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The Difference Between Audio Interface vs. Soundcard (Answered)

If you’re a musician looking to get started in recording, or you’re just trying to understand the different audio interfaces and soundcards available on the market, then this is the post for you. But what is the difference between an audio interface and a sound card?

Unfortunately, not knowing the difference between the two can lead to confusion about what you need most.

Image of a an audio interface with a black headphones above it. Source: pixabay
Image of a an audio interface with a black headphones above it. Source: Pixabay

In this article, we will discuss the different features and differences between audio interfaces and soundcards so that you can make the right choice for your needs. We’ll also give some tips on how to find the right audio interface or soundcard for your needs based on your budget and level of experience. So without further ado, let’s get started!

What is the difference between an audio interface and a sound card? A sound card’s principal function is to play and convert sound. In the world of music production, an audio interface is a crucial piece of gear. Condenser microphones, for instance, may be powered using phantom power, which is often provided by audio interfaces. These microphones need phantom power to function.

What is an audio interface?

An audio interface takes signals from a microphone or an instrument and converts them so your computer can process them. The interface can also send sound from your PC to your headphones or studio monitors. USB cables are the most common method of connecting an interface to a computer. However, Thunderbolt, Firewire, and Ethernet are all supported.

What is a sound card?

Internal sound cards are the machinery that converts digital audio to analog and back again. For example, one may use them to transfer audio to a set of speakers or headphones, and another can record audio from an instrument and deliver it digitally (like with your phone).

The differences between audio interfaces and soundcards

Even though they share similarities, sound cards and audio interfaces serve distinct functions.

Sound cards

Every electronic gadget that can play music or other sounds has a sound card. In addition, all your portable electronic devices (laptop, tablet, gaming rig, and phone) have built-in audio playback capabilities. The quality of their sounds, however, might differ.

Many budget PC laptops have infamously rudimentary sound cards, whereas premium PCs and newer Macbooks often have more capable sound cards. In addition, sound cards are becoming better as technology develops.

Although most people don’t use their sound cards, they can also record music. Unfortunately, sound cards are incompatible with a wide variety of professional audio equipment due to their limited number of inputs and outputs.

Common audio inputs on computers include built-in microphones and 3.5mm line-in jacks for external devices. Because of this, there needs to be more wiggle space for the instrument and microphone signals.

You may always attempt to utilize an adaptor or a microphone that is USB-compatible if you’re dead bent on recording without an audio interface. But this could be better and may cause more problems than it solves. The sound card is embedded inside the machine, making it difficult to access and change. Because it serves a fundamental purpose, most individuals only consider tweaking their sound card.

In-built speakers are more compact than external audio interfaces and don’t need any more room on your device. A sound card is all you really need if you want to listen to music on your laptop for fun. If you want to record, mix, or produce music, you need an audio interface and a better sound card.

Sound cards are effective at their intended purpose of allowing digital devices to play audio. They take up little space, come standard with the gadget, and provide high-quality sound without further tweaking. However, a high-quality audio interface is essential if you’re a musician planning to record songs on your notebook computer.

Audio interfaces

To recap, both audio interfaces and sound cards serve the same function of transforming analog audio signals to digital data that a computer can comprehend; however, an audio interface is specifically built to work with your digital audio workstation.

An external audio interface may be used to avoid using the computer’s internal sound card. A better-sounding final product and more flexible input/output choices are benefits of using an audio interface. Its practicality makes up for the inconvenience of their use.

Even the simplest audio interfaces often have a better sample rate and bit depth than the built-in sound systems of most laptops. Without getting too technical, this implies that it’s picking up a signal with more fidelity than a sound card could.

Image of an audio interface with cable wires connected to it. Source: pixabay
Image of an audio interface with cable wires connected to it. Source: Pixabay

Which one is best for me, the audio interface or a sound card?

The intended application is the primary consideration when deciding between a sound card and an audio interface. The two serve the same theoretical purpose, but they have diverse applications in practice.

An audio interface is a must-have to take your music recording or audio production/mixing to the next level of professionalism.

An audio interface is a must-have for anybody engaged in music production, sound design, or any other area requiring the highest quality audio creation.

However, a sound card can only do if your requirements are relaxed, and you can compensate for mediocre sound quality. It’s OK to use laptop speakers, even among video editors. You can only purchase a new audio interface if you want to go deeply into the technical aspects of audio creation.

However, an audio interface is necessary if you plan on engaging in home recording or music production.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Is A Soundcard An Audio Interface?” from the Stamp Sound YouTube channel.

A video called “Is A Soundcard An Audio Interface?” from the Stamp Sound 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 and sound cards.

Do you need a sound card if you have an audio interface?

Yes, an audio interface may replace the sound card since it can be connected to a computer or laptop instead of the inbuilt sound card. Instead of the computer using the sound card and its drivers, the audio processing is handled by the interface.

Do sound cards give better audio?

Sound cards are superior to the audio hardware on motherboards because they can use more advanced hardware. Digital-to-analog converters (DACs) are one option since they may improve the quality of music and gaming audio by increasing bit rates and frequencies.

Can a soundcard replace an audio interface?

The short answer is yes; an audio interface is just an external sound card with additional features. However, it is also much more than that, as it has specialized drivers, inputs, and outputs that greatly improve the quality of the recording process.

Will an audio interface make my music sound better?

The quality of the sound produced might change depending on the audio interface used. You need high-quality converters if the final sound is more faithful to the analog waveform. There are a number of workarounds that can improve audio quality, but there is only one way to get it by using a high-quality converter.

Conclusion

To sum it up, the main difference between an audio interface and a soundcard is their compatibility with different application types. Make sure you choose one that works well in your workflow so that you can focus on getting good at what you do!

This article covered what is an audio interface, what a sound card is, and the differences between them. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • An audio interface takes signals from a microphone or an instrument and converts them so your computer can process them.
  • Internal sound cards are the machinery that converts digital audio to analog and back again.
  • Even though they share similarities, sound cards and audio interfaces serve distinct functions.
  • Latency refers to the time between when a sound is produced and when it is heard.
  • Sound cards are very effective at their intended purpose of playing audio on digital devices.
  • One definition of an audio interface is an “outside soundcard.” One might conceive of professional audio interfaces like the Focusrite interface I have demonstrated above as advanced sound cards.
  • You will need an audio interface to record audio using an xlr connection and mic pre-amps.
  • Focusrite Scarlett is one more well-liked option for an audio interface.

So, which one do you prefer to use? 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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