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Ease of use and high quality recording — one of the main advantages of an audio interface over on-board sound cards is that, because of the greater physical size and easier accessibility, a wider range of input types can be built into the unit.
In addition to this, audio interfaces generally feature higher quality audio quality than standard on-board sound cards.
Many also have MIDI if you want to connect a keyboard controller too.
How do I connect an audio interface to my computer? Most audio interfaces are USB soundcards. As long as you have an available USB port or a USB adapter in the case of a tablet then you can connect one up you will need to check the hardware specs to make sure it will be compatible.
So USB audio interfaces are the most common and you should find one that will suit you. There are also a growing number of thunderbolt audio interfaces, and you can still buy firewire too.
Thunderbolt and firewire have the advantage of being faster, but tend to be pricier. And of course you must have one of those ports available. What is the best external soundcard or audio interface for music production?
We have a sister article which looks in depth at how to decide which is the best interface for you. There is no one right answer! But briefly the audio interface that you will need very much depends on what kind of recording situations you would be aiming to use it in.
A podcaster would look for one mic input — but if you ever plan to do interviews you might consider two so that you can each have your own mic. A band would, most likely, require something with more inputs, however, especially if they want to record all the instruments on separate tracks.
The other option is just to record the main outs of a mixer, but this will not allow for individual editing of each player and singer.
This allows the chosen DJ software to be configured with, for example, a separate cue mix via headphones and a main mix, which is sent out to the main speakers or PA. Technical terms that you may see when looking for an audio interface Latency: Zero Latency Monitoring or Direct Monitoring: So if you are recording your voice, you instantly hear your voice directly in the headphones, there is no annoying delay, and this is certainly a feature to look out for.
If you want to make a good recording from a microphone you will need an interface with a suitable input and good pre-amp. Some microphones need power, either to drive active circuitry, or, more usually, to polarise the plates of a condenser microphone. If you want to connect up a microphone that requires phantom power then you will need to purchase an interface with a phantom power switch.
If you just have a dynamic microphone then this will not be an issue. The higher the sample rate the higher the frequency range of sounds that can be recorded and processed. The standard sample rate is However sampling at higher rates typically So when you are choosing an audio interface this is one of the ways of comparing them.
If you choose balanced outputs and use balanced cables then any interference picked up by the cable is picked up equally by both cores and is cancelled out at the far end, and possible ground-loop problems also disappear because the screen connection is this time not part of the signal path.
For simple one or two track recording you should be aware of these differences, but you should be able to make a good quality recording on a budget interface if connected up correctly. If you want to know a bit more about this, Sound On Sound published a fantastic article on audio cables and wiring that attempts to demystify this topic.
Finally … Still confused? Please do post your questions in the comments box below and we will try and answer them for you. We want this page to be the ultimate resource for anyone trying to understand, in plain English, exactly what is an audio interface and what does it do.
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