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Audio Interface: Enables Your PC to Record & Playback Audio
Audio Interface means a professional soundcard! It enables your Computer to record & playback audio. You will need it if you want to do serious audio work on your computer.
Want to do professional level audio
work on your Computer?
Want an interface for all your input and output audio / midi
Want low latency
sound recording and playback?
Want great sound recording and playback quality?
Check out the best Audio Interfaces here...
If you want to do most of your recording on your computer, then having a professional soundcard (Audio Interface) is an absolute must, as the quality of the sound produced is based on this important piece of hardware.
But before we proceed further into the details, a brief description of what a soundcard is and how it fits inside your computer.
Soundcard vs. Audio interface
A sound card is a hardware that lets you record and playback audio.
It sits inside the computer in a PCI slot and you connect all the cables at the back of this card.
Professional soundcards, also known as Audio interfaces, on the other hand has a box that sits outside the PC and a cable that is connected to the PC, either to the PCI card
or to the USB/Firewire
slot depending on the type of the interface.
The breakout box contains slots for all the input and output audio/midi connections.
If you are just getting started with music recording on your computer and are comfortable opening up your pc, then you may go a basic PCI audio interface
. But if you want the connection to be simple, then go in for a basic USB audio interface
For better speed and response, and if your computer has a fire-wire port, you can consider a firewire interface
Components that Affect Performance
Drivers and DACs are the two components that have a major impact
on the performance
of your soundcards.
The better the quality
of these two things, the better the sound is going to be. These are one of the important reasons because of which the professional soundcards cost more
than consumer soundcards.
Drivers are the software components that allow audio computer programs to talk to your soundcard; they come along with the card.
The drivers basically manage the traffic of data between the CPU, DAC and the audio application as and when it is needed.
DACs are converters that are physically present on the soundcard. The converters job is to read the incoming analog waveform and transform it into digital data. This important process is known as sampling
and it determines the quality of your recorded sound.
Once the digital data is on your computer, it is very easy to manipulate it in different ways and store it on your computer.
Limitations of Consumer Soundcards
With a brief background on the internals of a soundcard, you will agree that although most of the consumer soundcards that comes built-in with your computer can be used for audio playback and recording, these soundcards are not meant
to be used for music production
Some of the limitations of a consumer sound card include:
High latency (delay in the reproduction of sound, between initiating a sound and hearing it)
General sound quality is not great
Low sampling rates (recording quality is poor)
The drivers may not work with most of the audio recording software applications
No MIDI port. You cannot connect external keyboards/synths
It is intended for home and office entertainment use. The emphasis is more on playback and casual use
Advantages of using an Audio Interface
Professional cards, AKA Audio Interfaces, on the other hand, do not have the limitations listed above making them suitable for serious audio work. Some of the features on a professional soundcard include:
Low latency sound recording and playback
Usually follows the ASIO protocol (suited for sound engineering and music software)
Comes as external rack-mountable units which can be connected using USB 2.0/Firewire
Large number of input and output connectors
Hardware support for multiple input and output sound channels
Higher sampling rates compared to a consumer soundcard
Multi-channel data recording and real-time audio mixer and processor
Choosing a Professional Audio Interface
You will need to select a soundcard depending on what sort of studio setup you want to have.
You will have to make sure that the soundcard has inputs/outputs to connect to most of your gear.
In general, the following are some of the instruments that you will need to connect to your soundcard.
Control surface (if you don't have a mixer)
Audio speakers (AKA monitors)
You may also need external Preamps to raise the level of your mic's. Though most of the soundcards have built-in preamps, only the more expensive ones have really good preamps.
Besides the above mentioned gear, most of the other things like compressors, gates, Reverb and other special effects can be used as software in your Computer. So you do not need connections for these.
You can get started with music production on your computer with these budget audio sound cards. Choose either a PCI audio interface
or the easy to connect USB audio interface
or the faster firewire interface
Another thing to consider while choosing a soundcard
is to make sure that the drivers will work
on your computer/operating system.
This is actually a tricky area since the drivers behave differently on different machines. Even if it works, you may have to download a different set of drivers whenever a new operating system is launched.
Just make sure that the soundcard you wish to buy has the following:
Comes with drivers for your operating system
Comes with updated drivers from time to time supporting the latest service packs and operating system updates
Has a site from where you can download drivers
Works with your audio application (Cubase, Sonar, Reason, etc)
Connecting your Sound Card
So how do you connect the soundcard to your computer? It can be done in either of these ways - PCI Interface, USB, Cardbus or Firewire
Out of these, only the PCI interface goes inside the computer, into the PCI slot. All the earlier soundcards used to be available only in this type and these soundcards can only be used with desktops.
The other interfaces are external in the sense that the main box stays outside and a cable connects the box to the computer.
Of all the external interfaces, the firewire interfaces are getting good reviews and are known to give good performances. It gets connected to the firewire port and can be used with laptops as well as desktop. They are very easy to connect and they also give you the option of portability.
Some of the major and popular manufacturers/brands of professional soundcards include M-Audio, RME, Tascam, MOTU, PreSonus, Digidesign, Onyx,
With an overview of what things to look for in an Audio Interface, I think you should be able to find an Audio Interface that suits your needs the best.
PCI Audio Interfaces
PCI Audio Interfaces connect to a slot on your computer's hardware. So you will have to open up your CPU and connect these audio interfaces. You can get some good inexpensive ones.
M-Audio Audiophile 2496 MIDI
2-channel audio card, good for home recording. Read more...
M-Audio Delta 1010-LT PCI
Excellent card and sound, considering the price you pay. Read more..
RME HDSP 9632 PCI audio interface
High performance interface, you get Unbelievable Fidelity from a PCI card. Read more...
USB Audio Interfaces
USB Audio Interfaces are much easier to connect to your computer. Earlier versions of these interfaces were a bit slow to respond and had latency problems but the recent crop of USB audio interfaces are quite responsive.
Behringer UCA222 U-Control
Inexpensive and does the basics pretty well.
Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface
East setup and works great. Serious product at amateur prices
M-Audio Fast Track Pro
Another serious but basic product
Apogee Duet 2 for Mac
Excellent audio interface for the Mac!
FireWire Audio Interfaces
FireWire Audio Interfaces are among the most responsive audio interfaces with almost no latency problems. Considered to be among the fastest in terms of data transfer!
M-Audio Firewire Solo US35030
Does the job, sounds good.
Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 Firewire
Excellent interface with great mic preamps
PreSonus FireStudio Project
Minimal latency, great option for budget or live recording
M-Audio ProFire 2626 High-Definition
Comes with eight preamps, quality product that works great with ProTools too.
Audio Interface Accessories
Mobile Edge Alienware Orion Bag / BackPack
A handy bag to carry all your recording stuff, including your laptop. Read more...
On-Stage Laptop Computer Stand
Want to accommodate your laptop onstage? Here is an easy way to do that. Read more...
SKB Studio Flyer Portable Laptop Studio Rack
Want a sturdy case that will safely hold all your important recording stuff while on the go? Check out this Portable Laptop Studio Rack. Read more...
iPad Stand, Kindle, Tablet, & eBook Holder
A cool multi-purpose stand that can hold a book, e-book reader or tablet. Read more...
Now you can easily manage all your MIDI files using this device and your iphone or iPad. Read more...
Audio Interfaces on Zzounds (US/Canada)
More Audio Interfaces on Amazon
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