What is an Audio Interface?
If you are looking to start a podcast and don’t know exactly how to get started with recording your audio, this might be a place to start. An audio interface is one way to get audio recorded from either a microphone, many different instruments, or a MIDI device onto your computer. How does it work? Do you need it? Let’s find out by learning a little bit more about audio interfaces.
What is it?
Audio to Digital Converter
Essentially an audio interface is a way for the audio being recorded to be converted into a digital signal (although that’s not it’s only use). The way that happens is through something called an Analog to Digital Converter. When your microphone records your voice, it records what is called an analog signal, which basically means it can’t be used by your computer because it’s simply an electrical signal that is created from the wave energy of your voice. The Analog to Digital Converter is needed to capture your audio digitally and put it onto your computer.
It also houses a sound card, which is one of the main reasons you would want to get an audio interface. The sound card in your computer isn’t meant for recording professional audio, it isn’t really meant for recording audio at all, only playing back audio that comes from your computer. The quality of the sound card is much higher an audio interface than it is in your computer, which helps capture a higher range of frequencies and a higher bit rate of audio. Bit rate is basically the size of your audio file, it’s similar to shooting RAW vs. JPG on a camera. The bigger the size means the more detail is held in the recording.
Do I need one?
An audio interface is a really great way to get professional sounding audio, but it’s not the only way. USB mics are becoming really popular recently, and there’s a reason for that. They sound very good, and can be super easy to set up and get going on your podcast. If you have a USB mic, you don’t need an audio interface. The USB mic actually has an audio interface built into it, so if you bought an external audio interface, that would be overkill, plus there’s no real way to connect it to the interface.
Built into most audio interfaces, is a place to plug your headphones in and monitor while you are recording. This is a better way to monitor (listen to yourself) during your recording because it’s all in real time, or zero latency.
If you have a condenser microphone, you need phantom power to run it. Every single condenser microphone requires some sort of external power to run the circuit within it. Again, if you have a USB mic, it is already getting the phantom power within itself. So if you bought an XLR condenser mic, make sure that the audio interface supports 48V phantom power.
With an audio interface, you get a little more control over the sound going into the computer than you would with a USB mic. You can adjust the gain going into the preamp right on the audio interface, instead of adjusting it in the DAW on your computer. This gives you a bit more control over exactly how loud or quiet you want to record your audio. Sometimes USB mics come with a volume knob built in, which is very helpful. You also get control over the volume in your headphones, which is also on your DAW but I personally prefer all of these adjustments to be physical knobs that I can adjust during the recording.
Which One Should I Get?
When it comes to choosing an audio interface for your podcast, you shouldn’t worry too much. They all essentially do the same thing, get your audio from the microphone onto the computer. It mostly depends on how many people you are going to be recording with. Different interfaces offer a different amount of inputs per microphone, if you plan on recording with just yourself all the time, you can get a single input interface. If you plan on having guests, you might want to get one that is going to have more inputs than you think you would need, just in case. You don’t want to be stuck not being able to record your guests just because you don’t have the right amount of inputs.
How Do I Connect it to My Computer?
Most interfaces today connect to your computer via USB. There are a few that use thunderbolt, but those are becoming a little more rare. It’s super simple to connect, just plug it into both devices and you should be okay.
You will need to download an “audio driver” onto your computer. Instructions for how to do that should come with the interface itself, but it’s not that hard to find out how to do it by doing some research online. An audio driver allows your computer to recognize that input as a recording device. Without the driver installed you won’t be able to record with the interface. You also might have to update the driver periodically to keep up with any updates available.