Home Studio Tip #4 – Audio Interfaces

Audio Interface

Last time we talked about recording software, which is called your “DAW” (Digital Audio Workstation). Hopefully you’ve picked out one that will get you going and have installed it it on your computer. If you’re concerned about the expense, remember you can download Audacity for free and it’s plenty good enough to get you started.

So now we have a computer and we’ve got some software installed to record music. The next step is to connect that computer software to the real world of sound. There’s a handy little device that does this exact thing and it’s called an Audio Interface.

This is generally a USB device although some folks prefer to use FireWire.  In either case, this is where you plug in your microphone(s), guitar, bass, keys, ~ all the things that make sound ~ and connect them to the computer via the USB cable.

 Spend a Lot, or Spend Nothing

Like pretty much every else we’ll be talking about, you can spend a lot or just a little on an interface. To spend next to nothing, you can use your computer’s internal “sound card” and plug a mic right or guitar into the 1/8″ jack (maybe thru an inexpensive adapter), plug in your ear buds or headphones and away you go.

While I say you CAN do this, I don’t recommend it because that sound card is for general purpose audio and won’t generally be high quality. So, at some point, you’re going to need to bite the bullet and buy a dedicated audio interface.

Ins & Outs

First thing is to figure out how many inputs and outputs you need. If you record things one track at a time, like most home studio dudes, you can get a 2-in / 2-out interface for less than $100. I don’t recommend the 1 in- 1 out because then it’s all in mono and nobody listens to mono.

If you want to record live drums, or you want to record the whole band, or several instruments at the same time, you’ll want several more inputs.

Personally, I use the MOTU UltraLight Mk3 and it’s a beautiful thing.  8-in, 8-out and around $550.  To get some free advice on which model will work best for you, I recommend the Sweetwater forums. You can also just call them and talk to a “sales engineer”. They’re (usually) pretty knowledgeable and can steer you in the right direction.  Just remember that they get paid to sell you stuff so don’t be afraid to hang up without buying anything. Again, check out the forums for comments and advise from real people with nothing to sell.

Here’s a list of audio interfaces ranging from $35 up to over $3,000. (See, I told ya you could spend whatever you want…) But somewhere in that list you can probably find something that will work for you.

Make sure you buy from a place with a no hassle return policy. Sweetwater, Musican’s Friend, American Musical, etc. most give you at least 30 days to try stuff out and return it, no questions asked, if you don’t like it. That’s HUGE and take the pressure off. If you don’t like something, return it and try something else!


Tomorrow, in Tip #5, I’ll talk about a couple more pieces of gear you’ll need to get going, and then we’ll put it all together and start recording.


Craig Olson
Home Studio Geeks

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