How to Choose an Audio Interface for Any Budget?

Maybe you're on a budget or maybe you're ready for an upgrade. This info is good for musicians, producers, podcasters, and gamers. First, I'll explain what an audio interface does – then I'll show you different types of interfaces and who they're best for. I'll cover mic breeze, MIDI, Phantom Power, inputs and more. If you're new to all this, don't worry I'll explain everything in simple terms. You may even discover a feature you never knew you needed. You'll find my top audio interface recommendations in the video description.

Let's get started: an audio interface is the best way to get sound into your computer and it could also improve sound quality. It's a device that typically has one or more inputs and at least one set of outputs. I've got mics in my studio and an electric guitar and I want to record them on my computer, but my computer doesn't have the right inputs. An audio interface solves this problem. It connects to a computer by USB and when I sing or play my guitar it converts the audio signal into a digital signal that my computer can record.

You may be familiar with devices with multiple input and output mixers. Mixers have been around forever and if you're comfortable with them. For example, I've got the Mackie Pro effects. Mixer audio interface and effects all in one.


So do you really even need an audio interface? Every computer comes with a sound card built-in. If you don't need to record a mic or any external sound that may be all you need built-in. Sound cards are fine but you will get better quality from a dedicated interface if a microphone is all you need. You may be fine with a USB mic. USB mics are convenient but they don't have much room for expansion later so let's stick with our audio interfaces if you want to keep things compact. IK multimedia has a bunch of audio interfaces that are super portable with every feature. I'll show you some of those later. So let's talk about the different types of interfaces available to you. The Focusrite 2i2 naming contains two numbers, the first stands for the number of inputs and the second - the number of outputs. This little box gives you a lot for the money you have. Two inputs for mics, guitars and you can also use this as stereo inputs as well it has outputs for your speakers and headphones.

Most small interfaces like this one are powered by USB so just one cable to your computer has a bunch of other features that are super useful. These are features you'll find on most audio interfaces at any price range. Understanding these features is important when you're shopping for interfaces.

First is the gain knob. This is kind of like a volume knob for whatever you connect in, since different mics, guitars, and gear send different levels of volume into the interface. A gain knob helps you set it so that it's not too loud and it doesn't distort.


Next you've got a button for phantom power. It's usually marked plus 48v phantom power is necessary for microphones that require power. Usually condenser microphones. Condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamic mics and they work better for a lot of singers. I mostly use condenser mics in my studio, so having phantom power is necessary and it gives you more options for mics in the future.


Next we've got the direct monitor feature. This allows you to hear the signal straight from your mic or instrument that you plug into your audio interface along with the music from your computer. Well why would you want that? Well when you record with a computer it introduces some delay called latency in the recording process. With direct monitoring you hear your voice before it gets routed to your computer which allows you to sing in time with the music. Without that delay that could put you off time. If you're a vocalist, you really need this feature. Next you have a headphone jack and this is super important when recording with a mic. You don't want your mic to be picking up the music from your speakers, so best you wear some headphones when you record.


Last is a feature you don't really see. It's the analog-to-digital conversion rate and it's measured by sample rates 44.1 48 96 192 kilohertz lots of options. higher sample rates offer higher quality but for most music and podcasting and video applications 44.1 or 48 is all you need so don't get caught up in those numbers.


A couple interfaces I'll show you next have some features you may want to consider. And the next one even includes MIDI in and out. This is the iRig Pro by IK multimedia if you're looking for something super portable and compatible with an iPad or any tablet this could be a good option for you. It's really compact and feels like a thick remote control.


It's got a combo mic and instrument input with phantom power. But to keep it small it only has one output for headphones. But there is an iRig duo option with speaker outputs and two inputs. Best of all they even include MIDI in and out. MIDI allows you to connect keyboards through your audio interface to your computer. Nowadays most keyboards have USB but all do keyboards use an old MIDI connector if you've got an old keyboard that doesn't have USB find an audio interface that includes this feature. I really can't believe they fit all of this into this iRig Pro.


Next up is an interface and mixer combo. This is the Mackie Pro effect 6, so why would you want this option? Lots of reasons. First you may be more familiar with the mixer form factor you can use this as a stand-alone mixer without a computer or as an audio interface with your computer and it's got built-in effects. I think this is a great option if you record at home and play live on stage. You don't even need your computer to add effects to your voice or instruments.


You can totally use this as a USB audio interface as well. Mic and instrument inputs gain knob is here headphone and speaker outputs and even direct monitoring. You get 6 inputs, and it's built like a tank. I was honestly super surprised with this thing. By the way this interface has a button for high Z what's that well high Z inputs are best for instruments with low levels of output like an electric guitar.


The other type of input is called line. It's for things that you plug in that already have a high volume. It could be a keyboard, a synth or even an old turntable. If you're a guitarist, check to make sure that the interface you're looking at has a high Z input – ­it's also called an instrument input.


So what are those more expensive audio interfaces all about? Well, you get more inputs or outputs and some other very cool things. But does it justify the high price? It depends on where you are in your production career. Some of the more expensive interfaces feature better mic preamps. Every interface and mixer includes a preamp that boosts the sound of a mic. Some mics aim to add some color, and some – try to be as transparent as possible. Higher-end audio interfaces, like Universal Audio, give you high quality mic preamps. But just between you and me for home producers the difference in sound may not be a big deal to you can check out the difference.

But, there are more features on these higher-end interfaces; the Arturia Audiofuse 8pre right here can connect to other audio interfaces and extend the inputs. I've got it connected with a single cable to the universal Apollo 8 and now I have 16 channels. It just combines everything into one. Super convenient. But wait! Who needs all these inputs? Well, it is useful if you're recording a band or how about a drummer with multiple mics? It's also useful if you've got a bunch of keyboards and synths and you want to keep unplugging and plugging them in. I've got everything in my studio connected.


That is Arturia Audio Fuse and the Apollo 8 with the middle price. Well, why the jump in price for the universal audio? Well, UAD Audio interfaces also include what's called DSP processing. It allows you to use the computing power inside the interface to apply effects instead of taking up your computer's power. Universal Audio makes high-quality plug-ins that are only compatible with their interfaces. You sound great but you may be ready for them when you're ready to upgrade your studio. You don't need it when you're just getting started. The last audio interface I have is one that helps you stream online. So how do these work? These are great for live streams, podcasts and gaming online. This works with a tablet or a laptop so plug in any audio source and then mix in your voice as well with the input for a mic- or a mic / headphones combo. It even has a loopback feature so you can be outputting from your music application while talking and then sending everything to your live stream. Honestly, I've been dying to do this for so long I'll let you know when I do a live stream with this. If you're just getting started with music production, I recommend you start from small budget interfaces. They are perfect if you're just trying to record at home with a mic or your guitar and it'll even cover you if you have a guest artist come to buy. Thank you for attention!


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