Beginner's Guide to Audio Interfaces

What is Audio Interface?

In simple terms, an audio interface is a device that converts microphone and instrument audio signals into a format your computer and software recognize. It also routes audio signals from your computer or laptop out to your headphones and studio monitors to display. 

Generally, the audio interfaces connect to the computer via a USB or FireWire. These audio interfaces are used to enhance the audio performance professionally and when a wide variety of microphones and instruments are involved in recordings. These interfaces come with built-in preamp inputs for microphones (i.e. microphone level) and instruments (i.e. instrument level) and line inputs for DVD players and other digital sources. A huge variety of audio interfaces are available at a wide range of prices in the market.

Here’s our guide to audio interfaces and how to use them.

Points to keep in mind while choosing an audio Interface

Music producers may have wide use of audio interfaces. So, according to your use, here is a list of questions that you need to ask yourself when deciding which interface is right for you:

  • What kind of connection does my computer provide? Is it USB, Thunderbolt, Ethernet?
  • What is my requirement? How many mics will I want to use at one time?
  • Is there a need to control volume for multiple headphones and speakers?
  • Is there a need for separate headphone feeds and talkback for an artist who is in another room?
  • In the near future, will there be a requirement of connecting more microphones and musical instruments?
  • What is the sample rate at which I want to record?
  • Is there a need for onboard DSP for plugins?

Inputs and Outputs of an Audio Interface

In a complete guide to the audio interface for a beginner, it is most important to understand the inputs and outputs of an audio interface. In this section, we will look at some types of inputs and outputs that you’ll find on audio interfaces. 

Understanding what these inputs and outputs are meant for you and your music type will help you understand which ones are important.

XLR Inputs

The XLR inputs will allow you to record audio from microphones. These types of inputs are generally connected to a microphone preamp. A microphone preamp boosts the microphone level signal to a line-level signal. 

Hi-Z Inputs

Also known as high-impedance inputs in technical terms, Hi-Z inputs are used when plugging guitars directly into your audio interface. Hi-Z inputs are driven by very low power outputs such as the instrument-level signal produced by the guitar’s pickups. Use guitar/instrument cables with 1/4″ TS connectors for Hi-Z inputs.

DB-25 Inputs and Outputs

It is a 25-port electrical connector that allows you to route patch bays with your audio interface by using a snake cable. DB-25 inputs allow connecting up to 8 TRS or XLR outputs at once. On the other side, DB-25 outputs can connect up to 8 channels of audio to a patch bay via TRS or XLR cables.

1/4″ Line Inputs and Outputs

As simple as it reads, the line inputs accept line-level signals, while line outputs give out or produce line-level signals. The number of line inputs depends upon how many microphones and instruments you want to record at once. The more the no. of instruments, the more line inputs are required.

MIDI Inputs and Outputs

By using MIDI cables, the MIDI inputs and outputs allow you to record and send MIDI data. All knob turns, keypresses, button presses, and slider changes are converted into MIDI data and recorded via an audio interface while playing any MIDI instrument. The MIDI data also includes pitch, velocity, notes, panning and clock signals.

Headphone Outputs

Generally, all audio interfaces come with at least one headphone output. One of the major benefits of headphone output is to provide you with the facility to monitor your mix while recording audio in your control room.

Entry-level Audio Interfaces for Beginners

The entry-level interfaces come with basic features but excellent sonic qualities. As the name suggests, these low-cost models are made for music enthusiasts and beginners to typically provide only one or two inputs and support only one pair of monitors and headphones.

Behringer U-Phoria UM2

It comes with one mic and one instrument input, volume control for headphones, and a pair of speakers.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

It comes with two inputs for mic, line, or instruments, headphone output, great-sounding mic preamps, and speaker level control.

PreSonus AudioBox USB96

The PreSonus AudioBox USB96 gives two mic/instrument inputs along with volume control for headphones. It also gives inputs for one pair of speakers and even MIDI connections.

Conclusion

Apart from the ones mentioned above, many more entry-level audio interfaces are available at a modest range of prices. It is important to understand the basics of music when utilizing the audio interfaces at their best. School of Bollywood Music offers fine-crafted music production courses where students learn to use musical instruments such as audio interfaces, MIDI controllers, DAWs, etc., professionally. Contact us to know more!

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