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One of the great things about the personal computer is that it’s enabled people to make electronic music without them having to invest in lots of other bits of hardware. Your Mac or PC does so many different jobs that it’s a wonder it doesn’t buckle under the strain.
Even today, though, having one or two other bits of gear in your studio can be extremely beneficial, and an audio interface is definitely a great addition to any setup.
Your audio interface serves two primary roles: to get sound into and out of your computer. You may begin your music making journey by producing all of your tracks within the confines of your computer, but you’ll probably find that you want to record the odd vocal or guitar part at some point.
This is when the inputs on your audio interface come in handy: they come in various different ‘types’, each of which is designed to accept a different type of signal. So, a typical entry-level interface will have connections for a mic, guitar and other instruments.
If you’re not planning on doing any recording at this stage you might think an audio interface is redundant, but bear in mind that it’ll almost certainly produce sound of higher quality than the little mini-jack that’s on the side of your laptop (better than CD quality, in many cases). What’s more, it should give you better and more stable audio playback performance in general, enabling you to work on bigger and more complex projects.
It might also reduce the latency time - the ‘lag’ between playing a soft synth sound on your keyboard and actually hearing it coming from your speakers. The majority of audio interfaces connect to your computer over USB, though some use a FireWire port and cable. Some now support both standards for maximum compatibility.
Your interface may work as a plug-and-play device, though it’s always a good idea to download the latest software drivers for it from the manufacturer’s website.