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Picking the right studio interface could be a challenge because of the many options available out there. In the past, it was a lot simpler, as the possibilities were limited. While quality has improved today, so has the complexity of choosing the right audio interface.
Knowing what to look for in an audio interface depends entirely on your specific preferences and anticipated activities. There isn’t a universal answer, but a few guidelines can be relied on when trying to make up your mind.
Do you need an interface for recording and if so, what audio sources will you be relying on? If you’re frequently dealing with analog equipment, you will need an interface that offers XLR and 1/4" TS inputs. For digital recording equipment, you will require AES/EBU, MADi, ADAT optical or S/PDIF inputs.
The situation is a bit different for audio interfaces that will mostly be used for mixing. ITB mixing necessitates merely a couple of outputs. The use of analog gear, however, will require the availability of at least eight types of outputs.
If you are a novice, you will face some problems the first time you try to decode the technical specs of audio interfaces. This is why you may want to acquaint yourself with some of the essentials in advance.
Bit depth is the first essential when it comes to audio processing. The term refers to the number of bits of information in a sample. A 24-bit audio interface is considered the professional standard in the industry. Anything lower will make it more difficult to process audio smoothly.
Another term is sample rate. While bit depth determination follows a certain logic, sample rate selection is somewhat more subjective. The standard for CDs is 44.1kHz. This means that 44,100 digital pictures are taken of the incoming audio every second. Such a sampling rate is the logical choice for an array of audio materials because theoretically, it is sufficient for reproducing frequencies reaching the upper range of human hearing.
Will You Need Extras?
Extras are sometimes considered features of lower priority than the primary technical specs, but they can simplify audio processing.
Bass management, physical modeling, and additional effects come with many types of audio interfaces on the market today. Such extras are ideal for professionals who are running low on computer CPU power and would like to do some of the processing through another piece of equipment.
Zero latency monitoring features are also found on various interfaces and can be used to overcome irritating delays. The latency of computer buffers is an issue for many audio professionals, and it can be bypassed through such an extra.
Compression, reverb, and EQ are a couple of additional extras. These are found very useful by vocalists and acoustic performers. Physical-modelling preamps appeal highly to guitarists. Once again, the intended use is very important!
A Few Additional Considerations
You may want to look for audio interfaces that come with integrated software controls for DCP mixing. Such a characteristic, while far from vital can come in handy.
Performing artists may also want to focus on the mobility of the interface. There are many types of large, stationary audio interfaces. Obviously, these will not be suitable for the individuals interested in something lightweight and portable.
Finally, remember that the audio interface doesn’t work in isolation. Many additional factors can influence audio outcome. Buying decisions have to be made in the context of these factors, thinking about all of the tools that will be required for the production of optimal sound.