How To Choose A Recording Interface For You (Or As A Gift)? 7 Questions To Ask Before Getting The Right One In 2022

It can be difficult to decide which audio (or recording) interface to buy. There are literally hundreds available to the home recordist. But not to worry! We’ve put together a very simple guide to help you choose which interface is right for you. But first, let’s clear up something about interfaces-

Why Do You Need A Recording Interface Anyway?

It’s important to understand that a recording interface is not the same thing as a “mixer”. A recording interface performs the critical job of converting sound from analog sound sources into digital information that your computer and your recording software can understand and manipulate. Second, a recording interface can send multiple individual tracks to your computer which can be edited individually within your software at a later date. Your mixer on the other hand may or may not be able to convert analog signals to digital, and it may or may not be able to send more than a standard stereo mix out. There are mixers that can do both, but you need to know if yours is one of them.

Recording interfaces can be as simple as an XLR to USB converter for microphones, a PCI card within your computer, or as complex as a complete digital recording console. Interfaces perform other important functions within your home studio system too like providing hardware connection points, studio monitor, and headphone outputs, and in some cases, they offer built-in effects such as reverb, EQ, compression, and other functions. Prices vary from under $49 to many $1000′s.

What Is The Best Recording Interface For You?

Great question…and a hard one to answer! Interfaces come in all shapes and sizes and configurations. There are literally hundreds available to the home recordist. You can spend hours trying to find the right interface for your studio setup, days even. It can be very intimidating at first and very frustrating.

But not to worry! We’ve put together a very simple guide to help you choose which interface is right for you. We call it-

7 Questions You Need To Answer Before Buying A Recording Interface

  • How many Microphone Inputs Do I Need?

The type and number of mic inputs is usually the most critical decision for most home recordists. The key point here is to determine how many microphones you will be using at the same time during your recording sessions. Your answer will determine how many XLR type microphone inputs the interface will need. And for the record, if you’re serious about recording, you’ll eventually buy a condenser mic or two. So make sure your interface has 48v phantom power available to run them.

Next, determine if you need line-level instrument inputs (for guitar or bass). The good news is that almost all interfaces have one or two combination XLR/instrument inputs.  These allow you to connect either a mic or an instrument through the same interface. Additional balanced inputs are usually as well allowing for additional gear connections.

Finally, decide if you need MIDI in/out to connect a MIDI keyboard or controller. This may not be a concern for you since most modern MIDI keyboards and controllers can connect directly to your computer via USB. This leads us to question #2.

  • What Hardware Connections Does My Computer Have?

USB and firewire are the most common types of computer connections between the interface and the computer. Both options provide excellent results. Generally, firewire is faster and can handle more digital info than USB, but USB is becoming the standard for most home studios. The number of inputs and features built into the interface generally determines the connection type offered.

  • Am I Building A Home Studio, A Mobile Studio, Or Both?

Will the interface be used in a studio or on location? If it will be used in your home studio only, consider a rack-mounted interface especially if it has more than 4 XLR type microphone inputs. If it will be used for mobile recording, besides the rack mount decision, consider whether you want XLR connections on the front of the interface or the back. Front connections may be more convenient.

  • Do I Need Recording Software Also?

Many interfaces come bundled with recording software. The included software is usually a “lite” version of the full-blown software package offered by recording software manufacturers. Buying an interface that includes software is a good way to get a “taste” of their software and a convenient way to get up and running quickly if you don’t already have it.

  • How Soon Will I Need More Inputs?

Are you going to need more mic inputs or specialized hardware in the near future? If so, consider an interface with ADAT or S/PDIF capability. This allows you to connect additional interfaces or pre-amps for more inputs.

  • Is My Computer Compatible?

Almost all interfaces are compatible with MAC or PC, and almost any recording software. There are a few exceptions however so check the specs before you buy. All of our interfaces are compatible with either computer platform. But remember that Pro Tools 8 and earlier users require an interface to be Pro Tools compatible.

  • How Much Do I Need To Spend?

More than anything else, the number of inputs and features of the interface determines the amount you will need to invest. Don’t sweat the supposed sonic differences too much between different brands in the under $500 price range. Most interfaces that retail for $500 or less will sound just great for the home studio. As you gain recording experience and a larger budget spend your money on higher quality mics first. Later you can move up to a higher quality interface and/or add some specialized pre-amps.

So There You Have it!

Our (very simple) guide to choosing a recording interface. I hope this helps answer some of the more common questions you have about this important part of the home studio signal chain. And as always don’t be afraid to ask questions. We love to hear from you!

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