Gear shopping is never easy, but it is inevitable if you’re in the industry of music production.
So you can’t really put it off, at one point or another it’s going to come at you,
therefore it’s best to develop your skills of researching gear before you even head out to a physical or online store.
For the purposes of this article:
An audio interface is a device that accepts analog microphone and line level signals,
then converts them to digital signals for processing on a computer and then converts them back to analog signals that can be played using monitor speakers, headphones and analog processing gear.
In this article I’ll cover the key things you should look for and consider when buying an audio interface.
There so many options available when it comes to audio interfaces,
it might be too much for the first time music gear shopper, with all the vast information that is all over the internet.
This post will surely clear up any misconceptions and any confusion that you might have.
So without further ado, lets get into the main things that you should look for when buying an audio interface.
1. What you need
Before you set out to even start considering looking at the different options of audio interfaces,
the first thing you have to do is consider what you need.
Everyone considering what they should look for in an audio interface should make an assessment of what they wish to accomplish with it.
Is it mobile recordings?, podcasting?, music recording? instrument recording?
For example; we have a number of audio interfaces at the Home Music Producer creative studio,
and we never actually dedicate an audio interface to only one task,
sometimes we are recording singers, other times we are recording instruments and other things.
When we set out to purchase audio interfaces we made a list of the things we wished to achieve with it,
this then made it easier when we actually went online and started deciding which interface we wanted.
2. Connection format
So now that you’ve figured out what you intend to use the interface for,
you can then start going through the equipment you have
in order to establish what type of connections you are going need.
This is a very vital step,
mainly because there is no point in buying an audio interface that will not work with the present equipment connections that you have.
So lets have a look at the types of connections that are found on most equipment
USB connection – this is the most common and you probably see it each time you have to plug your phone to your computer to transfer data.
It stands for universal serial bus and is an industry standard that establishes specifications for cables and connectors.
Firewire Connection – this is another type of connection, it is also used to add peripheral connections to your computer and you might have seen it if you have a camcorder or digital hard drive with a firewire connector.
Thunderbolt – this a brand name of a hardware interface that is developed by Intel and Apple that allows the connection of peripherals to a computer.
XLR – the most common connection type that is usually found in audio, video and stage lighting.
This is one of the key things you have to look at because it will determine whether you’ll buy the interface or not,
it’s always good to have a budget worked out before you even get started with the equipment shopping,
especially if you’re getting your gear for the first time.
Know your limits and then go ahead and start checking for audio interfaces.
A well priced interface will serve you well, that is why you have to do your best to not buy the cheapest one you find,
go through the specs and assess if it will serve its intended purpose,
Cheap things are expensive,
and there’s so much truth to this statement because price points often give you a sense of what to expect,
For example; you can’t expect to have thousand dollar features on an item that costs a couple of bucks.
Go for an interface that is not too expensive and not too cheap, at least then you’ll expect some good quality.
4. Sound quality
This is one of the top things to look out for when you intend to purchase an audio interface.
I’m a music producer, so sound quality is everything to me,
when it comes to audio interfaces, sound may vary not according to price,
sometimes a cheap interface will have excellent audio, almost compared to a pricey one,
therefore it’s best to get an expert opinion, before you go on and buy one.
There are a lot reviews of different audio interfaces online, so you can start there,
then proceed to youtube and watch videos of people using the interface that you find interesting,
Hear them air their opinion then dig deeper and find out as much as you can,
once you do this, then make a decision on which audio interface will serve you best,
with the right acoustic treatment in a room, you’re able to get a great representation of audio from your speakers connected to an interface,
so put this into context,
if you already have an interface and you feel its not living up to your sonic expectations,
do some investigation in the room you’re using the interface in before you start rushing to buy a different one.
Focusrite has some of the best audio interfaces on the market, and their products are quite affordable,
they have something for almost every budget, so you can start there and then move on to others if you feel the need to.
5. Onboard DSP
Some audio interfaces come with this function already,
DSP is short for Digital Signal Processing which essentially provides on board mixing function for input and output signals that you can send to specific outputs for monitoring,
having DSP effects built in is great, because the effects will help in the recording stages when you want the singer or performer to hear their own voice with effects without any computer based delays.
Therefore it’s good to check if an interface has this feature, because you’ll need it.
6. inputs and outputs
You also need to consider the equipment that you intend to use with the interface,
then you need to make sure your interface can provide needed inputs and outputs.
Therefore make sure your equipment such as microphones, headphones, instruments and others can be well utilized with your interface.
This goes back to you first figuring out what you intend to use the audio interface for,
it’s with that assessment that you can properly research an audio interface to make sure it’s the right fit.
You also have to consider portability, which is very important because you’ll need an audio interface that you can move with pretty simply,
there are alot of interfaces out there that can give you good portability and good quality,
just remember that the interface doesn’t have to be necessarily “tiny” to be portable,
you need a decent size, and there has to be a trade off between size and productivity of the interface.
So don’t just settle for a portable interface without doing proper research.
Strength and durability
You also have to settle for a strong durable interface,
accidents happen especially in a recording environment and at one point or another you might find yourself picking up your interface off the floor.
So do the necessary research before choosing one and make sure it won’t break easily,
go to a physical store and check for durability if you need to, or check out reviews online.
The main things you ought to pay attention to when picking the right audio interface are; the price, your needs, on board DSP, inputs/outputs, sound quality, durability, portability and the types of connections.