Advice on audio interfaces
What do you need an audio interface for?
You use an audio interface to connect your studio monitors, instruments and your computer. The internal sound card of your computer or laptop has a 3.5 mm output and you use it for pc speakers. However, this card lacks the high-quality connections. This means you can not connect the better studio monitors. You connect these speakers via an XLR or 6.3 mm cable. In addition, an audio interface is essential for recording sound from your instruments and microphones. Via a sound card you get the sound of your synthesizer or drum computer in your DAW, the audio software on your computer.
During your search for a sound card, it is important to look at the number and type of connections. You need an input for each microphone or instrument that you want to record at the same time. For microphones, you need an input with a preamplifier, which is called pre amp. Without an amplifier, the signal is too weak, causing the input volume to be too low. Do you have a condenser microphone? Then you need an input with 48v phantom power. For your instruments you need an instrument or line input. If you want to connect 3 instruments at the same time, you look at audio interfaces with 3 inputs. More expensive interfaces often have digital ADAT connections. This will expand the number of inputs on the interface with 8 and sometimes 16 channels.
You use the outputs of your interface to connect your studio monitors. You do this via the XLR or 6.3 mm outputs. Sound cards try to pass the sound as neutral as possible, so that you make the right decisions during mixdown. A MIDI output ensures that you can control equipment such as your synthesizer via your computer. Via an output you also send the sound to an external audio processor such as a reverb, delay or compressor.
Connect to your computer
You connect the interfaces to your computer in different ways. The most commonly used connection is a USB connection. The advantage of this connection is that most computers have a USB port. Some interfaces also get their power from this connection, so you do not need an extra power cable. Although a USB connection works well in most home studios, you may want to send too much data over the connection. If you connect many instruments and microphones at the same time, it is wise to choose an interface with a Thunderbolt or FireWire connection. These are connections that can process a large amount of data. This makes all your instruments and microphones sound clear, even if you use them all at once.
In addition to the number of connections, the way in which an interface processes the signals is important. An interface does this by means of AD / DA converters. The converters ensure that the sound from your synthesizer enters your computer and then send the signal back to your studio speakers. The specifications that you will encounter include bit depth and sample rate. The bit depth indicates the number of bits per sample. This mainly affects the noise floor. The higher the bit resolution, the lower the noise in your recordings. This gives you a wider dynamic range and allows you to mix more precisely. The sample rate is the number of snapshots used in the sound. The higher the number, the more detailed it sounds. However, a sample rate of 48kHz is more than enough to work with. A higher rate, for example 192kHz, is very stressful for your computer and you hardly notice the difference.
Why is there a price difference between the audio interfaces?
The reason that audio interfaces differ in price does not only have to do with the number of inputs and outputs. The converters and pre-amps that use brands such as RME are more expensive than the components from, for example, a Focusrite model. That does not necessarily mean that the sound cards of RME are better, but they generally sound more neutral. As a result, you often see more expensive interfaces in professional studios. Cards with a higher price tag often also have a lower latency thanks to the drivers. This ensures that the sound is processed so quickly that you do not hear any delay. As soon as you respond to your synthesizer, the sound will come out of your studio without any audible delay.