While the sound card in your computer, tablet, or smartphone is an audio interface, if it’s the standard type installed in most computers and mobile devices, it’s not up to the the job. Consumer-level sound and limited connectivity severely limit its abilities for recording or mixing music.

Most standard computer sound cards only have a consumer-grade stereo line level input for connecting audio players and similar gear. For outputs it will likely have a stereo headphone and/or speaker output. And that’s it.

Even if your recording plans are limited—just recording your voice and electric guitar for example—the sound card lacks the appropriate connections. In order to record, you’re going to need an XLR input for your mic and a high-Z phone plug input for your guitar. You’ll also need quality outputs that will allow you to monitor your recording and sound editing using speakers and/or headphones. The output needs to allow you to play back your recordings without the jitter, noise, and latency common with standard computer sound cards.

The good news is that there are hundreds of audio interfaces to choose from. You’ll find models with a wide range of functions, connectivity options, and audio quality that will likely suit your needs and budget.

Focusrite 2i2 Gen3 Audio Interface

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface has a pair of mic/line inputs with great-sounding mic preamps. USB connectivity makes it a great choice for mobile recording needs.

Whether you plan to use your desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet or smartphone running audio production apps, you’ll find many compatible interfaces to choose from.

Though the range of interfaces is huge, there are just a few key considerations that will help you hone in on an interface that makes sense for your recording needs, music, and budget.

They are:

  • What inputs and outputs (I/O) do I need?
  • What kind of computer/device connectivity do I need?
  • What level of sound quality do I need?
  • What’s my budget?

On the Musician’s Friend site we make the process of sorting through these requirements easy. Once you’re on the page with the entire audio interface collection, you can filter the results using these criteria (among others):

  • Price
  • Number of analog inputs
  • Connection types
  • Digital I/O
  • Computer platform