If you want to get the best possible sound out of your computer-based audio setup, you’ll need to connect an audio interface to it.
In this step-by-step guide, we’ll talk about how to connect an audio interface to a computer. After that, we’ll talk about troubleshooting and how to get everything set up just right.
Now, there are a few different ways to connect an audio interface to a computer. The most common is to use a standard USB cable connection, but there are also interfaces that use Thunderbolt or USB-C.
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s first talk about the actual equipment you’ll need to get your audio interface ready for recording.
The Gear You’ll Need
Here’s what you’ll need to connect your audio interface to your computer:
- Audio interface (plus a power supply if it’s not USB bus powered)
- Standard USB, USB-C or Thunderbolt cable (depending on your interface)
- XLR cable
- XLR microphone
Make Sure Your Computer Is Up To Par
First and foremost, you need to make sure that your computer meets the minimum recommended specifications for music production. For more information, head over to this article.
This is also where you need to decide what connection type you want.
If you’re a Mac user, your only choice is a Thunderbolt port that you’ll connect to with either a USB-C cable or a Thunderbolt cable.
If you have a PC then you have more freedom here. You can use a standard USB connection port or a USB-C or a Thunderbolt port if it has one.
Choosing An Audio Interface
Once that’s figured out, you need to choose an audio interface with the right type of connectivity for your computer. This can be a tough choice seeing that audio interfaces can vary in price depending on their type of connectivity.
Thunderbolt audio interfaces tend to be the most expensive options on the market. They offer near-zero latency and they typically come loaded with professional-grade mic preamps.
With that, USB interfaces are still a solid choice. They’re more affordable and will still be able to improve your studio’s sound quality.
You can also head over to my USB vs Thunderbolt audio interfaces guide to learn more about choosing the right connection type for your needs if you’re still lost.
Now, outside of the connection type, choosing an audio interface is a topic for another article entirely, but we can quickly talk about the basics.
Quick Buyer’s Guide
The first thing to consider is the number of input and output channels that you need.
If you only need a basic 2-channel interface, then you don’t need to spend the extra money on a larger interface with more features. This probably sounds like you if you’re a podcaster or a solo musician.
Alternatively, if you plan on recording multiple instruments or using multiple microphones, then you’ll need an interface with more inputs and outputs.
With all that said, it’s never a bad idea to plan for the future and give yourself plenty of inputs and outputs for your future expansions.
Lastly, make sure to check the compatibility of the interface with your computer and audio software. Most interfaces will work with any computer and DAW software, but it’s always best to double-check before making your purchase.
Get To Know Your Cables & Ports
Now that you’ve picked an audio interface, it’s time to familiarize yourself with all of its inputs and outputs. On top of that, you need to learn about the corresponding cables for each of those pots.
To make things simple, let’s break down each of the most common types of connection ports found on an interface that you’ll be using to connect to your computer.
XLR Connector & XLR Cable
An XLR connector is the standard connection for most condenser and dynamic microphones. The name XLR is derived from the X-shaped metal connector used on some early versions of the connector.
Some XLR inputs come in the form of a “combo connector” (otherwise known as an omni socket) that allows you to connect a ¼” TRS cable instead of a standard 3-pin XLR cable.
You can use an XLR combo jack to connect instruments to your audio interface.
An XLR cable is used to connect microphones and other audio devices to mixers, amplifiers, and other audio equipment. XLR cables are available in various lengths and can be used with both balanced and unbalanced audio signals.
They are made up of three conductors: two for the left and right audio signals, and one for ground. The three conductors are wrapped in a shielded cable to protect the signal from interference.
This is the primary cable you’ll use to connect your condenser microphone or dynamic microphone. From there, your audio interface will convert your microphone’s signals, boost its gain to line-level, and send it to your computer for processing through your digital audio workstation (DAW).
¼” Line Outputs & ¼” TS/TRS Cables
A 1/4″ line output allows you to connect an external device, such as a set of studio monitors, to your computer. This type of output is typically used for line-level signals, which are signals that are too weak to be sent through a microphone input.
We’re talking about a balanced output, meaning that it has two signal wires (a positive and a negative) that carry the signal.
Now, you can use either an unbalanced (TS) or balanced (TRS) cable to connect to your line outputs depending on what you’re using for audio playback.
A 1/4″ TS cable is a type of audio connector that is commonly used with guitars and other instruments.
It is a “tip-sleeve” connector, which means that it has two parts – the tip, which is the part that connects to the instrument, and the sleeve, which is the part that connects to the amplifier or other device.
The tip is typically made of metal, and the sleeve is typically made of plastic. TS cables are unbalanced, meaning that they are used for mono signals. Most commonly used for guitars.
TS cables are also more susceptible to distortion and interference.
If your audio interface has a DI or Hi-Z instrument input, then use that to plug in your guitar with a TS cable. DO NOT plug your guitar into your ¼” line outputs.
A TRS cable is used for balanced signals, meaning they can be used in both mono and stereo.
TRS stands for “Tip, Ring, Sleeve,” which refers to the three parts of the connector. The tip is the part of the connector that is used for the left channel, the ring is the part of the connector that is used for the right channel, and the sleeve is the part of the connector that is typically used for the ground.
To summarize, many audio interfaces are equipped with a pair of ¼” line outputs, and you’ll likely use these to connect your studio monitors. The best cable to use for this is a set of ¼” TRS cables.
Once you have all of the necessary cables, you can begin connecting your interface to your computer.
How To Connect Audio Interface To Computer In 10-Steps
Now that you have everything you need and you’ve made sure that all of your gear is compatible, it’s time to get it all connected.
To make things as simple as possible, here’s the step-by-step process starting at the beginning:
Step #1: Plug your audio interface into your computer.
Begin by connecting the audio interface to the computer using a USB cable or a Thunderbolt cable.
Make sure your interface is getting power. This depends on whether or not it has USB bus power or needs an external power supply.
Step #2: Download your software drivers.
Next, download all necessary software given to you from the audio interface, register your audio device, and find out how to install the appropriate drivers.
Most manufacturers will prompt you to download the drivers online from their website.
Step #3: Connect your microphone.
Connect your microphone to your audio interface by plugging its XLR cable into the XLR input.
If you’re using a condenser microphone, make sure the Phantom power switch is turned on and your gain knob is turned all the way down.
Step #4: Create a new project in your DAW.
Now you can open up your DAW or audio recording software on your computer and create a new project or open an existing one.
Step #5: Make sure your DAW recognizes your audio interface.
Go to your DAWs audio settings and make sure it’s recognizing your audio interface based on the input and output devices that are listed.
Step #6: Route your audio interface to a new track.
To route the audio from the interface into the software, create a new audio track and select the interface as the input source.
You might have to do this in your DAWs settings as well.
Step #7: Connect your headphones or studio monitors.
Connect your headphones or studio monitors to your audio interface. Make sure that the interface is set as the output device in your DAWs settings.
Step #8: Slowly turn up the gain on your interface.
If your DAW is picking up your audio interfaces signal, then you can start to turn up the gain gradually.
Step #9: Make sure you can hear the audio coming through.
Now you should be able to hear the audio from the interface coming through on the track.
If not, double-check your routing and settings.
Step #10: Arm your track and record!
- To record audio, simply arm the track and hit the record button.
Why Is My Audio Interface Not Working?
If you are having trouble connecting your audio interface to your computer or getting it to work, there are a few things you can try:
- First, check all connections to make sure they are secure.
- Next, check the input and output levels to ensure they are not too low or too high.
- Make sure the settings in your DAW are properly configured to use your audio interface as the input device.
- If the audio interface has a separate power supply, make sure it is properly plugged in and turned on.
- Then, restart the computer and interface.
- If the problem persists, try using a different USB or Thunderbolt port on the computer.
- If the audio interface has its own drivers, make sure they are properly installed and up to date.
- Finally, if all else fails, try reinstalling the audio interface’s drivers.
If things still aren’t working, you may need to contact the manufacturer of the audio interface for help.
Wrapping Things Up
There you have it! Now you know how to connect audio interface to computer, and you’re ready to capture some professional sounding recordings.
Now, it’s going to take a few tries to memorize this process. Ideally, once you set everything up once, you won’t have to worry about installing software drivers again and the whole process will be easier.
Hope this guide has been helpful! Now, get in the studio and make something awesome.