Audio Interfaces, Part 1

MOTU-UltraLite-Mk3In the old days of digital audio (and by that I mean last year), there were a only hand-full of audio interfaces to choose from and it was mostly a matter of how much money you had to spend and what features you needed for your project. That part hasn’t really changed but…

…it’s different now.

A quick look at Sweetwater or Musician’s Friend or any of the countless music gear-for-sale sites  and you’ll find all kinds of audio interfaces vying for your attention and the contents of your wallet.


But, hold on a minute! Newbies might be wondering, “what is an audio interface?”  Fair enough.

In the old days (now i’m talking about 5+ years ago) it was called a “sound card” and it was usually a PCI computer card you put into your honkin’ desk top machine in an open PCI slot. I recorded my very first album with one of these: It had one stereo input and one stereo output.  2 in – 2 out. Basically just one stereo channel to record and one to listen. But worked like a charm for a guy like me who was recording one track at a time.

Most of the older sound cards had some jacks on the back for you to connect your audio in’s & out’s, Sometimes a “light-pipe” (ADAT) port or maybe some RCA or 1/4 inch jacks. Often there was a cable fan with various midi and audio plugs attached to a tiny little thingie that plugged into the back of your computer.

But, like I said, it’s different now.

Forget the old sound cards that go inside your noisy computer.  You’re going to want a dedicated audio interface that connects to your computer via USB or FireWire.

If I could only say one thing about audio interfaces, I’d say to go with MOTU. (Mark Of The Unicorn). I’m currently using a MOTU UltraLight and the thing just kicks butt! 8 in – 8 out and rock solid.

Oh, and stay away from anything made by M-Audio. Just my opinion, but their customer service is crap and my experience with their gear (yours may vary) is that it’s unstable and unreliable. It’s cheap for a reason.

I also have a Mackie Onyx 1604i, which is a 16 channel mixer with built-in, 16 channel audio interface. That puppy was over $1,200 but it’s pretty awesome. You plug in all your mics and instruments just like an analog mixer.

Then, when you want to record everything in 16 channel multi-track, all you need is one more cable – a firewire cable connected to your laptop or desktop computer. Everything you play/perform/create is sent along that one cable right into your DAW. (Digital Audio Workstation). Firewire seems to be losing steam in the marketplace but this bad boy has been working flawlessly for me.

Oh crap! I’m getting way ahead of myself here, (and possibly ahead of you too). This is supposed to be an INTRO to audio interfaces. I’ll get back to that in Part 2.


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