External USB Sound Card Audio Interface Comparison

Posted: 1 December 2011

Synopsis: With the copious advancements made in recording technology over the past decade or so, coinciding with the price drop in computers with huge hard drives and lightning fast processors, building a home recording studio...

A USB audio interface is one of the easiest devices to use as this connector. It will contain inputs for microphones and/or direct instruments, and connect those to a computer via a USB cable. This not only solves the problem of how to input your mics and instruments into the computer, but also bypasses the computer's usually subpar sound card. Since the audio interface works in conjunction with your recording software, you will be able to record and mix high quality audio to produce a professional sounding end product.

Additionally, many audio interfaces come with the added advantage of being small enough to become portable, so your studio is not just restricted to your home, but can travel with you and your laptop to record live shows and nearly any other application requiring mobile recording.

After deciding that a USB audio interface is the way to go, the question becomes, of course, which device is the best fit for your specific needs? Here at Swamp, we have three high-quality yet inexpensive interfaces to choose from that can fit any recording need and budget.

ART USB Dual Pre

Swamp's most inexpensive audio interface solution is the ART USB Dual Pre. First, we'll look at the features this device shares with the other two audio interfaces, and then discuss what makes this tool different than the others.

All of the audio interfaces offered by Swamp contain two inputs that can be used simultaneously. This means you can record a guitar track and a vocal track at the same time, and still have two separate tracks appear in your recording software (the same goes for any two instruments you decide to record).

Also like the other two interfaces, the ART USB Dual Pre also includes phantom power which will allow you to record with condenser mics requiring power. No additional devices needed for power! Additionally, all devices come with recording software, so there's no need to purchase additional expensive software for your studio.
The recording software included with the ART USB Dual Pre is Audacity, which will work with the interface on machines running all Windows versions starting with Window 98SE, as well as Mac OS X. Also helpful, both inputs on the ART device have optional phantom power, and both can take either XLR or ¼" TSR inputs, providing maximum versatility for all your recording needs.

Finally, the ART USB Dual Pre is the only device of the three offering multiple power options. Though you can power the device by purely by connecting it to your computer with the supplied USB cable, you also use a 12-volt power supply or a 9-volt battery to power the device for different recording applications.

M-Audio Fast Track USB Home Studio Audio Interface

Though slightly more expensive than the ART interface, the M-Audio Fast Track Home Studio Audio Interface offers something the other two devices Swamp carries can't: the ability to interface with ProTools. In fact, the interface comes with a copy of ProTools SE.

Though the M-Audio device also can record two tracks simultaneously, the inputs are limited to one XLR input and one ¼" instrument input, making it perfect for those needing to record vocals alongside their guitar parts. In addition to a ¼" headphone output, this device also includes stereo RCA analog outputs for connecting studio monitors. The M-Audio device also works on both Windows and Mac machines.

PreSonus AudioBox USB Audio Interface

The Presonus AudioBox USB Interface is the most road-ready interface Swamp offers. Housed entirely in a metal chassis—including metal control knobs—the interface is ready to record not only your home recordings but also your next live gig. PreSonus is known for designing industry leading preamps, and the AudioBox is no exception, including the highest quality preamps that will give your recordings the professional sound you require.

In addition to having two balanced inputs that receive both XLR and ¼" TRS inputs, the PreSonus interface also comes with a MIDI input and output. The included recording software package, PreSonus Studio One Artist, is a new digital audio workstation designed to work specifically with PreSonus products. Included with the interface and software are not only multiple PreSonus effects plug-ins, but also great third party plug-ins and virtual instruments from industry leaders like Native Instruments, Guitar Rig LE and EZ Drummer.

No matter which USB audio interface you choose from Swamp, you will get high quality recordings from your own home without busting your budget. Use the above information to determine which interface is the best fit for you, and you will be recording in no time!