Audio interfaces are an important part of music production or audio recording. In very simple terms, an audio interface is a mediator that allows us to connect microphones, MIDI keyboard, guitar, or any other instrument to your computer and record via USB(most commonly). They also have outputs that allow us to connect studio monitors, studio headphones,s or computer speakers to listen to the recorded or real-time audio.
How to use an audio interface
Setting up the audio interface
So let’s start with the basics, your interface will come with a power cable or a power adapter that has to be plugged into your power supplier. It will also come with a firewire cable, thunderbolt cable, or a USB cable(any one of them) that will be connected to your computer.
Your interface will capture audio signals from microphones or directly from a guitar or any other instrument, convert them from analog to digital signal, and will send them to your pc or computer.
Choosing the interface in your operating system
In this step, you’ll find the audio settings for your operating system. On Windows you’ll find these settings by navigating to the Start menu > Control Panel > Hardware & Sound > Sound, and then you’ll work within the Playback and the Recording tabs.
On a Mac go to the top left of your menu bar to click the Apple > System Preferences > Sound, and then work within the Output and Input tabs.
Just change the input and output device in your computer or laptop according to your preferences.
Setting your interface with DAW
This is the last step before recording your masterpiece, setting your Digital Audio Workstation(DAW) to use your interface. Just go to your general settings regardless of which DAW you are using and navigate to the audio settings. You should find a tab that behaves just like the operating system sound settings. It allows you to select which device connected to your computer will be used for the input and output devices.
For example, choose your audio interface as output if your monitors or speakers are routes through an interface. Similarly, choose the interface as input if you want to record and the microphone is routed through the interface.
Now you’re good to go, just add multiple tracks or choose the mixer option in your DAW and start making your musical piece.
Let’s get to the actual list of best audio interfaces available currently-
|Sno.||Audio Interface||Number of inputs and outputs||Amazon link|
|1.||Focusrite Scarlett solo 3rd generation||2 inputs and 2 outputs||https://amzn.to/3eLESKr|
|2.||SSL 2+ Audio Interface||2 inputs and 2 outputs with two headphone outputs||https://amzn.to/3uoomGw|
|3.||Steinberg UR44||6 inputs 4 outputs||https://amzn.to/3e8sF3i|
|4.||Roland Rubix24||2 inputs 4 outputs||https://amzn.to/3t9nnsv|
|5.||Tascam US-2X2||2 inputs 2 outputs||https://amzn.to/3vwwCEP|
|6.||Behringer U-Control UCA222||2 input 2 output||https://amzn.to/3vtVA7E|
|7.||Audient ID4||2 input 2 output||https://amzn.to/3ub1vOV|
|8.||Steinberg AXR4||28 inputs 24 outputs||https://amzn.to/336FqVJ|
Focusrite Scarlett solo 3rd generation
When it comes to home recording setup, we can never skip the Focusrite solo studio bundle and especially its audio interface. It offers two separate channels and doesn’t limit recording capabilities. You can record as many tracks as your digital audio workstation will allow one at a time. It has a minimalist design with durable metal chassis and has a compact size.
The input channels include one XLR and one Hi Z TRS connection that allows you to plug in any microphone or electronic instrument. It captures a high resolution with 24-bit/192kHz analog to digital signal conversion for professional-quality recordings. The first channel is used primarily for vocals, the secondary channel is for plugging in your ¼ inch jacks. It has a gain dial and an instrument button.
Alongside the two channels, and their gain dials is a large monitor level dial and a front-mounted headphone output connection with a direct monitoring button. This lets you switch between monitoring via the left and right line-outs fed to your speakers and the headphones directly. Overall it’s a good interface, especially for home recording setup.
SSL 2+ Audio Interface
SSL are renowned for their incredible preamps, EQ and bus compressors. It comes with 2 inputs and 2 outputs with two headphone outputs, MIDI in/out, and an unbalanced secondary output pair. The SSL 2/2+ is USB bus-powered, meaning you don’t need to use a separate power supply to run it. If you have this budget, this should be the interface for you.
Steinberg UR44 Audio interface
This interface comes with four mic preamps, six inputs, four output channels, MIDI I/O ports, onboard DSP power, and full iPad connectivity. It has a design of full-metal chassis which makes it more durable. It also has an onboard DSP that provides latency-free monitor mixing and monitoring with effects and processing. This can be your interface for your home recording setup a well as a recording studio.
It is another Mid-range audio interface, with a sleek, compact design and has all the features that a home recording setup would need. It has 2 inputs and 4 outputs, it also has a feature of a built-in compressor and limiter to control the dynamics of vocals and instruments to prevent clipping and distortion of the audio signal. You are guaranteed to love it.
If you’re a beginner looking for an audio interface for your home recording setup, this is the best affordable option for you. It comes with two high-gain microphone preamps, a gain knob for each channel, signal volume indicator lights, and an impedance switch for when you want to record guitars and other instruments directly. It also has HDDA (High Definition Discrete Architecture) preamp design that provides crystal clear audio that has extremely low self-noise, making it great for capturing details in your performances. The build quality is good, small, and portable.
Behringer U-Control UCA222
This is the cheapest interface anyone can use for recording purposes. The size is almost equal to a mobile phone, is compact and portable. Although it is extremely cheap, it gives a decent sound quality.
Unlike the rest of the audio interfaces on this list, the U-Control UCA222 uses RCA inputs and outputs, there is no XLR input on this interface module, so you can only connect instrument cables and RCA cables. This interface is for people for casual recording and listening, don’t expect a high-end performance considering its price.
Another great audio interface under $200. It offers 2 inputs, 2 outputs complete with phantom power for using condenser mics – as well as an instrument-level DI for plugging in your guitar or bass. There’s also the main output for your speakers and dual headphone outputs.
It has an all-metal body, with two sizes of the headphone jack to allow you to use any headphones or for have two people listening at once, plus the flexible metering, with display levels for whichever control you turn. If you’re having budget issues, this interface can be closest to premium ones.
So this audio interface is especially for professionals who want a high-end interface and have that kind of budget. This interface is offered by Steinberg, with 28 analog inputs and 24 analog outputs. There are four Neutrik combo inputs and two headphone outputs, while the back panel houses eight TRS line inputs, eight TRS line outputs, and two sets of ADAT I/O doubling as S/PDIF.
The second pair provides an alternative AES/EBU Sub-D connector. MIDI I/O sits alongside word clock I/O, while two Thunderbolt 2 ports enable computer connection and daisy-chaining of up to three interfaces. This interface is best suited for professional producers and engineers.
How to choose the best Audio interface for you
You should choose the best audio interface according to your budget, sound quality, inputs, outputs etc. Let’s study them in detail-
Inputs and outputs (I/O)
At the beginner level, you’ll just need simple two-channel desktop interfaces that can record just a pair of mono signals or a single stereo signal at once. There are also other high-end interfaces that have several inputs and outputs for recording simultaneously.
For singer-songwriters who want to capture their voice and acoustic guitar using microphones, a pair of balanced mic inputs may be all that’s needed. If either of the mics is a condenser type you’ll need an input with phantom power to energize it. To connect external types of equipment like drum machines, samplers, and external sound processors such as multi-effects units, you’ll need line-level inputs and outputs. Lastly, check the compatibility of your interface with your computer because most of the interfaces are either usable with MAC or PC.
Level of sound quality
There are certain factors that affect the sound quality of audio interfaces, let’s talk about them.
Bit depth: Digital recording converts your analog audio into bits and bytes. Without using technical jargon, the more the number of bits the higher the level of fidelity as compared to the original signal. Fidelity means how well the digital bitstream can capture the music’s dynamics while removing extra noise. In other words, how accurate the recording is to the original sound.
The audio CD uses a 16-bit standard that delivers a dynamic range of 96dB. Unfortunately, the noise floor in digital recording is fairly high, so recording at 16 bits means that some noise will be evident in your music during quieter passages.
Talking about 24-bit recording, the pro-audio standard today, delivers 144dB of dynamic range, eliminating almost all extra noise and providing plenty of headroom for very dynamic performances. If you can afford an interface with 24-bit processing you’ll find that it will produce smoother, more professional, and better sound quality.
Sample rate: In simple words sample rates are like the digital snapshots your audio gear captures from moment to moment. CDs use a 44.1kHz sample rate— your digital recording system takes 44,100 pictures per second of the incoming audio signal. This theoretically means that your system can capture frequencies up to 22.05kHz—well above the range of human hearing.
But it’s not that simple. Again, without using too much technical jargon, there’s evidence that higher sampling rates capture information that contributes to overall fidelity and more satisfying sound. As a result, many studio pros work at 48kHz, 96kHz, or even 192kHz sampling rates.
Deciding what level of fidelity you need comes down to thinking about what you plan to do with your music. If you’re working on a demo to share with friends or fellow band members, 16-bit/44.1/kHz processing should be adequate. But for commercial releases, soundtrack work, and other pro-level projects, 24-bit/96kHz processing is recommended to help give your sound a professional sheen.
Converter quality: Analog to digital (A/D), and digital to analog (D/A) converters are the devices that convert the incoming analog audio signals into digital data, and the digital data from the computer back into analog audio output signals. Just as critical as bit rates and sampling depth is the quality and accuracy of the converters in your interface. They are where the sonic rubber meets the road. As noted before, bigger price tags generally equate with better quality converters.
So we have talked a lot about audio interfaces, from how to set up to how to choose the best one for you. Just go through the above information thoroughly, this will help you to choose the best interface for you as well as guide you to use the interface optimally. Keep making music:-)