Do you need an audio interface?
In short, yes! Your audio interface is the brain of your studio. They are used by producers, DJs, and musicians for creating and remixing, and recording songs or samples.
Its primary job is to process all of the audio and then send it back to the computer, to your headphones and monitors.
Your computer will have an inbuilt sound card, these are built for the headphone jack and aren’t capable of processing the amount of audio writing tracks needs.
Your audio interface is responsible for providing high-quality sound recordings and high output playback. By increasing sound quality you get a much richer and more accurate sound, and it makes it much easier to hear slight imperfections that would otherwise go unnoticed.
What does an audio interface do?
At it’s simplest, an audio interface gets audio into and out of your computer. It turns analogue audio signals into digital information and vice versa. The converters which handle this process are known as AD/DA converters. The quality of these converters influence the performance of the interface and the price.
What’s the best audio interface?
That really depends on how you are wanting to make your music. Then you need to decide how many audio inputs and outputs you need. Are you a guitarist that would like to record yourself playing for your productions? Or are you making only electronic based music, completely “in the box”? Have you got synths, drum machines or a mixer you would like to use? Is the interface only going to be used in your studio or are you wanting to take it out and about with you?
The answer to these questions will guide you towards what you are looking for.
So what inputs will you need? Well, if you’re working with pre-recorded samples, loops and software synths, you may not personally record any signals at all, in which case the most basic stereo line-level input will almost be more than you need (although those two inputs are still likely to come in very handy at times, even if only to transfer other analogue-based music into your computer).
The number of connections in an audio interface has will affect how much you need to spend. Interfaces will have microphone and line inputs. A microphone input will accept 3 Pin XLR cables and a line input will mostly accept Jack or RCA. Line inputs are mono and are typically used for instruments such as synthesizers, drum machines, and DJ mixers.
Connectivity has to come into the decision as well. How are you going to connect it to your laptop? A majority of models work over USB 2, but you’ll also find ThunderBolt interfaces that promise better performance but typically cost a little more. Whatever way you go, make sure it’s compatible with your operating system and DAW!
Audio interfaces have come along way since they first came about, coming in all shapes and sizes; some are designed to sit in a rack or on a desk while others can be stuffed in a laptop bag and taken anywhere. The cost of technology is always getting cheaper. Which is great for us because you can get a lot of bang for your buck in the lower spectrum of interfaces.
There are lots of great audio interfaces, but which one you should buy depends on your requirements and budget. There are many, many options that are in the high price bracket of interfaces, they have many inputs and outputs, lots have a DSP (Digital Signal Processing) built into the interface, enabling you to use dedicated plugins that won’t place any load on your computer at all. Universal Audio, with its UAD products, definitely the undisputed king of this market.
Does bit depth and sample rate really matter? They’re some of the specs listed with almost every interface out there. The answer isn’t simple, but yes, they do matter. Let’s start with bit depth. When it comes to processing audio, bit depth has a huge impact on your sound. The simple math is that 1 bit = 6dB. That means 16-bit audio (CD standard) has a total dynamic range of 16-bits x 6 db/bit for a total of 96dB. The problem is that the digital noise floor is pretty high, and the remaining dynamic range is pretty small. The result is that if you work at 16-bit, the quieter sections of your audio will tend to be noisy. With 144dB of range, 24-bit audio gives production professionals the range they need to process audio smoothly. That’s why 24-bit is considered the professional standard.
On the flip side, sample rate is much more subjective. Each sample is a digital snapshot of the captured audio. The CD standard 44.1kHz takes 44,100 digital pictures of the incoming audio every second. Digital to analog conversion only needs two samples (the top and the bottom) of a waveform to generate a frequency, so the 44.1kHz sample rate is theoretically capable of reproducing frequencies as high as 22.05kHz. The uppermost range of human hearing (in young females) is 20kHz, so technically, 44.1kHz is more than enough to capture and reproduce every sound you can hear.
In reality sample rate and bit depth is that they are less significant than the quality of the digital converters that you are looking for. All of the bells whistles come in at a cost and Also, you may not really need all of it right away. With this in mind, I’ve broken down a list of very solid interfaces that you’ll be able to afford, and will give you an excellent level of sound quality.
Most of you reading this, are after a cheaper interface that will allow them to record their music or make there own samples at home.
A 2-6 channel USB desktop interface, is most likely going to be enough to cater for your needs. These types of interfaces normally costs between $100-$300 on the low-end, and $500-1500 on the high-end.
Focusrite have made affordable quality interfaces, since 1985. They dominate the lower end of the market with the Scarlett range.
At $125 the Scarlett Solo 2nd Gen is a compact 2in | 2out USB audio interface designed to give the very best sound possible, and is packed full of upgrades. Its got super-low latency, letting you record and monitor with software effects in real time. Its tough, and transportable.
If you want to record instruments you should consider the 2i2 version in the Scarlett range.
These interfaces both come with Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack and Ableton Live Litefor FREE! If Ableton is your choice of Daw then you’ll save on buying it with either of these 2 choices.
The UR12, many first-class components can fit into a compact device, at around the $100 mark. Its a solid choice. Its cleverly engineered capabilities give you all the I/O you need to quickly record your tracks at a quality. The acclaimed D-PRE offers a sumptuously detailed, wonderfully dynamic sound, while the second input offers access to a Hi-Z input for guitars or basses. Featuring recording in stunning 24-bit quality at a whopping 192 kHz, the UR12 offers almost unheard of fidelity for recording in its class.
The bigger brother is the UR22mkII offering total mobility, ultra-solid build quality and incredible sound characteristics for its price class, covering all aspects of recording and production in small studio environments as well as mobile production situations.
Native Instruments have a contender, however at a higher price point.
The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 really packs a punch for its small size. Its a 6 channel professional audio interface. It’s tough built to be strong, in rugged casing and gives any DJ – from the budding to the professional – the control, connectivity and high-quality sound they need.
There are a lot of ins & outs on this interface.. 4 analog ins/outs, which means up to to 4 instruments or 2 mics (plus 2 instruments) to be connected to the device simultaneously. It also includes digital ins/outs and MIDI connectivity, allowing you to hookup a keyboard or sampler to the mix.
Its a USB interface and also comes with, software included in the package (Cubase LE and Traktor LE ) gives you all the functionality and control you need to deliver outstanding sets.
You get 3GB of NI virtual instruments and effects all of which are great to use. Monark is a really lovely Moog emulation to use, and it is part of the bundled software thats included and if you have the extra cash this interface is really solid.
These are all very affordable interfaces, a few years ago have seemed impossible to be recording on any device at these price points. All of them will give you the sound quality you need to be progressing, and once you have started using an interface your ears won’t be able to go back.