Voice Over Blog

Home Studio Essentials - The I/O Device

In a previous post, I mentioned the need for an Input/Output device, also known as an audio interface or a recording interface. Some of you may have scoffed and said, “My computer has a headphone and a microphone jack on the side/tower. Can’t I just use that?” The answer to that question is both yes and no.

Yes, you could use that. The microphone input on your computer will receive audio allowing you to record, but have you listened to the quality of it? Think about it. When is the last time you video chatted with someone and actually enjoyed the quality of the sound? Probably never. This is primarily due to the quality of the components for that mic or line level input on your computer. So, no, you shouldn’t use these inputs. This is why you need an audio interface.

A dedicated Input/Output device solves this problem by providing a quality connection between your analog equipment, e.g. your microphones, and your digital equipment, e.g. your computer. But not all audio interfaces are made the same. So how do you choose one?

Choosing the Right Audio Interface

The audio interface is of utmost importance in the home studio. It will allow your recordings to enter your computer at pro-quality levels. It does this by boosting the signal level using pre-amps. A pre-amp takes your input signal and boosts it without adding the hiss and background noise your poorer quality computer inputs do. Let’s cover the basics of an audio interface so we can choose which one is right for you.

Audio interfaces, when you break them down, share a number of basic features: 1) They connect to your computer, 2) they connect to your analog inputs, 3) they connect to your analog outputs, and 4) they convert your analog signal to a digital one going in and reverse this on the way out. Anything that a audio interface has beyond this is icing on the cake, but let’s face it, a cake without icing is hardly a good tasting cake, so the icing matters!

Most audio interfaces today connect to your computer either by USB 2.0 or Firewire. I’ll leave the technical details of these connections to someone who knows a lot more on the subject than I do. Just do a Google search. You just need to consider how you are going to connect the device to your computer!

As for inputs and outputs, this is probably the most important consideration for you to make. Your need for inputs is determined by how many inputs you will need to record simultaneously. For many of you, getting an interface with only 1 or 2 inputs may be more than enough for you, especially if you are recording voice-overs or podcasts. For those of you who might want to venture into recording more inputs, such as a choir, a soundstage, or a drum kit, you’re going to need a lot more inputs.

How many outputs you need depends upon how you intend to use the output. For most of you, 2 outputs, a left and a right, is more than sufficient. You’ll use these outputs to feed your monitors. A headphone jack is also a great feature to have so that you can monitor your input as you record without letting the output bleed back into the microphones causing feedback. Most interfaces come with these basic features. Only consider getting more than 2 outputs and a headphone jack if you know specifically what you will use the extra outputs for.

Lastly, the bells and whistles of a particular interface really can make a big difference. Does it come with Phantom 48V power? Does it have a clipping indicator? An outboard compressor? A saturation knob? EQ? Do the pre-amps color the signal in any way (this is a big topic and worthy of blog post of its own!)? Be sure to do your homework when choosing an audio interface for your home studio and you won’t be disappointed with your investment.

Next: what about that microphone?