In the world of music production, audio interfaces play a crucial role, but they can be a bit puzzling. These devices act as a link between your musical instruments and your computer’s digital world. If you’ve ever wondered about audio interfaces, what they do, and the different types available, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll break down the basics of audio interfaces, explain their parts and functions, and explore the various options out there.
Whether you’re an experienced music producer or a budding musician recording your songs, understanding audio interfaces will make your audio production journey smoother.
What is Audio Interface
The first question you’d likely ask if you are new to music production is what is an audio interface?
As I said in the beginning, it is what bridges the instruments to your computer. It is where you connect your instrument or microphone. It is thanks to them that we can record our own music in the comfort of our own homes.
The interface then connects to your computer via a USB cable.
The interface has another important function aside from becoming a hub for your instruments.
You see, your computer can’t process the audio signal as it is. It can only process digital information, which comprises 0s and 1s.
This is actually what midi recordings technically are. They are digital information of audio signals. But music production comprises both midi and audio. So how are physical instruments going to be recorded?
So what the audio interface does is convert the audio signal that comes from playing your instrument or singing into digital data. That way, your computer can read them and record them onto your digital audio workstation (DAW).
Parts of the Audio Interface
Now let’s get into the specific parts of an audio interface.
Inputs and Outputs (I/Os)
Better referred to as I/Os, the inputs and outputs are where you connect your guitar, bass, and/or microphone.
The I/Os are made to work with two types of connections. These are the XLR for microphones and the quarter-jack for guitar and bass.
There is no fixed number of how many I/Os audio interfaces. This depends on what interface you will buy.
Audio interfaces come with built-in pre-amplifiers or preamps.
Your computer’s sound card doesn’t have the same capacity to handle loud audio signals of electric guitars, microphone vocals, etc. It could distort the otherwise clean signal.
The preamp of an audio interface, on the other hand, is capable of such.
It is important to note that not every audio interface’s preamp is the same. As such, consider the quality of the interface when purchasing one.
Each I/Os comes with its own input level.
This controls the volume of whatever instrument is connected.
One thing some input-level knobs do is light up. The two colors that light up are red and green.
The red light indicates that your audio is clipping. This means that the audio level is too loud. As a way to balance out the sound, it will mute the sound whenever it peaks in volume.
To avoid this, don’t set the volume level of the instrument too high as well as don’t play too loudly.
Although there may be times when you become too conscious, resulting in playing or singing softly. So just don’t set the input level knob too high.
The next important knob is the monitor level.
This controls the volume of the entire mix you are working on. This is a handy knob if you need to lower the volume of the whole mix and not just separate tracks.
Many DAWs come with a monitor level, but having a physical knob is much more convenient. Plus, it is much easier to adjust the volume with a physical knob than using your mouse.
Next to the monitor knob is the one for your headphones.
This won’t raise or lower the mix’s volume but how much you can hear it on your headphones.
Audio Interfaces also comes with a phantom power button.
This button is reserved for microphones, specifically condenser microphones.
I say specifically for condenser mics because they require an external power source to work. Most dynamic microphones come with batteries.
Connectors for Studio Monitors
You will find two more quarter-inch jack inputs at the back of your audio interface. These are for your studio monitors.
Plugging your studio monitors onto the audio interface allows them to play your mixes through the monitors.
This adds to the audio interface’s importance as it is much more recommended to use studio monitors for mixing just as much as headphones.
Considerations When Getting an Audio Interface
With the basic parts of an audio interface out of the way, let’s move on to what you might need to consider when getting one for yourself.
The first consideration is the audio interface’s build quality.
If it is sturdy, durable, and not made cheaply, then rest assured that the overall quality is just as good.
Luckily this isn’t just reserved for expensive interfaces. You can get a well-built audio interface for affordable prices.
The preamp of an audio interface is what ensures that the quality of the audio signal is preserved. Low-quality preamps will result in distorted audio signals.
This can factor in how you mix since it might influence you to reduce the level of the audio track when it could be fine if processed in an interface of higher quality.
Brand recognition and reviews can help you identify which audio interface will provide better quality.
How many I/Os
As I said, different audio interfaces have varying numbers of I/Os. One can have only one, another can have up to eight.
If you are a beginner or someone with a fairly simple set-up, then one with two I/Os should suffice. I suggest an audio interface with 2 so you connect both your guitar and microphone at the same time.
Even if you are planning to record a band, then you will need more than two I/Os. Recording a drum kit will require an interface just to house the microphones needed to record the entire thing.
So just be sure to think about what you want to achieve with your home studio before getting an audio interface.
Audio Recording Within Your Reach
That about does it for this article.
It may look complicated and intricate, but its main goal is to transfer your ideas onto whatever music program you use.
Now that you know some of its ins and outs, and other important features, you are now equipped to utilize it for your music.