Whether you are building a new home studio or upgrading an existing one, there is no longer any need to buy complex hardware thanks to audio interfaces. A small interface can be perfect for the small home studio if all you need is output for your studio pickups. At the extreme opposite, a pro who needs dozens of inputs and outputs might need several interfaces.
Audio interfaces have so many features that it is hard to know which ones are really important at the time of purchase, and which ones are not. An audio interface is designed to expand and enhance a computer’s sonic functionality. Users can connect professional instruments, microphones and a wide array of signals to PC.
In general, most DAWs (Digital Work Stations) work with most interfaces. But this is not always true. If you have not yet chosen a DAW software that you will remain loyal to, then you do not have to worry. Indeed, 90% of the best DAW software will be compatible with any interface of your choice.
However, if you already have DAW software and want to continue using it, be sure to check its compatibility with the interface of your choice on the manufacturer’s website. And this information is usually hard to find. The DAW compatibility table is seldom displayed on the product sheet. Generally, this type of information can be found on the PDF user guide of the product or on an obscure frequently asked questions (FAQs) page of the manufacturer’s site.
While the rationale for this practice is not very clear, it is possible that manufacturers do not want to display DAW compatibility because they is no way to assure customers when it comes to future compatibility.
A specific interface may be compatible with your DAW software today, but it may not be available in an upcoming update. Even if it is unlikely to happen, it is still possible.
For this reason, it is important to opt for the DAW combo/interface produced by the same company.
There are 4 options available to you when it comes to connecting an audio interface to a PC. USB: This is usually the cheapest option for a home studio, but it offers the lowest transfer speed. FireWire: Used on higher-end audio interfaces, this type of cable provides access to a really faster transfer rate (today this type of cable tends to disappear).
Thunderbolt: popular on the semi-pro interfaces, this type of cable provides access to a higher transfer speed to USB or FireWire. PCI-E: Since logntemps, the type of standard cable for pro interfaces, this type of connection allows access to a greater processor power and transfer speed still unbeatable today.
While the USB is the slowest option of the four, it remains in most cases largely sufficient for a small home-studio installation. If the budget is the priority, experts recommend USB. Regardless of the type of connection you choose in the end, make sure that your computer has the appropriate plug to connect your new interface.
On a standard audio interface, the number of inputs/outputs (I / O) can be between 1-2: on a simple interface and 20 +: on a professional interface. The number of inputs and outputs you must have on your interface depends mainly on the number of tracks you want to record or monitor.
For instance, a YouTuber who records his voice only needs one or two tracks. A solo musician: will only need 2 – 4 tracks. A team that writes texts to work in a small group plan – 4 to 8 tracks. An engineer who records a group should have as many tracks as possible (16 minimum).
An electronic drum kit sometimes requires up to 8 tracks if it offers the possibility to separate each output track (which is the best way to record the electronic drum). So keep in mind the instruments or devices you will need to plug into your interface at the time of purchase.
Type of input channels
One of the things many people forget when choosing their audio interface is the type of inputs used on the interface. You must pay attention to the connector interface between the PC and the audio interface. As such, it is vital to focus on connectors between the interface and the recording equipment (the cable between a microphone and the interface). Manufacturers indicate a number of entries on their product sheets and you must pay attention to the type of entry involved.
In general, you will find one of these three types (or a combination): Mic Input: Allows you to connect a microphone directly to your interface. Line Input: requires the use of an additional power supply of a pre-amp for use in a microchannel. Optical input: a digital type input which requires two additional devices to use it in micro input: a pre-amp for the power supply of the microphone and a digital converter with an optical output.
If you want to use your as-is interface without having to add a multi-channel microphone pre-amp, you may have fewer channels available than you thought. You will notice that the interfaces can have more than 16 inputs in total, but only 2 – 8 microphone inputs.
Without any additional device, the real number of inputs on your audio interface is the number of pre-amplified mics, not the total number of inputs. Once you know the types of entry channels, ensure that you have enough channels to fulfill your goal. Otherwise, you will have a big disappointment when you receive your new interface.
There are two other types of inputs you should know DI inputs and MIDI inputs.
What is an audio interface and what does it do: Size or design
For beginners, experts recommend starting with a desktop interface, which is generally cheaper, easier to use and do not require a separate office for your sound installation. One just plugs them in (correctly) to work.
With an intermediate or advanced home studio options, rack-mounted units are recommended. They tend to have more inputs or outputs, signal routing, and greater flexibility. These considerations allow you to understand what is an audio interface and what does it do.