What is an audio interface and why do podcasters need one?
Posted on 19th May 2020 at 17:19
About the Author – Serena Gay – founder and managing director of Made4U Podcasts
Serena founded Made4U Podcasts in 2018 after a career spent in radio and TV in the UK with the BBC, and in Germany with DW TV.
She has many years' of experience writing and voicing well-researched and engaging material, and developed her social media marketing skills managing companies in the UK and Germany.
What is an audio interface (and why do I need one)?
In the last Made4U Podcasts’ blog, we stated that an audio interface is a useful piece of kit which allows you to connect professional microphones or instruments to a computer.
In so doing, this gives you a better sound quality than a mic plugged straight into your computer.
But before you break your jaw yawning, let me add that they are nifty, they don’t take up a lot of room on your recording desk and they really do take your sound recordings up a level in terms of quality.
You won’t necessarily need one – it depends on which mic you decide to buy and whether you want to use musical instruments on your recordings too.
The essential point to bear in mind is that, with an audio interface, you get a better sound.
What function does an audio interface play?
It converts the analogue signal from your microphone to a digital form that can be stored and edited on your computer.
Your computer and your smartphone come with built-in sound cards, but they don’t do a great job. Some of the cheaper USB microphones which plug straight in will use these sound cards. All well and good – but the sound quality is disappointing.
If truth be told, recording straight into your computer is not a brilliant idea anyway. They’re often noisy – mine has a fan that whirs constantly. Which is why Made4u Podcasts is a fan of handheld recorders like the Zoom H6. But you may have a supremely quiet laptop…
If you are recording into a handheld recorder you will not need an audio interface – many can be used as audio interfaces in their own right if you so wish. However, if you’ve splashed out on a professional condenser or dynamic mic, you will need an audio interface. To connect the mic to the audio interface you use an XLR cable, while you use a USB cable to connect the interface to the computer.
For podcasting purposes – especially when you are planning to record face-to-face interviews – look for an audio interface with two mic inputs. Most audio interfaces are equipped with phantom power (also called 48V) to supply your professional mic with the necessary power to function.
What feature should you look for?
It’s much easier to select an audio interface than to pick out a microphone because there are fewer of them on the market and they mostly share similar features.
Expect to find:
a gain control for each mic input (this enables you to tweak the input level from your microphone),
a stereo pair of ¼" line outputs, which can be used to feed your monitor speakers (although you may not use these if you prefer to listen through headphones),
and if you do prefer to monitor through headphones, expect to find a control for the level going into your headphones.
That’s really all you will be looking for as a podcaster recording voices.
Which one should you buy?
Our recommendations concentrate on stand-alone devices which fit well into home or office recording spaces and that connect to your computer via USB, Firewire and other similar digital connection ports.
The Focusrite family of audio interfaces get great reviews. They are robust, versatile, quiet and help produce great sound.
These are what Made4U Podcasts use.
Beginners might want to look into a Focusrite iTrack Solo, which works with an iPad as well as a Mac/PC.
You are limited though to recording one voice and one musical instrument only.
It costs just under £115 and is reliable and sturdy.
A really interesting offer on the market (in early summer 2020) is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface.
This comes complete with an audio interface, a condenser mic, headphones, cables and a selection of software.
It currently costs £225 on Amazon and is a great deal for a beginner, looking to fit out a studio.
The Australian company, Rode, produces the Rode A1-1 Single Channel USB Audio Interface which is a little less pricy than the others recommended here, retailing at under £95.
It is admired for the superb sound quality it delivers, despite its minimalist design and lower price.
Finally, the Tascam US-2x2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface is another tough device built from heavy metal throughout so that it stays anchored to the table top while you jab mics in and out (not that you should ever jab a mic around the place!).
It costs just under £115 from Amazon, and is ideal for a podcast host and guest format or a two-host podcast.
It helpfully includes two DAW applications to choose from – both the Cakewalk SONAR X3 LE and the Abelton Live Lite 9.
How we help
Made4U Podcasts launches and produces podcasts for business and organisations. We also provide podcast training courses for in-house teams and on how to be a podcast guest. We are based in Gloucestershire in the UK.
Contact us anytime for more information on how we can help you get your podcast off the ground at serena@made4U-podcasts.co.uk.
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