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Audio interface

What is an audio interface?

An audio interface, sometimes referred to as a sound interface or audio card, is a hardware device that takes analog audio signals and converts them into digital data that can be processed by your computer. It serves as the bridge between your computer and your audio equipment, such as microphones, headphones, musical instruments and speakers.

Primary functions of an audio interface

Most audio interfaces will perform these basic functions or have these main features:

  • Analog-to-digital conversion (ADC): Takes analog audio signals (such as a musical instrument) and converts them into digital data.
  • Digital-to-analog conversion (DAC): Takes digital audio and converts it into analog so it can be played in headphones, speakers or other audio equipment.
  • Input and output connections: Several audio input and output jacks, such as XLR, ¼-inch, TRS and RCA jacks to connect microphones, instruments, headphones and studio monitors.
  • Preamps: Built-in mic preamplifier (preamp) to help boost low-level microphone signals before they get converted.
  • MIDI: MIDI input and output ports to connect MIDI controllers, synthesizers and other devices.
  • Monitoring section: Options such as a volume knob, cue output or toggle switch that control effects and adjust volume levels.
  • Software: Integrates or comes with software to help you manage your audio signals.

What do you need an audio interface for?

Audio interfaces are useful for music production and recording, podcasting, video editing and even live streaming. If you want to have high-quality audio and playback capabilities, you can use an audio interface.

Audio interface vs. audio mixer

Audio interfaces and mixers are similar but not quite the same thing. Mainly, audio interfaces are used for converting audio signals so they can be used by your computer or played back by audio equipment.

An audio mixer, on the other hand, allows you to mix and manipulate multiple audio channels in real time. They’re particularly useful for live broadcasts such as concerts or special events. In general, audio interfaces tend to be smaller and slimmer than audio mixers, which can take up a ton of space on your desk or workstation. 

Do streamers use audio interfaces?

Professional streamers use audio interfaces because they can provide a higher-quality sound. They tend to work better with higher-quality microphones and an audio interface allows you to have greater control over your sound. You can adjust the volume levels of each of your audio inputs, add special sound effects and achieve a balanced sound for your live stream if you use an audio interface.