Computers have many different ways you can connect an audio interface and get to recording. However, each interface typically has only one kind of connection to connect to your computer. The most common connections are USB, Firewire and Thunderbolt. There are others such as optical (also known as lightpipe) and Ethernet. Once you have a computer, examine it to see what kind of connection will be best suited for your interface.
Speed also plays an important role. USB 3.0 is quicker than USB 2 and Firewire. However, Thunderbolt is much fast than all three. Your connections determine your digital transfer speed, so this is very important.
#2. How many microphone inputs (preamps) and line inputs does it have?
Nearly every interface has microphone preamplifiers. This particular unit, the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, has 8-preamps, 2 in front and the other 6 on the back. Because these XLR jacks are combined plugs, that means you can plug in any combination of up to 8 microphones and instruments directly into the rack unit! There is also a port to connect to any MIDI device to use as a software instrument controller. Next to the MIDI ports is a S/PDIF input allowing for two channels of digital input from a preamp, converter, etc.
#3. How "future-proof" is it?
The best way to future-proof yourself when selecting an interface is choosing one with great expandability. If you plan on recording your band at some point, or want to have guests on your podcast, then it is crucial to have as many preamps as you think you will need in the future.
Another means of expandability are optical ports. In the photo above, you can see next to the monitor outputs two square-shaped ports labeled, "Optical." To use these, you will need extra preamps and converters (or a combo unit like an Octopre). At a sample rate of 44.1k, that's 8 extra channels to your interface with one optical cable!
#4. Do I need to be mobile, or do I want a dedicated studio area?
I am a sucker for rack mounted gear, but I also have a portable interface that connects to my laptop. If you plan on moving at all when you are doing recordings, lugging around a heavy piece of rack gear is not always ideal. If a studio area is the plan, then it is a great idea to invest in a rack mounted 8 channel interface, as well as an inexpensive mobile interface in order to record/sample audio in other places from one or two channels. Obviously, it is not necessary, but it can really widen your options.
If you plan on strictly being mobile, then it is wise to find a small interface with 4 preamps like the MOTU 4pre pictured above. This ties into expandability. You never know what you may need to record in the future, so it's always better to have the available channels.
#5. What's included?
Often times, new interfaces include software such as plug-ins, a digital audio workstation (DAW) and/or virtual instruments. These are incentives to purchase new products and they are well worth it. Some included software bundles are worth almost $300!
It is very important to distinguish what software you will use to record with and what comes with your new interface. Every PreSonus interface comes with a free copy of Studio One Artist. In our opinion this is the most intuitive and user-friendly DAW on the market, and more and more people are using it both project and professional studios.
Many interfaces include some kind of software, and sometimes hardware. It is definitely worth knowing what you need and what interfaces offer.
#6. What's my budget?
It is very important to know what you can spend on an interface. If you don't, there is a higher chance you will be recommended the wrong product. Know your wallet and you will have a much easier time shopping for the heart of your studio.
#7 . How does it sound???
The most fundamental question you need to ask yourself is what kind of quality you are going for. With most items, the more you spend, the better quality you will receive.
Are you going for demo quality to get your band out of the basement? Are you looking for an interface to record your podcast with? Are you looking for a Pro Tools HD rig with all the bells and whistles? Know what your end goal is and start here.
As always, enjoy FREE shipping on every order in the continental US. If you need help with gear shopping, tech support, or a deal, give us a call at 855-269-0474, or stop in our store at 601 W. College Avenue in Appleton!
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