Before we go on and give you the best audio interface that is available in the market, let us first discuss what actually is the meaning of an audio interface? Well, an audio interface is a term that is specifically related to computers, any hardware that has the capability of increasing the sonic capabilities of a computer is known as an audio interface. An audio interface is also used to connect the audio devices with a computer and these devices may be microphones.
Table of Contents
- The Best Audio Interface of 2018
- 1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface
- 2. Apogee ELEMENT 46 Thunderbolt Audio Interface
- 3. Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools
- 4. Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface
- 5. ESI Gigaport HD+ 24 Bit 8 Output Audio Interface
- 6. Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface
- 7. TASCAM US-2x2 USB Audio Interface
- 8. Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface
- 9. Focusrite Clarett 2Pre for Recording Mac & PC
- 10. Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface
- Audio Interface Buyers Guide
- Top Pick
- Premium Pick
- Great Value
- What interface are connections required?
- Input Channel Types
- What is DAW Compatibility and which Form Factor may I consider while buying an Audio Interface?
- Form Factor
- What is the definition of an audio interface
- How does an audio interface work?
- What is On-Board Digital Signal Processing Software
- What should you choose? Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt or PCIE?
- What is the difference between a sound card and an audio interface?
- What is basically line-level TRS inputs and outputs?
- What are MIDI ports?
An audio interface can just be termed as an external sound card which is used for the purpose of recording of sound or music. Now when your computer already has a sound card then what is a need for another one, well there are certain limitations of a built-in sound card and it cannot support all types of recording and that is the reason why you require an external sound card or an audio interface.
There are a number of audio interfaces available in the market and in the list below we will have a look at the very best of these audio interfaces.
|At a glance: Our top 3 picks|
|Your shortcut to our team's top 3 recommendations|
|Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface||Apogee ELEMENT 46 Thunderbolt Audio Interface||Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools|
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The Best Audio Interface of 2018
1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface
When talking about the audio interface or microphone preamps, it would be so unjust not to mention the name of Focusrite. The company had been there for more than 25 years now and since then is known for manufacturing some top of the line products as far as audio interface or microphone preampsm are concerned.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface is another exemplary product by Focusrite that comes in equipped 2 in and 2 out USB recording interface. This is a complete audio interface to satisfy all your recording needs.
+ As far as the digital performance of this audio interface is concerned it so nowhere less than an excellent one
+ Comes in equipped with a rugged metal unibody case which makes the looks of this device quite amazing.
+ The design of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface is a pretty solid one so you can take it along with you wherever you are going.
Why We Liked It - People may comment on the high price of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface but the fact of the matter is this device one of the best audio interface devices that you will ever find.
2. Apogee ELEMENT 46 Thunderbolt Audio Interface
An audio interface device's primary factor is the quality of the recording it will provide and quality of recording includes a lot of factors such as clarity in the sound, detail of every instrument that is used without leaving any stone unturned and the ability to mix the different instruments with vocals.
The Apogee ELEMENT 46 Thunderbolt Audio Interface has it all that you will ever need from your external sound driver. Whether you talk about the ability to mix different instruments together or even mixing different instruments with vocals till the clarity of sound everything thing about this sound recording device is just perfect.
+ 12 IN x 14 OUT Thunderbolt audio I/O BOX, so that you can plug in as many instruments as you want.
+ This device comes in equipped with a 48v phantom power so that you can connect instruments, microphones, and line-level devices easily.
+ It also has 4 analog inputs and the best mic preamps.
+ The latency performance of this device is ultra-low and that is because of the single port thunderbolt connectivity to Mac.
Why We Liked It - If you are looking to get an audio interface for your Mac, the Apogee ELEMENT 46 Thunderbolt Audio Interface is the next big thing for, it can be easily stated about this device that when talking about Mac there is no better external sound card than this one.
3. Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools
If you are a music lover or just an audiophile for that matter, you would want all your recordings whether done for just a listening purpose or even any professional purpose to be just perfect and if you are not able to get it at times it becomes really annoying.
Therefore if you are a professional guitarist or even a makeshift singer, it is highly important for you that the quality you get out of recordings should be just perfect and this is where the role of an audio interface becomes so important. One of the devices that can best serve this purpose of yours is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools.
+ Comes in equipped with a natural sounding Scarlett mic preamp with a lot of even gains.
+ If you are a person who loves hot guitar pickups this is surely the audio interface to go for because of its newly designed instrument input.
+ Compatible with windows and Mac, so that you can use it with any kind of operating system that is installed on your computer.
Why We Liked It - When you compare the qualities that this interface has on offer for its consumers with the price tag that it comes along with you can easily rate this product as the best bang for your buck that you will find in the market today.
4. Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface
You just cannot count out Focusrite even for a single second when talking about the best audio interfaces that are available in the market today. The company with a vast experience of more than 25 years now is very highly rated in the industry.
With the Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface as well, you can be rest assured that you are entitled to just get the very best. It is really important for an audio interface to be really good at mixing sound, to be able to record all the instruments along with the vocals not leaving any minor of the details and this audio interface is extremely capable of doing all these things.
+ Comes in equipped with a Focusrite high-quality microphone input.
+ Has the capability of recording your vocals and instruments on your lightning-compatible iPad.
+ Can work with iPad, Mac, and windows so that you are not restricted to a particular operating system when you are using this audio interface.
+ Aluminum unibody case is what this audio interface is all covered in.
Why We Liked It - Well, you cannot expect everything out of a single product and as far as what an external sound card does the Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface is one of the best audio interfaces at a pretty nominal price.
5. ESI Gigaport HD+ 24 Bit 8 Output Audio Interface
When talking about an external sound card or an audio interface, in order for it to be good there are some key factors that should be always kept in mind and these factors are the number of inputs and outputs available in the external sound card, its capability of recording music that may be instrumental or vocals, its ability to mix up different music instruments with one another or simply mix vocals with instruments.
A product that will have a check sign on all these factors is the ESI Gigaport HD+ 24 Bit 8 Output Audio Interface. That is designed to satisfy all your recording needs from an external sound card.
+ When talking about the sound that this small device is capable of giving it is pretty nice and clean at the same time.
+ When talking about the functionality you will find with this product, it is just going to be absolutely flawless.
+ Speaking of the durability of this external sound card or audio interface, it surely is pretty durable and that is because of the heavy material that it is made up of.
+ The price at which this audio interface is available is simply astonishing.
Why We Liked It - When you are getting so much with the ESI Gigaport HD+ 24 Bit 8 Output Audio Interface and that too at such a low price what more could you ask for?
6. Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface
You just cannot keep out Focusrite from the game as far as the best external sound cards are concerned. The company has really mastered the art of manufacturing external sound cards and it would not be an expression of exaggeration to say that this company has no parallel when it comes to the manufacturing of the best external sound cards or audio interface for the fact of the matter.
Another top of the line external sound card by Focusrite is the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface that is equipped with all the qualities that you want from an external sound card.
+ It is equipped with two Focusrite mic preamps
+ 8 IN and 6 OUT FireWire audio interface
+ This external sound card comes in equipped with a Saffire-mix control.
+ When talking about the latency of this audio interface it is too at a pretty low level.
Why We Liked It - When your aim is to get the best recording quality of all time and you are not ready to compromise even a single bit on that then the audio interface that you should go for is the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface.
7. TASCAM US-2x2 USB Audio Interface
When talking about the audio interface or an external sound card, its primary application is with a computer or a tablet. When you are making a home recording you usually do it on your computer and when you want to record on the move or at mobile studios you will be recording with a tablet.
Just consider an external sound card or an audio interface that is capable of fulfilling both these applications to the optimum level. Yes the TASCAM US-2x2 USB Audio Interface has the ability to do so with the utmost of ease and that is because of the design and technology which is used in making this audio interface.
+ XLR 1/4" combination input jacks to give you the maximum sound quality
+ When you are talking about this external sound card you can be rest assured about its zero-latency
+ Angled design and aluminum body make it easier for desktop visibility.
Why We Liked It - Well there is nothing is this world that is without any shortcoming and if you have so much on offer by the TASCAM US-2x2 USB Audio Interface the slightest of the shortcoming becomes negligible.
8. Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface
Focusrite! No there is just no way that you can keep this company out of the contest for long when it is related to external sound cards or audio interface. This external sound card i.e. the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface is another top of the line product of the company.
+ Comes in with 18 in / 8 out USB Audi interface.
+ There is plenty of even gains provided by the four natural-sounding Scarlett mic preamps.
+ Has a built-in 2GB of loop master samples.
Why We Liked It - One of the best audio interface designed by one of the best in the business is the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface.
9. Focusrite Clarett 2Pre for Recording Mac & PC
What you look for when going for an external sound card or an audio interface is defined in detail by this very audio interface i.e. the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre for Recording Mac & PC. It has the capability of satisfying all your recording needs and as far as audio interfaces are concerned it is simply one of the very best products that you will ever find in the market.
+ Two Clarett Mic pres with lots of gains
+ Even though the gain of this external sound card is on a really higher side but still, there are low noise and distortion given by it.
+ The latency level that you should expect from this audio interface is rally low.
+ Compatible with IOS and Windows so you can use it both on your computer or a MAC.
Why We Liked It - All in all the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre for Recording Mac & PC is a complete champ when talking about the best audio interface that you will find in the market these days.
10. Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface
It is not hard but simply impossible to keep Focusrite out of the contest, the company has produces so many of the top line products that most of the time the competition that it is is internal rather than external. It keeps on producing some of the best audio interfaces that you will ever come to know of.
The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface is another example of the brilliance of the company with all the qualities that you can ask for from your external sound card.
+ The best sounding interface is what you get from this external sound card and that is because of the eight Focusrite high-quality preamps.
+ It comes in equipped with two separate headphone buses widening the options you have.
+ 20 input and 20 outputs is what you get with this audio interface
Why We Liked It - It might be a bit tough to be configured for some people but when you compare the pros of the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface with the cons you can easily conclude that it is surely one of the best audio interfaces.
Audio Interface Buyers Guide
As a music director or producer, you want to input and output sounds from your computer. Music sessions include various types of instruments that should be connected to the computer in order to edit them. So you’ll need a device that would convert analog audio signals into digital signals and vice-versa. In order to hook up your drum machines, microphones, guitars and many more instruments you’ll need an Audio Interface. An audio interface converts the analog signals to digital signals for your computer and converts digital signals back to analog for the monitors/speakers.
So you might be wondering that what if I only need to monitor on headphones or record an odd track via one or two microphones? So, in that case, the “TTHE” audio interface port will improve the quality as built-in computer capabilities lack in quality.
Snapping back to the initials, an audio interface takes the signals from your instruments or microphones and digitize them before sending them to your computer. You can relate it to an external sound card that is equipped with extra features.
So now let’s jump in and find out how an audio interface works.
An audio interface has ports on the front and the back. On the front, there are microphone inputs, instrument inputs, and a headphone output. On the back, there is two monitoring output (speaker outputs), an interface output and an instrument input.
So let’s branch out the ports into an output and an input port.
In a recording interface, there will be usually three types of input ports, a microphone (XLR cable to Preamplifier), an instrument (TS/TR cable bypassing preamp), a midi (digital information about how an instrument is played)
Back in the days, some interfaces had separate inputs for microphones (XLR) and electronic instruments (TS and TRS Hi-Z), but now there is only for both purposes. The purpose of separating was that the microphone needs a preamplifier because of a much smaller electrical signal as compared to the other instrument. Nowadays the two-in-one input for both microphones and instrument route the signals differently.
Basically, an XLR input will be powered by a preamplifier while the TRS/Hi-Z power will bypass it. The modern audio interface includes gain knobs for controlling the amount of volume you are adding up to your microphone. In many interfaces, you’ll find a +48v phantom power button which is a small electrical charge that will run up to your microphone through an XLR cable. In high-end or mid-range microphones you will probably find an external power supply if it is not available then you can use phantom power without any hassle of over-powering or damaging your microphone.
Apart from a microphone input, you’ll find a MIDI input. This input is equipped with the keyboards that can output MIDI data so that you can replace your standard sounds with computer stored or external bank sounds. MIDI inputs are not usually common in low-budget audio interfaces. Thanks to the MIDI ports for replacing standard keyboard sounds from computer stored sound many pops, rap and dance music is created.
Instrument inputs serve the same purpose, you can connect the various instruments for transferring their analog signals to digital signals. Some audio interfaces don’t include one so if you discover the need of connecting instrument in near future you can use the Direct Injection box to take the input and output through an XLR cable.
There are three types of output ports, a headphone (for personal monitoring), a monitor (room monitoring through speakers) and an interface cable (to communicate with the computer).
The low-budget audio interfaces will feature only one headphone output with a dedicated control button for volume, while an expensive one could feature more than one headphone output. It also includes a dedicated headphone amplifier that offers a wide range of outputs for all so if there is one available then it’s not a point to be concerned about.
Monitor output doesn’t mean that it would connect your computer monitor but it’s for your speakers so you can be assisted with critical listening. Most producers use XLR cables for outputting sound to the monitors but some also prefer TRS cables. There is a wide range of cables and connectors so that it can co-op well with your monitors.
At the end, there is an interface output that uses the interface cables to take digital signals to your computer. The cables are commonly USB or Firewire, but newer options are available in the market like Ethernet cables. Thunderbolt cables are used for mac computers. USB and Firewire provide fast speeds for every scenario so you can choose in between the two according to your computer input availability. Likewise, there are adapters to switch between the two options.
The interface port or cable produces output to your computer but it also brings back audio back to the speakers/monitors so that the result can be analyzed. The main component that is used for this port/cable is known as ADC (Analogue to Digital Converter) and DAC (Digital to Analogue converter). These changes the audio signals from electrical to binary code so that your computer can understand it and change it back from binary to electrical so that it can be inputted to the monitors.
While recording your sound or using an audio interface professionally, delay in the making of command and execution of it can be a serious matter. When you say something in the mic your sound is picked by the capsule, then it is sent through the mic cable to the audio interface, it is digitized and sent to computer, the software receives it processes it and sends it back out, digital audio is travelled back to audio interface and it is converted to analog for sending it out to headphones. This process takes time and results in latency. This delay can distract you. So while buying your new audio interface you must check for the direct monitoring feature.
Direct monitoring enables you to hear the analog audio that is being plugged directly into the interface rather than hearing after it is processed by the computer. This eliminates the latency factor and gives you real-time sound. This feature is mostly found on audio interfaces with USB 1.0 as it slower speed makes them more unlikely to latency. All companies don’t name it by “Direct Monitoring” but you can easily identify one with this feature as if an audio interface with a knob has “mix” on one and “computer” on another side then it means that it support direct monitoring.
As the article has been guiding you all about the audio interfaces you are now eligible for choosing one. Likewise, we would like to showcase three audio interfaces that will individually be budget efficient, premium and value for money. So let’s dive in and get started.
On the outside, it has an attractive anodized aluminum unibody chassis which not only sounds better but looks beast.
On the front panel, there is Neutrik combination input for connecting line and instrument level signals along with the microphones. This makes it best for recording the digital stage piano along with the electric or acoustic guitar. It is also equipped with unique halo indicators which let you know about the signal strength if it outputs red then it means that your signal is facing interference and you should reduce the gain. When a healthy signal is achieved it will turn the amber as green. Likewise, it also has a large monitor dial for providing with tactile control for volume control. A high-quality amplifier provides clean yet loud sound to headphones.
This audio interface is featured with a direct monitoring function. If you turn this on you’ll hear what you’re recording through your monitors without signals first going to computer then returning back to headphones/speakers. This cuts off the latency factor while recording. Every note and subtle detail are captured with great clarity, thanks to the 24-bit resolution sample rates of up to 96KHZ which is a very high digital conversion rate.
With the package, you’ll get an authorized code for Ableton Live Lite as well as Focusrite Scarlett Plug-in Suite and the Red 2 & Red 3 Plugin Suite upon registration of interface. Scarlett plug-in suites provide you with EQ, Compression, Gate and Reverb-essential tools so that you can add more to your mix.
This audio interface box includes two high-quality award-winning Focusrite mic pres. These preamps are served same quality as that of the popular flagships, Saffire PRO 40 and Liquid Saffire 56.
Addressing more towards the appearance and design, the anodized aluminum unibody chassis ensures that your audio interface can deal with the harsh environment. Scarlett 2i2 is very light and portable making it easy to carry and transport. Likewise, you don’t need to add an additional power supply as it is equipped with bus power, simply plug and rock the records.
The Scarlett 2i2 has a firewire interface so that speed is not compromised anyhow. Likewise, phantom power option is also included for the microphones that don’t have external power supply.
Direct monitoring feature, Effects Software, Tough material, two high-quality mic preamps are the factors that have convinced us to list this product on our top pick.
Element 46 thunderbolt audio interface by Apogee are specially designed for Mac as they have initially got a thunderbolt interface port. With elite hardware features and stunning software advancements, this audio interface delivers ultimate recording experience.
This audio interface is equipped with high-quality analog to digital converter for critical capturing of every detail into your computer. Likewise, it ensures minimized unwanted sounds with maximized signal quality. Your tracks will deliver amazing sound and mixing would be much easier.
The element 46 features Apogee’s advanced stepped gain architecture mic preamps for capturing the slightest details of drums, dynamic vocals or strings. This analog circuit is engineered to dynamically optimize across a gain range of 0-75db for delivering low distortion and amazing bandwidth.
It is equipped with a high-quality digital to analog converter so you can interact more with the definition. The clarity promises a helping hand for precise adjustments when you are mixing the track.
On the input side, it has 4 Combi mic/line/instrument inputs with mic preamps and selectable 48v phantom power. On the output, this audio interface features 2 balanced L/R XLR monitor outputs & 2 independent ¼’ stereo headphone output.
Features like logic Pro X integration, Apogee hardware control remote and elementary control had created this product a premium kick starter.
This audio interface is ideal for guitarist and songwriters, so no matter how you play the new-designed instrument can handle it all. Unwanted distortion lets you concentrate where it matters the most.
It has the latest mic preamp so you can accurately set the levels. Instrument input has also been completely reengineered to easily handle hot guitar pickups.
Converting your analog signals into digital signals and then converting them back to analog is the main purpose of an audio interface. Solo 2nd gen has a beautiful, crispier and clear sound thanks to the class leading conversion and samples rates up to 192 kHz/24 bit.
Latency or delay is another factor that lets your workflow shattered. This audio interface completely revolutionizes the concept by Scarlett’s unrivaled round-trip latency which is as low as 2.74ms.
With low latency, latest mic preamp, and sample rates up to 192 kHz/24 bit the Scarlett Solo 2nd gen by Focusrite delivers you beyond your actual price range.
What interface are connections required?
An audio interface consists many input and output connections. For an instance, a budget efficient audio box will include fewer ports and a budget savvy one will include loads of Ins/OUTs.
So before buying you need to know about every single type of ports and their functions.
There are about 3 main inputs and outputs on which we’ll focus
Input Channel Types
Input/output (I/O) Count
The main purpose of an audio interface is to convert the analog signal to digital for transferring it to the computer.
Interface Connectors are used to connect the audio box to the computer.
There are around 4 most common cable/port used
Universal Serial Bus is commonly used on budget audio interfaces as it is offered by every single computer. Though it offers the slowest data transfer rate
Firewire is used in high-end audio box and it offers a significantly faster speed as compared to the USB ports.
Thunderbolt connectors are usually found in the audio boxes/interfaces that are designed for Mac as they have an input thunderbolt port. They offer way faster data transferring speeds as compared to both USB and Firewire.
PCIE ports are usually found in professional audio boxes because it offers additional processing power and fast data-transfer.
While USB is slowest of all but still it delivers more than fast data transfers for the majority of your professional work.
Be sure to check your computer port when choosing an interface connection through adapters can be used to convert the signals.
Input Channel Types
Before getting into the input types you should know that when counting the input channels of an audio box manufacturer could refer it to DIFFERENT INPUT TYPES. Be sure to check out the correct input channels as the real number of inputs is basically referred to mic preamp count, not the input count. For an instance, if you want to use your microphone as it is without a microphone preamp then you have less input for other instruments as those inputs are dedicated for microphone preamps.
Basically, there are around 5 types of input ports
This input allows you to directly connect your microphone to the audio interface
This input allows an addition of outboard mic preamp to amplify the microphone signals and to be used as a mic channel
This input requires the addition of both mic preamp and a digital converter w/ “optical out” to be used as a mic branch.
This input allows connecting your guitar or drum set.
This input allows connecting keyboard or midi controllers.
Now be sure to check these inputs while buying your new audio interface and don’t misunderstand the type of input count by the total input count.
Input/Output (I/O) Count
On a simple audio interface I/O counts can range between 2-4 and on a professional audio box it can be above 14.
The number basically depends upon your work type and the number of tracks you want to record at once.
Solo musicians will need around 2-4 I/O counts as they’ll have a limited instrument that needs to be connected.
Likewise, a songwriting team may need up to 4-8 I/O count as working in a team means that every person is dedicated to one instrument which definitely needs more I/O ports.
Similarly, Engineers who record bands can need a minimum of 16 ports as a whole band can include many instruments.
What is DAW Compatibility and which Form Factor may I consider while buying an Audio Interface?
DAW standards for Digital Audio Workstation, it is a software for editing, recording and producing the signals that are digitized by the audio interface.
Commonly most of the DAW’s work with every audio interface but some may lack.
If you have an exclusive software for your audio box then it’s quite okay but doesn't worry as 90% of the Top DAW’s are compatible with every interface.
But Before downloading a DAW software be sure to check your DAW compatibility on the product’s website. Check the FAQ’s as usually the information is dug deep into it.
So to overcome this hassle we’ll prefer that you should an audio interface which has its own DAW as finding other DAW’s can trouble you in near future.
Form factor simply refers to the physical size and shape interface of electrical products. In audio interfaces, there are two types of Form Factors
They are compact and can easily sit on the computer desk
They are large in sizes as they include many I/O ports, they can be mounted in a standard rack size unit.
If you are a beginner then you should consider a desktop interface as it is small in size and can be easily set up without any mounting hassle.
If you are an old school driver then you should definitely go for the rack mounted interfaces as they have more I/O ports and have a greater signal routing and organization.
What is the definition of an audio interface
Basically, an audio interface is a box that transfers the signals from your microphone, instruments, keyboard into the computer so that you can edit, manage and produce music at once.
When you connect your microphone or instruments to the audio interface it takes the signals to your computer so you further compile and edit them using the Digital Audio Workstation.
But how an audio interface does that? Basically, your instruments, microphones, and keyboards produce analog signals, the box has includes an analog to digital converter. The signals are digitized by the ADC (Analog to Digital Converter) and then are sent to the computer. You can also picture it as the electrical signals are converted to binary signals so that the computers can understand it. The signals are routed/outputted to the computer by the interface ports and cables. When the editing is done the interface cables sends back the digitized signal to the audio interface for analog conversion by the help of DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) so that the results can be monitored by the speakers or headphones.
Speaking about the features so the most common feature that an audio interface delivers is direct monitoring. When we say something our sound is picked up by the microphone capsule and is sent to the audio interface by the cable, it is then converted to digital and sent to the computer, computer edits it and sends it back out, it travels back to interface for analog conversion so that it can be further routed to the monitors (speakers/headphones). This process takes time and can cause latency which results in distraction. Here the direct monitoring features come in, by direct monitoring you can directly listen to the analog audio that is being plugged directly into the interface without coming back from the computer. This eliminates the latency factor and lets you concentrate where it matters.
To end the debate the main function of an audio interface is to pack up all the sound from instruments, microphones, and keyboards and transfer to the computer so that you can edit and produce music.
How does an audio interface work?
An audio interface has two converts, Analog to Digital (ADC) and Digital to Analog Converter (DAC).
- Analog to Digital Converter
This converter the Analog signals to digital signals.
- Digital to Analog Converter
This converts the digital signals to analog signals.
Your instruments (guitars, drum set), microphones, keyboard etc. they produce analog signals. When you connect them to the audio interface, the signals are converted by Analog to Digital Converter to digital so that they can be routed towards the computer (digital signals can also be named as binary signals). When the editing process is finished and you need to listen to the result, the interface cables send back the digital signals to the audio interface. The audio interface converts them to analog signals by Digital to Analog Converter. Further, the analog signals are routed to the monitors (speakers/headphones) so you can listen to the outcome.
What is On-Board Digital Signal Processing Software
The short form on Digital Signal Processing software is DSP, it is basically included on the audio interfaces that have 8 outputs or more. This software’s helps you to edit and create mixes within your monitoring outputs. For an instance, if you are recording with your team and you guitarist asks you to turn up the pitch on his headphones then you can easily do within the software without affecting the original sound that you are recording.
This software is also included in budget-efficient audio interfaces. The software is copied to the CD which is inside the packaging. You have to install them to your computer because it also has software drivers for the interface output.
What should you choose? Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt or PCIE?
USB and Firewire provide 800 MB/s and all the way up to 1.25 GB/s. If you are a consumer that have loads of work then you can both USB and Firewire will do. Both connections are easily available on the computer.
If you are a team up to 20-25 people who are behind the engineering of some upcoming banger then you might consider Thunderbolt, it delivers the lightning fast speed of 5 GB/s which is more than enough, but lightning ports are mostly found on Macs.
PCIE option is far complicated as it requires you to install special sound card which isn’t common for home or professional studios.
In most cases, USB or Firewire will do the job, but if you want some extra speed then you might consider a thunderbolt port.
- What should be the ideal sample rate and bit depth?
By the numbers of bit depth and sample rate, everyone gets confused (especially the beginners). Just make sure that your audio interface supports up to 24 bits and 48 kHz if you really want to compete with current music industry standards. Many audio interfaces offer a lower bit rate like 16 bits but don’t fall for that as you’ll not get the proper quality. If you don’t want to regret in near future then go for the audio interfaces that can handle 96 kHz, although 48 kHz will also get the job done.
What is the difference between a sound card and an audio interface?
The main similarity between a sound card and an audio interface is that both acts as the computer’s sound card. But a good audio interface allows you to connect a variety of analog and digital signals. Likewise, it also provides with better digital clock and superior analog circuitry that results in an improved sound quality. You will defiantly experience whole new audio results as compared to a stock sound card that comes along with your computer.
What is basically line-level TRS inputs and outputs?
Microphone outputs a very weak signal, they need to be amplified by a preamp when connected to a mic input. Line-level signals are very strong and don’t need any boost. So a microphone needs a different type of input connector for pairing up with line-level.
Line-level input and outputs usually have 1/4" TRS/TS jacks. These are better at the rejection of noise and reducing “ground” hum. You can connect your speakers, keyboard, external effects, compressors, limiters and all stuff that has a stereo line-level output.
What are MIDI ports?
Simply MIDI supported instruments can be handled/played directly by your computer through DAW. They allow you to send information into and out of a computer. People use MIDI feature to completely take over their instrument command in order to produce something new. MIDI ports are equipped with keyboards, guitars etc.
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