An interface is just what turns your actual sound into computer language. It makes things go from analog to digital. It makes your screen do the pretty little wave thing.
You need one if you’re going to record anything onto a computer.
They can be cheap, they can be smooth but pricier, and they can have VU meters (the awesome needles that move when you make sound).
Here are some recommendations.
Anything from the Behringer U-PHORIA series is your absolute best entry-level interface, including the best budget interface on the market.
For once, I’m going to recommend the second-cheapest product available, for four reasons: a better pre-amp, 1/4″ (instrument- or guitar-cable) outputs, control knobs at the front instead of on top, and most importantly it’s only a $10 difference from the cheapest one, but I’m also going to link you the cheapest one, as well.
You see, live sound boards for decades have toted Midas pre-amps as excellent quality — any board with Midas pre-amps on their inputs was known to sound good right out of the box. Well, the company that owns Behringer recently bought Midas, and now all of a sudden, Behringer gear tends to have Midas pre-amps built in. So I’m going to tell you that you CAN get an interface for your mic and instrument (yes, it’s 2-channel!) for $30…
…but I recommend spending $40 and getting the one that has a Midas pre-amp on channel one.
Now, for what it’s worth, if you spend $60, you can get a similar setup where both of your inputs are Midas, and you get an upgrade in that the inputs can be XLR mic lines or instrument lines; you can run two mics at this price point instead of one mic and one instrument with either of the options before. For solo singer-songwriters, this is probably your best option; in a session, you can record a scratch track with one mic and one line, then solo the vocal track and re-record the guitar with a straight line and a room mic. Now that you have a clean and natural guitar mix, set up and run a close vocal mic and the same background room mic to re-record vocals, and ta-da, you have a natural sound throughout: straight tracks to play with, while you have copies of each natural track captured in the same mic in the same room. Bugger, we’ll get deeper into that later, I guess. If I only had two inputs, this is the interface I’d be using. If you want two mics at the same time, get this one.
Lastly, and this is stretching the limits of what I call “cheap,” Behringer has a 4-input module for $100. That’s right, it’s four inputs for $100, which is pretty unbeatable. Plus, as if it’s not enough, all four are Midas pre-amped, so Hello Dolly sign me up, and that’s not all. With this module, you gain MIDI inputs and outputs, switchable monitor outputs (which you may never use, but it never hurts to have the functionality), an Insert for all four channels (so you can add other processing later, if you’re into that sort of thing), and perhaps most importantly, you get XLR outputs for playing nice with other sound gear.
If you don’t think this is a big deal, I understand.
It’s just sound gear, right? It’s another $100 someone wants you to spend on something just to get started.
No, this is another $100 someone wants you to spend on something just to get started. This is the module that friggin’ everybody tells you you’re supposed to buy. They even have it in some (helpful) kits for starters: you can get it with a decent mic, a cable, and a pair of headphones… for $200. Interestingly, to go from one mic/instrument and one only-instrument input to their interface with two mics/instrument inputs, it jumps to $150 just for the two-mic interface, although the two-mic interface kit with one mic, cable, and headphones is $220.
That’s like when McDonald’s introduced the McDouble for $0.99 but a Double Cheeseburger is $1.29 — you telling me one slice of cheese costs $0.30? In that case, a McDouble with no cheese should be $0.69 divided between a bun, two meat patties, and condiments. Is the meat cheaper than the cheese? If the meat is $0.30 each, then the bun and condiments are only costing $0.10 and that doesn’t sound quite right. The moral of the story is that packages often fudge the numbers.
Build your own package, dangit.
Still not convinced?
And lastly, the big gun… $700 for two channels! (You know what, these are all affiliate links I’m using, go ahead, drop the cash, buy that one. I want a bigger check, too. )
This is why I started this site.
If you’re starting out in the world of audio and you want to drop $700 on one piece of gear, then just pay me $800 to fly out and help you set up your studio.
I’ll add actual reviews later. For now, go save yourself some money. Buy this to start out. It’ll make a great gift for a fledgling audio student one day when you upgrade.