You’re ready to connect your
guitar to a computer. Cool! But first,
you need an audio interface. This checklist
will help you make the right choice.
|MOTU ’s Audio Express is just one of many interfaces with|
“instrument” inputs designed specifically for guitar.
Run, don’t walk, away from consumerlevel
components. A computer’s internal
sound chip, or a consumer sound card (e.g.,
SoundBlaster), aren’t designed for guitar. Pass.
Make sure there’s a “Guitar,” “Instrument,”
“DI,” or “High-Impedance” 1/4"
input. These don’t load down passive
pickups. Boxes like the Waves/PRS Guitar
Interface can drive a line level input from a
guitar, but you might as well get an interface
with this option built in.
Decide between FireWire or USB to
connect the computer and interface.
USB is rising, FireWire is fading. However,
when you need mucho bandwidth
(like high sample rates, or using lots of
mics and direct inputs to record an entire
rock band simultaneously), FireWire has
a slight edge.
Consider adding a FireWire or USB
card to your computer. You’ll often get
better audio performance by inserting
a PCI card with FireWire or USB ports
into your computer (avoid combo USB/
FireWire cards), and dedicating it to audio
applications. Use the motherboard connectors
for mice, keyboards, printers,
hard drives, etc. With FireWire, check
the interface manufacturer’s website for
approved FireWire chip sets, and ensure
the card uses those chips.
Determine your other needs. Recording
vocals? Look for at least one quality
mic preamp. Think you’ll need more mic
inputs eventually? Check for an ADAT
optical input. Then you can use a device
with eight mic preamps and an ADAT
optical output (e.g., PreSonus DigiMax
D8) to expand your system.
Bus-powered or not. For portable
recording or onstage laptops, a bus-powered
interface is more convenient. It gets
its power from the computer, and doesn’t
need an AC adapter.
Are your sample rates of choice covered.
Not all interfaces (especially USB)
can handle high sample rates, such as
96kHz. For most applications 44.1kHz
or 48kHz is fine, but if you need high
sample rates, check the specs to avoid
Evaluate the freebies. Interfaces often
bundle software-“lite” versions of DAWs,
loops and samples, free plug-ins, etc.
Some of this may just be bloatware you’ll
never use, but sometimes bundles add
Direct monitoring: It’s a beautiful thing.
Monitoring the computer’s output via
your interface will have some delay due to
the time required to process your signal.
Direct monitoring monitors the interface
input so you don’t hear any delay, with
the tradeoff being that you won’t hear any
processing (e.g., amp sims) added within
the computer. Direct monitoring is particularly
useful for drums and vocals, as
they generally don’t require processing
in the computer until mixdown.
Check for desirable “secret sauces.”
A few examples: Roland’s VS-20 is
designed specifically for guitar and
includes a Boss hardware multi-effects
in the interface. Line 6’s TonePort series
comes bundled with POD Farm amp sim
software. Native Instruments’ Mobile
I/O is ultra-portable, and ideal for laptops.
All other factors being equal, some
of these special features might tip you
toward a specific interface.