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We pick our top audio interfaces, from small, affordable models aimed at beginners through to feature-laden pro choices.
As a producer, if you want to get sounds in and out of your computer, you probably need an audio interface. Audio interfaces (sometimes still referred to as ‘sound cards’, a relic of the days when most interfaces took the form of internal expansion cards) are the devices that convert analogue audio signals to digital on the way into your computer, then convert the digital signals back into analogue on the way out. That means you can hook up things like synths, drum machines, microphones and effects units on the way in, or just connect your monitors on the way out.
Your computer probably has basic built-in audio capabilities (say, a line/microphone input and a headphone output), but the sound quality from most built-in options leaves a lot to be desired. Even if all you’re doing is monitoring on headphones or perhaps recording the odd track or two via the line inpu, tthe most basic portable audio interface will improve on the quality of most built-in interfaces.
Of course, each producer’s specific needs will determine what kind of interface to go for. Typically, the most important factor is the number of input channels. If you’re recording lots of instruments at the same time, you’ll need lots of input channels, and possibly lots of preamps as well as line inputs. But even if you only ever record one or two channels of audio at a time, you still have a lot of options. There are portable interfaces for use on the go, cheap options for those on a strict budget, and far more expensive alternatives that make no concessions to sound quality despite their limited feature set.
Like all of our Ten Of The Best features, these aren’t the only units we’d recommend, but these would be our starting points for exploring the options on the market.
As always in Ten Of The Best, our selections are listed in ascending order of price.