USB interfaces transform analog signals into digital data and vice versa, so you can record audio and play it back through speakers or headphones. And we can't stress this enough: quality playback ("monitoring" to us studio rats) is essential. After all, if you can't hear it, you can't make it sound good! You may be thinking, "My computer's built-in sound card does all that - why do I need an audio interface?" Well, turtles have legs, but they make poor long-distance runners. In other words, onboard sound cards won't provide the results you want. Not only do they deliver subpar sound quality, but they're also not designed for professional audio applications. USB audio interfaces have the right connectors for your microphones and instruments, and they eliminate the distracting time gap between when you record a sound and when you actually hear it (called latency).
How are you going to use your interface? If you're a singer/songwriter recording yourself, a couple of inputs will suffice - one for your microphone and one for your guitar or keyboard. If you're tracking entire bands, you'll need inputs to accommodate all the musicians. Are you going to use condenser microphones? You'll need onboard mic preamps with phantom power. Guitarists will need instrument inputs if they want to record directly to the computer (essential for amp modeling software). To get the most out of outboard gear like compressors, reverb, and multi-effects, you'll need lots of line-level analog inputs and outputs. And if you're recording a huge ensemble, many interfaces are expandable via digital inputs and outputs.
Where do you plan to use your USB audio interface? At Sweetwater, we design everything from modest home studios to large-scale high-end production facilities. A small desktop interface is ideal for recording yourself at home on a laptop. But if you're recording bands in a larger studio, you'll appreciate the convenience of a rackmount interface. Mobile recordists will benefit from portable interfaces that run on USB bus power. Simply plug the interface into your laptop's USB port - that's all the power you need! And you can enjoy peace of mind when you take your audio interface into the field, thanks to Sweetwater's FREE 2-year warranty.
When you're researching audio interfaces, you'll run across specs for bit depth and sample rate. These refer to the resolution of audio that your interface captures. For pro-quality recording, you'll want an interface that can handle 24-bit audio - any less than that and the quieter sections of your recordings will sound noisy.
Sample rates typically run from 44.1kHz to 192kHz, and 44.1kHz can reproduce all frequencies within the range of human hearing. Curious whether you need a higher sample rate? Ask us! Sweetwater started as a recording studio in 1979, and recording is still at the core of what we do. Our world-class on-site studio is loaded with some of the finest gear on the planet, and our engineers have decades of experience. Whatever your musical needs are, chances are that we've been there and done that - we'd love to share our knowledge with you.
Still have questions? Our Sales Engineers receive extensive training on every facet of recording technology, and they know their stuff. If you're having trouble navigating the audio interface jungle, give us a call. We're happy to help. Learn More
Sweetwater's Sales Engineers are regarded as the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the music industry, with extensive music backgrounds and intense training on the latest products and technologies. They are available to offer you personalized product advice any time you need it.