Thursday, December 29, 2016

Choosing an Audio Interface for the Home Studio

If you’ve ever tried looking for audio interfaces for home recording, you would have noticed there are a lot of different options available that have a variety of different features. Depending on what kind of music you work with, you may not need all these features or they could be absolutely essential. We’ll take a look at some of the features that are common to a lot of audio interfaces and how they could be advantages in different recording situations.

The very first thing to consider when choosing an audio interface is the type of connection available. There are a few different options such as USB, FireWire, and thunderbolt. We recommend USB interfaces. These are the most common and give you the most options since they’ll be compatible with just about any computer, whereas FireWire and Thunderbolt are not found on all computers. This will give you the most options if you choose to change computers in the future and you won’t be stuck only looking for a computer with a compatible connection.

Another consideration to make is the analog to digital conversion capabilities of the audio interface. Most audio interfaces are capable of recording at a bit depth of 24 bit, which will give you plenty of recording headroom. If you see an interface that is only capable of 16 bit, it is likely older technology or a very cheap interface and should definitely be avoided. The audio interfaces also have different maximum sample rate capabilities. Some will only record up to 44.1 kHz, which is the quality of most music. Most recordings are done at a much higher sample rate, such as 96 kHz or 192 kHz, since this gives more accuracy and better wave reproduction during editing. We recommend you consider an interface that is able to record at least 96 kHz.

MIDI is another common feature of a lot of audio interfaces, but it can be absent on some of the entry level units. MIDI allows you to connect digital instruments such as keyboards or el¬ectronic drums and record it as MIDI instead of a direct audio file. This allows the performance itself to be edited instead of just the recording sound, and is a huge advantage of these instruments. ¬ It also allows the use of different virtual instruments that may be included in computer software but are not found on your particular keyboard or drum machine. If you’re planning on using any of these instruments, or may use them in the future, you definitely need to get an interface with MIDI support. On the other hand, if you do simple recordings such as acoustic instruments or podcasting, you may be able to save some money by getting an interface without MIDI support.

Depending on what kind of instruments you record, you’ll need to consider how many preamps and inputs your interface will have. Some budget interfaces may only have one or two inputs. These are great for people who only work with one microphone at a time, or record instruments like a guitar direct. If you plan on doing any sort of stereo recording, you’ll need an interface with 2 inputs. Drums can require a lot more inputs. Those who are recording drums need a minimum of 4 microphones inputs, but 8 or 16 is usually better. Keep in mind that not all the inputs of your audio interface necessarily have preamps, so they can’t all bring up a microphone to line level, or power a condenser microphone that requires 48 V phantom power. This is a way to reduce the upfront costs of the interface, since you can use external preamps and plug them into the extra inputs. Some interfaces also have optical inputs for plugging in an extra set of 8 preamps. This is a great solution if you’re not looking to spend too much on the interface to start but may need to expand in the future.

The final consideration to make with an audio interface is the form factor. Some interfaces are designed to fit on a desk and others are meant to be installed in a rack. Typically, the smaller interfaces with only a few inputs are desktop while those with 8 or 16 inputs are installed in a rack. This is a matter of preference and depends on how you plan on setting up your studio, but it doesn’t really have any effect on the capability of the interface.

There are a few different audio interfaces we recommend depending on your budget. Each of these are different quality and have different features, depending on how much you’re willing to spend.

Steinberg UR12

At the low end, there is the Steinberg UR12. This interface is the cheapest model we'll cover and has minimal features. We wouldn’t recommend an audio interface with any less features than what this has. It has one XLR input and an instrument input for direct electric guitar or bass recording. There are separate headphone and line outputs for speakers. One advantage of such a simple audio interface is that it doesn’t require much power to run. This means this interface can be powered via USB, and does not require an external power supply to operate. It can easily be used with a laptop and is great for someone who is looking for a portable audio interface.

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC404HD

If you’re able to spend a little more, you should consider the Behringer U-PHORIA UMC404HD. This interface has 4 inputs and outputs, which is great for stereo recording and also allows for some basic drum recording. As previously mentioned, MIDI is a great feature for electronic instruments, and this interface is the first on our list to support this feature.


Those who are looking at recording drums should consider the Tascam US-16x08. At this price point, there’s really no other interface available that is capable of simultaneously recording 16 tracks. Though this interface has 16 inputs, there are only 10 preamps so you’ll need to use external preamps to take advantage of those last 6 inputs. Even without additional preamps, this interface is plenty capable of recording an entire drum kit. There are also dedicate outputs on the back, which can be used for sending tracks to outboard gear such as equalizers, compressors, and reverb effects units. This interface features support for MIDI and is rackmountable, so it is great for professionals who have a lot of other audio procession equipment.

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