How to choose an audio interface for recording guitars
- General requirements
- Recording real amps/effects processors
- Recording real amps/effects processors and dry tone for re-amping
- Recording through plug-ins
- Line 6 POD Studio interfaces and ToneDirect Monitoring
When it comes to recording guitars at home there are two things that you want to achieve and these are perfect timing and great tone and it's often a matter of compromise between the two.
It's best to monitor through analog gear and record good tones using some real gear such as amps and effects processors. You dodge monitoring latency and plug-in latencies that can affect your performance.
There are also guitar effects processors that you can connect to your computer to edit tones, record both processed and dry tones and if you're happy with such a device and your recordings, then you probably don't need an additional audio interface.Back to top
In general you'll need an audio interface with two combo XLR/Hi-Z inputs that is capable of handling 24-bit/44.1kHz audio and that supports your operating system. It's also best if the interface has no latency drift.
There are technical specifications of audio interfaces which you can compare, but it's not all there is that defines how an interface sounds. It's always good to ask people for opinions and read some reviews before making a decision.Back to top
1) RECORDING REAL AMPS/EFFECTS PROCESSORS
Line inputs can be used for recording from real gear, but if your guitar effect offers XLR outs then it's better to use an interface with XLRs.
You'll also need XLR microphone ins for recording real amps through microphones. Phantom power is required for condenser microphones, but it can also power most active di-boxes/splitters.
You need Direct Monitor functionality to be able to listen to your playing through the interface outs.
Direct Monitor can be a zero latency monitor or near zero latency monitor - read more on direct monitoring:
Zero Latency Direct Monitoring vs. Near Zero Latency Direct Monitoring
Exemplary interfaces with zero latency monitoring (this really means analog) for recording real gear:
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Scarlett 2i4, Saffire 6 USB, Steinberg UR 22
- PreSonus AUDIOBOX USB
What to record this way:
- effects processors (Fractal Audio AXE FX Standard/Ultra/MK II, Kemper Profiling Amp... POD 2.0)
- real amps through microphones or line outs
- JamUp Pro app running on an iPad or an iPhone
CONSBack to top
2) RECORDING REAL AMPS/EFFECTS PROCESSORS AND DRY TONE FOR RE-AMPING
You can use an additional active di-box to feed the guitar signal both into an amp/effects processor and an audio interface. Recording both signals at the same time on seperate tracks allows you to re-amp later if needed.
- WAVES/PRS Guitar Interface
- Behringer ULTRA DI DI-100
- Samson S-Direct
There are also effects processors with additional dry guitar outputs. You can use such an effect for monitoring and recording both processed and dry tracks. Examples of such devices:
- Line 6 POD Pro
- Line 6 POD XT Pro
- Line 6 POD X3 Pro
- Line 6 POD HD Pro
- Line 6 POD HD Pro X
- Line 6 POD HD Desktop (S/PDIF)
- Behringer V-AMP Pro
- ZOOM G5
CONSBack to top
3) RECORDING THROUGH PLUGINS
It's also possible to plug the guitar straight into an audio interface and play and record through guitar amp simulating software like in the example above. Under the Red Sky was recorded in Cubase 7 Artist with nothing else but a Focusrite PRO 14.
For this you need the lowest possible latency audio interface with an instrument input. You can also use an interface with line inputs and an additional di-box. It's important that there's no more than 12 miliseconds of latency in your setup. It's also worth it to measure your latency and compensate for it in your DAW. Don't trust your audio interface drivers and your DAW which can only tell you driver reported values.
Low latency audio interface database
Timing with software monitoring is not perfect and that's because of two reasons:
- Software monitoring doesn't seem to deliver as good timing as direct monitoring does, even without using plug-ins... this is because of some computer mumbo jumbo
- Plug-ins most often don't report their latency correctly to your DAW and this results in small timing inaccuracies which don't affect your mixes a lot, but they make it harder for you to record layers of guitars - read more on PDC and plug-in latency
Exemplary interfaces for software monitoring:
- Focusrite Saffire PRO 14, Focusrite Saffire PRO 24
- PreSonus Firestudio Mobile
- Presonus AUDIOBOX USB
- M-AUDIO Firewire 410 (Dimitar Nalbantov uses this one, check out his amazing playing on nalbantov.com)
- ESI UGM96
CONSBack to top
4) Line 6 POD Studio interfaces and ToneDirect Monitoring
POD Studio interface is a great option to start recording guitars, bass and vocals at home.
Here's what you get:
- Decent sounding audio interface with high quality noiseless guitar input
- POD Farm software that simulates famous preamps, amps, cabs and effects
- POD Farm plug-in for re-amping in your DAW (you didn't get the plug-in with the older TonePort series)
- Line 6 ToneDirect Monitoring which is a form of direct monitoring that works through POD Farm standalone and its latency is approx. 6.8 miliseconds with ToneDirect & USB Audio Streaming Buffer Size set to "Extra Small"
With software monitoring through plug-ins in your DAW the smallest possible round trip latency of POD Studio interfaces is 15.4 miliseconds in Windows OS and a little bit less than 12 miliseconds in MAC OS X (tested on driver versions up to 220.127.116.11). This doesn't make POD Studio interfaces a good choice for software monitoring with plug-ins.
Recommended POD Studio:
- ASIO - Audio Stream Input/Output, audio interface driver technology introduced by Steinberg Media Technologies that allows low latencies and better quality audio on Windows OS
- CoreAudio - Apple audio driver used in Mac OS
- Hi-Z - high impedance input dedicated for connecting electric guitars
- DAW - Digital Audio Workstation, audio production software
- dry tone - clean guitar tone captured before being processed through an amp or an amp simulation
- processed tone - guitar tone after being processed through an amp or an amp simulation
- re-amping - processing previously recorded dry tones with real or software amps