Very often, to tool up a professional or home sound studio, you need to purchase a huge amount of equipment. After obtaining and installing, the question may arise: “How to connect microphones and other audio devices to the PC or a laptop?” — and, actually, here you can’t do without a qualitative audio interface! In the article we`ll tell you what it is, why do all sound engineers need it, and reveal additional details that future professionals should definitely know!
What Is An Audio Interface?
In simple words, an audio interface is a technical device that allows you to connect any audio device to a PC, and also expands & improves its functionality for working with sound — it is necessary for mixing and mastering the material. The operating principle of a conventional audio interface is quite simple and consists in transforming analog sound into digital information that can be worked up by your computer or laptop.
However, the AI system can easily do the same process in reverse, taking digital data from your PC/laptop and converting it into an analog signal. This way, specialists can freely hear the music through your studio monitors or headphones.
Due to the fact that many want to try themselves in sound engineering, there are hundreds of different models of audio interfaces from a dozen different manufacturers on the market today. One of the main selection criteria is the type of connection. Possible options:
- USB and FireWire — the most common ones;
- the PCI/PCIe — a specific one that is suitable for PCs only;
- Thunderbolt — the most modern one.
Using the appropriate audio interface software, you can adjust the volume and quality of the sound from each source. This is very important when the musician needs to focus on a specific instrument or vocals while other track`s components should be slightly less noticeable.
Why Do You Need an Audio Interface?
You may know that regular AI functions are built into the standard computer’s sound card, so beginners are wondering if is it possible to get by with basic capabilities? Expert’s answer: unfortunately, no, and there`re several reasons to use an external AI software instead of the embedded sound card. The most essential ones:
- Firstly, a usual sound card can provide only limited quality and a minimum number of input/output operations — this makes it not the most ideal device for recording.
- Secondly, the average sound cards can offer only consumer-grade stereo line-level input and headphone output — it`s not enough for professional sound recording.
- Without using the best audio interface, a sound engineer may experience radio and electromagnetic interference, digital phase distortion (jitter), and high latency, which significantly degrades the sound both at the input and at the output.
In addition, without high-quality AI, it is insubstantial to trace a complete drum kit (not to mention a full-fledged band), because a standard sound card usually provides only two input portals. This way, you can do just fine with one sound card if you’re recording just for yourself with a pair of speakers handy, but the output is low-quality compressed audio. But the reliable interface helps to create topflight music content with the gorgeous sound that will play well on any sound spreading system.
Computer Connectivity Options
Actually, technology doesn’t stand still for a long time — it is one of the constants of the recording industry. And the concepts of “conventional” and “obsolete” are quite close to each other. However, some AI connection types are steadily considered standard, namely:
- USB — the simplest and most universal type of connection, presented on almost every device (3.0, 2.0, 1.1);
- Firewire — transfers data at a more constant speed than USB, making it slightly more reliable when you are recording many channels at the same time;
- Thunderbolt — thanks to its incredibly high speed and very low latency, this modern connection type is the new standard for connecting audio interfaces;
- PCIe — a special connection type that is only suitable for PCs (it is built into the motherboard and provides you with the advantage of bypassing some of the data conversion processes that cause delays and limit bandwidth).
In terms of applying frequency, the first two connections are leading. Usually, most computers, laptops, and Macs have USB ports, while FireWire is primarily used for Mac audio interface. Interestingly, that these protocols have the same speed (480 Mbps), which is enough to record up to 64 tracks simultaneously.
When making a choice, remember that when purchasing either an expensive or a cheap audio interface, in addition to the connection type, it is worth considering two more indicators:
- bitness — usually, 24-bit systems are regarded as a professional standard;
- sampling frequency — most audio professionals prefer to operate with 48, 88.2, 96, or even 176.4 and 192 kHz.
These two parameters are less critical than the AI quality and connection ports. By the way, the number of available channels directly affects the interface`s size and its cost. The fact is that each channel has its own chain of electronic components. Therefore, to add another connector, manufacturers have to completely duplicate the previous one.
However, there is a delicate balance between the best sounding and the number of channels. Therefore, find out how many connectors you really need. Then consider if you have the ability to record instruments one at a time. In any case, most interfaces allow you to expand the number of inputs, so in the future, if necessary, you will have the opportunity to upgrade your setup. Good luck in choosing the best AI!