If you are new to recording music you may have become overwhelmed with researching all the gear needed to make your start. The audio interface is an essential component of the home studio and you need to understand every function that it can perform for you. Choosing the right interface can save you an abundance of cash on other gear you may think you need to get started.
What Can An Audio Interface Do?
The basic audio interface serves many purposes in the project studio. It can be a preamp for your microphones and instruments, a headphone amp, a monitor controller, an AD/DA converter, and may even include compression, EQ, or other effects before even reaching your DAW. In most cases, the audio interface is the centerpiece to the modern home studio, so when you are budgeting, keep in mind that you are investing in arguably the second-most important component of your setup, next to the computer. Quality, price ranges, and features vary greatly so making a decision may seem overwhelming. The minimalist will want something that will suit their current needs and that can be relied on for years to come, even if studio expansion takes place. A recording interface with 2 microphone inputs and a single ¼ inch instrument input is a relatively standard place to start. The other features of the basic interface are where decision making becomes more personalized.
First off, keep in mind that interfaces connect to computers using different types of connections, so make sure you check the computer connectivity on the device, and match that to what is available on your computer. The A/D resolution may also be a factor for some, but at the minimum, make sure the interface can record at 24bit/44.1 kHz. Take a look at the available digital outputs on the interface as well. You will want at the very least, a headphone output, and left/right monitor outputs. The interface may have some additional line outputs, which are a useful feature if you will eventually want to send audio to an external headphone amp. Digital insert points are another great feature that you can expect to see on some recording interfaces. A digital insert point allows you to use outboard gear after the interfaces preamp, but before the converters. This allows to track using hardware compressors, EQs, or even reverbs, permanently coloring the sound before it even reaches the DAW. One final feature worth mentioning is the ability to expand your preamps via digital inputs on the recording interface. This is useful if you ever need to increase the amount of inputs that you can simultaneously record through, for instance, if you are hired to record a live gig and need to mic up and record several instruments at once.
This information should give you some idea of what you want your audio interface to have, and what is unnecessary for your future set-up. This is the 3rd article in the Getting Started series. Click here to read more about choosing a computer, or here for help in choosing a DAW.