An audio interface is the piece of equipment that allows the computer to connect to the studio monitors, microphones, headphones, and more. It’s essentially the ‘hub’ of your studio.
Most producers will put their audio interface on their desk or in a rackmount directly in front of them. This give the user easy access to the volume controls, which are used very frequently.
Why Do You Need an Audio Interface?
If you have studio monitors, you’re going to need a way to connect the monitors to your computer. However, computers don’t normally have XLR or TS (¼”) outputs, which are required for studio monitors.
An audio interface connects to the computer via one of the available ports (USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, or PCI), then converts the signal into an output that is required by the studio monitors.
Without the audio interface, you wouldn’t be able to connect your studio monitors to your computer.
An audio interface is also required if you want to record audio. Quality microphones require XLR inputs and instruments usually connect via TS (¼”) input. Most computers don’t have either type of input port. When you choose your audio interface, make sure you’re going to have the right number and types of inputs that your recording will require.
What Kinds of Audio Interfaces are There?
Audio interfaces vary based on the number of in/out ports that you need, the connection type, and whether or not a preamp comes installed.
The number of inputs and outputs is determined by the amount of hardware, acoustic gear, and studio monitors that you have. If you want to record five microphones at once without using a mixer, you’re going to need 5 XLR inputs on your audio interface. If you have 2 sets of studio monitors that use TS, then you’re going to need 4 TS outputs.
The most common audio interface formats are USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire, and PCI. USB has the highest latency, but is the most common port type, and easy to install. FireWire and Thunderbolt are faster, but your computer may not have either of these ports installed. Make sure that you either get a PCI adaptor, or already have a built-in FireWire port before buying a FireWire audio interface. The last type is PCI, which is the fastest interface type. Make sure that your computer has a free PCI port before trying to install the chip.
Some audio interfaces come with built in preamps. If you want to record an unpowered microphone, you either need a built-in preamp, or an additional hardware preamp.