Last week’s installment covered a lot of ground, but we made it through without eating each other, so we’re already leagues ahead of the Donner Party (insert leg-up pun here). This week, we’re going to help you decide which audio interface will best compliment that microphone you know so much about now.
What does an audio interface do?
First off, let me apologize for my gross oversimplification of what an audio interface does when we first talked about them. We were different people then, and I think it’s time I give you the entire truth. Audio interfaces do in fact allow you to connect multiple audio sources to your computer simultaneously. That is true. It’s also only one of many wonderful purposes an audio interface serves. Really, an audio interface has a massive effect on not only the quality of audio streaming into your computer, but also on how well you hear sounds being played back. This is due to a handy-dandy couple of features called A/D and D/A converters. A/D converters are analog to digital converters, which means they are transforming the analog sound from your microphone into ones and zeros for your computer. D/A converters are digital to analog, which means they are turning those ones and zeros back into analog audio in order to create sound with your headphones and studio monitors. Better converters make for a more natural and honest reproduction of the sound.
The other component with massive importance is the microphone preamp. The signal coming from your microphone needs a significant amount of boost, or gain, in order to be of much use. This is the job of the preamp, and it’s an important one. Microphone preamps have every bit as much effect on your sound as the microphone itself. Entry level preamps tend to generate a significant amount of noise, which sounds like a sort of static lying underneath your source. Have you ever heard a podcast with a slight, yet persistent hiss underneath the rest of the audio? That’s called self-noise, and cheaper preamps make a lot more of it. This is the reason so many podcasters use Cloudlifters with their SM7B: their microphone preamps aren’t up to the task.
Everything I just listed above has 2 microphone inputs, which is great for recording one-on-one podcast interviews, guitars, pianos, or small choral/string ensembles. If your podcast includes more participants than that, or maybe you’re looking to record drums—what then? Most audio interface manufacturers will produce the same interface with additional microphone inputs, typically up to 8. Need more than 8? It’s possible with Thunderbolt enabled interfaces, because you can link multiple units together for additional microphone inputs.
If a professional sound is what you’re going for with your music or podcasts, skip the USB mics, and check out our selection of audio interfaces in store or online.