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How To Choose An Audio Interface

Another question that I get almost daily is “How do I choose the best audio interface for my needs?” Well, there are really only a couple of things to consider (besides your budget) when faced with this decision.
Allow me to explain…

  How To Choose An Audio Interface

 

Transcript »

Hey guys! Dezz Asante here again from the TechMuzeAcademy for MixLessons.com. Todays quick tip comes inspired again by a fellow member of the Gear Slutz forums. If you don’t hang out there already, I think you should strongly consider it. It’s a great resource of information – a lot of chit chat going… flying around of all different …people of all different skill levels. So, you’ll have access to folks just getting into it perhaps like yourself. You’ll have access to folks that do this professionally and for …you know notable artist as well that hangout in the Gear Sluzt forums. So, check it out! This question comes from member Speakers Moon.

And Speaker Moon writes in,

“Hey guys! I know that this subject is all over the internet but unfortunately I’m still having a hard time knowing how to choose a sound card for electronic music. One of the steps for choosing a sound card for mainly deep house music production what should I be looking for exactly? There so many sound cards out there that it doesn’t make things easier. I’m willing to pay up to 200 Euros for it. Would that be enough for a good one? Or will I have better luck with USB sound card or Firewire?”

He uses a Reason Enabled On Live and that he’s got some KRK  monitors, speakers. And so, he’s interested in knowing about how to choose a sound card, how to choose your audio interface. The term sound card is kind of a dated because as you are probably well aware they are not cards anymore at least what’s most on the market today. But it’s a good question and it’s a good place to begin I would say is by determining what type of audio acquisition chain you’re going to need in terms how many inputs and outputs and what quality you’re able to budget for.

Now this member is saying that the style of music is … that he’s into is house music, deep house electronic music trans, this types of things.So my first question would be… you know are you generating your arrangements entirely through software instruments? Is there …do you utilize any vocals, any…a live instrument, acoustic intruments, keyboards, guitars, anything like that? If  you’re doing everything from within the computer it’s all instrumental, there’s no need for a microphone at all then your choices open up a little because you don’t have to concern yourself with mic free amps and the number of analog inputs. So, if thats the case I might suggest something like the Apogee Duet which is Mac product.

So, if you’re pc user then which you didn’t mentioned in your post then that might not be an option. If you are a Pc user or Mac for that matter another very, very good quality audio interface is the Baby Face from RME. Now these are a little bit above the 200 Euro price point. I believe I don’t know exactly what the coversion rate is at this point in time, but I believe the Baby Face is about 800 dollars Canadian which is close to US dollars as well at this point in time anyway. I think the Apogee Duet is about 600 dollars and again that’s a Mac product. It wont run on a pc in a windows environment. But the reason why I suggest those is because they are very, very high quality in the two critical components in an interface and that is your mic pre amps and your analog-to-digital and vise versa digital-to-analog converters. Both Apagy and RME have fantastic reputations in the industry for both of those things in particular the converters.The quality though like in most cases you pay for. Now, if you’re not able to spend that much money, the quality of even the sort of quote unquote entry level items is still very high so your… its not going to hold you back a great deal in creating great music presuming of course that you have this technical knowhow, the skills in terms of audio engineering to make that happen. That’s what sort of separates the men from the boys, quote unquote nowadays is your technical prowess not so much how much money  you can afford to spend on your gear as it was not long ago. Couple of decades ago that was the big…the big differentiating factor between the big studio sound and the sort of home studio, task and port studio, casette tape type recorded sound that we’ve dealt with if you’re anything like me.

So,again your acquisition chain is primarily when it concerns your interface is your mic pre amps and your anolog-to-digital converters. So, essentially you want to get the best ADDA converters that your budget permits and you want to get the best mic freeze and the amount of them that you will need.

For example, if you’re doing …if you’re recording live musicians, drummers in particular and you need to be able to slap in 7 to 8 mics on a drum kit then ofcourse that implies that you’re going to need 7 or 8 holes to plug those mics to into. And those pre amps should definitely be included in the interface. The alternative approach is to use an external mixer or plug your mics in and send the stereo output into your interface which is also a viable option. However, you then loose the ability to mix those microphones independently when you reach your mix phase. So, you end up with having  to premix those drums for example, get them soundng absolutely perfect before you hit record because once you hit record your left with just the stereo track. So, you want those inputs to be on your audio interface. So that’s the other thing to consider.

In this gentleman’s case, well if  your doing all electronic instrumental music it might not be a big concern but a lot of us do record live instruments and especially if you’re recording multiple  musicians at once or making a drum kit then you’re going to need multiple microphone pre amps, analog inputs into the interface.

So, those are the three things to consider. The number of inputs or mic pre amps, the quality of those mic pre amps and the quality of your analog-to-digital… digital-to-analog  converters. If you got those 3 things in check you can have a fantastic audio interface on your hands and you’ll be able to capture very, very great qualtiy sounds. What you do with those afterwards is a whole other story.

So, I hope that helps to sort of…at least give you some criteria to go by. A couple of strong recommendations, I think if you’re on a tight, tight budget and you have maybe a 100 bucks or so maybe 200 max to spend. The stuff that Steinburg is putting out right now, the CI1, the CI2 and the CI2+ are quite nice. They also get you into a copy of Cubase if you need some software to use for your recording. Those are all USB devices.

Another thing to consider is Firewire. Now, Firewire is kind of being phased out at this point in time. Its still a great option typically a little more expensive and not all computers support Firewire. So that’s something to consider. There’s no huge massive difference anymore between performance or audio quality, Firewire versus USB. Some say that still latency is a little higher potentially with USB. But nowadays thats pretty much a none issue as well because processors are very, very fast and so we’re able to set our input-to-output buffer size very, very small to get a great latency performance because our systems can keep up. Ten years ago or so, the computers weren’t as fast and that was much more of an issue but no longer really the case. So, I wouldn’t concern yourself too much with Firewire or USB. It’s more about that acquistion chain – number of inputs, quality of mic freeze and quality of conversion from analog to digital and back. So, hopefully that helps and we’ll see you on the next quick tip.

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