An audio interface is necessary for high-quality audio recording. A good audio interface can ensure that you get good and professional audio output, unlike a computer’s sound card.
Almost all the professional music producers started from a home studio. But is an audio interface necessary for the home studio?
Technically speaking, an audio interface is not necessary for the home studio. Instead, you can use the computer’s sound card. However, an audio interface is better than a sound card because it offers more inputs and outputs, high-quality audio recording, and high-quality converters.
What is an audio interface?
An audio interface is a device that connects your computer to an external audio source, such as a microphone or guitar. Audio interfaces typically have multiple inputs and outputs, which allow you to use them with multiple devices at the same time. For example, you could connect your computer to an audio interface and plug-in two microphones and a guitar.
The most important thing you need to know about an audio interface is its sample rate. This is the number of samples per second that the device can capture and record audio data. The higher the number, the better quality of recordings you’ll get, but the more expensive the interface.
Features of the audio interface
Here are the features you get in an audio interface.
1. Inputs and outputs
An audio interface is made specifically for recording and playback of audio. You can use the computer’s sound card if you have a simple home studio setup with a single microphone, MIDI controller keyboard, and headphones.
However, if you’re using multiple microphones or instruments at once, you’ll need something more powerful than a basic onboard sound card.
It has more inputs and outputs than the average computer’s sound card, making it easier to connect multiple microphones and instruments at once.
2. Phantom power
Phantom power is a feature that allows you to use condenser microphones. These microphones require electricity to operate, and most audio interfaces provide it.
Many microphones have an XLR connector, with 3 pins carrying a specific signal. The microphone will be powered by 48 volts DC (direct current) when phantom power is enabled. This provides enough power for the condenser microphone to operate normally.
3. Direct monitoring
The direct monitoring feature in an audio interface allows you to hear the live signal being recorded or played back through your headphones or speakers.
This feature is very useful in editing and mixing as it allows you to hear the sound without any delay or latency and makes sure everything sounds great before moving on to the next step.
4. AD/DA converters
The audio interface has two main components: the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and the digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The ADC converts analog signals from microphones and instruments into digital ones, while the DAC does the opposite.
The quality of these converters is very important because they can affect how accurately your computer reproduces an instrument or voice.
The preamp is a critical component of the audio interface, and it’s what makes it possible to record and amplify sound.
The preamps are designed to boost or amplify the signals coming from your microphone or instrument so that your audio interface can amplify them. If you’re using a guitar or bass, for example, then the signal will be boosted before it reaches your computer.
A good preamp will give you stronger, clearer audio that sounds better through headphones or speakers.
6. Higher sample rate and bit depth
An audio interface has a higher sample and bit depth rate than a sound card. A sample rate refers to how many times your audio device samples incoming signals per second.
The higher the number of samples per second means that more information is captured by the device, creating better sound quality.
For example, if we take two digital music files both playing at 44100 Hz (Hz = cycles per second), one with 16-bit depth resolution and another with 24-bit depth resolution, it would be easy to see how much better the 24-bit file sounds over the 16 bit one when played back through speakers or headphones.
7. Reduce latency
Audio interfaces reduce latency much more than a computer’s sound card. Latency is usually higher on sound cards than on audio interfaces.
Latency refers to the time it takes your computer to process the input signal and send it back through your speakers as an output signal. In other words, latency is a delay between when you play something on your instrument and when you hear it.
If you want the lowest possible latency to record vocals or instruments, you’ll want an audio interface with low-latency monitoring (also known as zero-latency monitoring).
Do you need an audio interface for your home studio?
There are some situations where it’s not really necessary to have an audio interface for your home studio setup, but there are some situations where it’s important.
Suppose you’re just getting started with music production and don’t have much money to spend on the audio interface. In that case, you may not need an audio interface right away because you will only be playing an instrument or two through it.
Then you can use any sound card that comes with your computer, which is sufficient for standard user needs like streaming, gaming, etc.
However, if you want to record multiple instruments at the same time, an audio interface will be essential for your setup. It offers more inputs and outputs, and you can record high-quality audio to create songs or music.
Types of Inputs and outputs an audio interface offers
Here is a breakdown of all the different inputs and outputs an audio interface can have.
Types of Inputs
- Mic: These inputs are the standard for professional microphones and are found on most audio interfaces. They have three pins, and you can plug them into your audio interface or mixer using a cable with an XLR connector on each end.
- Line: Line inputs are used to connect instruments like guitars, basses, and other instruments. The most common types are 1/4″ and RCA connectors, but some interfaces have other types of inputs. Inputs can be either balanced or unbalanced. Balanced inputs will offer better performance in a noisy environment than unbalanced inputs.
- Combo: Some interfaces also have combo inputs, which are usually a combination of XLR and RCA connectors. This means you can use both types of cable in one place, making it easier to connect multiple sources at once and reducing cable clutter on stage or in the studio. Most professional-grade audio interfaces come with combo inputs.
- MIDI: MIDI inputs are where you’ll connect a keyboard or other MIDI controller. These are typically located on the back of an audio interface, but some interfaces have them on the front.
- Digital (S/PDIF, ADAT): A digital input is a connection on an audio interface that allows you to connect a digital signal from another device. The most common digital input type is S/PDIF and ADAT. These formats are used for professional connections between high-quality recording equipment and computers.
Types of Outputs
- Headphone: The headphone outputs in the audio interface allow you to monitor your recording as you make it to hear what’s going on and if there are any problems with the recording itself, such as feedback or distortion.
- Monitor: The monitor outputs are the outputs that you use to connect your studio monitors. They’re usually RCA cables or TRS (similar to 1/4″ cables).
- MIDI: The MIDI outputs are used for sending MIDI signals (short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) from your computer to external devices like synthesizers and drum machines. This is useful for triggering sounds with your MIDI keyboard instead of using samples directly from your DAW (digital audio workstation).
- Line (balanced and unbalanced): The line outputs in an audio interface allow you to connect external devices like synthesizers and drum machines directly to your computer without using any other cables beyond the power cord for each device.
- S/PDIF: S/PDIF stands for Sony/Phillips Digital Interface. The S/PDIF output on an audio interface allows you to send digital audio signals from your computer through a cable to another piece of equipment.
- Word Clock: The word clock outputs in the audio interface are used to synchronize all of your devices. In a digital recording environment, everything has to be in sync.
- ADAT/Lightpioe/TOSLINK: ADAT outputs are found on higher-end audio interfaces. These allow you to transfer eight channels of digital audio to another device like D/A converters.
An audio interface has more inputs and outputs for a live recording at home. This means that you can connect more devices at once. You can also use multiple microphones with different signals to record your vocals or instruments.
With an audio interface, you can also process and mix your music in a professional way.
The sound card is not for music production
If you’re a beginner and just starting out with in-home recording, it’s tempting to plug your mic into a computer and start recording. But while the computer’s built-in sound card will work fine for basic recording and playback, its lack of dedicated inputs and outputs makes it unsuitable for serious recording sessions.
Let’s say you’re going to record from more than one microphone at a time. In that case, an audio interface allows you to easily connect multiple microphones with separate volume controls and individual gain knobs so that one of them is not overloaded while the other is underpowered.
Built-in sound cards are designed for basic audio processing tasks such as playing CDs, streaming Internet radio stations, and recording voice memos. It doesn’t have the power or flexibility needed for high-quality multitrack audio recording and mixing.
Do you really need an audio interface?
You need an audio interface to record professional-quality audio. The computer’s sound card is not for professional music production. An audio interface also lets you record multiple tracks at the same time without worrying about latency or syncing issues between them.
Does the audio interface reduce latency?
An audio interface reduces latency. Even more expensive ones have dedicated processing chips that reduce latency even further than the standard ones. This can make it easier to record multiple tracks at once without having any noticeable delays while playing back or recording them.
Do you need an audio interface to record guitar?
Technically, you don’t need an audio interface to record guitar. However, an audio interface is designed for music production. You need an audio interface to record high-quality audio and multiple instruments simultaneously, like an acoustic or electric guitar with guitar pedals.
Do you need an audio interface for midi?
You don’t need an audio interface for MIDI devices. You can easily connect your MIDI keyboard to your computer via a USB port. But if you want to record multiple MIDI devices at once, it may be more convenient and efficient to use an audio interface for MIDI.
In the end, my recommendation is to get an audio interface if you want to record high-quality professional audio.
An audio interface can be convenient, especially for recording multiple instruments at the same time with less latency.
A computer’s sound card is not for music production.
If you are a little more serious about music production and can afford to spend a little money on a quality interface, definitely go for it.
Having a good interface installed will help to reduce the “noise” while creating music and give you more flexibility when mixing down tracks.
If you have any questions, feel very free to ask in the comment box.