There’s a popular computer saying: Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Now, this saying is useful in all kinds of industries and arts, but in audio it is especially true.
If you play the finest violin concerto on the other side of a can with a string tied to it, it’s not going to sound great.
Audio is only as good as its connection, is the point, and if you’re choosing a USB audio interface for your recording project, you’re going to want to make sure you find a solid, affordable solution that maintains quality audio throughout the chain.
Stop Selling Me Things, I’m Ready to Record
You’ve got a mic, a computer, and a song in your heart – why can’t we get to recording already?
Well, the truth is, you can.
If you have a USB microphone, you can just pop that bad boy in and get to recording (though you’ll have to make sure you have the right drivers and software to make it work – USB microphones aren’t always known for the ease-of-use and reliability).
If you don’t have a USB microphone, then you’re going to be shocked by how quiet, noisy, and thin the audio going straight from your mic to computer is going to sound.
What Is an Audio Interface, Anyway?
An audio interface is a device that you plug your (non-USB) mic into, and then plug into your computer.
The best audio interfaces have all kinds of features, but by far the most important is their ability to amplify the sound you’re recording.
Most microphones output sound at what is called “mic level,” which is an extremely low-level signal that a computer (or any recording device) will have a hard time picking up. And, even it does pick up the signal, the quality is going to be awful. You’ll have to crank it up just to hear anything, which is going to degrade your recording and introduce all kinds of noise you want no part of.
The audio interface, instead, comes built-in with a pre-amp that knocks the “mic level” signal up to what is called “line level” without a loss of quality. It’s opening the gain up (increasing signal) instead of merely turning up the volume.
- Ultra-flexible audio interface connects your instruments, mixer, etc. with your computer for recording and playback
What Do I Do with it?
The benefit of an audio interface USB is that you plug your mic (either ¼ or XLR) into the interface, and then plug the USB from the interface into your computer. After a little software setup – most interfaces will come with instructions on getting it installed – you’re good to go.
But Which Audio Interface Do I Need?
Like any piece of specialized equipment, you’re going to hear a lot of jargon, see a lot of specs, and wonder if you’ve made the right decision.
The important thing to remember is that audio interfaces are relatively simple, straightforward, and only meant to do one thing – amplify microphone signal.
So the question becomes – how many microphones do you need to amplify and record?
If you’re singing by yourself, or just recording a voice by itself, your bare-bones model USB interface will only need one input jack for one microphone. If you’re singing and playing guitar, a two-input model like the Roland RUBIX22 is going to suit your needs just fine. It comes with two XLR / ¼ input jacks, a gain knob for each channel, a headphone output for monitoring (with volume knob), and an output knob for the sound going out.
A band, a group, or a podcast with multiple hosts is going to need more inputs, and in that case you’ll want an audio interface like the M-Audio M-Track Quad. Something like that gives you four inputs (for four mics), and options like phantom power and even MIDI jacks.
Make sure to grab a USB 3.0 audio interface, no matter what your needs are – an interface that outputs to USB 3.0 is going to be faster, cleaner, and far more future-proofed than a regular old USB 2.0.
- AD/DA conversion for recording up to 192kHz / 24-bit.
- USB 2.0 High Speed connection to Mac or Windows PC
- Direct digital connection to iPad and iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Lightning and 30-pin cable sold...
Now What Do I Need?
If you’ve got an audio interface, mics, and a computer, you’ve got a recording studio my friend.
The only thing you’ll need now is a recording software, somewhere to distribute your songs or podcast, a couple hundred thousand fans, and a gig on late night TV and you’re all set.
But make sure you get that USB audio interface first to give you the full, professional-quality audio you’re looking for.