Choosing an audio interface for music production can be a daunting task. This is particularly true for those new to the world of audio gear. An audio interface serves as the link between your computer and your audio equipment. Its primary function is recording and playback of audio. In this post, I will share some key factors before investing in an audio interface. I’ll also provide examples of some interfaces available on the market.
One of the first decisions for your DAW (digital audio workstation) is the type of audio interface to buy. There are many manufacturers, including Presonus, Focusrite, and Steinberg. Your decision will depend on your budget and intended use.
My Personal Experience
I have owned several audio interfaces, starting with my very first, which was an M-Audio Fast Track. Since then, I’ve moved on to several others. I purchased an E-MU 1616M while recording on a Windows PC. That was my favorite interface among them all. The downfall of that interface was a need for driver support. There are many users still banding together on forums to continue its usability.
My interface of choice is an Apogee Duet 2 for Mac and iPad. It is an excellent interface that is portable and flexible for its size. I get consistent recordings that sound crystal clear. The included Maestro software is a breeze to learn and provides you with all the control you need. In addition, the Duet integrates natively with Logic Pro X so that you can control the input levels from inside your DAW.
Selecting and Interface
Your first step should be to determine how you will use the interface. You may need a portable unit or something that sits on your desktop. It’s also essential to decide on your budget and consider options. Next, determine the type of computer you are going to use. As mentioned earlier, some interfaces work better with Macs than others.
Audio interfaces are usually not available for demo. Therefore, you can search for reviews on blogs like mine or sift through YouTube. There is plenty of information available to research to make an informed decision. After all, a good audio interface is a crucial studio component.
Here is a checklist with considerations before moving forward.
Input and Output Configuration
Consider the type and number of inputs and outputs you need. If you’re a singer/songwriter, a two-channel interface with a mic preamp and instrument input may suffice. You may need a more extensive interface if you’re a producer working with a band. With more inputs and outputs, it will accommodate many microphones and instruments.
Dynamic or Condenser
- Dynamic microphones are more durable and can handle higher sound pressure levels. This makes them ideal for recording loud instruments like drums and guitar amps. They also don’t need any external power source to operate. Most have a cardioid pickup pattern, which is sensitive from the front of the microphone.
- Condenser microphones are more sensitive and have a flatter frequency response. They are ideal for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, and other delicate sounds. Additionally, they need an external power source. Most interfaces usually supply phantom power to operate these microphones. Cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8 pickup patterns capture sound from different directions.
A dynamic microphone can plug into one of the mic preamp inputs on the interface with little fuss. As noted above, Condenser microphones use phantom power (usually a switch on the interface).
Inputs and Outputs
Some interfaces come with MIDI input/output ports for MIDI controllers. Therefore, if you need many inputs, look for an interface with digital connections such as SPDIF or ADAT.
Finally, when looking at audio outputs on an audio interface, there are a few more things to consider. One crucial factor is whether the outputs are balanced or unbalanced. Balanced outputs provide better noise rejection and a strong, clean signal over long distances. Unbalanced outputs are more susceptible to interference and may result in a weaker signal.
Another vital output to look for is a headphone output. This is essential for monitoring your recordings and mixes. Many interfaces offer a dedicated headphone output with its own level of control.
USB, USB-C, Thunderbolt, and PCIe are the most common connection types. USB interfaces are the most affordable and offer a plug-and-play experience. USB-C provides faster data transfer and is compatible with newer computers. Furthermore, Thunderbolt interfaces offer faster data transfer and lower latency than USB interfaces. PCIe interfaces are the quickest and offer the lowest latency. You will need a desktop computer with an available PCIe slot to use them.
The audio quality of the interface is a crucial factor to consider. Look for an interface with high-quality audio to digital converters. The higher the bit depth and sample rate, the better the audio quality. Most interfaces on the market offer 24-bit/192kHz resolution. Generally speaking, this is enough for most recording and mixing applications.
Compatibility and Software
Ensure the audio interface is compatible with your computer’s operating system. Most are suitable for Mac or Windows. As a benefit, some audio interfaces come bundled with Ableton Live Lite, Cubase LE, or Pro Tools First. Check the manufacturers’ website to ensure everything runs smoothly with your setup.
The price of an audio interface can range from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. If you’re new to this whole studio thing, go for something other than the most expensive interface. A budget-friendly option can still provide high-quality audio and enough input/output options. A mid-range or higher-end option is reasonable if you’re serious about music production.
Choosing the proper audio interface for your music production needs can be overwhelming. Do your research, read reviews beforehand, and test the interface. With the correct audio interface, you’ll sound great in no time! Finally, stick to the better-known brands; if on Mac, Apogee is a fantastic choice. Others to consider if you are on a higher budget would be Universal Audio or MOTU, which makes some awesome gear.
Let me know your thoughts!