You’ve Been Thinking About Building Your Own Home Studio
You want to lay down some vocal tracks, or possibly record that killer guitar solo you’ve just written. Maybe you are thinking about starting a podcast, or you want to get into to the voice over business. You maybe a video content creator looking to improve the audio quality of your product. No matter your goal, you can easily and rather inexpensively, put together a great home studio to get you started on the right path.
The Digital Audio Interface: Probably The Most Important Piece Of Your Studio Equipment
I think, most people when asked, “what is the most critical component in their home studio?”, would probably answer the “microphone”. Yes, I would agree the microphone is a very key part in the chain of gear for a good quality studio. However, it has been experience that the most important equipment I have in my own home recording studio is my digital audio interface.
What Is An Audio Interface?
A digital audio interface, simply takes an analog signal, and converts it into a digital signal, and then sends that digital information to your recording software (DAW), on your computer. It is the box that connects your microphone or instrument, to your computer via a USB or firewire cable. Think of it as a translator between you and a foreigner, you speak in your language (analog), and the translator (the audio interface) takes that information and converts it to the other language (digital), so that the other person (the computer) is able to understand it.
Why is it so important?
- A good Digital Audio Interface keeps this “connection” and conversion silent. As you record, you will be picking up natural room noise, and rogue sound waves, the last thing you want is an annoying hiss, pop, cutouts, or digital artifacts to ruin your masterpiece.
- The Audio Interface is that “master link” in the chain between what your mic picks up, and what your computer receives.
- The built-in pre amp that will power your condenser mic.
Cost Vs Quality
Reality is this, as the technology has advanced, the price of a very good quality digital audio interface has dropped dramatically. Price really comes down to features, and branding. Know what you need. In most cases, you don’t need, as a beginner or hobbyist, multi channel inputs. 1 or 2 channels will most likely suffice, and if you need more, you can always multi-track. If you chose to go with a big name brand expect of course, to pay up, in many cases, for the same quality of a lesser known brand. That being said, I do not recommend you pickup a $20 Alibaba Express special either. Their are some great choices available under $120, some of which I will show you here, in my list of Top 5 Budget Audio Interfaces.
#1 The Focusrite Scarlett Solo 2nd Gen
I personally, use the Scarlett Solo interface, probably more than any other in my home studio setup. At a price of about $99, it far exceeds my expectations, and is durable and versatile. The Scarlett Solo has 2 channels, 1 – 48V powered XLR Mic input, and a line / instrument input. I love that this interface has low latency monitoring, so that I can monitor, as I am recording in real time. You can also chose direct monitoring if you are recording with a slower running computer. It also ships with ProTools and Ableton DAWS, plus bonus software and samples.
#2 The PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2
The PreSonus AudioBox 2×2 is about $99, this interface offers 2 channel inputs, a 48v powered XLR’s, and a line / instrument channel. I placed this interface at number 2, as it seems to have a little noise issue. The limited warranty on this unit is only 30 days. Comes with an extensive software package bundle. The DAW is Studio One 3 Artist which is a bit buggy, hard to navigate and the features are not that great either. However you can the Presonus AudioBox USB 2×2 with any DAW software available.
#3 The BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC204HD
This U-Phoria UMC204HD is a great entry level audio interface. Price runs about $80. The UMC204HD has 2 channel inputs, 48v phantom power, and 1X MIDI I/O. I placed this interface at number 3 for a few reasons. The first, there is not much gain on either channel fine tuning can be a hassle. There is no DAW or software bundle included. I was not impressed with this products claims of ultra low latency. This is not the interface for you if you travel or change recording locations often, as this unit does not seem to be very durable. All said, I still feel this is a great entry level interface that will get you going.
#4 Alesis Multimix 4 USB FX
The Alesis Multimix 4 USB FX is a good multi-use mixer / digital audio interface. Cost for this unit is about $91. This unit can be used not only as an audio interface, but as a mini mixer for musicians, DJ’s, etc. It’s small and compact, and travels well. The downsides. Although this is a 4 channel mixer, it is only a 2 channel audio interface. The 48V phantom power pre amp is a little noisy. This product ships with no software or DAW. I think this product would be great for a pod casting setups. It would also be great for DJ’s who do a little recording or broadcasting as well.
#5 BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UM2
Finally, the Behringer U-phoria UM2. Just looking for a basic startup home recording studio audio interface, the UM2 is as basic as it can get. It features a singe XLR input with 48Vphantom power, and an instrument channel. Like the Uphoria UMC204HD the gain control on this unit is not all that good. I was impressed that for the price (about $35), this interface was really very quiet. Small and compact, it should travel easy, and for this price I wouldn’t worry much about it getting broke. The simplicity and cost of the U-Phoria UM2 is probably it’s biggest selling point.