Creating and recording quality music digitally from the comforts of home can be both a simple and rewarding experience. Recording artist today like myself have multiple options to turn their traditional home studio into a state of the arts ultimate recording dream workplace. With so many audio interfaces and mixers available on the market I found it to be a bit difficult deciding which type of equipment best fits my musical and creative needs. Having the right recording and sound equipment is critical to producing quality and professional work.
Starting with the most affordable type of recording equipment, an audio interface is a device that connects a Mac or PC to a microphone and other sound devices. I’ve had most my experience using these. Most computers come with a basic built-in interface single output fit for a microphone, which are about 35mm yet the quality of the built-in audio interface isn’t recommended for musical recordings if trying to produce quality and publishable work. An audio interface works by preparing the sound that’s brought into the computer and upgrades the sound output of the computer. An interface further ensures quality and high resolution sound is being recorded while allowing recordings to be created from more than one source. A quality audio interface is an essential component when producing computer based audio. When considering sound quality for music I believe strongly in investing in a separate audio interface rather than using the computers shabby built-in.
Audio interfaces come in different sizes, are portable and for on the go individuals like me, easy to carry around. It connects to the computer by means of USB, FireWire, PCMCIA/ExpressCard and PCI. If an artist is using one or two microphones to record USB connections are standard however if recording where there will be overdubbing and multiple sounds being used simultaneously a high-speed FireWire port should be used. Audio interfaces also have built-in microphone preamps that magnifies the microphone signal making sound easier to level out. Deciding which type of audio interface that’s needed is based off what type of music is being recorded. For example, if there is a singer using a microphone and a guitar being used for instrument sound, an interface with a single but separate input and output is needed. If there is a band with multiple sounds going on like two microphones, a guitar and piano, an interface with multiple input and output channels should be used.
Audio interfaces are commonly used when more of an expert level of sound is required and connecting professional microphones and instruments are needed to route in or out of the computer. The audio interface acts as the computers sound card and allows you to connect a variety of digital and analog signals providing a digital clock that improves overall sound quality. If trying to utilize sound effects, equalizers, and faders along with musical recordings on a more in-depth and specialized level a mixer with a built-in audio interface is further suggested.
An audio mixer takes multiple audio signals, combines them together, and creates one or more output signals. By adjusting levels and enhancing sound with effects the job of the mixer is to mesh all the sounds together to create a harmonious collective. Mixers have equalizers and volume faders for each individual channel which gives more control over each sound being utilized that goes into the computer.
An audio mixer has several different components, the board being the main component consists of two different layouts and is the overall layout for the numerous controls. In-line consoles have the input and monitoring section contained within the same channel strip while the split mixing console have the inputs located on different shares of the board. The inputs are the access point for the many sound sources into the audio mixer. The ability to adjust and control the high and low frequencies for each channel is the mixers component’s channel equalization. The auxiliary channel components allows the mixers ability to send sound to a secondary feed of the channel to another device. The assign and pan permits the direction of certain channels to one of the two stereo outputs. Perhaps the most important component of an audio mixer is the fader. These are sliders that are used to raise or lower the presence of each individual channel as it goes into a final output. Audio mixers also come with components that can be added to an audio interface making an audio interface easier to utilize as a portable device.
Because of the many components and it’s capabilities the audio mixer is normally large in size, costs more and meant to be stationary. It isn’t portable and easy to maneuver like an audio interface and because of its components capabilities tend to cost more. Besides a permanent home or office studio most digital audio mixers are commonly used for large technical sound recording projects. Final audio projects such as movie soundtracks, completing an album or operating a PA system can’t be completed professionally without an audio mixer.
A mixer with a built-in audio interface give creators total control of each and every sound component. If you’re anything like me the best part of producing is being in control of every sound detail which is why a built-in is suggested. A digital mixer can record multiple tracks at once with the utilization of its multiple faders. There are no extra drivers needed making it a one click track source with a metronome built in making things simple and convenient. A mixer with audio interface built in also has its own effects and compression control combining everything needed to professionally produce and record. Though it may be large taking up space and is more costly than a single mixer or audio interface, being able to have all the tools needed to create expert studio quality work in one unit is the more efficient and simple route for a personal home recording studio.