Mark of the Interface
In the audio world we are constantly surrounded by microphones, guitars, DJ equipment, speakers, and everything in between. Some of what happens between the music and yourself involves things like stage-hands helping set-up the show, the DJ pushing buttons and turning knobs, or the audio engineer behind that big soundboard-thing you’ve seen at almost every show you’ve been to. Now one of the great complexities going on between you and the music you hear is occurring on-stage and at home for these musicians/DJ’s. That complexity I speak of is, an audio interface. What is an audio interface? An audio interface, is hardware that connects to a computer and expands and utilizes that computer’s processing capabilities, and gives you the ability to connect microphones, guitars, keyboards, and speakers to it. As this may come as a surprise to some, this is a very rudimentary piece of equipment for average DJs/Musicians/Producers/etc. Although, to the non-musician, this can be a very cool and inclusive side of music that you didn’t know about before and want to know more about now. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do, we’re going to explore this more unknown part of a musician’s arsenal. If you’re already familiar with interfaces, this will be a great refresher for what you did or didn’t know before. So take some notes!
Interfaces may seem complex but with some simple explanation, anyone can understand these little fuckers. Audio interfaces, usually, come in a rectangular box shape with inputs/outputs on both the front and back of the interface. You plug these guys into your computer either via USB or Firewire connectors, this connection allows you to send audio signal from any program on your computer (i.e. Ableton, iTunes) to the interface, this signal then is sent to outputs either connected to speakers or headphones or even both! Now the inputs that are available to use on interfaces, usually includes, Mic/Line/MIDI/Digital/Instrument inputs. These inputs come handy with specified features per input like micpres, PAD’s (Passive Attenuation Devices), DI’s (Direct Inputs), and more. So now we know what goes in-and-out of these things, we might ask ourselves, which one do I invest in? This question could be answered simply by asking around and seeing what others are using, unfortunately these answers come mixed with subjective opinions and contradictions. That’s why I’ve gathered information on two particular interfaces to compare and contrast. The first is a very common interface I’ve seen DJ’s use, the second is more applicable to the studio environment but would still do you a great service on-stage.
Now when looking for interfaces you want to ask yourself, what’s the versatility, is it compatible enough for me, and what’s the cost. One audio interface that has all three of these attributes is the Focusrite Clarett. This interface is a very common sight for the at-home producer, or for DJ’s on-stage. This little guy comes in at $499.99, and is 8.27”x 6.34”x 2.17” making it a nice fit for your studio and making it easy to pack for gigs. The Clarett comes with 2 analog mic/line pres with an 8 channel optical input and 4 outputs. Giving it 10 inputs/4 outputs. What makes the Clarett stick out is Focusrite’s signature ISA (Input Signal Amplifier) transformer-based pres. Accessed via the software included, by switching the “Air” switch. This gives the user the choice of either using the regular pres, or to engage the analog ISA transformer pres. This will give the input a “classic” sound, making your input appear more “sweet, open, and clean” sounding. If you watch examples online it’s quite incredible hearing the difference in the two. Next on our audio interface roster is the illustrious MOTU Track 16. Standing for Mark Of The Unicorn, MOTU is no stranger to audiophiles around the world. MOTU products are very popular among studios across the world but this particular piece of equipment is something that you can take with you on the road as well. Starting at $494.00, the Track 16 is 5”x 8.375”x 1.125” leaving it at just a little smaller than the Clarett, the Track 16 has one downfall for anyone willing to travel with it. It has a single DB-25 cable that connects all your inputs. This would make traveling more delicate for anyone gigging. However though the Track 16 is very versatile, giving you 2 analog mic inputs, 2 instrument inputs (for DI+mic tracking), 4 line inputs and 8 digital inputs+outputs. To add onto the digital outputs, there are 2 main outputs, 2 analog, and 2 stereo headphone outputs. Giving you 16 inputs/14 outputs. The MOTU is different from traditional interfaces and has a single knob accompanied by 8 buttons to switch between inputs and outputs. This interface also comes with DSP chips built-in and software that you can pre mix your recording sessions and get right into the studio or on the stage in a moments notice. The software also includes full dynamic-processing and reverb and doesn’t use any additional power from your computer. The Track 16 and the Clarett both have a multitude of more bells and whistles, but one thing has been made clear, both these audio interfaces are immensely powerful and offer something different to the table.
After going over the two different audio interfaces you can understand that these pieces of metal and circuitry are complex and unique from one to the other. If it weren’t for the audio interface we wouldn’t be able to have our little at-home studios or be able to speak through a microphone and have it go through our computers and come out of two speakers. If not for the digitalization of music we’d all still be recording to tape in dusty old studios. Hopefully for the new-comer to the world of audio interfaces you’ve had your interest peaked and want to now look more into it. And for the experienced user of audio interfaces, hopefully this has helped refresh some information for you. And reminded you of the potential that your music can have within these little boxes. As for deciding on which interface is the best, it’s honestly all of them. I could tell you my interface is the one you should buy, but whatever interface you believe is going to be the best for you, in turn, will be the best for you. On the basis of cost, versatility, and compatibility, you’ll be able to advance your musical arsenal and have easier control over everything.
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