How to choose your first Audio Interface? | Guide

Hey guys, worried about buying your first Audio Interface? I am Maslin, music producer and a keyboardist . When I started to look for a midi keyboard it was because my PC couldn’t handle ableton and it crashed. That’s when i learnt Oh ,you need an audio interface because your system sound card is not build for Music Production.

Here are some steps to choose your first audio interface, 

  • Your budget
  • I/O requirements 
  • Direct monitoring 
  • Design
  • Exclusive software’s


Before we talk about these five steps let’s actually decode what an audio interface is, if you are a complete beginner.Audio interface is nothing but a sound card that convert analog signal to digital signal and vice versa.now your question would be, 


Why should I need an additional sound card when my laptop/computer already has one built in? 


The reason is your computer sound card is not built for handling heavy loads that music production software’s throws at them. 


They are actually built to play YouTube videos and small audio works. 
Now getting this out of the way if you just wanna know my answer of what I recommend, For a complete beginner I recommend focuriste 2i2


If you really wanna see the Specifications and look at how each to actually choose an audio interface let’s get into it. 


1.your budget 

This plays a very important role in choosing your first audio interface because of two reasons.    

  • 1.if you are really getting started you won’t have enough money to invest into a 100$ .    
  • 2.you don’t want to. Invest in something that won’t give you a proper value in return. 


If you don’t have money right now , don’t feel bad I was in your shoes once as well. I am going to give you a cheaper alternative on which I got started without compromising any functions. 


When we look at the budget for a beginner all of these audio interfaces come around 100$ . But if you are really trying to invest money into music production I will Be giving you some alternatives that are in the high quality but also a little bit expensive as well. 


So the range at which the price of an audio interface starts is at about 70$ . For a beginner I will never recommend you to get an audio interface that is above 150$ if you are not doing music production as a full time business.


So now fix your budget!!! 
Is it 70$ ? Is it 100$ ? 
Just keep the number in mind. 


2. Input/output requirements.  

        So this is going to be a major deciding factor for most of you guys. I will explain why, 


  • If you have two guitars, one condenser microphone and you want to record with them using an audio interface, then you need 3 inputs two for guitars and one for the condenser microphone. 

  • But the problem here is that 100$ budget audio interfaces doesn’t come with three inputs, they only have two inputs. If you really need three inputs you should be looking at a higher budget audio interfaces. 


Now let’s talk about the output configuration. 

Usually all 100$ budget audio interfaces come with two outputs. If you need more you should be looking at higher budget audio interfaces. 


These input/output specs will make a lot of sense to you if you play live. You cannot settle for audio. Interface that just has only one input or one output. 
The other reason you might have to look into this is because the audio interface might have only one condenser microphone with phantom power, but might need more. 


So make sure you know exactly how many inputs and outputs you need in your audio interface. 


So made your mind already? 
Let’s look at the next step  !! 


3.Direct monitoring


The not much talked about function but plays a huge role in your convenience of using an audio interface. 

so what the heck is direct monitoring ??

Direct monitoring allows a music producer to listen to the input signal thats been given to the interface with near zero latency. It takes the input signal from the interface and sends it straight to the headphone and line outputs on the device.

The signal will also be sent to your Digital audio workstation software allowing the input to be recorded at the same time. If, when recording, you find that there is latency or “delay” on the signal you are monitoring, you should switch on the direct monitoring on the interface and then mute the audio track that you are recording to.

most of these audio interfaces in the 100$ price range comes with these functionalities,But you should be careful to check whether they have this functionality or not.

Does Direct monitoring make a huge impact in music production capability?

Not much but its an amazing feature to have so that you can raise the quality of your recordings.

so got it sorted out? lets move on to the next one.

4.Design

Oh Yeah, I love to talk about design .Having an engineering degree, whenever i see some good freak-in designs,my heart is just attracted to it.

why should you be concerned about the design?

because of the following reasons:

its going to impact whether you can travel with it or not

Its going to How aesthetically pleasing it is to your eyes to inspire you to create music day in and day out.

Its going to be a big factor in how it sits with the rest of the gear in your desk.

5.exclusive software’s:       

     This is another aspect of buying an audio interface that literally no one talks about. 

Do you know that whenever you buy an audio interface you will get exclusive software instruments and samples for free!! 

If you don’t listen carefully!! 
Let’s take an example,    

  If Apple sells audio interfaces, the only way for them to make you buy more of their products is to give something for free that will only work with their own products. 

This is also done by audio interface companies over the years. They give part of their software’s and some versions of their software’s for free!!         

Some come with overboard software’s some come with basic samples to get started. 

For some of you this might be the tie breaker. As I am going to list my recommendations below, I will also include which software’s they come with and what you can do with them. 


We are going to look at 5 interfaces in the 100$ budget that I recommend. Let’s make them go head to head. Look at the prices and the value they offer. 


Make your choice!!! 


100$ audio interfaces 


Zoom U-22

 When I started music production I had no money to spend on these audio interfaces that were expensive. I started to look for audio interfaces that are cheap and at the same time provide tons of value. That’s when I stumbled across zoom u-22. It was 65$ , my first emotion was happiness. At the same time I was worried whether it would be good to use or not. I thought maybe I should wait and buy later when I have 100$ . I couldn’t save more so I had to buy a Zoom-u22

zoom-u22
Zoom U-22


I have no words to express how useful it was. If I hadn’t made that purchase I would never be here. It took all the load I have thrown at it. This thing just works like a beast. 
If you are a beginner but have no money on your hands. Man don’t look around go with Zoom-u22. 

Let’s look at its specs :

  • The U-22 can be bus-powered via USB ,its compact form factor makes every difference.
  • Has a low noise preAmp – with less than -120 dBu EIN,
  • playback at resolutions up to 24-bit/96 kHz.
  • comes with Ableton Live 9 Lite,Steinberg Cubasis LE
check its price in zzsounds 

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

Focusrite scarlett 2i2


The one heck of beast who can be thrown around, dropped and has a beautiful red body is scarlett 2i2 from focusrite. 


Out of all these audio interfaces in the 100$ range , this is the robust audio interface in terms of build. Quality and working capability. I have not seen any audio interface stand up to this in the 100$ mark. It’s the most sold audio interface as well. You will also notice that this audio interface comes with a hefty load of plugins and free softwares tools that increases its value even more. 


Let’s look at its specs:

Frequency Response20Hz – 20kHz ± 0.1dB

SUPPORTED SAMPLE RATES 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz.

tools you get :

vid® Pro Tools® | First Focusrite Creative Pack: hundreds of virtual instrument sounds, 500MB of loops, and great-sounding effects

Ableton® Live Lite™: industry-leading music-making software

Three Month Splice Sounds Subscription: Get access to millions of high-quality, royalty-free one-shots, loops, and presets, with new releases daily

XLN Audio Addictive Keys: Access one of four virtual keyboards when you register your first piece of Focusrite or Novation hardware.

Softube Time and Tone Bundle: three of Softube’s world class reverb, delay and distortion plug-ins, and an an easy-to-use mastering tool

Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite: accurately models our classic Red 2 equaliser and Red 3 compressor

Focusrite Plug-in Collective: receive free versions of the most innovative software, as well as benefiting from discounts.

that’s a big list.

check its price in zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)


komplete Audio 1


This audio interface is the sophisticated looking interface ever in this lineup of 100$ interfaces. 


It’s made by Native instruments and it comes with a bunch of awesome plugins that are of premium quality. Buying something from native instruments is like buying from Apple the reason is because of how integrated their software instruments are with their hardware products. 

its about 110$ .it has a upgrade to komplete audio 2 which is 130$ lets look at the differences.

comparison between komplete audio 1 & 2

lets look at what software’s come along with this,

  • MONARK
  • Summon the spirit of an analog legend to your tracks. MONARK captures the holy grail of synths – adding analog warmth to any track.
  • 3 STUDIO-GRADE FX
  • Powerful delay REPLIKA, creative phaser PHASIS, and punchy compressor SOLID BUS COMP for sculpting your sounds.
  • MASCHINE ESSENTIALS
  • Get ideas down with MASCHINE Essentials – a powerful groovebox packed with instruments, effects, and sounds for building tracks.
  • ABLETON LIVE 10 LITE
  • A lightweight version of Ableton Live 10. It comes with all of Live’s essential workflows, instruments, and effects – everything you need to record songs.
  • KOMPLETE START
  • Explore a selection of synths, instruments, effects, and more, taken from the go-to production suite for artists and musicians: KOMPLETE.
  • SOUNDS.COM
  • Two months of free access to millions of samples and loops from top artists and leading sound creators – integrated with the MASCHINE software.
  • E-VOUCHER

Along with your new interface, you will get a $25.00 e-voucher to spend in the NI Online Shop.

check its price in zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

M Audio AIR 192 | 4       

    
The one audio interface that is bulky but also sleek in design with sharp lines and hard edges is M audio AIR 192|4 .

The dials and knobs are so premium it feels like a 1000$ product. One thing that I love about this audio interface is the awesome visual bars they have so that you can monitor your inputs properly and make sure it’s not peaking. 
M audio has covered every aspect of audio engineering. If you are interested in M audio you should check their other audio hardware as well. 

lets look at its features,

  • Pro Tools | First M-Audio Edition features Unlimited Busses, Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch, Offline Bounce, and 1 GB of free cloud storage space.
  • The AIR Creative FX Collection features 20 effects that are used by some of the world’s most respected audio professionals. 
  • The AVID Effects Collection can shape your sound, warm up your tone, and give your recordings greater presence with EQ and precise dynamic adjustment.
    Boom features a slick modern interface that pays homage to the most popular vintage drum machines of the past. 
  • Vacuum Classic is a monophonic vintage synthesizer featuring Vacuum Tube Synthesis with vacuum tube circuit modeling that perfectly captures the crunchy, warm sound of the analog era. 
  • AIR Music’s Mini Grand is a simple-to-use yet powerful virtual piano instrument with seven different acoustic piano sounds to suit a broad range of musical styles and production needs.
  • AIR Music’s Xpand!2 is a multitimbral workstation offering four active sound slots, or parts, per patch.
  • Ableton Live Lite is one of the most popular performances and production programs available in the world.
  • Chop up and mix 2 gigs of samples ranging from deep ambient synth pad loops to vintage drum one-shots. 
check its price in zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

Let’s look at the premium interfaces. 


If you are looking for a premium interface for your home studio or any travel studio works. 


Look no further than

Apollo twin X


The price is around 900$ 


Is it worth the investment?
Yes it is. It’s worth every penny you spend on it. 


Does it significantly boost audio quality? 
Heck yes it does provide a major difference in audio quality. 


The major convincing factor for me was the plugins that came along with it. UAD is the company that makes Apollo twin x they have amazing plugins for vocals and other mixing mastering work. 

lets look at what we get with it,

  • Record and mix with elite-class A/D and D/A conversion — with the widest dynamic range and lowest noise of any desktop interface
  • Two Unison-enabled preamps — track with near-zero latency through preamp emulations from Helios, Neve, API, Manley, and more*
  • Onboard UAD processing lets you track and mix in realtime with included Teletronix LA‑2A and 1176 compressors, Pultec EQs, 610‑B Tube Preamp, and more
  • Includes LUNA Recording System — a fully-integrated and inspiring music production application
check its price in zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

Conclution:

doesn’t matter which audio interface you choose.the only thing that matters is your journey of music production.Putting in the hustle and hard-work will give you more satisfaction than having a fancy gear.

here are some pointers for picking your audio interface

  • 1,stay true to your budget
  • 2.Don’t wander because something looks sleek.
  • 3.Make sure it provides enough value.
  • 4.Make sure your long term goals align with the audio interface if you are purchasing apollo twin x .(its expensive _)

Check my article on How to produce music at home? and how much music producers make? if you are beginner it would give you some insights on these topics.

here is my article on how to choose your first midi keyboard as well.

If you are starting in music production here are my two golden mantras

DONT STRESS YOURSELF ON SOMETHING!!

WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE!!

REST WILL FOLLOW!!