The Audio Interface
As I already mentioned on the page The schematic of home recording an audio interface is the interface between your instrument, your computer and yourself. Admittedly, it would be to easy to say that all you need is an audio interface. Again I'll show you some schematics that I'll explain afterwards.
There are quite a lot of audio interfaces in the market which have a widespread range of prices. Before I go into detail what kind of audio interface you should consider, let's have a look at the schematic above.
- The audio interface is connected to your computer via USB (or maybe something else like Thunderbold). Over this connection it can send digital audio data to your DAW (which then can record this data) and it can receive digital audio data from your computer for playing it back.
- When you want to record, you have to plug in your microphone or your instrument to the audio interface. Be aware that most microphones and instruments deliver only a low level. This means that either your audio interface should have a pre-amplifier or you should consider buying an external one.
- In order to hear the sound that you have already recorded, you will plugin some headphones and (! not "or") some monitor speakers to the audio interface. While some interfaces have quite good amplifiers built in, which provide enough power for a good listening experience, some others will need an external amplifier.
Choosing an appropriate audio interface
As you already might imagine, the choice of the audio interface has a significant impact on your needs and on the gear you have to buy additionally.
One parameter of an audio interface is the number of input channels. More channels means a higher price in general. The good thing is that you don't have to care when you're planning to do home recording all by your own. Most likely you will not play more than one instrument at once, which means that more than one channel (or two channels for stereo recording) is useless for you.
When you're looking for an appropriate interface be sure to check if there's a microphone pre-amplifier built in. If not, you have to buy an external one which costs a minimum of 50 €. However, sometimes it could be better to use an external pre-amp, especially if you have a good pre-amp which can add some extra effects like warmth of a tube amp to the input signal. But right for the start, I recommend buying an audio interface with build-in pre-amplification.
You also should verify that the audio interface has separate outputs for headphones and monitor speakers, whereat both output volumes should be adjustable separately.
Some audio interfaces have a built-in amplifier for the monitor output. That is great because you can connect any passive monitor speakers to the interface. On the other hand this benefit comes with a price and for me it seems more appropriate to buy an audio interface without amplifier but connect active monitors or even a PA to the monitor output.
Last but not least: your interface should support 24 bit and 192 KHz at least. This seems to be optimal quality for home recording (to me). There are some 32 bit interfaces around, but they are awefully expensive and are a total overkill for home recording. On the other hand: 16 bit interfaces just deliver a poor quality.
Which interface you suggest?
I'm not suggesting any special brand. There are a lot of great interfaces of different brands out there, and believe me: in a home studio it doesn't make such a great difference if you follow the guidelines:
- 24 bit / 192 KHz
- 2 input channels
- Built-in microphone pre-amplifier
- separate outputs for monitor speakers and headphones