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Should You Buy a Used Audio Interface? (Explained)

Do you want to add a powerful audio interface to your studio but don’t want to spend a lot of money? If so, you might be interested in buying a used audio interface. Used audio interfaces can be a great option if you’re on a budget, and they offer many of the same features as more expensive models. But should you buy a used audio interface?

Unfortunately, not knowing about buying a used audio interface can lead to getting expensive ones.

Image of a black audio interface on wooden surface. Source: alexey demidov, pexels
Image of a black audio interface on wooden surface. Source: Alexey Demidov, Pexels

This article covers the pros and cons of buying a used audio interface and helps you decide if it’s the right choice. So if you’re looking for an affordable audio interface, this post is for you!

Should you buy a used audio interface? Yes, without a doubt, if you can locate a decent example. But giving more weight to one audio interface over another is not a good idea. Instead, it would be best if you compared the pros and cons of each, such as warranty, features, and compatibility, especially with older models. You may find several previously-owned interfaces that continue to function properly. Just make sure it suits your demands.

What is an audio interface?

A microphone, instrument, or other audio equipment can’t communicate with a computer without an audio interface. In the same way, you need an audio interface to record high-quality audio into your DAW and send the signal back out through the speakers.

Music and instruments are recorded via an A/D conversion process when connected to an audio interface. A D/A conversion is performed when the signal is sent back to your headphones or speakers. Such converters are crucial to the success of an interface.

There are many varieties of interfaces available, each with its own set of inputs, outputs, and other characteristics. As the number of people coming and going grows, so will the price.

Should you buy a used audio interface?

If you’re in the market for an audio interface, you must consider the device’s age and condition before making a purchase.

Compared to brand-new audio interfaces, used ones may be found at a lower price and sometimes in better condition. But make sure to look at the hardware carefully before you buy it because it may have blemishes or other flaws that don’t show up right away. Also, remember that some older interfaces may not work with the most up-to-date programs and add-ons.

In general, if you can locate a secondhand audio interface in decent shape that fits your price range, you should consider making the purchase. On the other hand, if you can’t locate a secondhand interface that works for you, you may buy a brand-new one.

What to consider when buying a used audio interface?

A studio’s audio interface is a crucial piece of equipment. It will serve as the hub through which all of your audio signals, from microphones to instruments, will flow before being sent to the speakers (speakers and headphones).

A high-quality audio interface can help a lot when making important mix decisions. Therefore, consider these five criteria when shopping for an audio interface.

What input or output do you need

The first thing to check is that your future audio interface has all the inputs and outputs you need. For example, if you are a singer-songwriter who travels a lot, a single mic pre and a DI on a bus-powered interface may be all you need from an interface. An Audient iD4 or another remote interface would be ideal.

If you have a bigger studio and want to use effects from outside the studio, you should make sure there are a lot of line-level inputs and outputs.

If you have gear that has digital I/O, such as S/PDIF or ADAT, having digital inputs on the interface will allow you to easily expand the I/O of the interface – perfect for more demanding, larger recording sessions.

It’s also good to consider the future when purchasing the interface. While you may have a basic setup currently, it may be worth getting an interface with a few extra inputs and outputs should you wish to expand your setup with more outboard or monitoring later down the line.

Budget

Many people’s choices in studio layout are influenced by their limited financial resources; after all, everyone wants top-notch equipment at the lowest possible price. Of course, you need a top-notch microphone, interface, and monitoring system to get the best results from your recording.

Spending a lot of money on a high-quality microphone and monitoring setup would be counterproductive if the signal were fed into an interface with subpar performance. Even the most talented musicians can make their music shine through with a clean recording environment. Keep in mind that there are situations when investing a little extra upfront can pay off in big ways.

Build quality

Many individuals base their decision on the audio interface’s build quality, which includes its durability, dependability, and overall feel. Metal chassis and knobs are preferable for user interfaces since they are more durable. In addition, you may easily transport it in a bag and take it with you to any area to record.

Also, pay attention to how the buttons and dials feel in your hands. These are the knobs and buttons you’ll be using regularly. Therefore it’s important that they feel good in your hands.

Features

It would help to consider a wide range of options when searching for a new interface. If you need a new recording interface, make sure it has low-latency mixing and controls for the monitor. It is crucial to have low-latency monitoring so that the artists being recorded can hear themselves without distraction.

Having granular control over monitors also makes it simple for the bot mixing engineer to keep an eye on things and for the artists’ foldback mixes to be put up without resorting to any additional hardware.

To manage all of this, most major interfaces will use software; the easier to use this software is, the better. So that you can spend more time tracking, mixing, and recording, it’s crucial to have software that is intuitive and easy to set up the routing at the beginning of a session.

Some interfaces also have fundamental methods of managing your DAW, letting you effortlessly adjust volumes and plugin settings without needing a mouse. One such capability is Audient’s ScrollControl, which lets you manipulate your plugins with a physical knob.

Additional features, such as pre-installed software, might be a bonus. However, the best way to get started quickly is to check the manufacturer’s website for freebies like digital audio workstations, plugins, or services.

The sound quality

Finally, check if the audio quality of your interface is satisfactory. Again, it’s usually a good idea to check out the manufacturer’s website for more in-depth information, such as detailed product descriptions and technical specs.

Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise (THD+N) is a common metric used to describe the quality of an audio signal. A lower value indicates superior performance.

As a different number, “dynamic range” may also be mentioned. This is the smallest audible signal that the interface can process. Generally speaking, the higher this figure is, the better. Don’t worry too much about this, however, since the dynamic range of most recent songs will be far smaller than the theoretical maximum of an interface.

The term “Dynamic range” may also appear in numerical form. The interface’s dynamic range is the range between the loudest possible signal and the smallest possible signal. Commonly, the higher this figure is, the better. You should be fine with this since the dynamic range of most recent songs will be far less than the theoretical maximum of an interface.

The frequency response is something else to keep an eye on. This indicates the precision with which the interface can handle sounds of varying frequencies. Of course, it would be ideal if the interface reproduced all frequencies with the same loudness, but in practice, you’ll likely notice little increases or decreases in volume at some frequencies.

Check for a frequency response with as little of a number as feasible between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. If feasible, you should verify that the advertised specifications match the actual results you would obtain from interacting with the interface. It sometimes needs to be clarified which specifications apply when reading manufacturer specifications since some companies cite theoretical numbers.

This may be easily verified by ensuring that the specifications are measured under the same circumstances as those recommended by the AES17 standard.

The frequency response is something else to keep an eye on. This indicates the precision with which the interface can handle sounds of varying frequencies. Of course, it would be ideal if the interface reproduced all frequencies with the same loudness, but in practice, you’ll likely notice little increases or decreases in volume at some frequencies.

The benefits of buying a used audio interface

As with any other substantial choice, making a list of pros and cons will help you narrow down your options and arrive at a more informed conclusion. If you take a step back and look at this list from your point of view, depending on what your project needs, it should be easy to pick the winner.

Pros

Depending on your needs, a previously used audio interface is a worthwhile investment. However, remember that you’d also want this to be a permanent fix.

Cost

This one stands out as the winner when all the benefits are considered. Considering a pre-owned alternative will always save you money in the near term, if not in the long run. The first shock value of acquiring a large amount of equipment at once when starting a studio from scratch may be rather high.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to look for secondhand choices; doing so will alleviate some pressure immediately. The most advanced modern audio interfaces may cost upwards of $1500. Used alternatives may be a good strategy if you’re searching for something in that price range but need more than a brand-new one with all the features you want.

Newer models with the same budget as a used choice for a better quality device could only meet your needs if the depth of sound quality, connections, and capabilities are satisfactory. Used goods may be safer if these attributes are essential to you.

In many circumstances, you can locate a used model of a better model for the same price or even less than a new one of lower quality. Think about each feature’s importance to you and how you want to use this interface.

If, while evaluating your aspirations against your financial constraints, having the newest, freshest, and greatest is less important than having the features you care about most, then a used model will be a good alternative for you.

If you want to use the interface temporarily, the price may be a consideration. You probably use a studio or the tools of others most of the time, but there are times when you’ll need your own.

As a rule of thumb, a used alternative might work out beautifully as a stopgap if you don’t require anything. However, you wish to have a guarantee running smoothly for you for years.

Environmental benefits

Everywhere we look, there is a reminder that we need to upgrade our possessions. This is because most companies can only stay in business if new products are constantly being purchased, and if you buy anything old, the company doesn’t make any money.

When old or unused machinery is dumped instead of recycled or used, it hurts the ecosystem. So it’s no surprise that an audio interface, for instance, has several electronic parts that, if thrown away improperly, would add to the ever-increasing mountain of electronic trash (e-waste).

You can feel good about yourself and do good for the earth every time you give a used piece of equipment a second chance at service.

Helping out a fellow musician

Being a musician is difficult, and only a select handful earn a living wage. Many of us are forced to rely on the proceeds from selling our used gear to finance a new purchase (or even to buy food!). Purchasing a previously used audio interface is a great way to aid a fellow artist while retaining money inside the music industry.

Cons

This is where you’ll look at the specifics to be sure a used model can handle all you need. But first, it’s important to double-check that all the bells and whistles of earlier, previously-used interfaces are still there.

No warranty 

This is a problem for anybody considering purchasing a secondhand electrical device. First, it needs to be clarified which sources of information you can rely on and which you shouldn’t. It’s nerve-wracking to purchase old equipment, whether a microwave from Craigslist or a professional audio interface.

Used models may save you money in the short term, but you need to know you can trust them, and there is no guarantee savings may turn into a loss in the long run. On the other hand, buying brand-new has advantages, including longer guarantees and improved dependability.

The guarantee is usually shorter when you buy a used audio interface from a store, even if it has been fixed up. A new product warranty may last up to two years, while those on refurbished or pre-owned items are often just 30–90 days. Consider both the immediate and the accumulated expenses. That is strongly dependent on dependability.

Many things can go wrong with audio interfaces because of their complexity. However, having faith in its dependability and the reassurance of an extended warranty will do just that.

This is not the case, however, if you are looking at secondhand choices offered by individuals rather than stores. Before committing to a purchase, you must negotiate a trial period during which you may try it out for yourself or see it in operation to get a sense of its quality. However, the unit may already show signs of deterioration, which could be a better investment.

Older models need more features.

Used interfaces may save you money, but you need to be sure you’re getting the right one by knowing the specific model and year. A comprehensive range of connecting choices was only sometimes available on older audio interfaces. Input and output functionality and interoperability with and connection to other devices are all important considerations.

Checking for connection options is important in today’s world, where technology is always changing and improving. So the answer is likely to be “yes” if the recently released item you’re eyeing is a refurbished model that happens to be sold secondhand. However, you should double-check if it’s more than a few years old to ensure it can handle all your connection requirements.

The most popular inputs and outputs for your audio interface are as follows:

Thunderbolt

This is a high-bandwidth Intel technology that is becoming more and more popular as an included option on Macs. If you are doing recordings that rely heavily on computer-based programs, this is an excellent tool to have available with robust data transfer rates. Some PCs will also have the option for a Thunderbolt card.

FireWire

Mainly used on Mac computers and iOS platforms, FireWire is intended to cater to Apple users. Its primary function is high-speed data transfer, which makes it a considerable asset to multi-channel recording. Many newer Macs will come equipped with Thunderbolt ports. But as a hot tip for PC users, you can also use a FireWire by installing an expansion card on your PC.

USB

This should be a given on any laptop or desktop in either the 2.0 or 3.0 ports, whether a Mac or a PC. If it doesn’t have a standard USB, it will typically have a mini for which you can purchase an adapter.

PCIe

PCI Express is a computer interface often seen on desktop computers. The link has low latency and great data speed and works on a card-based system inside. Its major goal is to support the simultaneous usage of audio interfaces with multiple inputs and outputs.

All of these are important considerations when shopping for pre-owned items. However, if your earlier model’s interface doesn’t communicate with any of these, you may consider upgrading to one that does.

Equally important is ensuring that even older devices have the necessary sound quality. When it comes to new or secondhand audio interfaces, you get what you pay for. However, there might be a need for the desired quality in the used section.

Image of someone using a different audio equipment and an audio interface. Source: tstudio, pexels
Image of someone using different audio equipment and an audio interface. Source: Tstudio, Pexels

Uncertainty/ reliability

Shopping for a used, refurbished, or B-stock item at a store like Best Buy or online is considerably different from buying from a private seller.

Even though such secondhand transactions have a high probability of success, buying from a complete stranger is far more nerve-wracking. You might do a test or request a demonstration before committing to payment, as was previously indicated.

This is true, especially if you are starting in the audio recording. But, unfortunately, a quick call to the manufacturer won’t help if you hear a strange buzz or get the impression that something needs to be corrected; instead, you’ll have to do some digging online to find out whether your suspicions are justified.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “What Recording Interface should I buy?” from the SpectreSoundStudios YouTube channel.

A video called “What Recording Interface should I buy?” from the SpectreSoundStudios YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about audio interfaces.

Can I buy a used audio interface?

Yes, without a doubt, if you can locate a decent example. But giving more weight to one audio interface over another is not a good idea. Instead, it would help if you compared the pros and cons of each, such as warranty, features, and compatibility, especially with older models.

What is the difference between a cheap and an expensive audio interface?

Less expensive interfaces will allow you to hear more of the original tone of your voice or instrument. On the other hand, more of the above features (color, warmth, depth, etc.) will be added to interfaces that cost more. The interface’s variety of inputs and outputs also sets it apart.

Does the audio interface reduce lag?

For the most part, latency may be reduced by using an audio interface. A computer’s or laptop’s sound card might not work as well as an external audio interface. Even low-end audio interfaces may drastically cut latency compared to no interface at all.

Conclusion

Overall, used audio interfaces can be a great investment if you’re looking for an affordable way to start recording or mixing music or sound effects. Just make sure you do your research first and consult with an expert if you have any doubts about whether or not a used audio interface is right for you.

This article covered what an audio interface is, whether you should buy a used one, and the things to consider when buying a used one. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A microphone, instrument, or audio equipment can’t communicate with a computer without an audio interface.
  • If you’re in the market for an audio interface, it’s vital that you give some thought to the device’s age and condition before making a purchase.
  • A studio’s audio interface is a crucial piece of equipment.
  • Extra tips:
    • Despite their higher price tags, portable interfaces like the Universal Audio Arrow and the Apogee Duet 2 are designed with the solo recordist in mind.

So, have you tried buying a used audio interface? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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