Episode 055: Bits in a Box

A digital audio interface is practically a necessity. How do you choose the right one?

Show notes

What kind do you have?

What do the numbers mean?

  • 16-bit or 24-bit
    • Technically, this is the number of possible amplitude values
    • 16b = 65,536 values, 24b = 16,777,216 values
    • Think of this as dynamic range
  • 44.1/48/88.2/96 or even 192 kHz?
    • This is how many times a second the sound is measured by the interface
    • Practically, 44.1kHz is fast enough to sound clinically perfect for nearly everyone
      • If you think you’re someone for whom it doesn’t… you’re probably not 😉
    • Think of this as resolution of the sound
    • BTW, why 44.1 vs. 48, or 88.2 vs. 96?
      • Even sampling rates make it easier to sync with video projects
      • Whereas 44.1/88.2 come from the CD standard
  • Here’s a tip for recording:
    • Choose the better dynamic range over the faster sampling.
    • 24bit/44.1kHz or 24bit/48kHz is noticeably better than 16/88.2 or 16/96

How do you decide which interface, though?

  • Budget
  • Portability
  • Phantom power
  • What kind of connection?
    • Lots of USB 2 and 3
      • The difference is almost never meaningful!
      • No latency difference, bandwidth of USB 2 is plenty for I/O on just about any unit you can buy at
    • Thunderbolt 2 (or 3? not many)
      • Better latency
      • Will carry quite large amounts of audio, larger track counts at higher resolution
    • Firewire
  • How many inputs do you need?
    • What are you recording?
    • Solo songwriting? Or a full band?
    • Even a full band you can use something with as little 2-4 inputs, and overdub
    • But having 8 or even 16 inputs gives you lots of flexibility
  • Great brands: Universal Audio, PreSonus, Apogee, Focusrite
    • Hint: Quibbling about preamps at this level is a waste of time
    • Your ear will make more difference than anything else

Photo by James Stamler on Unsplash. Music: JahzzarPlease Listen CarefullyspinningmerkabaUrbana-Metronica (wooh-yeah mix).

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