-out audio interface will be sufficient for the project. Someone who wants to record a fully mic’d drum set-up for remote session work will need more inputs.
Outputs will allow you to connect external speakers, ideally studio monitors, with a flat response to paint an accurate picture of how your music sounds. Some audio interfaces have multiple output options, for instance, when mixing in surround sound or sending audio to different destinations simultaneously. Think about how many outputs you need when choosing an audio interface.
Many manufacturers offer different versions of the same type of audio interface. Most of the time, the differences depend on the number of inputs and outputs each one provides.
Inputs and outputs will each have separate controls for their respective levels.
This is where sample rates come into play; the higher the sample rate, the better the quality of the audio. And so, the better quality your converters are, the better quality your audio recordings will be.
As technology marches ever-forward, so does the capacity for audio interfaces to support increasingly higher sample rates. For a small project studio, an audio interface that supports up to 48kHz will do the job just fine.
Generally, the higher up the price bracket you go, the more monitoring options you’ll have.
Types of audio interfaces
Do I need an audio interface?
The answer to this question varies, depending on how you make music, and to some extent, what kind of music you make. If, for example, you work exclusively in EDM, and everything you create is purely sample and software instrument-driven (and you’re comfortable working only with headphones), then the built-in audio interface that came with your computer will suffice.
However, if you’re a singer-songwriter and plan to record vocals using a microphone, or you want to dust off your trusty old Fender Strat to shred out a riff, you’ll need a way to get that sound into your computer. If you want to record both at the same time, you’ll need two inputs.
Similarly, if you want to save your ears from fatigue or annoy the neighbors by hooking up some external speakers, you’ll need a way to get sound out of the digital realm and into wall-shaking territory.
Bring on the audio interface.
Great, but which audio interface should I buy?
The other factor to bear in mind is progress. Ports become obsolete, operating systems move on, and technology improves the performance of devices. Expect to get around 5-7 years of use from your audio interface before the incompatibility gremlins come knocking.
Figure out what you need from an audio interface, set your budget, and do your research.