Audio Interfaces Explained

Audio Interfaces Explained

If you’ve been making music with other people recently, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the term audio interface thrown around quite a bit. Increases in digital recording software have made audio interfaces more effective tools than ever, and the climate of social distancing brought on by the still persisting pandemic had made audio interfaces a more important part of music making than ever before. Yet despite their increasingly important role, many musicians remain somewhat unclear as to exactly an audio interface actually is.    


What is an Audio Interface?

Simply put, an audio interface is a device that functions as a middle man between your instrument and your computer. Electric instruments and microphones alike can be plugged directly into an audio interface. The audio interface then converts your playing into an audio file that your computer is capable of understanding. There are a variety of reasons why you may want that, including having a clearer sound when playing with other musicians remotely (such as over Zoom), to experiment with digital effects available through software, and, perhaps most commonly, to record yourself from the comfort of your own home. While all these things can be done with the built-in microphone in your computer, having an audio interface allows you to do all these things with significantly higher quality audio, either through use of a better microphone than those that come built into your computer or by bypassing a microphone altogether.  

It’s a simple enough process to get started using an audio interface. Just about all modern audio interfaces can be plugged directly into your computer’s USB drive, and while some require mild software installations to function, most do not. Once your audio interface is hooked up to your computer, all you need to do is plug in any electric instruments you may have into your interface’s ¼” inputs and any microphones you may have in your interface’s XLR inputs in order to record acoustic instruments, amplified electric instruments, and vocals. Most interfaces currently on the market will have both sorts of inputs, but it’s worth double-checking that any given interface has at least the kind of input you place to use before purchasing it

Once your instrument is plugged into your interface and your interface is plugged into your computer, you should be ready to go! Softwares like Logic Pro X, Garageband, and T7 Daw are all great when it comes to recording and experimenting with sounds with your audio interface, as is the website Soundtrap. While you will need some sort of software or website if you’re interested in recording or exploring different sounds with your audio interface, if your goal is only to play through Zoom or any other conferencing software, then your interface and instrument are all you need. If you would like to learn about specific interfaces, as well as more about the home recording process and relevant softwares, then I recommend reading this piece of mine from July

I hope this helped you understand audio interfaces, and if you have any more questions about them, please feel free to reach out to me at benfittsguitar@gmail.com

Ben Fitts is a musician, writer, and instructor at New York City Guitar School. He is the guitarist of the indie rock band War Honey, the author of numerous works including the short story collection My Birth And Other Regrets, and a former NYC Guitar School student himself.

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