Gone were the days when recordings were only wrought in specialized recording studios. Nowadays, however, you can record your music even at your improvised home studio. You don’t need fancy equipment like the Neve VR60 multitrack mixing console. You also don’t need a huge mixing board with an octopus connection and huge speakers. You just need an audio interface or a digital mixer, computer, and good mics to engage in a good recording.
Recording music at home, of course, has become easier. This is due to the availability of recording software in the market today. The recording software is like a virtual mixing console that allows you to record and mix different tracks of audio signals.
Yet, before you can record on your computer, you need an audio interface or a digital mixer. This audio interface or digital mixer will convert analog signals into digital signals.
Why Do You Need to Convert Analog to Digital Signal?
You need to convert analog signals to digital signals before you can tinker with these signals using your computer. This is because computers can’t process analog signals. Computers, of course, work well with digital signals. Moreover, you would need an audio mixing software so that you can mix the audio inputs that you download into your computer.
So, first, you need to convert the analog signal from your microphone and instruments into digital signals. In this way, you can use your computer to process the converted digital signals.
In the past, recording studios operated huge audio mixing consoles that came with specialized software suites for mixing and manipulating sound. Yet, after the introduction of open-source platforms in the early years of this century, various types of audio mixing software have become available.
These different types of software have replaced the huge physical mixing consoles, synthesizers, multitrack recording equipment, effects unit, and samplers. But you would still need to use an audio interface or a digital mixer to convert analog to digital signals.
What is an Audio Interface?
An audio interface is that thing that you would be needing to get the sound that you are recording into your computer. You would need it to make the sound that you are recording workable on the computer. You can engage, of course, in basic recordings using any of your computer, tablet, or laptop. This is because these computers have a built-in soundcard. Yet, you can’t make good recordings if you would only rely on the sound card.
Audio interfaces, however, mostly don’t have any extended mixing functionality. Hence, you would still need to use software to mix and modify the audio signals. You should also use a good microphone to make a good recording. Moreover, if you want to further improve your recording, you should choose a better sound card or audio interface.
You would often see an audio interface that also functions as a MIDI interface. You can use this type of audio interface to sync and control the audio signals from your software to any compatible hardware instruments.
“Why not just use a USB microphone to connect it directly to the computer?” you would ask. Well, the answer is simple. The audio interface has a design that specifically addresses the need to transfer sounds from any audio source to the computer for recording or playback. Because it is specifically designed for that purpose, the audio interface keeps a high-quality transmission of sounds.
“Is the audio interface a sound card?” you may ask again. Well, the answer is “Yes” because it does both functions. The audio interface and the sound card both move sound in and out of your computer. With their help, you can edit and process sound by turning analog sound into a digital signal and vice versa. It is also good to note that majority of audio interfaces are also soundcards.
If your computer has an available USB adapter or ports, you can connect an audio interface. Yet, before you do that, you need to check the specs of your hardware to figure out if they are compatible.
Audio interfaces also come in different shapes and sizes. However, those with studio-quality are much bigger and can accommodate more inputs. Hence, before choosing an audio interface, you should carefully consider the most appropriate type for your recording.
If you are recording, for example, guitar and voice, you would need an audio interface that could accommodate two mic inputs along with two outputs. A podcaster, however, requires a mic input. Though if you would engage in an interview, you can go for two inputs.
Yet, if you want to record a band performance, you may be needing a mixer. You can’t, however, individually edit each sound if you would do that.
If you are a DJ, for example, you can go for an audio interface that comes with two stereo outputs or four mono outputs.
What is an Audio Mixer?
Many people confuse the audio interface with the mixer. Yet, mixers have different functions than those of the audio interface. Moreover, its functionality is more complicated than that of the audio interface. Audio mixers, of course, have many names. It is called a “mixing desk, mixing board, soundboard, or a mixing console.” It is an important piece of equipment in managing live event sound or recorded sound, though not many people, of course, understand the workings of an audio mixer.
You can use the audio mixer to manage sounds in a live performance. You can also use it to modify the audio signals coming from different instruments and microphones simultaneously. The audio signals all pass through the mixer. Then, the sounds that come out of the mixer is already clear and solidly mixed. So, if you did a proper mixing, you would not hear any specific sound that is overpowering the other sounds.
Mixers have also evolved over time. Nowadays, you will find mixers that come with USB or FireWire. This USB or FireWire is integrated into the mixer. Hence, you don’t need to avail of an audio interface to connect the mixer to the computer. Some mixers also come with integrated music production programs. These programs offer virtual mixing consoles without the hardware.
Some professional music producers, however, opt for standalone devices. In this way, they’ll have more inputs, better preamps, more effects, filters, and many more. Moreover, with standalone devices, they can manually adjust the mixing hardware for a more intuitive and accurate tweaking of each audio signal. Buying the different standalone devices, however, is more expensive. Yet, it is always a worthy investment.
What is Best for Home Recording: Audio Interface or Audio Mixer?
You may be confronted with the dilemma as to which between audio interface and audio mixer you are going to use for your home recording studio. Well, the obvious answer to this dilemma is that you don’t need a mixer for your home recording. Since the home recording setup is more straightforward, all you need to have is an audio interface to connect your audio signal source to your computer.
Well, you may say that your computer already has a soundcard so you may not be needing an audio interface.
Yet, the truth is, the computer’s soundcard may not be up to the job you want to achieve when recording. You will notice a lag or latency if you stick only to the use alone of the computer soundcard. Since computers are designed for multitasking, they are not equipped with specific inputs for recording vocals and instruments.
Hence, you will need an XLR cable for microphones and MIDI devices for recording. To input these devices, you need an external device attached to the computer. And this external device is the audio interface. Moreover, you can’t directly plug the high-quality studio monitor speakers to your computer. You will need two mono outputs for every speaker. So, you will need either a mixer or an audio interface for that purpose.
What is Best for Streaming: Audio Interface or Audio Mixer?
If you intend to stream your music, you might be needing a mixer for your microphones and instruments. Yet, you can also opt for an audio interface if you are streaming with fixed settings. However, if you need to remix your live sound recording, you should opt for a mixer. This is because the audio mixer allows you to manage the entire sound. However, if you use the audio interface, you will still need to open the software on your computer. This added input may lead to disruption or latency in your streaming.
What is Best for Podcasting: Audio Interface or Audio Mixer?
If you opt for the audio mixer, you can manage the sound signals using the mixing board. Then, you should input the mixed sounds into your computer. The computer, then, receives the mixed sounds in a single track. You can no longer edit—however, the individual track on the computer.
Audio interfaces let you deliver the sounds to two different tracks in the software. So, at least, you have some elbow room for a little editing. And when the audio signals are inputted into the computer, you can edit the sounds and engage in post-production editing.
Your choice, however, should consider the timing of your broadcast. If you engage in live broadcast, you should opt for a mixer. It will afford you more flexibility in adjusting your audio signals. Another reason for using the audio mixer is that the audio interface may exhibit latency while the mixer will exhibit minimal latency. This can muddle your broadcasting then. However, if you would broadcast after you’ve recorded it, then, the audio interface would be a better choice.
Your choice between an audio mixer and an interface all boils down to what your purpose and needs are. If you will just engage in basic recording, you will not need an actual mixer. You will save yourself from bringing in audio mixer hardware into your cramped home recording studio. On the other hand, your music software production will do what the mixer does well. So, your decision depends on your goals and preferences when doing recordings at your home studio. However, some of the latest models of mixer have audio interface features built-in.