5 Steps to Choosing the Perfect Audio Interface

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Vocal performers of all types use audio interfaces to ensure quality recordings, whether it’s Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell creating a hit album in their home studio or the ladies of the “Wine & Crime” podcast speaking in hilariously hyperbolic Minnesotan accents in their latest episode. Here’s a breakdown of how to choose the best interface for you.

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What is an audio interface?

This device functions as a bridge between your audio sources and computer or recording setup. The interface takes analog sound signals from microphones and instruments, then translates them into digital data that a computer can process. 

What are the benefits of using an audio interface?

Ensures compatibility: Using this type of device allows you to easily integrate audio input with your recording software of choice. You’ll also be able to input and output a variety of audio sources from your computer.

Strengthens signal quality: Many interfaces have a built-in preamp—an electronic amplifier that increases the gain on a weak signal to reduce excess noise. Preamps make audio more robust and enhance overall listenability.

Routes and monitors signals: If you want to send audio to different outputs, such as podcasting headphones or speakers, or monitor a mix in real time, these devices will allow you to do that.

Steps to choosing the right audio interface for you

Audio interface

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1. Decide on a budget.

Since prices vary greatly, how much money you’re willing to spend is likely going to be the biggest point of consideration. If you’re just getting started in the recording realm, an entry-level interface tends to cost between $100 and $200. If you’re a budding singer or voice actor, consider a midrange device ($300–$500). Professional-grade interfaces usually cost $500 and up. 

“Everything’s compromised when you go cheap, and everything’s optimized when you go expensive,” says audio producer and voice actor Jamie Muffett, who produces our very own In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast. He adds that there’s no point in spending a lot of money on an interface if your mic is lower quality, since “you’re only going to get so good a sound.” 

2. Consider your specific recording needs.

  • Preamp and gain control: These alter the input level of an audio signal; they help reduce the audio created by other electronics and convert analog to digital at the optimal level for processing.  
  • Portability: If you travel a lot, you might want to choose a USB interface that you can take on the road. “It gets all the power down the USB cable rather than having a separate power supply,” Muffett says. This means you’ll be able to record in less convenient locations, like a car or hotel room. If you have a solid home studio setup, however, consider buying a larger interface with more options.
  • Inputs and outputs: These bring the audio in and out of the interface using different types of electrical connectors, such as XLR, 1/4, S/PDIF, and ADAT. While you don’t need to understand the ins and outs of input and output to choose the right interface, it’s important to make sure that they work with your specific devices. For example, a 1/4 connects directly to a powered studio monitor, while an XLR connects an XLR mic to a computer. 

If you plan to record multiple sources simultaneously or require separate connections for your headphones and monitor, you’ll need an interface with more inputs and outputs; it’s all about your current setup and plans for expansion. 

For those just getting started, Muffett recommends getting an interface with at least two inputs and outputs so that you have backups in case something goes wrong on your circuit board.

  • Audio quality: Generally, the higher the resolution the interface supports, the better; 24-bit is the industry standard. Devices that are designed to record music tend to “have more of a characterful quality,” Muffett says. For voiceover, however, you’ll want to capture audio that’s “super clean and super clear.” 
  • Connectivity: The main types of audio interface connectivity options are USB, Thunderbolt, and FireWire. You’ll find USB (3.0, 2.0, and 1.1) connectivity on most devices. True to its name, Thunderbolt is faster than USB. According to the gear experts at Sweetwater, Thunderbolt supports “speeds up to 40 gigabits per second and cable lengths of up to 100 meters.” Though FireWire transfers data more consistently than USB, you need a Mac or a “purpose-built” PC to run it. 
  • Compatibility: Are you a Windows wizard, a macOS maestro, or a Linux pro? No matter your operating system, it’s vital to choose a device that’s compatible with it and with your recording software.
  • Features: Consider extras you may need, such as: 
  • Phantom power: Although it seems like this would be used to create spooky sounds, phantom power (+48V) is the process of sending direct current power to certain microphones. It’s needed for some condenser and ribbon microphones. 
  • Loopback: This feature lets you feed computer output back into the audio interface.
  • Digital signal processing: DSP lets you add effects and equalization to audio in real time.
  • Additional audio oddities: Some interfaces come equipped with effects plug-ins, digital instruments, and software bundles for your recording convenience.

3. Do your research.

Read reviews on sites like BestReviews.guide, MusicRadar, Gearspace, and even Amazon, and ask fellow vocal performers for recommendations.

4. Test out various interfaces.

If possible, see if you can take the audio interfaces you’re considering for a spin. Keep an ear out for audio quality, as well as logistical concerns like compatibility and how intuitive a device is to use. 

5. Look ahead.

Consider whether your interface of choice allows for future expansion; making a bigger investment now will likely save you time and money in the long run.

The best audio interfaces for each price point

Audio interface

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  • Low-range: PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 ($99.99)
    This interface gives you solid bang for your buck, particularly when it comes to compatibility with various recording software. Since it features USB connectivity and two inputs, the AudioBox is a great choice for beginner VO artists.
  • Midrange: Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 ($499.99)
    The Scarlett 18i20 boasts eight inputs and 10 outputs, an easy-to-use Air mode to add audio dimension and depth, and multiple options for expansion.
  • High-range: Apollo Twin X (starting at $999.99)
    Although the price is steep, the Apollo Twin X is one of the best in the biz for voice actors. Muffett uses it for his own voice acting work; he likes that the Apollo “has the ability to do a bit of processing on your voice before it gets to your computer.” The desktop interface has Thunderbolt connectivity, 10 inputs and six outputs, two preamps, plenty of bells and whistles, and multiple options for building out your setup.