Audio Interfaces

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What is an audio interface?

An audio interface is a piece of hardware that expands and improves the sonic capabilities of a computer. Some audio interfaces give you the ability to connect professional microphones, instruments and other kinds of signals to a computer, and output a variety of signals as well. In addition to expanding your inputs and outputs, audio interfaces can also greatly improve the sound quality of your computer. Every time you record new audio or listen through speakers and headphones, the audio interface will reproduce a more accurate representation of the sounds. They’re an absolutely essential component in computer-based audio production. They’re used for recording music and podcasts, and in video post production for recording voice-overs and sound design.

Why would I use an audio interface?

Audio interfaces are used when more a professional level of audio performance is required from a computer, and when one or more professional microphones, instruments and other kinds of signals need to be routed into or out of a computer.

How is an audio interface different from a sound card?

When an audio interface is used with a computer, it acts as the computer’s sound card. In this sense, an audio interface is very similar to a consumer sound card. However, the similarities end there. A good audio interface not only enables you to connect an assortment of different analog and digital signals, it also provides a more accurate digital clock and superior analog circuitry that improves the overall sound quality. You can achieve an entirely different level of audio than you would by just using the stock sound card that comes with a computer.

How does an audio interface connect to my computer?

Some audio interfaces connect to computers through common USB ports, while others use more esoteric connections like PCMCIA slots. When you’re choosing an audio interface, it’s very important to determine the specific kind of port that’s available on your computer. This will help you find an audio interface that will be compatible with your computer, and narrow down the number of possible models from which you can choose.

There are lots of audio interfaces available that connect through the USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 ports. There are also many audio interfaces that connect through FireWire ports. If you’re using a notebook computer, there are interfaces available that connect through various kinds of ExpressCard slots, and if you’re using a desktop computer, there are models that connect through a variety of PCI card slots. If you know what kind of port you’re going to use on your computer, you can start shopping for the ideal audio interface to suit your needs.

Which one is the best port to use to connect an audio interface to a computer?

This depends on your specific needs. If you plan on tracking and overdubbing with multiple microphones or instruments simultaneously, you’re better off using a high-speed port such as FireWire. If you don’t plan on recording with more than two microphones at a time, you’ll likely be fine just using a USB 1.0 interface. The more demanding your needs, the higher the bandwidth of an interface you’re going to need. The hierarchy of interface bandwidth speeds from lowest to highest goes from: USB 1.0, USB 2.0, FireWire, PCMCIA/ExpressCard, PCI.

How many inputs and outputs am I going to need on my audio interface?

That depends entirely on the kind of work you want to do with your audio interface. If you plan on recording with multiple professional microphones, you need to look for an audio interface with multiple XLR microphone inputs. If you’re going to be recording voice-overs for video production, you may need an audio interface with only a single XLR input. If you’re going to DJ with a computer, it’s a good idea to choose an audio interface with four line-level outputs (two outputs are used to send your stereo mix to the house sound system, the other two outputs are used to privately cue songs).

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What features does an audio interface need in order to connect professional mics?

If your primary need is the ability to connect microphones to a computer, you should look for an audio interface with XLR microphone inputs. Professional microphones connect with three-pin XLR jacks. XLR connectors are desirable because they lock into place and provide a more secure audio connection. An audio interface outfitted with microphone inputs will typically come with anywhere from one to eight XLR inputs.

Many audio interfaces come with jacks called “combo” inputs. This kind of jack combines a three pin XLR input with a 1/4” TRS input in one socket. Combo inputs tend to confuse people, because they look different than XLR and 1/4” TRS inputs, yet they accept both kinds of plugs. It’s important to familiarize yourself with combo inputs, so you know what they are when you’re deciding which interface to purchase.

What is “Phantom Power” and why would I need it?

Some microphones require a little flow of electricity in order to operate, while other kinds of microphones are capable of picking up sound without any power at all. Certain kinds of microphones run on batteries, while other kinds of microphones are fed power from the device that they’re plugged into. It’s called “phantom power” when the device that the microphone is plugged into supplies it with electricity. Most audio interfaces that feature mic inputs will also supply phantom power. Because only certain kinds of microphones require phantom power, audio interfaces have a switch to turn it on and off. Phantom power tends to intimidate beginners because it just sounds spooky. Fear not. Using phantom power is about as complicated as flipping a light switch to turn on a table lamp. Besides being called phantom power, it is also referred to as “+48V.”

What are line-level TRS inputs and outputs, and why would I need them?

Line-level inputs and outputs can be very useful; however, to use them properly you must first understand the distinction between mic-level and line-level. Microphones output a very weak signal. The signal is so weak that it needs to be boosted up by a preamp when connected to a mic input. Line-level audio signals are much stronger than mic-level signals, and require no additional amplification. Therefore, line-level signals need a different kind of input than microphones do.

Line-level inputs and outputs on audio interfaces usually show up as 1/4” TRS jacks or 1/4" TS jacks. 1/4” is the diameter of the plug and TRS stands for Tip, Ring and Sleeve; TS for Tip, Sleeve. TRS connections are desirable because they provide a balanced (grounded) connection, which is better at rejecting noise that long cable runs can pick up, or reducing "ground" hum. An example of when you would use line-level inputs is when you’re recording the audio from a keyboard. Most professional keyboards have stereo line-level outputs. You can connect these directly to the line-level inputs on an audio interface. When you’re connecting studio monitors (powered speakers) to an audio interface, you plug them into the line-level outputs. You can also use line-level inputs and outputs to connect external effects, compressors, limiters and all kinds of stuff. Other connectors include 3/8" mini and RCA (phono) connectors. 

What are MIDI ports, and are they important to me?

MIDI ins and outs are found on many audio interfaces. They allow you to send MIDI information into and out of a computer. If you’re not familiar with MIDI, just think of it as a simple language that enables pieces of music-oriented hardware to communicate with each other. For example, if you connect the MIDI Out of your audio interface to the MIDI In on a digital piano, you can send a command from your audio software on your computer that tells the digital piano to play a C flat.

People use MIDI ports for all kinds of things. Like in the example mentioned previously, they’re often used to connect external MIDI instruments. You could create a MIDI sequence on a synthesizer, and then bring this sequence into your audio software with the MIDI interface on your audio interface. The beauty is that the MIDI sequence is just a series of commands, so when you record it into your DAW you can completely change it and turn it into something new. MIDI ports are also used to connect hardware control surfaces, keyboard controllers and a wide range of other equipment and devices.

What are S/PDIF connectors, and why would I need them?

S/PDIF is simply a digital audio format. Just think of it as a digital version of an analog audio connection. S/PDIF stands for Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format. One of the reasons S/PDIF tends to confuse people is that it’s used on different kinds of jacks. The most common kind of S/PDIF connector is a coaxial jack. Unfortunately, this just adds another layer of confusion, because a digital coaxial jack looks exactly like a common analog RCA phono jack. It gets more confusing because a single analog RCA jack can only pass a mono audio signal, while a single coaxial S/PDIF jack can pass a stereo signal. If you weren’t confused enough, the S/PDIF format can also be sent through optical TOSLINK connectors, which look nothing at all like coaxial RCA jacks.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about any of this stuff. S/PDIF connectors are found on many audio interfaces, and they can be really useful. S/PDIF jacks usually come in pairs, with one for input and the other for output. In order to put them to use, you just need other equipment with S/PDIF input and outputs to connect to them. For example, using S/PDIF inputs and outputs is a common way to connect external effects modules.

What are ADAT connectors, and how do they help my recording?

Like S/PDIF, ADAT is just another kind of digital audio format. While S/PDIF is limited to passing stereo digital audio signals, ADAT is capable of passing eight independent channels of digital audio. This is what makes ADAT inputs and outputs such a useful thing to have on an audio interface. If an interface has an ADAT input, you can buy a separate piece of equipment that will give you eight additional XLR microphone inputs into your computer. The components to which you connect ADAT ports are sometimes referred to as “Lightpipe expanders.”

ADAT inputs and outputs tend to confuse people, too. The term ADAT used to refer to a specific kind of digital-audio media. In the 1990s, ADAT machines were a very popular kind of multi-track recorder. They recorded digital audio onto Super VHS cassettes. ADAT tapes and machines have completely disappeared from the pro audio world, but thankfully the digital format that they utilized lives on in today’s audio interfaces.

An ADAT jack is an optical connection, and fiber optic cables are used to connect ADAT Lightpipe expanders. It should be noted that the terms ADAT, Lightpipe and TOSLINK are sometimes used interchangeably. Some interfaces allow you to switch a TOSLINK connector between ADAT and S/PDIF.

What are Word Clock inputs and outputs, and why would I need them?

All digital audio equipment runs on an internal clock. The confusion about this technology kicks in right away because the clock isn’t a physical device; it’s just a series of digital pulses. Even though clocks are just digital pulses, they are not all created equal and like regular clocks, run at slightly different rates from each other. When connecting two digital devices, both need to see only one clock to avoid problems that manifest as clicks and pops in the analog audio. Higher-quality audio equipment will often come equipped with a more accurate clock. An accurate clock makes a piece of equipment sound better. Higher-quality audio interfaces will sometimes feature Word Clock inputs and outputs, so you can sync them with other equipment. Word Clock sync is not the same thing as SMPTE time code sync. The reason you sync Word Clock from device to device is to maintain the collective sonic performance of the gear. It has nothing to do with syncing sound to picture.

If you have a piece of gear that has a superior clock and a Word Clock output, you can attach it to your audio interface’s Word Clock input and assign the external clock as its master. Several pieces of gear can be synced to a single master clock. This will make every digital operation in the separate devices fire in perfect unison, and make your recordings sound better. Here’s an analogy. Picture a large farm with a massive sprinkler system running to irrigate its crops. If the sprinklers are not synced to a master clock, they will all be rotating and spraying water randomly. If the irrigation system is synced to a master clock, every sprinkler will rotate and shoot out water in prefect sync. If you had a really fine-tuned clock as the master, every droplet of water would hit the plants at the same exact moment. It’s not uncommon for an audio devotee to spend over $1,000 just on a dedicated clock for their studio.

What is “Direct Monitoring,” and is it something I should have?

Any time you record sound into a computer with an audio interface, you are going to experience some degree of “latency.” If you’re not familiar with latency, think of it as the delay in time from the moment you make a command until the moment your command is carried out. If you strike a bell with a mallet, you will hear the sound of the bell ringing instantly. However, when you need to pipe commands through a computer, things don’t happen as immediately.

When you plug a microphone into an audio interface and say “Check 1-2-3,” that sound has to travel on a long journey before you can hear it in your headphones:

  1. The sound is picked up by the capsule in the mic;
  2. Then it is sent through the mic cable into the audio interface;
  3. It’s converted into digital audio and sent to the computer;
  4. The computer routes the digital audio to the DAW audio software;
  5. The audio software receives, processes and sends it back out;
  6. The digital audio travels back to the audio interface;
  7. The audio interface converts the digital audio back into analog and sends it out to the headphones.

That’s a pretty long trip just so you can hear “Check 1-2-3” in the headphones, right? The resulting latency can sometimes distract musicians and make it difficult for them to perform. This is where the direct monitor knob comes in. When you use direct monitoring, you hear the analog audio that is being plugged directly into the interface, as opposed to hearing it after it’s been sent out to the computer and back. This nearly eliminates the latency, and makes the musician happier. Direct monitoring is usually only found on USB 1.0 audio interfaces, because their slower speed makes them more latency prone. Unfortunately, this functionality isn’t referred to as “direct monitoring” by every manufacturer. Some interfaces have direct monitoring controls, but call it by another name. If you see a USB 1.0 interface with a knob that has “mix” on one side and “computer” on the other, then it has a direct monitoring feature.  

What accessories should I get for my audio interface?

Audio interfaces often serve as the heart of a recording studio. Most of the essential tools used in a studio will be connected to the interface directly and indirectly. Of them all, powered studio monitors tend to be the most common tools used with audio interfaces. The cables will vary in length, depending on your setup, with terminations that are appropriate for each item. These might be ¼” TS to ¼’ TS, ¼” TRS to ¼” TRS, ¼” TRS to XLR, XLR to XLR, etc.

With powered monitors in place, you’ll be able to properly hear what you’re working on. When you need to monitor your work privately, a good pair of studio headphones is an essential tool.

The need to plug professional-quality microphones into a computer is the most common reason people purchase audio interfaces. Naturally, having a few good studio microphones to use with your audio interface is a good idea. Mix it up and buy a variety of mics. Having a solid dynamic microphone is a great place to start. Adding a large diaphragm condenser microphone will really expand your sonic palette and let you make good use of your phantom-power switches. Small diaphragm condenser microphones are really great for capturing cymbals and various instruments. And a ribbon mic will round out your mic collection with its ability to capture smooth mid frequencies.

The cable that you use to connect the microphone to the interface can make a difference. Spending a little more on a nicely made XLR cable usually proves to be a wise long-term investment (providing that you don’t abuse it too much).     

    

The Takeaway

  • Audio interfaces expand and improve the sonic capabilities of a computer.
  • They add inputs and outputs and can improve the sound quality of your computer.
  • Audio interfaces are an absolutely essential component in computer-based audio production.
  • Audio interfaces let you plug pro mics, instruments and other signals into a computer.
  • When an audio interface is used with a computer, it can act as the computer’s sound card.
  • When choosing an audio interface, it’s important to determine the specific port that’s available on your computer for its use.
  • Audio interfaces connect through USB 1.0, USB 2.0, FireWire, PCMCIA/ExpressCard and PCI.
  • Professional microphones connect with three-pin XLR jacks.
  • “Combo” inputs combine a three-pin XLR input with a 1/4” TRS input in one socket.
  • Phantom power is a little flow of electricity that powers condenser microphones.
  • 1/4" TRS connections provide a balanced connection, which can provide cleaner-sounding audio.
  • MIDI enables music-oriented hardware components to communicate with one another.
  • Just think of S/PDIF jacks as a digital version of an analog audio connection.
  • ADAT ports are capable of passing eight independent channels of digital audio.
  • Word Clock sync is not the same thing as SMPTE time code sync.
  • Latency can distract musicians and make it difficult for them to perform.

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Fantastic article. The best of its kind I've seen, and I've been researching for this kind of information recently because I'm in the marlet for my first audio interface!

Thank you for a fantastic article

great article. I have one additional comment. Not sure if anyone can help me here. Do some Audio Interfaces only support certain kinds of DAW's? if so how can you tell? Or do all Audio Interfaces support any system such as Logic pro and Pro tools? thanks.

Hello  -

First consider compatibility between your computer's operating system (OS)  and the audio interface.  Windows PC's will have XP, Vista, or 7.  Apple will feature Mac OS  X  versions 10.x.x. Double check versions of the OS to ensure compatibility.

Secondly Windows PC's will be compatible or compliant with DAW's that offer ASIO (audio stream input/output), a computer sound card driver protocol or Microsoft' DirectSound .

Apple computers employ ASIO as well as Core Audio  to ensure compatibility of connected components and provide high quality audio.

Oh thanks for that, I have a Mac and its Mac OS X version 10.6.8. Does this mean it can handle just about any DAW? or atleast the well known ones like ProTools, Logic, Cubase and so on? Does the audio Interface have anything to do with it or not.

Hello -

That's right! Most  DAW's that are Mac compatible will work fine with your computer.  The audio interface must be compatible as well.   Most quality interfaces offered today will also be compatible with your Mac.

Oh thanks for that, I have a Mac and its Mac OS X version 10.6.8. Does this mean it can handle just about any DAW? or atleast the well known ones like ProTools, Logic, Cubase and so on? Does the audio Interface have anything to do with it or not.

Thanks for the most awesome article out there, it has all the info one needs. I am considering buying the M Audio Fast Track Pro. I have a quick question, I am thinking of recording my electronic drums(Roland TD 4K). The drum brain has left/right outs as well as a MIDI Out. If I dont want to go via the MIDI route and record the audio directly from my drums, to which ports in the interface would I connect the TRS cables coming out of the left/right from the drum brain, can I connect them to the combo ports on the front or would it be the TRS inserts at the back of the interface? Thanks.

Hello -

You would connect the Roland e-drums L/R analog outputs to the front TRS/XLRcombo inputs of the M-Audio Fast Track Pro

Hello,

I came across this article at the right time.I have an interface which is not mac compatible and i am using an imac.I still get audio in and out capabilities,the mac still recognises it,but i guess some features of that interface i can't tap into as there is software for that interface and i cant install it on my mac.I am not sure if quality is being compromised since it's not mac compatible,i don't know.Why i have such an interface in my studio you may ask,It's because it was something i got from someone.

At the moment i am considering purchasing an M-AUDIO USB  interface. After reading this article and seeing the M-AUDIO fast track interface in the photo descriptions, i am more convinced to get one.

But my only issue is that i don't know which to choose between he Fast Track Pro and the Fast Track C400. Currantly i am mainly focused on getting a Very High Quality vocal sound,as vocals are all i record at the moment,so i would like to know what should i look for in an audio interface if i want a very good vocal quality.Any suggestions would be welcomed,it does not have to be M-AUDIO,just any interface that you guys beleive will enhance the quality to that professional level.

Hello -

The Fast Track Pro is a terrific entry level audio interface that offers tremendous quality and value. The C400 has a few added features that may enhance your projects;  Six outputs as opposed to four and the addition of built-in MX Core DSP technology that delivers reverb and delay effects without taxing the host CPU. I like the elegant design and function of the C400 as well. Both products will deliver excellent vocal results.   Another favorite is the PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL  .  It offers very clean, low-latency mic preamps that compare well with interfaces costing much more.  It also includes the superb, easy to learn and use Virtual StudioLive DSP and  Studio One Artist Software.

You are the best
Thank you

i've taken some serious notes in my research notebook...this article has been extremely helpful.

M
stay wild

Hi,

I read this very informative article and have a USB Audio Interface question 

I use a Apple iMac running Snow Leopard OSX 10.6.8 and am considering two different USB 2.0 A/I both externally powered, I do have some digital modeling units ( Amps/Cabs/effects) by Line6 a Vox Tonelab desk top unit, a Roger Linn Adrennalin III, a M-Audio Black Box and a few others Korg Pandora PX3, and am wondering (when not using XLR mics on my amp with stomp box's , where would the L&R outs of the digital modeling units be plugged/inserted (Line Level of a combination Mic/Line or in one case where Mic/Line inputs exist it also has 4 1/4 inputs/inserts (or 2 sets) of inputs (that would be the Akai EIE Pro Unit (where Mic/Line and Inst are on the front (4) and 4 outputs (2sets of 2?) and 4 inputs (? two sets of 2) where would above units be plugged (the L&R outs) The other audio interface is a lexicon I-O 42 and it has (2) Hi-Z inputs and 4 Mic/Line level inputs , its more expensive but also has external power, I have been searching as my Tascam US-122 USB 1.1 does not have drivers for OSX 10.6 , ceased at OSX 10.5 but with Rosetta it can be made to work though at USB 1.1 

Best!

Hello -

You would use the Line Inputs or any of the digital inputs of an Audio Interface to connect your gear.  Which interface to choose for your particular application or project is something we can help you with via e-mail:  Send us your thoughts:  audio@bandh.com

Hello -

You would use the Line Inputs or any of the digital inputs of an Audio Interface to connect your gear.  Which interface to choose for your particular application or project is something we can help you with via e-mail:  Send us your thoughts:  audio@bandh.com

Mark S.

Hi,

Thanks for reading my post and replying, I re read my post and its way  too wordy so please allow me to write a shorter and to the point set of a few direct questions.and reply back.

and ? in your reply  by digital input (connecting) is that meaning MIDI, S/PDIF or the combo/ XLR/Mic or.. as far as the out puts L&R from Digital Modeling Units (going in to a Audio Interface , that is what is confusing me. I will (try) to write a more concise Question and post it to the email adress provided

Thank You!

I realize that Audio Interfaces are a diverse topic, 

David 

Hello -

Based on the products you have listed - they would connect digitally via MIDI or S/PDIF or via their analog outputs depending upon what is available and your particular workflow setup.  Feel free to e-mail us at:  audio@bandh.com

Hi fellas,

I'm a novice electronic music producer working on Fl studio on my desktop.

I'm planning to set up a small bedroom studio and start working on logic pro 9(and cubase) and want your help with it.

These are the 2 systems i'm having- 

1) windows xp and 7 pc.

2)macbook pro with os x lion(might upgrade it to mountain lion).

I just want to buy a pair of studio monitors(like krk rokit 6) to aid my productions.So do i need a soundcard or an audio interface to to connect the monitors to my pc or macbook??if so why ?? cant i directly connect the monitors to the pc or macbook??

Finally, to make the monitors work i need a dedicated power supply right??also a voltage stabilizer??If this set up is too much for a novice producer, is using a pair of monitor headphones a better idea??

Thanks in advance :)

cheers

Hello CPK -

Without an advanced soundcard or quality audio interface the sound that your studio monitors will reproduce will surely suffer. The whole idea of using quality monitors from KRK is to accurately reproduce your mix.  Maintaining quality of the audio signal along the entire chain from source to the final finished recording is paramount.  A dedicated power supply and voltage stabilizer are often recommended for an advanced professional studio set-up.  For you as a novice -  a simpler power conditioner may be all that is required.  A pair of monitoring headphones presents a good working alternative as well.

Hello Mark,

Thanks a lot for the advice. Sure helped me :)

Hello. Thank you for this greatly article that is very informative and nicely written and illustrated!

I have a specific question: I am considering buying an Avid Recording Studio which features the M-Audio Fast Track. I have Adobe Audition CS6 for recording and editing, but I haven't been able to find any information about the compatibility of the M-Audio Fast Track hardware with Adobe Audition CS6. I know that the Avid Recording Studio comes with Pro Tools SE, but I am used to Adobe Audition and I don't want to get into a new learning curve. So, is the M-Audio hardware compatible with Audition CS6?

Thanks for any feedback. 

Hello Hiram  -

Adobe Audition CS6  provides easy project exchange with other NLEs and DAWs.  Your M-Audio hardware should have no problem interfacing with Audition.

Hi,

Thanks for providing the support on this forum.
I am new to my Audition software and just recently bought the M-Audio Midisport Uno interface (2 midi ports to USB) and I can't get my Audition on my mac to pick up any levels from my keyboard. What settings do I need to go into to set it up? Is it within the Audition software that this setting change needs to happen or within my computer's general settings? I am not sure how to get Audition to recognize and pick up levels from the piano. The piano is on, the midi ports are plugged in and the USB is plugged in. I have the midi-out plug, plugged into the keyboard midi-input and vice versa as the instructions indicated. I'm new to this. Can you help me please? All support is greatly appreciated.

Best,

Tink

Hello Hiram -

Audition remains a versatile program. With support for Mackie and EUCON control surface protocols, as well as Avid Artist Series control surfaces with native EUCON support, the software holds much utility for seasoned audio professionals.  There is no mention of compatability between the FasTrack interface with Adobe Audition.  You may want to contact AVID directly for support on this bundle. 

M-Audio USA & Canada  - phone: 401-658-5765    Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 6:30PM EST                                    http://m-audio.com/index.php?do=support.contact

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Good day mate thanks for this article very helpful.

I am trying to connect an electric drum set to ableton live on a mac and have all the sound come out of one output. I would like to be able to create my own sounds for the drum pads and use them all as triggers, so create a drum rack in ableton that controls only the drums. Now the tricky part is my mate has an APC40 connected to ableton to control all of his clips. Is it possible to have the APC and the electric drums connected to ableton, than all the sound come out of the mac?

Is what I am trying to do possible with an audio interface?

I just am unsure on what I need.

Thank you!

In order to assist you with this I will need to know which drum kit you are using?

Thank you! Great article!

Great article indeed! I did`t have a cooking clue about adio interface

Hello. a very consise and to the point article , I am (still) looking for a Audio Interface , I use a iMac 2010 3.06 gHZ running OSX 10.6.8 and use Apples Garageband as well as Abelton Live Lite. (I have read (on the web and in M-Audio support) re aluminum cased iMac's and MacBook Pros and issues with the USB 2.0 ports (not putting out the specified V or Ma , (and M-Audio , not apart from Avid) suggest using a Externally powered USB 2.0 hub (for bus powered USB 2.0 Audio Interfaces) * But some manufacturers state in their data or manuals do not use a powered external hub , (will not mention companies ) and some if a USB 1.0 or 1.1 Audio Interface (bus powered) do not use with a USB 2.0 Port (and visa versa USB 2.0 ports only (which is pretty common with Mac or PC's having USB 2.0 ports, which long story short , I would use 2 mics (on a amp) and also use external multi effects processors (external powered (Amp-Cab-Effects (direct in ) either direct in via USB or through the Audio Interface (using L&R line outs of the effects processor , as using a effects processor with a specific amp certainly can colour the amp sound desired (but effects help, * I am wondering is it best to get a externally powered USB 2.0 Audio Interface (have 2 in mind ) or a bus powered audio interface (two by same company in the manual discuss the possibility of not enough power (I guess if Hi Z used, or 2 XLR mics (it says to buy a externally powered USB Hub (which there are plenty of ) but the other Mfr its USB 2.0 bus powered and it specifically states do not use externally powered hubs ( and one other also said the same but its USB 1.1 (I am almost positive on that) but will double check and its been out quite awhile and drivers ? with OSX 10.8 (I checked the others and all are + with OSX 10.7 and others OSX 10.8 in development(I am still at OSX 10.6.8 ( I use electric and accoustic guitars, XLR Mics (Dynamic SM57 and a Shure 58 (voice) I need to add a second Instrument Mic as I have a 2nd amp and have a few stereo effects by Both EHX and one by Boss. Have Powered Monitors , have Optical in and out 3.5mm on my imac (and one A/I has 16 bit 44.1-48kHZ by USB 2.0 (externally powered, but also S/PDIF out and bit rate 24 &kHZ 44.1-48, I can be more specific (and shorten this and mention companies-products etc (B&H carries each and all that I am interested in Price I need to be reasonable and a I am one person band , and one one your site are all under $150.00 or less (I have bought (elsewhere 1 FW A/I(long story , it was a complex DSP based A/I more than I bargained for . One USB 2.0 Ext powered (no sound and worked with tech support x3 weeks and another which was too expensive and I returned it unopened so 3 strikes but learned alot and I dont need some inputs but nice if their ie S/PDIF , XLR 2-4 Inst 1-2 Line level 2-4, Outputs 2-4, headphones 1, and the ? external power(to begin with) or get a less expensive Bus Powered (but USB 2.0 Hub compatabile A/I ) Sorry for the long(and rambling post) I need to twitter something like this!

Hello David -

      You cover a lot of ground here - so let me cut to the chase and simply recommend the Scarlett 8i6 from Focusrite which is an 8 input/6 output USB 2.0 audio interface designed to make home multi-track recording a breeze. The interface features two award-winning preamps, while two additional analog inputs, four analogue outputs, S/PDIF and MIDI provide true multi-track recording. No additional DI units are needed as two Hi-Z instrument inputs can be plugged straight into the unit. Additionally, two virtual Loopback inputs are also available for routing digital audio between software applications, ideal for capturing online audio. Scarlett MixControl is an 18 x 6 DSP software mixer, offering a superb level of flexibility with the ability to create six separate mixes with ultra-low-latency. Route any combination of input signals and sequencer outputs to any of the outputs. Intuitive one-click configurations help track, monitor and mix as quickly as possible. Additional tools include Scarlett VST/AU/RTAS Plug-in Suite that adds Focusrite compression, reverb, gating and EQ to the recording system. The Xcite+ bundle features Ableton Live Lite, Novation's Bass Station soft synthesizer, and over 1GB of royalty-free samples from Loopmasters. High-quality, 24-bit/96kHz USB interface with two Focusrite preamps Professional conversion and jitter reduction technology guarantees pristine audio quality and solid synchronization at sample rates up to 96kHz 8 input, 6 output with S/PDIF and MIDI Two Hi-Z instrument inputs Ultra low latency Scarlett MixControl DSP mixer/router provides an 18 x 6 DSP mixer with excellent routing flexibility, intuitive one click configurations, and less than 1.4mS latency Front panel volume dial provides immediate control over the main stereo outputs Dedicated headphone bus with front panel level control provides a customized monitor mix Phantom power, globally switchable direct from the front fascia Software PFL allows the mix engineer to easily monitor a single mixer channel or complete mix Bundled software includes Scarlett Plug-ins, a suite of EQ, compression, reverb and gating plug‐ins Xcite+ software bundle includes Ableton Live Lite (upgradable), Novation's Bass Station soft synthesizer and over 1GB of royalty-free samples from Loopmasters. 

Like many others, let me say: Thank you very much for this excellent article, full of all the information I was looking for, in a nice clear way.

Um...For what it's worth: right now I'm thinking of going for one of the M-Audio interfacesand the Yeti Pro microphone (because it's both USB and XLR and sounds like good quality). I'll be spending more than I thought, but I guess that's what good articles like this tend to do. Thanks again, at least know I'm in the right ballpark.

I own an old keyboard that has a midi interface and I am interested in hooking the keyboard to my computer so I can compose music and have the music written out for me on the PC side. My tower comes with a very expensive soundblaster card that has two available connections for in/out SPDIF Optical cable(TOSLINK).
I seem to be having great difficulty in finding a light transmitting cable with a standard (old) midi connection on one end and the optical component on the other.
My keyboard can generate it's own sounds and, as I am interested in only writing music, I guess I only need one cable as an output to my PC.

Hello Stephen -

Although the cable you seek is not available at B&H, M-Audio still offers it:

Joystick port (DSUB 15) to female MIDI - Sound Card MIDI Cable - Female 1 ft. - Replacement 1-In/1-Out MIDI Cable for Sound Blaster™ Compatible Cards.

If you decide to connect via your computer's USB port you can use this simple USB interface:

M-Audio MIDISport 1x1 - 1 Input / 1 Output USB MIDI Interface for Mac and PC

MIDISPORT 1x1 is a single input, single output, 16 channel MIDI interface for both the Mac and PC platform. It is extremely portable and powered from the USB bus of the host computer. Its small form factor makes it easy to connect a keyboard or controller to a computer quickly and easily and is perfect for use with a laptop.

True "Plug and Play" installation requires no IRQ, I/O Address or DMA channel setup
USB powered - requires no external power supply
Extremely compact size
If you have additional questions  - let us know at:  AskBH@BandH.com

In looking at
http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=products.family&ID=cables

it is apparent that there are no OPTICAL cables available to do what i want to do.

Can you tell me what i need to configure a USB connection?

By the way, this service is remarkably customer focused and is a world-class way of generating customer delight. I plan to suggest this example as part of the Malcolm Baldrige criteria.

Hi Stephen -

The US-122MKII from Tascam is a compact, high-speed USB 2.0 audio and MIDI interface that's compatible with both Windows and Mac computers. When the US-122MKII is plugged into an Apple or Windows computer, it acts as the computer's soundcard and features inputs for microphones, a guitar, MIDI I/O, and line-level devices like CD players and keyboards. It features durable construction and a very budget friendly price.

The included Cubase LE4 is a powerful audio and MIDI recording application that allows you to record and mix up to 48 tracks. You can automate your mixes, sweeten the sound with plug-ins, and create elaborate MIDI sequences, as well as take advantage of the built-in MIDI inputs and outputs. Cubase LE4 is compatible with both Windows and Mac computers.

The US-122MKII features individual inputs for either XLR or 1/4" sound sources, and can provide phantom power (which enables you to use professional microphones). Its construction is both attractive and sturdy. The compact size of the US-122MKII makes it ideal for studio and field recording, and the USB bus powering capability means that you never have to plug it into the outlet on the wall or fuss with a power cable.

If you need additional help  - please let me know via e-mail:  AskBH@BandH.com

I am in the process of purchasing 2 KRK G2 5's and 8's, as well as the 10s just wondering what you would recommend in terms of hooking them up and what way would produce the best quality? The genre of music we will be dealing with is Hip Hop. I have a small mixing board and my buddies M Box from Protools, neither with XLR compatibility.

Thanks

Hello -

Positioning your monitors correctly in the studio is critical to their performance. Typically,
they should be placed so that the listening position is fully “covered” with all monitors
resting on the same horizontal plane. A great way to test a monitor for its imaging
capability is to play back a CD or DVD recorded acoustically in stereo (or one recorded in
surround sound if you have a surround sound set up). We recommend acoustic music
because it represents the spectrum of sound. You can adjust the angle of each monitor by
listening for dead spots. Keep in mind, changing the angle or position of a monitor will
change the sound.

The close-field monitor, by definition, reduces room interaction. This can be compared to the
conventional stereo configuration or the large monitor arrangement in a recording
studio where sounds emanating from the monitor or reflecting off ceilings, walls, and floors
greatly affect the sound quality. By shortening the path to the ear, the close-field monitor
offers a tremendous amount of flexibility, allowing the sound to become less susceptible to
differing room conditions. The ability to adjust the high frequency characteristics is equally
important to help compensate for room irregularities and achieve the best
performance.
A room that is heavily dampened would typically require a slight high frequency boost.
Likewise, reducing the high frequencies can alter a reverberant room.
Placing the monitor close to a rear wall, sidewall, or a corner will reinforce the low
frequencies. Generally speaking, if you move them two to three feet away from walls and
corners, you'll hear less low frequency interaction (excluding any interaction with the
mixing console).

 Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Thanks, that helps with the placement for sure! What about to hook them up to though? for 5 XLR cables would I NEED a mixingboard with that many inputs?

Hello -

The best method will be to come out of your mixer and connect to a monitor controller/distributor-

Mackie BIGKNOB - Control Room Monitoring Distributor

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I have a focusrite 2i2, i use it to record with a condenser mic that needs phantom power,when recording i use the direct monitor with the headphone output...as of now i do not have studio monitors, my computer sound i get from using a kenwood receiver, 2 speakers connected from the receiver to computer with a cable has 2 rca one side that plugs in right and left in the rec, and has a single aux input into the computer,,my many questions start with is it ok to use the interface as a soundcard by plugging the aux input from the receiver into the trs adapter that plugs into the headphone out slot on the front? music comes out of the speakers, but a friend said that i should not do that,and i am running the risk of sending 2 much power to my pc everytime i plug the usb interface in, because i do not have powered studio monitors receiving the volts..please enlighten

Hello Eric -

OK - so your computer audio is currently routed from your unbalanced audio output (headphone - 1/8", 3.5mm stereo mini jack) to the L/R unbalanced RCA stereo AUX or CD (or other inpu) on your  home AV receiver? 

I would not recommend routing the headphone output from the interface into your AV receiver at all.  There will be an impedance mismatch that could easily damage these components.  Using the pair of 1/4" TRS phone  line outputs on  the rear panel of your interface would make the proper connection via a cable like the Monster Prolink DJ Series 1/4" Male Pair to RCA Male Pair Cable.  It's a 3' long cable with dual 1/4" plugs on one end, and RCA plugs on the other end. Specifically designed for the professional DJ, these cables feature high quality, ultra-durable construction to give you improved sonic performance. The ultra-flexible design enables easy routing behind turntables, and the heavy-duty reinforced terminations provide maximum signal transfer.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

First of all. Thank you for this. I'd been trying to figure out what everything on these audio interfaces was. This was the perfect roundup of information.

Now my question: I am setting up a Podcast. I'd like to get something that I can work with for a while (i.e. I don't want to upgrade every few months). There will be two hosts with another guy who'll be jumping in now and then with comments and sounds from his laptop. I think I have a lot of other parts of this worked out, but what is the best way that I can output from a laptop into the the audio interface.
I looked at ADAT connector cards for a computer and they are in the area of $900. So that's out of the question. Bud there has to be another way (I'm assuming some kind of cord). I just looked at a 3.5 to 1/4" cord. Is that an option?
Assuming that's the entry level, what are other good options?
Thanks Again,
E

Hello EW -

A basic setup might include a USB interface and two large diapragm condenser mics. The interface will provide phantom power to the mics. You will need recording software as well, which is included in my recommendations below:

The  PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL is a portable 2 input/2 output, 24-bit/96kHz, USB 2.0 audio and MIDI interface that allows for monitoring with low-latency effects. It features two combo microphone/instrument inputs with Class-A XMAX microphone preamps, and ships with Studio One Artist DAW software.
The compression, limiting, semi-parametric EQ, high-pass filter, reverb, and delay effects are the same as found on the company's StudioLive 16.0.2 mixer. Additionally, the AudioBox Virtual Studio- Live "kernal mode" cuts monitoring latency to under 2 1/2 milliseconds, which is virtually inaudible.
The unit is USB bus-powered and housed in a ruggedly built, metal chassis. Phantom power can be switched globally. Clip lights are provided for both channels

The Audio-Technica AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone is a well suited solution for home studios, project recording and live sound reinforcement alike. The side-address condenser microphone features a cardioid polar pattern for minimal feedback and off-axis noise. The element and output stage combine to produce a smooth yet natural audio quality with low noise.

Contact us via e-mail at: AskBH@BandH.com for guidance on cables, pop filters, mic stands,  and shock mounts for your new podcast studio.

What is the most common use for a SPDIF connection in a small home studio only recording 2 tracks at a time?
Could you connect a reverb unit for reverb in your mix while recording?
What can or should this connection be used for?

((This is a great page for learning about recording)

T.

Hello - T -

Any number of components may utilize SPDIF connections.  CD players and recorders or portable digital recorders, compressors or channel strips are just a few components that might be available.  You may also be connecting to a mixer or soundboard in order to route their signals through your interface to the computer and your DAW (Digital Audio Interface) to create a new mix.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Dear Sam Mallery and Co.

1st of all thanks for the article!It gave me a better understanding of how everything fits and works together,
although i do have one more question...

If i take an audio interface with 8 pre-amped mic ins(Motu 896mk3) and connect another interface with 8 pre-amped mic ins through the ADAT port, in order to record a whole band and fully mic'ed up drum kit (live recording),will a USB 0.2 Connection to my Laptop be able to cope with the 16 different tracks being recorded all at once??
Or do i need some other connection or device to help make the work load easier to cope with?

Regards
Martin

Hello Martin -

This scenario will work. but there is a less expensive way.  Instead of using two MOTU 896mk3 hybrid interfaces, you can employ the MOTU 8pre  -  a FireWire based audio interface with eight microphone/instrument preamps that can function as a front-end for supported audio software, or as an optical-based converter for expanding systems that allow for ADAT optical input.   Connect the 8pre to the 896mk3 via the ADAT and you will be good to go.  As long as your computer has the processing power and your DAW is equipped to handle a large mix this combination will deliver great results.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hello, nice article. I have a qestion or maybe two: I have a Vox Jam Master interface and a 212 guitar cab how can i connect them? Will using the interface output be sufficient?

Hello Grisza -

The USB interfaces described in our article have guitar/instrument inputs, line inputs, and microphone inputs on XLR or 1/4" connectors that ought to accomodate your gear easily. Check out this moderately priced but very versatile and high quality interface:

The Scarlett 8i6 from Focusrite is an 8 input/6 output USB 2.0 audio interface designed to make home multi-track recording a breeze. The interface features two award-winning preamps, while two additional analog inputs, four analogue outputs, S/PDIF and MIDI provide true multi-track recording. No additional DI units are needed as two Hi-Z instrument inputs can be plugged straight into the unit. Additionally, two virtual Loopback inputs are also available for routing digital audio between software applications, ideal for capturing online audio. Scarlett MixControl is an 18 x 6 DSP software mixer, offering a superb level of flexibility with the ability to create six separate mixes with ultra-low-latency. Route any combination of input signals and sequencer outputs to any of the outputs. Intuitive one-click configurations help track, monitor and mix as quickly as possible. Additional tools include Scarlett VST/AU/RTAS Plug-in Suite that adds Focusrite compression, reverb, gating and EQ to the recording system. The Xcite+ bundle features Ableton Live Lite, Novation's Bass Station soft synthesizer, and over 1GB of royalty-free samples from Loopmasters.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hey. Thanks so much for the info dude, helps a lot.

Well i'm an up and coming musician and believe it or not, I feel like a little kid when it comes to music technology because I get so confused. But thankfully this page has helped me clear things up a bit.

Anyway, my question is.. if I were to purchase a Presonus Audiobox 2.0 would I be able to record the INITIAL sounds of my keyboard onto my Mac via Garageband, as well as record the sounds of my plug-ins that I purchase on my Mac?????

Furthermore, if I don't have midi wires, can I still connect my keyboard to my Presonus Audiobox 2.0 by plugging in XLR wires into the instrument hole?? Does this affect the quality of my sound?

Please help me out, it'd be much appreciated.

Thanks.

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