There seem to be many recommendations about which hardware to buy for those who are just starting a home studio. One of the things you’d come across is an audio interface. But is an audio interface necessary for a home studio?
An audio interface is not necessary for a home studio since you can use your computer’s sound card. Still, an external audio interface is worth the investment because it improves the sound of your recordings. These devices are specifically made for music production—your laptop’s sound card isn’t.
What should you know about audio interfaces and why you need them? Read on.
But First, What Is This Thing Called an Audio Interface?
For starters, an audio interface is a device that allows you to get sound in and out of your PC, laptop, and other devices. This piece of hardware provides connectors for your home studio.
An audio interface connects to your computer by way of a Thunderbolt or USB port. It gives you connectors that you can use to plug your instruments and microphones in for recording. Plus, audio jacks for headsets when you want to listen.
This hardware also translates analog audio signals into a series of 0s and 1s so that your computer can understand them. The sound that the microphone captures and the ones coming from the instruments are digitized to be stored on your computer. The whole process allows you to work on the recorded music via a digital audio workstation.
Conversely, the audio interface converts these 0s and 1s into proper analog signals so that you can hear the music. Further, an audio interface improves the sound of your music files.
Do You Really Need Audio Interfaces for Your Home Studio?
Your computer or smartphone has its own sound card, which, according to this page, translates the digital signals into analog. That sounds like what an audio interface would do, right? So wouldn’t an audio interface be unnecessary if you’re going to use a computer to process your audio files?
Most of the time, your PC’s sound card is already embedded on the motherboard. But there are times when your desktop computer may not have excellent sounding tunes. It’s time to buy a separate sound card if your PC sounds worse than your smartphone.
For more information, check out this article about whether you need an audio interface for recording.
Most consumer sound cards will work just fine when you play YouTube videos, Spotify music, and your MP3s. It can easily handle a Zoom meeting or a Skype call. However, if you are looking to record high-quality audio, like when you want to create songs and instrumentals, there is no way around having an audio interface.
Find out here if you need a mixer for your home studio.
An Audio Interface Gives You All the Inputs You Need
Audio interfaces are also called professional sound cards because they function the same way. However, there are notable differences between them.
For one, an audio interface has a range of inputs and outputs instead of an internal consumer sound card that usually has a headphone jack and nothing else.
A standard audio interface has the following inputs:
- Microphone jack
- Line input for electric bass, guitars, and other instruments
- MIDI input for midi keyboards
For more information, check out to see if you can use a MIDI keyboard as a piano.
Standard outputs include:
- XLR port for microphone cables that have this connector; the XLR port has a balanced signal.
- TRS port is where you plug in your instrument cables. It sends one copy of the audio signal to your digital audio workstation.
- MIDI out will send relevant data to your DAW.
- RCA connectors are used to carry video and audio signals from your audio interface to your speakers and other devices.
So if you do some live recordings at home, then an audio interface will come in handy if only to provide you with enough ports to plug your instruments and microphones in.
Your PC’s Sound Card Is Not Built For Music Production
Besides providing the necessary ports to accommodate your instruments and microphone, an audio interface also gives you improved sound quality because it’s specifically designed for music production.
These devices have an embedded preamp that makes the sound better and improves every element’s tone and quality in your music. A preamplifier lowers the distortion, so your recordings have additional clarity while the dynamic range is increased. In short, a preamp takes a weak signal and makes it a whole lot louder.
Aside from the embedded preamplifier, the audio interface also provides additional power that some microphones need to work optimally.
What’s more, having your sound card so close to other components on the motherboard and from nearby devices, internal sound cards are often prone to interference, especially when they are not appropriately shielded.
This interference can cause a whining sound or a buzz coming from your computer, and it can be picked up as noise when you’re recording. The easiest way to remedy it is to get an external audio interface that will be far from the components causing the interference in the first place.
An Audio Interface Helps To Reduce Latency
Latency in music means delay. In this case, it’s the time that lapses between playing a note and when it registers on your computer.
If you’re using your laptop’s sound card, the latency will be very noticeable as these internal sound cards are not optimized for low latency. What’s more, other processes are competing for the CPU’s resources.
With an audio interface, a lot of the work of converting the analog signals to digitals and vice versa are managed by the external hardware. Additionally, these devices will come with an excellent driver that’s optimized for the best performance.
Of course, if you want to stamp down on latency, choose an audio interface connected to your computer via a Thunderbolt port. These ports allow you to interact directly with your CPU’s resources without having to pass through drivers.
Also, consider spending more on an audio interface that features digital signal processing. Check out products like the Universal Audio Arrow Thunderbolt 3 Audio Interface that brings DSP functionality to an audio interface for latency readings closer to zero. It also features a Thunderbolt connection to your computer.
- Desktop 2x4 Thunderbolt 3-powered audio interface with class-leading 24-bit/192 kHz audio conversion
- Unison mic preamp and guitar amp emulations from Neve , API , Manley , Marshall, Fender , and more.
- Real-time UAD processing allows near-zero latency tracking with classic UAD plug-in effects, regardless of software buffer setting
Audio Interfaces: Minor Features That Go a Long Way
Providing you with better quality sound, reducing latency, and of course, the input ports that you need for all your instruments and microphones are not the only things that you can get from an audio interface. It can also help you make your recording sessions faster and easier without having to rely too much on your computer by allowing you to do away with your amplifier.
Recording Electric Guitars on an Audio Interface? Keep the Amp Away!
Having an embedded preamp allows you to record electric bass and electric guitars and still have the signals amplified. You might still want to bust out that amp for professional quality sound, however.
But the real advantage of this feature is that you can save a lot of space by not requiring amplifiers. If you’re a beginner, you can also defer buying an amplifier until you are ready for professional-quality recordings.
Makes Recording Easier
If you have been working on a DAW, you might be used to having to control things using a mouse. With an audio interface, you most likely have a set of output controls that can help you change volume levels from the device itself. All you have to do is to turn the knobs.
Some audio interfaces offer the user various meters that provide visual feedback for the different signal levels. These meters can be pretty straightforward, like registering a particular light when it detects a signal—then changing colors, like from the standard blue to red, if it gets too loud.
No law says that you should buy an audio interface. But if you are serious about recording great tracks at home, you can only do it right with an audio interface. What’s more, this nifty little device will take away all the headaches of using your computer’s built-in sound card and make recording easier.
Check out these two great audio interfaces here!
- Brian Li: How an Audio Interface Reduces Latency for Music Production
- Decibel Peak: How To Reduce Audio Latency
- Hollywood DJ: What does an audio interface do?
- How-to Geek: Why Are My PC Speakers and Headphones Making Weird Noises?
- Musician’s HQ: Do You Need an Audio Interface to Record Vocals, Guitar, Bass, or Anything Else?
- Sound Guys: What is a sound card?
- Sweetwater: What Is a Preamp, and Do I Need One?
- Yamaha: What Is An Audio Interface?
Last update on 2021-08-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API