Musicians and audio engineers often use audio interfaces to directly plug their microphones or devices into their workstations. An audio interface converts the audio signals from the peripheral device into a digital format to be saved and edited on your PC or Mac.
If your audio interface sounds bad, you can save time, money, and effort by ensuring the issue is not with your other equipment and software. However, if you can’t rule out hardware malfunction and resolve the problem yourself, you should reach out to the manufacturer.
The troubleshooting process includes basic things like double-checking the system requirements to more advanced adjustments like setting the sample rate and buffer size. Read on to learn more about the various measures you can take to fix poor sound quality on your audio interface.
Users should be familiar with the concept of system requirements for software such as word processors and video games. However, most people are used to a “plug and play” method of connecting a peripheral to their machine and using it immediately when it comes to hardware.
This is usually the case for more specific peripherals like mice, keyboards, and microphones—but a slightly more advanced device like an audio interface will have stricter system requirements.
If you’ve purchased an audio interface, you likely have a machine powerful enough to use it. Still, it’s recommended that you double-check the system requirements of your interface and compare it to your computer’s specifications to ensure that there are no compatibility issues. Some higher-end devices may not work with a regular PC with limited RAM or processing power.
System Compatibility Solutions
After confirming that your machine has the juice to work with your interface, you’ll want to ensure that your operating system and audio drivers are updated. If they are, make sure that your audio interface supports whatever versions you use.
Alternatively, if your interface is class-compliant, you can use a different type of audio driver known as an Audio Stream Input/Output driver, which is optimized for high-quality audio, runs more reliably than the default audio driver, and allows a greater deal of control over the computer’s audio-related components.
Users who work with audio and recording equipment frequently recommend the ASIO4ALL open-source audio driver.
If your audio interface supports your current OS and driver versions, it could be a hardware issue unrelated to the internal components of the interface itself. Audio interfaces that utilize a USB or PCI connection can create additional pops, cracks, and static in a recording.
This can occur when the interface is drawing too much power from the PC or other internal components interfering with the interface.
Hardware Compatibility Solutions
The simplest way to solve hardware-related issues is to begin with a hard restart. Shut your equipment off, then turn it on in this order:
- Audio Interface
- Studio Monitor Speakers
This will ensure that your computer immediately recognizes your audio interface when it loads. It is good practice to turn your computer on last and off first.
Entry-level interfaces typically utilize a USB connection. If your interface connects to your machine using USB and does not rely on its own power source, ensure it is plugged directly into your computer and not through a multi-USB hub.
The interface draws its power from the USB connection, and a USB hub might not allow the tool to draw the energy it needs to function correctly. Try to rearrange your connection such that the interface is directly plugged into the computer. It’s better to connect low-power peripherals like mice and keyboards via a hub.
If you have no choice but to use a USB hub, consider one that supplies additional power.
For example, you can use the Sabernet 4-Port USB 3.0 hub, which features a 2.5A adapter to ensure all connected devices receive adequate power. What’s more, you can switch each port on and off using a dedicated button, allowing you to manage power usage more efficiently.
If your equipment is plugged into multiple wall outlets, you may consider using a surge protector and consolidating it into one outlet. This prevents an issue called a ground loop, which can sometimes produce a low-frequency hum.
Finally, some users report interference with their audio interface from their wifi adapter as a last resort. Try unplugging your wifi adapter or disabling it from the Device Manager.
You can also use the device manager to locate the audio interface. If it doesn’t show up, it may be defective.
Some settings within Windows may interfere with an audio interface’s operation. Suppose you’ve tried re-installing your audio driver or even using a third-party driver such as ASIO4All. In that case, it may be necessary to look deeper into your computer or operating system’s settings to ensure there isn’t anything keeping the interface from working correctly.
This includes ensuring your playback and recording devices are set correctly and keeping programs from changing them.
Windows Setting Solutions
Computers have various settings to save battery life and conserve power. On Windows, ensure that your power plan and sleep settings do not interfere with your audio devices.
You will want to ensure that it operates at peak performance—and consider disabling any automatic sleep function. A computer going to sleep disables the audio drivers, which can cause issues with your audio interface.
Next, look at your audio playback devices. To do this on Windows, right-click the speaker icon in the bottom right-hand corner, open Sound Settings, and navigate to App Volume and Device Preferences.
Confirm that your default playback and recording device are set to the audio interface. You need to do this before opening any other programs, or they may have to be restarted once the device is changed.
Occasionally programs will take control of your audio devices to prioritize their own audio output. You can prevent this in Windows by turning off what’s known as Exclusive Mode:
- Speaker > Sound Settings > Device Properties > Additional Device Properties > Line Properties > Advanced > Uncheck “Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device > Apply > OK
Individual Program Settings
There are settings within third-party programs that can interfere with the operation of your audio interface.
These will vary depending on the program you’re using, but options to adjust the sound settings can typically be found in the Preferences or Options menu. Ensure that the playback devices match those set within your operating system.
Additionally, ensure that the project settings match the recording settings. If your microphone is set to record at 48000Hz, the project should be set to match that.
Audio Interface Settings
Finally, ensure that your audio interface is set up correctly. Users report that issues sometimes stem from the set buffer size. The buffer size determines the rate information is sent back and forth from the audio device.
Higher sample rates provide lower latency but can also cause audio glitches and software crashes. So you want to pick a number that balances quality and latency.
Standard buffer sizes are 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, and 8192. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to set a lower buffer for recording and a higher buffer for mixing.
Check out my article about whether audio interfaces increase sound quality.
If these troubleshooting tips don’t work, you should consider contacting the manufacturer for further support or the point of purchase for a return and exchange. Substandard performance may indicate a hardware malfunction.
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