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Audio Interfaces

The Commodore 64 rocked the first audio interface in 1982, essentially a three-voice, three-oscillator hardware synth. Only a decade later, the Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 brought CD-quality (16-bit 44.1kHz) recording to home computers for the first time. It used analogue-to-digital conversion (ADC) and vice-versa (DAC) to record and playback sounds.

Conversion is done by 'sampling' analogue sound waves a number of times per second, expressed in kHz -- 44.1kHz is 44,100 samples per second. The fidelity, or depth, of each sample is expressed in 'bits', or the amount of ones & zeros the computer can use to encode the sample's volume -- 16-bit is 65,535 potential levels. The transparency or character of the sound is then determined by the quality of the audio interface's components.

Understanding the Main Types of Interfaces
Woman using a Focusrite Scarlett to record a song
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      Understanding the Main Types of Interfaces

      When choosing an audio interface, it's important to know what the different varieties offer you in terms of features and specs. That way you can pick the model that will best suit your needs! To help you make the right choice, we've broken Audio Interfaces into three main categories.

      1

      USB Audio Interfaces

      One of the major benefits of USB audio interfaces is their compatibility across different platforms and technologies. Nowadays most USB interfaces are class-compliant, meaning you don’t need to install extra programs or drivers to get them up and running. It’s very much plug-and-play. This makes USB interfaces incredibly user friendly and an ideal option for anyone wanting to record digital audio, no matter their experience level. Generally, USB audio interfaces are a more affordable option as well, giving you a bit more bang for your buck.

      Using a USB audio interface to record a band
      2

      Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces

      Thunderbolt interfaces offer you higher bandwidth, this is the amount of information the interface can send and receive at any one time. If your workflow means you need to be simultaneously recording and playing back many tracks at once then you should probably consider a Thunderbolt interface. The ability to handle higher volumes of information results in less latency - the time it takes for a signal’s source (guitar, microphone) to reach the computer. Lower latency results in a more seamless recording experience. Not all computers have Thunderbolt inputs, so be sure to double-check compatibility first.

      UA thunderbolt audio interface in studio
      3

      iPad and iPhone Audio Interfaces

      The evolution of mobile devices has meant the development of some very serious audio and video editing apps. Mobile recording and editing is now a viable, professional option for content creation. So to capture the best audio possible you need an audio interface for your phone or tablet. These interfaces are small but deliver high-quality audio to your mobile device, essentially allowing you to carry a compact recording studio in your bag. They’re a great option for collaborative music projects, podcasts, field recordings and more. A mobile interface means you have the freedom to record whenever and where ever inspiration strikes.

      Recording a song on an iphone

      Product Focus: Focusrite Scarlett

      With a wide range of models for both USB and Thunderbolt connections, Focusrite is a popular and recommended choice for anyone looking to buy an Audio Interface. The Focusrite Scarlett line contains just about every In/Out configuration you might need. With their Scarlett Solo and Scarlett 2i2 for simpler applications and the 18i20 and 8Pre interfaces for more intensive recording projects, Focusrite covers home production to full professional setups and offers high performance at every price point.

      Focustrite Scarlett product shot

      Hear about it first!