USB Interfaces for Analog Audio

Built-in computer audio interfaces tend to be very limited, often just two one-eighth-inch jacks, one for an unbalanced microphone input and the other an output for stereo headphones.

So what to do when you have to dub old cassettes or vinyl records to your computer?

Think USB audio interfaces. They take that analog signal and convert it to digital and come in all sorts of input and output configurations. Prices vary depending on the number and types of audio connections and the quality of the analog to digital converter.

To avoid paying for connectivity you don’t need, think about what analog equipment you’d like to connect to your computer. What type of output signals do they provide? What level? +4 dBu or -10 dBu? Balanced or unbalanced? What type of connectors? Will you need adapters?

Turntable outputs need special consideration. Make sure the USB interface has a preamp input specifically designed for turntable use, with the correct impedance and equalization curve. If you only need to record from records, consider a turntable with a built-in USB interface.

Next look at outputs. If your end product is a CD or DVD burned directly from the computer, you may not need more than some monitoring. If you plan on dubbing to other outboard recording gear, then you’ll need more. Again take inventory of the inputs on the equipment you plan to use to help select the appropriate interface.

On the digital side of your interface check the available sample rates and bit depths. The greater the selection the more flexible you can be in choosing the right combination for your projects.

If you already have audio editing/recording software, look for USB interfaces that are compatible with that software. If you don’t, many interfaces come packaged with basic audio recording software to help you get started.