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2017 Music Making Starter Kit – Audio Interfaces

Are you new to music making and feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of information on gear? Here’s the short version, curated by industry professionals!

This series of articles will feature everything you’ll need to get started and not waste money on shady devices that will break at first contact (unless you’re reaaaally unlucky). I’m presuming you have a PC, laptop, either Mac or Windows. The gear list doesn’t change depending on these.

Table of contents:

  1. Audio Interfaces (today’s special)
  2. Monitors
  3. Headphones
  4. Microphones
  5. Synthesizers
  6. Various

1. Audio Interfaces

I can hear it across the web: “but I’ve got an integrated sound card, why do I need to buy something else?”

Short story: way better quality than any integrated sound card, handles microphones, speakers and gear.
Long story:

  1. Play (your) music at high quality and without latency. This is not just an audiophile gimmick. Without going into the technical details, you should know that the integrated sound cards have an innate problem: they pickup electrical noise from inside the computer. Also, the dedicated drivers for the external, dedicated sound cards offer better optimization and less latency than the integrated ones.
  2. Record anything with a mic (acoustic instruments, percussion), from a hardware music instrument (synthesizers, drum racks), from vinyl player, cassette player you NEED a dedicated sound card with as many inputs as necessary dedicated for such devices. Microphones need preamplification which can only come from audio interfaces and preamps. Whenever you hear of “Phantom Power” or “48v”, then that device can record microphones that need power, which is most of the good ones.
  3. Listen to music on dedicated studio speakers (referred to as monitors – but not to be mistaken with screens, Led Monitors!). These speakers need a special kind of signal to be sent to them, either via RCA (the cheapest, noisiest option), Jack or XLR (professional quality).
  4. Change the volume of whatever your playback device is on the fly. Having a dedicated knob for volume is not just a gimmick, you’ll be twisting and turning it a lot while recording and making music. Plus, one wrong click in the system volume slider and you’ll neighbors will get a glimpse of your new techno track at full volume.

Best value: Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Generation) (PC and MAC) 

  • Great package all around, robust metallic enclosure, stable drivers
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs, 4 outputs – 2 TRS outs for monitoring, 4 RCA outs (2 x stereo) useful for DJs connecting to a Mixer, 1 headphone out selectable between output 1-2 or 3-4 (also useful for DJs)
  • Direct monitoring/no latency recording button – you hear what you’re recording, not what’s coming back from the computer
  • Midi In and Out useful for connecting external Synthesizers


Medium: Audient iD14 (PC and MAC)

  • Better sound quality all around comparing to the Scarlett 2i4.
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs, 2 TRS outs for monitoring, 1 headphone out.
  • No Midi inputs or outputs means you’ll need other devices to connect your external synthesizers. There’s plenty of value choices, I recommend the M-audio USB Midisport Uno. Works out of the box for both PC and MAC.
  • Optical ADAT ( S/PDIF ) – you can have up to 8 more inputs if you link up something like the Behringer ADA8000 – useful for bands who need to record drums or simply more instruments simultaneously.

High End: Universal Audio Twin (PC and MAC)

  • Requires Thunderbolt Interface! Most newer Macs come with it but Windows users need to search for Thunderbolt Motherboards
  • Top notch quality all around! It’s what the pros use. The more expensive audio interfaces from Universal Audio simply add to the inputs and outputs.
  • Also missing Midi for connecting external synthesizers but there’s an easy fix: M-audio USB Midisport Uno for both Mac and Windows.
  • Has integrated DSP CPU to process Universal Audio’s line of very fine plugins which won’t use up your CPU!
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs with Unison Technology – can simulate other preamps, like the Neve 1073 or the LA 610.
  • 6 outputs – 4 TRS, 1 headphone out with independent mix bus
  • Like the Audient, the Twin has an Optical ADAT ( S/PDIF ) input – you can have up to 8 more inputs if you link up something like the Behringer ADA8000 – useful for bands who need to record drums or simply more instruments simultaneously.

Honorable mention: Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Generation) (PC and MAC) – This is Amazon’s (and probably worldwide) bestseller. The only reason I’m not recommending it is because of the 2 RCA outputs for monitoring. No serious monitor will accept RCA input. You’ll eventually get some proper speakers (sooner rather than later) and you don’t want your audio interface to be holding you back. It’s also missing Midi. Bulletproof your future by investing a little more in the Scarlett 2i4, it’s worth it!

 

Stay tuned for the next article in the series, we’ll be looking at studio monitors!

Victor M

 

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