Audio Interface vs. Sound Card: What Do You Need?


Professional musicians possible are already accustomed to the distinction in an audio interface and a sound card, however recently the traces have been blurred as an increasing number of pc sound add-ons tackle an exterior kind issue and connect by way of USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and even PCIe. So how can we distinguish what’s an audio interface vs a sound card?

The largest distinction and the function that defines an audio interface is all of them are designed to deliver audio into the pc whereas typical sound playing cards are designed to ship audio out of the pc to audio system or headphones. The key phrase in that earlier sentence is designed. Sure most sound playing cards immediately have some capability to deliver audio right into a PC and likewise most audio interfaces have the flexibility to transform digital audio for playback, however typically the enter aspect of sound playing cards is an afterthought and it nearly by no means has the options we discover on even essentially the most rudimentary audio interfaces.

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One of the options nearly common on Audio interfaces and nearly by no means discovered on sound playing cards is 48V phantom energy. Most generally,  microphones use an XLR connection to the mixer or downstream gear and depend on that downstream part to supply energy to the microphone. This allowed makers to construct condenser microphones and never have to fret about batteries dying or being overly cumbersome. As a aspect notice, the ability could be carried over the identical wires as sign since energy is DC and sign is AC and the 2 are separated once they attain the interface or mixer. Early USB microphones usually sucked so most severe performers wanted a method to make use of their skilled microphone with the pc. The audio interface gives that by providing a minimum of one enter with 48v phantom energy obtainable to be used with microphones. These mic inpurts additionally often have adjustable achieve as condenser microphones, dynamic microphones, and ribbon  microphones differ fairly dramatically in output degree so not all of them want the identical achieve.

As a aspect notice, most ribbon microphones don’t require, and may keep away from phantom energy. Be sure of the specs earlier than connecting a ribbon mic to an audio interface. Supplying 48V to a microphone that doesn’t want it might harm the microphone or interface. 

Conversely most devices do have very comparable outputs with guitars, keyboards, and bass guitars all having roughly the identical output degree. Audio interfaces account for this by providing line-in connections along with the mic-in connections. Line-in connections are sometimes ¼ inch TRS model or hybrid XLR/TRS model. Professional audio interfaces typically permit as many as 64 microphones and devices concurrently, however essentially the most fundamental fashions usually sport a minimum of two inputs, one for mic and one other for line by which helps differentiate them from most sound-cards.

Sound high quality is one other distinction and this will likely shock some because it looks like it will be universally necessary however right here once more sound playing cards place emphasis on which path the sound is touring. Audio interfaces place a whole lot of emphasis on the analog to digital conversion as music and video manufacturing calls for prime quality inputs, conversely, audio enter by way of a sound-card has been minimal and chat targeted so analog to digital circuits have been fairly rudimentary. Most small audio interfaces assist both 16/48kHz or 24/96kHz analog to digital conversion. As worth tags go up, so do capabilities with high-end fashions supporting 32/384kHz and better.     

The different key to good audio interfaces is latency. If you’ve used a pc sound system for chat features in video games you might have seen that your voice appears to echo again to you as your hear your individual head-voice first then moments later you hear the voice within the headphone. This was a hurdle nearly all new radio on-air personalities confronted as there was a definite delay between talking and the suggestions that reached the ear and till you’ve gotten skilled it, you don’t understand how a lot we depend on that suggestions throughout talking. Today the higher interfaces are able to echoing the vocals and music again to the performer in real-time (or extra appropriately with micro-second delays) so the problems we used to see are enormously decreased or eradicated.  Here once more,  most small interfaces deal with one or two voices or devices pretty properly, however because the variety of voices grows, so does the necessity for extra superior processors greater value fashions. Some cheap fashions go the whole lot alongside to the PC and rely closely on the PC’s processor to do any wanted work. More costly fashions introduce the flexibility to do EQ, DSP, and different superior features on board the interface thus releasing up the PC to carry out different duties.

So that’s it in a nutshell, an audio interface is the easiest way to get audio into your pc. Do you want one?  If you file podcasts, movies, gaming periods, or have a house studio the reply is sure. Which one do you want? Consider variety of inputs for mics and devices, phantom energy necessities, processing energy and latency, sound high quality, and finances in making that call.

Related Reading: WTF is a DAC?

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