How Small Interfaces Keep Getting Better
Inexpensive recording equipment has been around almost as long as digital recording has been a thing. Even in the earliest days of digital recording, you were more likely to spend money on hard drive space and computer specs than the interface. Today, we look at specs for both the computer and the interfaces and laugh at how weak they were by current standards.
But while storage and systems specs have largely outpaced most audio professionals' needs, the growth of the home audio interface doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
The manufacturers of these audio interfaces just keep finding new and improved features to add, creating more and more value for even the smallest interfaces on the market today. Let’s look at just a handful of those innovations.
Track Counts & Portability
It wasn’t long ago that if you wanted more than a couple of channels on your interface, you needed something rack mounted to get the job done. And while rack-mounted interfaces are still pretty common today, they’re not an absolute must if you’re interested in dozens of channels in a compact, portable unit.
Instead, companies are embracing the desktop interfaces as the hub of your studio whether you’re in a professional studio environment or recording on the road.
By utilizing smaller motherboards & more compact connections, audio interfaces can pack a lot of punch into a desktop box. A common trend is to include a handful of connections and preamps on these units for smaller sessions and an ADAT or S/PDIF connection on the back for expansion options when you need more channels. It’s not quite the same as having all of those preamps built into the unit, but the flexibility is unparalleled.
At the same time, many interfaces (both rack mount and desktop) are switching to simple DB25 connections to cut down on the connectors on the interface itself. While this offers a cost savings to the manufacturer (fewer parts), it also means you can have a more compact unit with higher simultaneous track counts than ever before.
Quality Per Channel
Another huge improvement in recent years has come from the quality per channel in these interfaces. As new engineers and producers enter the industry, they don’t have to worry about many of the common issues that plagued more tenured audio professionals. Today, things like latency and adequate gain are almost a non-issue.
Many of today’s interfaces utilize a combo jack that will accept XLR connections for mic inputs, ¼” connection for instrument inputs, and can even switch for line level sources (check your interface’s manual if you’re unsure about that last one). Combine that with better converters, better clocking & nearly instant transfer from interface to computer for powerhouse performance.
Of course, all-in-one solutions still come with a few disclaimers that new engineers should be cautious of. There’s a reason these units are often expandable beyond their standard preamp count beyond cost savings – they’re not the end-all solution for many engineers who want to use their own gear.
An interface can have a great preamp, but it’s not going to be as colorful as some of the other options on the market. You don’t want them to be.
Your interface provides a clean starting point, which can be expanded with other more expensive outboard gear when you want a different option. The fact that most of the channels on your interface will take an instrument input doesn’t mean you should ignore using a dedicated DI box (or your interface’s dedicated DI input, if you’re lucky enough to have one).
As we look to the future of where interfaces will go, there are plenty of different paths forward.
One of those paths is into mobile recording – and I’m not just talking about an interface that works well with your laptop.
More and more, we’re seeing interfaces offering connectivity with mobile devices like iPads and iPhones. By offering this type of integration, artists without access to a computer are able to leverage their portable devices for recording, arranging & mixing. The next generation of engineers and producers will be just as comfortable working on their phones as they are in a computer-based DAW.
The other place we’ve already seen some major innovation in accessibility comes in the software being paired with interfaces. Brands continue to build out plugins that can utilize DSP built into their interfaces for some of the best modeling you could imagine. This software offers many of the same benefits of using dedicated outboard gear without costing nearly as much as the hardware – and it’s completely portable.
Finding Your Signature Sound
Your interface is ultimately going to be another tool at your disposal in your journey to craft your own signature sound. Just like microphones and plugins, it’s there to make sure your creative process isn’t limited by a lack of ability to do something in the studio.
Once you’ve got a solid front-end to your studio setup, your biggest place of improvement will be in the box. How you stack and use your plugins will play a major role in your overall sound, which is why we’ve pulled together our best tips in our eBook, Virtual Signal Chain Secrets. Pick up your copy today to see how professionals are leveraging their signal chains to craft their signature sound.