When I first started recording years ago I was using an M-Audio Fast Track USB. I had no idea what I was doing, but I learned so much from that $100 dollar interface that I purchased from Best Buy! Since then, the technology contained within these things has evolved leaps and bounds.
For example, the Focusrite Scarlette, and Clarette audio interfaces pack so much punch that it is hardly noticeable that the person using them is almost indistinguishable from a pro set-up. This is of course, if the person doing the recording knows what they are doing! We will discuss more of that in another post! Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of what an interface is, what it does, and why you need to be smart when purchasing your first one.
An audio interface is a device that transforms an analog signal into binary code, or ones and zero’s so that your computer can recognize how to interpret musical instruments.
For example, when you strum the G Chord on an acoustic/electric guitar, the vibrations of the strings are captured via the internal microphone placed within the guitar itself. This signal is transmitted through the 1/4 inch guitar cable which is plugged directly into the High Z input of the audio interface. The signal is then processed through the audio interface and converted from an analog signal to a digital signal so that your computer can translate the G chord you just strummed.
Depending on the interface you have, this “conversion” can be really great, or kind of bad… However, in my opinion, what you are really paying for with an audio interface are the microphone preamps. Let’s get into that now!
If you are just a hobbyist, or someone just looking to have a little fun, or maybe just starting to learn how to record…don’t spend too much on your first interface. It takes years of experience to nail down the art of recording to get that “professional” sound that everyone is yearning for. There is no such thing as…”I will buy really expensive equipment and my sound will be GREAT.” This doesn’t exist…the professional sound comes from the experienced individual who knows how to “tweak” all of the dials and knobs in correlation with the audio chain setup.
However, I stated earlier that audio interfaces have come a very long way. You have probably noticed that there are “shootouts” of which one is the best all over the web. Just remember to stick with one that has really good microphone preamps! If your interface has great preamps, you are more likely to keep it as you continue to learn more about recording.
In my opinion, a GREAT interface for someone just starting out is the Focusrite Scarlette.
A GREAT intermediate/Professional interface is the Focusrite Clarette. The microphone preamps on both of the units are phenomenal! Not to mention they are FAST! Speaking of that, speed is probably a topic we should cover a little.
Most lower end audio interfaces are USB 2.0. This is still VERY fast. Unless you are running 40 plus tracks at a time you will be just fine with a USB 2.0 interface.
For example, I am using a Scarlette 18i8 connected to an I Buy Power 6 Core 3.7 GHZ processor computer with 16 Gigs of DDR4 2400 Mhz Ram. I OVERLOAD my DAW sometimes using the Kontakt 5 interface and have NEVER had an issue. However, if you have a huge mixing board, and you’re recording an entire orchestra simultaneously…then sure…go with a USB 3.0 or above.
The speed of your computers processor is normally the limiting factor though.
If you want to learn more about how fast your computer should be to keep up with all of the tracks you want to record, check out this article! Ok….Moving on!
Lastly, to learn more about audio interfaces, follow this link to start learning everything you need to know about recording with your first audio interface, and to make a smart purchase!
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