What Is An Audio Interface? Top Full Guide

What Is An Audio Interface Top Full Guide 2022
  • Anthony

What is an audio interface? An audio interface is a hardware device that connects musical instruments and other audio devices to a computer. It allows the computer to record and playback audio and is an essential piece of equipment for any musician or producer who wants to create digital music.

What Does An Audio Interface Do?

What Does An Audio Interface Do

What is an interface for music? Audio interfaces convert microphone or instrument signals to a format your computer and software can recognize. Interfaces also route audio from your computer to your headphones or studio monitors. Most interfaces connect to your computer using USB cables.

However, some interfaces can also be connected via Thunderbolt or Firewire. The price range for interfaces is from under $100 to several thousand, but even the most inexpensive interfaces can sound great and offer basic features.

What Makes Audio Interfaces So Important?

What Makes Audio Interfaces So Important

Many smartphones, tablets, computers, and laptops have sound cards that convert digital signals into audio signals. This is most likely the sound card in your computer.

It is quite basic. There are limitations to the number of channels or signals it can handle. It was not designed for professional audio recording and playback. The computer may not have enough connectivity options to support your gear.

An audio interface is an answer. An audio interface can be described as a highly upgraded sound card.

The iD14 MKII interface is a high-quality interface that can handle any task. You can easily record and playback multiple audio channels with almost no latency. It will greatly increase your connectivity options.

Your studio’s main hub is an audio interface for dummies. It’s necessary to connect your studio monitors and microphones via TRS or XLR, as well as your other devices such as XLR or TRS. A powerful interface is essential if you intend to record or monitor audio in a sound engineering or music production setting. So, do I need an audio interface for music production?

How Do Audio Interfaces Work?

How Do Audio Interfaces Work

Although audio interfaces have many important functions, their primary function is conversion. The audio recording was analog back in the day. Everything was recorded through a mixer and then transferred to tape.

Everything related to audio recording in today’s digital age is done using a series of signals. An audio interface takes analog and digital signals from microphones, guitars, MIDI keyboards, and so on. 

These signals are converted into a format your computer can recognize and then back to an analog format so you can listen from your speakers or headphones. You can then manipulate the signal with your DAW or any sequencer.

These signals can be converted two-way by most interfaces. This means they can be converted from analog to digital (ADC) and digital to analog (DAC). These conversions can be done by the interface, which is why most interfaces have multiple channels.

Audio interfaces come with microphone preamps built-in, which are crucial for recording studio-quality recordings. Preamps are necessary for raising microphones to line/mic level, but we’ll discuss that later.

You don’t have to buy a dedicated device for this purpose, but certain interfaces, such as the iD14 MKII, can be used to amplify high-impedance headphones.

Conversion of signals occurs in all inputs and outputs on an audio interface. There is also a gain boosting of some signals. This signal conversion goodness allows you to record high-quality audio and playback in your recording studio.

Let’s open the hood on the iD14 MKII and get into the technical stuff. Let’s begin with connectivity.

Connectivity

The first thing to consider when looking at an audio interface is how does an audio interface connect to a computer. There are many ways to connect audio interfaces, some better than others.

The iD14 MKII connects to your computer via USB C, one of the fastest connection types. Bus-powered USB-C interfaces such as the iD14(MKII) are also available. It doesn’t need an external power supply.

Although USB-C is the most popular form of audio interface connectivity, it’s not the only one. These are just a few of the popular options you might encounter.

USB 3.0, 2.0, and 1.1 – Standard USB connectivity is the most commonly used type of connection on audio interfaces. Although they are easy to set up and convenient, standard USB interfaces can introduce more latency than other connections.

Thunderbolt – USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 and 4 are universally compatible. They are almost the same nowadays. Although some interfaces have Thunderbolt ports, they can all be used interchangeably. Thunderbolt is, overall, the most reliable and fastest form of connectivity available on interfaces.

FireWire – FireWire was once the most popular interface type. It could transfer data more frequently than USB and was generally more reliable. It would not be easy to find an interface that supports FireWire today. FireWire ports are almost non-existent on computers today, and interfaces that offer it will only be found in used markets.

PCIe is a card-based interface you can install directly into your motherboard. PCIe is a powerful interface that reduces latency to nearly zero and allows you to monitor/record almost unlimited tracks. The PCI Express interfaces can be very costly and require much technical knowledge to install.

Which connection type is best? You can decide. USB-C is my favorite universal option. It is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 & 4 and also provides bus power. This makes it an ideal choice.

Inputs and Outputs

An audio interface must have a lot of inputs and outs to allow you to connect your gear. Remembering the input/output count (or I/O) of an audio interface is important. The I/O count you require depends on your studio recordings’ purpose.

The iD14 MKII has a total I/O count of 10 x 6. This is sufficient for small bands and podcasters. You might need more I/O if you plan to record an entire orchestra.

Using the iD14 MKII as your focus, you will see that the back panel has a lot of ports. It has 2 XLR/ 1/4″ combo line/mic level inputs, two pairs of 1/4″ balanced line outputs, and 1 Optical Toslink input, supporting ADAT/S/PDIF.

Let’s take a look at each one:

  • 1/4″ XLR/ 1/4″ Combo Line Inputs. XLR inputs can be used to record audio signals captured using a microphone. An XLR input usually includes a mic preamp which powers it and brings the low-level signal to the line/mic level. You can also use 1/4″ line-level TRS Jacks. We will talk more about preamps in the future.
  • 1/4″ Balanced Line Outputs: Certain devices like studio monitors require a balanced line-level output to get the power they need. Your studio monitors might be unable to reproduce the sound they need without it. These outputs play a crucial role in routing audio to external gear, such as studio monitors.
  • Optical Input The digital optical input supports ADAT and S/PDIF. This allows you to increase the interfaces I/O count up to 8 mic pre-inputs. This is especially helpful for musicians who plan to record a whole band. This input can be used to expand your interface as you add gear.

The front panel of the iD14 MKII has two headphone outputs. One is 1/4,” and one is 1/8″. You also have 1 JFET input.

Let’s take a closer look at them once again:

Dual Headphone Outputs are not available on all interfaces. Usually, you will see either one or the other. However, the iD14 MKII has a 1/4″ output and a mini 1/8″ headphone jack. This is a great feature if you, like me, tend to lose your adapter for your headphones. You can also use the built-in amp to power headphones up to 600O.

JFET Instrument Input: This input is processed through a discrete DI (direct injecting) circuit, which helps ensure the recording accuracy. You will need an external DI box to record instruments such as guitars, synths, and bass through an audio interface. It cannot be easy to set this up. It is much easier to use the JFET input. For this port, you will need a 1/4″ TRS jack.

The I/O capabilities of the iD14 MKII should be sufficient to support most small studios. You can record multiple channels simultaneously with it. You also have plenty of line-outs to hook up your studio monitors or other purposes. You may need them. You can also record instruments through the iD14 MKII interface, a rare feature.

Plan For Expansion

Many other input and output options are available, including Word Clock, DB-25, and 5-pin MIDI. These are typically only needed when you start upgrading your studio.

It’s important to have an interface that allows for expansion. It’s impossible to predict where your music will lead you. You can prepare for the future by setting yourself up with the optical input on your iD14 (MKII).

Latency

Latency is the delay between your audio signal and the source reproduction. A device with a lot of latency will cause significant delays to signal flow. Imagine that you strike a chord on your keyboard and then hear the playback about a half-second later. This problem can quickly escalate into a larger problem in your studio.

Even worse, delays can be difficult to spot by an untrained ear. It’s possible only to notice them after you are deep into a project.

It is important to try your best to minimize latency in your studio. A great first step is investing in an audio interface.

As I have said, the audio interface is your studio’s hub. An interface such as the iD14 MKII can stop latency from happening. Both the iD Mixer software and USB-C connectivity help achieve extremely low latency. Thunderbolt 3/4 compatibility is also a benefit.

Remember that latency is not only caused by the audio interface. Many other factors can cause it. You should ensure that all devices connected to the interface are as low-latency as possible.

Mic Preamps

Without onboard microphone preamps, an audio interface would not be one. Mic preamps increase levels in “gain,” which can cause high-frequency feedback or white noise. Higher-quality lamps tend to add warmth to the audio signal rather than unwanted noise.

Preamps will add color to your recordings. It’s simply how an audio interface works. This is not a bad thing. Each preamp in every audio interface is going to sound slightly different.

The iD14 MKII features two Audient Class-A console mic preamps with true 48v Phantom Power. These preamps are also used in the ASP8024 Heritage Edition recording system. These mic pres have been specifically designed to provide ultra-low noise, little distortion, and a touch of analog warmth to your recordings.

You’ll have to experience the specific sound of the mic pres on your iD14 MKII. This is true for most audio interfaces.

Preamps are not something to be cut. Preamps are an important component of any audio interface and should be thoroughly researched to ensure they are of the highest quality.

Phantom Power

Phantom power (+48v) serves one purpose. It is used to supply the correct amount of power to condenser mics. The microphone’s internal amp and diaphragm are powered by the DC sent through a compatible XLR cable.

To bring a condenser microphone up to mic-level, you need to use an external power source without internal Phantom power. The iD14 MKII has Phantom power in both of its mic pres. This is in contrast to other modern audio interfaces with ‘always-on’ global phantom powers.

In short, microphone preamps and Phantom power raise condenser microphones to mic-level so that you can make high-fidelity audio recordings.

Converters

An audio interface’s converters are the heart of all its magic. Modern interfaces can convert signals in two directions, analog to digital (ADC) and digital to analog (DAC). The iD14 MKII features class-leading converters that accomplish exactly this.

These specs include dynamic range, sample speed, bit-depth, and sample rate. They are all common features when you look at audio interfaces. These specs are common on most interfaces, but it’s worth knowing.

Sample Rate, Bit Depth & Dynamic Range

The sample rate is the number of audio samples being transmitted per second. This can be measured in Hz or kHz. As an example, the sample rate for the iD14 (MKII) is 96kHz.

Bit depth refers to the resolution of sound data stored in an audio file. The maximum bit depth/resolution for the iD14 MKII is 24 bits. This is a significant improvement over the past 16-bit standard bit resolution found on CDs. A bit depth of 24 and higher is better for a clearer sample and a more accurate representation of the source recording.

These specs don’t need to be overkill. It would be best if you aimed for 44.1kHz/24bit.

Dynamic range is the difference in the signal volume and signal that an audio interface can handle. This measurement is in decibels (dB). The higher the number, the better. The iD14 (MKII), for example, has a dynamic range that converts digital to analog at 126dB and digital to digital at 120dB.

Onboard Controls

An audio interface must have onboard controls. They are essential for audio interfaces. Without them, you would not be able to adjust the volume or gain of your monitors or headphones, and you would be unable to control the recording as it runs through the device.

Most audio interfaces have very few control options. There will be one to two gain knobs and Phantom power switches. Preamp toggle buttons are also available.

Basic controls are enough most of the time. You’re good to go if you know how to make basic adjustments.

Some interfaces have more advanced controls. Audio interfaces with more sophisticated controls are not just another paperweight to plug your gear into but a tool you can use as well.

The iD14 MKII is an audio interface that expands onboard control options. There are two Phantom power switches and the standard rotary gain control knobs. Speaker and headphone toggle buttons can also be found.

The Advanced Monitor Control/volume knob and the iD toggle buttons are two controls that go beyond the norm. Let’s take a look at these controls.

The ScrollControl feature activates when you press the iD button. It transforms the hardware volume knob into a virtual scroll wheel. You can map it to any number of compatible software parameters. You can use it to adjust the frequency of a filter or your EQ. There are many options!

ScrollControl is not the only option. The iD button can be used for various monitoring features, including CUT, Polarity Reverse, and TalkBack.

These advanced features give you complete control over your studio. While basic interfaces are fine with basic controls, more options will improve your studio workflow.

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FAQ

How Do You Plan To Use An Audio Interface?

This question can be answered by determining what type of producer you are and what producer you want to become. A two-part list is a good idea. First, list your immediate needs. Second, list your future goals. You can eliminate any audio interface options that do not meet your criteria.

How Many Simultaneous Inputs/Outputs Do You Need?

If you are unsure what I/O counts, you should look for it. You can refer to the rule of thumb: Always give yourself more I/O than you think you will need. This will ensure that you don’t limit yourself.

What Connection Formats Does Your Computer Have?

This will drastically reduce the number of audio interfaces available to you. You should have Thunderbolt 3 or 4 and USB-C available. If you don’t have any other options, USB 3.0, 2.0, and 1.1 are good choices for fallback.

Conclusion

If you’re a musician or producer, then you know that having a good audio interface is essential. But with so many different options on the market, it can be hard to know which one to choose. In this article, we’ll give a few reasons why you should consider an audio interface for your next purchase. Thanks for reading.

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