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Tutorial: A Guide To Choosing An Audio Interface

By moosers on 03/16/2010 - (Anyone)
< All tips & tutorials

Introduction

Whether you are looking for your first, or are looking to upgrade, choosing an audio interface can be a difficult process.  While now more than ever we have choices, this saturation can make it hard to choose.  Hopefully this tutorial will give you a better idea about what to look for out there...

Step 1

The first thing I would do if I was looking to get a new interface is I would define what my needs are.  What sort of situation are you in?  Do you need something small to record demos and get ideas down?  Or do you need something that will allow you to record a big band?  Everyone is different, so your answers will of course be all over the map, so it is a good idea to figure this out (although most of you will already know without having to think about it).  As always when it comes to a major purchase, I would then recommend defining what your price range is.  While of course everyone wants the best technology out there, this isn't always practical.  Narrowing down your search to what you can afford will eliminate a lot of headache.  I would however, recommend setting a decently broad range, at least to start out with so you still get a broad view of what is out there.

Step 2

Next, start to think about the technical specifications that you would need in an audio interface.  Most importantly that means the number of inputs indeed, and in what forms you need them.  How many microphone preamplifiers do you need?  How many tracks do you want to be able to record at a time, and what kind of combination of connection options do you see yourself needing?  Specifically, how many 1/4" TRS connections do you need and how many XLR input microphones preamplifiers?  While things can arise and you could find yourself needing something more or less than what you first envisioned, try to get at least a ballpark idea of what you're going to be doing...

Step 3

In addition to what you need in terms of microphone preamps and basic inputs, what other sorts of connections do you want or need?  How many different monitoring options and connections do you need?  Do you want or need things like ADAT optical and AES/EBU, which can give you extra I/O features?  Another thing to consider is if you need any other special features like what I mentioned before, or if you need anything out of the ordinary in general.  It all just depends on what your needs will be.

Step 4

Probably the most important thing to think about is not just how many mic pres that you need, but the quality of them and also the quality of the converters.  This can only really be done by listening and testing it out, but I would do some research and read some reviews to see what people specifically think about the way the mic pres and converters sound.  Of course this isn't that big of a deal if you're planning on using external converters and mic pres, which is always an option in addition to your interface.

Step 5

A few other questions that you can ask yourself when it comes to picking out an audio interface, includes what type of software you're going to be using with it.  Of course to run Pro Tools you need a Digidesign audio interface, so if you want to run Pro Tools you need to buy it with their audio interface to run it.  Some interfaces also just work better with different pieces of software, as in general those made by the same manufacturer have better compatibility.  Another thing that you might want to consider is if you need something that is portable or not for on the go recording...

Conclusion

While it is hard to give advice on such a general basis, hopefully this breakdown will help those who need help to get on the right track...
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