An audio interface is a valuable piece of equipment for a home studio. It lets you record and play new music to and from your PC. But will an audio interface improve your sound quality?
Audio interfaces do improve sound quality, but only when monitoring. You can change the gain on the output signal of an audio interface, and your studio monitors or headphones will also get a stronger signal. An audio interface also boosts the input signal, but it doesn’t change the sound quality.
That said, audio interfaces have many different applications, and you usually don’t get one just to improve your sound. Read on to learn a few interesting facts about audio interfaces and why they matter.
- 1 An Audio Interface Improves Sound Quality
- 2 Upgrading an Old Audio Interface Improves Sound Quality
- 3 An Audio Interface Reduces Latency
- 4 Your Computer Works Less With an Audio Interface
- 5 Use Microphones and Instruments With an Audio Interface
- 6 Audio Interfaces Record at Higher Sample Rates
- 7 You Don’t Need a DAC With an Audio Interface
- 8 Final Thoughts
- 9 Sources
An Audio Interface Improves Sound Quality
Having a dedicated audio device of any kind improves sound quality. Even a cheap sound card is usually better than the built-in chip on your motherboard.
Most audio interfaces on the market have built-in preamps. So, they improve sound quality in the same way an amplifier or preamplifier does.
The signal gets amplified when it goes through the audio interface. The result is better sound clarity.
If you want crystal-clear audio, you’ll need a high-quality audio interface. It requires good digital-analog conversion, though. You can then essentially use it as a DAC replacement.
I recommend the PreSonus AudioBox from Amazon.com. It allows you to convert up to 24-bit recording, which is crucial for HD audio. You can quickly expect studio-grade quality from this audio interface.
Another way an audio interface helps is by adding more gain. You can fine-tune how much you need for your speakers to get the best and most powerful sound.
Don’t worry if your amplifier already has a gain knob. Adding more gain is always good, especially if your microphone or speakers aren’t loud enough by default.
- Value-packed 2-channel USB 2.0 interface for personal and portable recording.
- 2 high-quality Class-A mic preamps make it easy to get a great sound.
- 2 high-headroom instrument inputs to record guitar, bass, and your favorite line-level devices, plus MIDI I/O.
If your audio interface sounds bad, check out why and possible solutions in my article here.
Upgrading an Old Audio Interface Improves Sound Quality
We’ve come a long way in the world of audio. If you don’t believe me, listen to an original 40-year-old song – there’s a reason why we remaster those golden oldies.
The same is true for an audio interface. If you’re using an old M-Audio USB interface, for example, you’ll need to upgrade as soon as you can.
The difference in sound quality is irrefutable. Nowadays, pretty much any audio interface is good. You won’t get much by upgrading a recent one.
However, old audio interfaces don’t sound that good. They usually have more delay and can even add unwanted distortion.
This YouTube video explains how upgrading an old interface improves sound quality:
If your recordings sound muddy, out of whack, or distorted, it’s probably your old interface.
An Audio Interface Reduces Latency
Delay, latency, lag, or however you want to call it is annoying. If you’re adding effects and plugins to the sound, the delay becomes even more noticeable.
Alternatively, there’s a chance your speakers are causing the delay, which can be a huge problem for producers (and gamers).
However, if you use an audio interface, you can significantly reduce latency.
An audio interface uses a dedicated digital signal processor. This means your computer doesn’t have to do any sound processing.
It significantly reduces delay because a digital signal processor is specially built to process audio. Even if you have a high-end CPU, it’s still not good enough.
It’s just like your CPU is pretty bad at rendering graphics. And your GPU can’t do any of the CPU’s work.
As Sound On Sound explains, an audio interface skips buffers required for plugins and does the digital-analog conversion.
For more information, check out my full guide to how audio interfaces reduces audio latency.
Your Computer Works Less With an Audio Interface
I’ve already hinted at the improved efficiency above.
Your CPU has to do a lot of things just to keep the operating system running. Add an audio workstation like FL Studio to the mix, and your CPU will already be overworked.
An audio interface helps take the load off your CPU by doing the digital audio conversion instead.
Audio processing also uses up a lot of RAM cache space. By shifting the processing to the audio interface, your computer will work better.
In addition, if you’re using a lot of plugins, you’ll be happy to learn that the interface takes care of them too.
Use Microphones and Instruments With an Audio Interface
One of the main reasons people get an audio interface is to plug in their recording equipment.
You can’t use an electric guitar or bass with your computer. There’s no place to plug the ¼” (0.625cm) jack in. Even if you use an adapter, it still won’t work.
This is because the output signal from the instrument or your microphone is incredibly weak. It has to go through an amp to work.
An audio interface with preamps can boost the signal enough to be audible.
So, you don’t even need to run your guitar through an amplifier to use it. You can plug it directly into your audio interface and start recording.
If you’re using an audio interface for a guitar, I recommend the AXE I/O Premium from Amazon.com.
This interface lets you plug in two guitars at the same time. It has many plugins that you already use with your guitar, 3 preamp circuits, and it allows you to fine-tune the sound. It also has a microphone port in the back if you need it.
- A professional 2 in/5 out audio interface and controller
- 3 different preamp circuits to choose from
- Amp output for easy re-amping
Audio Interfaces Record at Higher Sample Rates
Some audio interfaces record at sample rates of up to 192 kHz. The sample rate tells you how many samples are recorded in one second.
Usually, the higher the sample rate, the better the sound quality. However, this is only in theory. It largely depends on what recording hardware you’re using.
A low-end microphone doesn’t need high sample rates. However, if you have a studio mic, you need a studio audio interface to go with it.
Here are a few benefits of using a high sample rate:
- Less aliasing (distortion) with instruments
- Better frequency response
- More data is available for producers to work with
If you want an audio interface that records up to 192 kHz, I recommend getting the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) from Amazon.com.
It’s a gorgeous, high-quality device with matching performance and is perfect for those who want to record with their microphone.
It also has a headphone jack for monitoring and a high-quality volume knob with a satisfying feel.
- One of the best performing mic preamps the Scarlett range has ever seen, now with switchable air Mode to give your recordings a brighter and more open sound. One high-headroom instrument input to plug in your guitar or bass. Two hum-free balanced outputs provide clean audio playback.
- High-performance converters enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz.
- Quick start tool to get up and running easier than ever.
You Don’t Need a DAC With an Audio Interface
A digital to analog converter, also known as a DAC, is a helpful device. It lets you send a better sound signal to your studio monitors.
However, an audio interface pretty much does the same thing. In fact, it can convert digital to analog and vice versa as well.
As you might have guessed, a DAC is a one-way road. So, why waste money on it if an audio interface can do both?
As a bonus, an audio interface may even boost the signal going into your computer or studio monitors.
Audio interfaces are more versatile than DACs, and the price of the two is essentially the same. So, I’d definitely recommend getting an audio interface rather than a DAC.
Audio interfaces improve sound quality, but not in a way that you expect them to. They boost the signal strength, which results in more clarity.
You can’t make a bad speaker or microphone sound good with an audio interface.
However, if you have distortion, buzzing, and other issues, it may be an issue with an old audio interface.
Newer audio interfaces have some useful features and allow you to record at high sample rates. Furthermore, they ensure that your CPU won’t have to process the audio anymore.
Check out the 5 best alternatives to audio interfaces.
- Wikipedia: Audio interface
- Crutchfield: An amp is key to better sound in the car
- Wikipedia: Digital-to-analog converter
- Wikipedia: Digital signal processor
- Sound on Sound: Optimising The Latency Of Your PC Audio Interface
- Decibel Peak: Will An Audio Interface Reduce CPU Load?
- Wikipedia: 44,100 Hz
- Carriage House Music: Does a Higher Sample Rate Audio Really Mean Better Quality?
- Sound Guys: Do you need a DAC?
Last update on 2021-10-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API