Recording with PC and need for 'audio interface'

I just watched a YouTube video about an inexpensive home recording setup. He recommended the Focusrite Scarlett Solo ‘audio interface’ as part of this. My question: as an option to using an audio interface, could I instead just plug a USB mic (like the Blue Yeti) directly into my PC, with mixing software installed, such as Audacity (free)?

I was thinking of trying my hand at recording my own acoustic guitar and mandolin music, and I’m obviously very new to this. I don’t know what an ‘audio interface’ is (though I think he said it had a pre-amp included?), what it does, or why I need it.

Regards, David.

That’s a really good question. :slight_smile: When I first started recording, my line of thinking was: “okay, I need to find a way to plug a microphone into my computer.” So I bought an SM57 and basically used adapters to get it to plug into the aux-in on my laptop. Horrible, horrible idea, haha.

I’m sure other people can explain this better than me, but basically… a microphone outputs a very, very weak signal. The preamp is there in order to amplify the signal so that you can hear it. A great preamp will give you a lot of volume without a lot of floor noise.

Then there’s the issue of converting between digital and analogue sound. Digital is the stuff your computer knows how to deal with, and analogue is more like the signal that comes out of your microphone or guitar. So the converters are how you end up with usable digital sound out of a microphone.

You can think of an “audio interface” as a handy combo of these things. It’ll also have somewhere to plug in your headphones, probably some outputs to use with studio monitors. It’s like an all-in-one box to give you an interface between your recording equipment and your computer.

As far as your question about the Blue Yeti–I believe you can use that instead, if you want. You could also use a webcam mic, a headset mic, the built in mic on your laptop, etc. I think that you’ll probably be disappointed with the quality, though. Maybe listen to some demos on YouTube and see if you like the results. I believe that people use USB mics more for things like budget podcasting or streaming or that sort of thing. If you are wanting to layer acoustic instruments I suspect it wouldn’t be very good for that.


Excellent explanation, @Cristina!

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I see the interface as the center of the home studio.

  1. Latency
    If you want to record something then play it back and record along with it you will run into latency problems.
    Having dedicated hardware(the interface) to process the audio quickly is the solution.

Solving those same latency problems opens up a new world of audio processing, real time fx.
You can use guitar sims, reverb/delay, compression, etc. so you don’t need outboard gear.

  1. Conversion
    Quality ADC (analog to digital conversion) means what you plug into your interface sounds better and gives you higher quality recordings.
    Quality DAC (digital to analog conversion) doesn’t change anything but it allows you to hear what’s going on with your music so you can make better decisions about what processing to use.

  2. Convenience
    Buying an interface with enough I/O eliminates the need for an external mixer and allows you to have everything plugged in at the same time, no messing with patch cables etc.
    This setup allows you to change configuration with software presets instead of moving cables around.

Just like buying a good graphics card can help you do offline rendering of video an audio interface takes the load off the cpu and helps make a more stable machine.

That being said, I worked for years with a sound blaster live card with a lot of work arounds.
Learning to use DAW software is the real challenge and there’s something to be said for getting into it with whatever you have.

Buying an entry level interface that comes with a lite version of DAW software is a good way to get into home recording.

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I merely echo what others have said.
But I add that when you buy a basic audio interface ($100 should cover it) you will likely get a decent Daw (software recording = to but better than audacity) bundled with it.

Okay so I’m not very experienced but thought I could help a little on this one. I stress a little help. My I suggest first maybe instead of a PC (and I assume you mean something running windows) that you consider a mac product instead. Even maybe an iPad. For recording and music production I find it works a lot better than window based systems. Simple plug and play. I believe most apple products come with GarageBand. A good starting point for your recording software. I’m sure there is a lot of PC users that would beg to differ and may be much more help to you then I. They have much more computer skills then I have. I want to spend my time creating and not fighting the operating system. GarageBand actually has a lot to offer and once you learn the basics you’ll learn what you need.
If you need a mic the SM57 is good inexpensive place to start. As far as interfaces go that would depend on exactly what your I/0 requirements are. My interface is a IK Multimedia product, one input for either guitar or mic and it has a midi input as well. I believe they have one with two guitar and or mic inputs plus midi. They have microphones as well plus other cool gear. You get access to a lot of good free software. They also have a lot of sells threw out the year and the more gear you buy the more discounts you get. I use a few of there processors and like that “iLock” is not required. GarageBand, a SM57,IK interface, and a good pair of flat frequency headphones (I use a pair of HD pro 280’s) is a good inexpensive place to start. Again once you learn the basics you’ll learn what exactly you need. I believe you don’t need a bunch of expensive gear to make great music. Just my thoughts. If you end up using GarageBand and IK software there are a few issues I have had. It will depend on what OS your using but my biggest problem has been getting IK presets to load up in GarageBand. There is a work around but doesn’t always work for me and is a pain in the ass. GarageBand does have limitations, there are work arounds but that should not be an issue until your more advanced. The last thing I would say once you have everything up and running good avoid updating the software operating system and Apps until your sure that the updates will not cause a problem. I always got tempted so I could get the new software features but always had something change or go wrong when updating and then sorry I did. I hope my ramblings was of some help to you. Good luck with what ever you ending up going with and keep creating.

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A bit radical to suggest the guy goes out and pays thousands for an Apple product when all he wants to do is record a bit of music on his computer. But hey, who knows.


Hi @Freedda, I’ll enthusiastically second this recommendation. I have hundreds of thousands invested into a commercial studio here, and ironically STILL USE several of those Focusrite Scarletts. For times when I need simple, and mobile, you just can not beat this thing imo. That Sacarlett is the only interface I use when I’m playing live (to take sound from my laptop and send it to the front of house P.A.), and I always keep one handy in the control room incase the Pro Tools rig crashes and burns in the middle of a session. Those Focusrites stay hooked up as my immediate fallback if the Pro Tools system completely locks up.

If you’re recording acoustic instruments, I would advise you to consider the Scarlett 2i4 (which is sometimes called a duo) instead of the solo if you can afford it. There are times when it will be beneficial to record your instruments in stereo. The difference between the Solo and the Duo is the extra place to plugin in a second mic.





I respectfully disagree with this.

Seems to me that this depends a lot more on how you work it.

Garageband is sufficient, but if its really about the free DAW, then so is Ableton Lite, or the free version of Studio One. There’s also a lite version of Cubase, or a full version or Reaper for only $70.

I think we’re all in that same boat, but if someone is inherently more familiar with a PC, the mac OS could also eat up a lot of time to learn.

I would advise him to consider a small diaphragm condenser since he stated acoustic guitar and mandolin as his immediate target. The SM57’s are famous because of their adaptability to high noise levels and their proximity rejection. And they are sturdy as hell. The high frequency rolloff on a 57 makes it a great fit for anything BUT acoustic instruments in a studio environment.


Odas I agree it’s a bit radical to suggest going out and paying thousands of dollars for an Apple product. I’m not sure I exactly said that. I prefer Apple based operating system because (for me) it’s user friendly and more stable. My desktop computers have been the Mac Mini’s and I recently purchased an iPad 5. At the time the desktops no more than $600.00 and the iPad was $300.00. I like the iPad for mobile recording as an alternative to a laptop. And there is always the option of buying used. I get it, some prefer PC some prefer Mac. It’s great we all have choice of what works best for each of us. Yes, now that I think about it that may have been a poor suggestion for the circumstance. My new suggestion is use what you have and just keep creating.

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I like you said respectfully disagree however; you can just disagree until I earn your respect. I agree with you that it depends a lot more on how you work it. I’m not very computer savvy and apple based systems are easier for me.
As far as the free DAWs I do have Ableton Lite and I would use it but the limited number of tracks you can use holds me back. I want to use it because it has send and return tracks. Something GarageBand doesn’t have. When it comes down to it GarageBand has more features I can use until I can afford a better DAW.
Now for the recommendation I made for the SM57. I agree a condenser mic for acoustic instruments is the way to go. However, if you only had one mic in your locker I don’t think that’s a bad one to go with. I have heard some good acoustic guitar tracks out there that were recorded with a 57. You’ll have to get the placement right and do some EQing. For my self when I’m recording acoustic or occasionally a vocal I use a microphone-modeling app. It takes you input signal what ever it is (maybe you phone mic or a 57) and digital changes it to simulate some of the most popular recording mics out there. Using this I don’t have to work so hard in the EQ stages. Just my 2 cents.

You can. And nothing will be preventing you from getting a good sound if that’s the direction you want to go. But there are limitations in the workflow of using those USB mics. But really, the only way for you to know the limitations in the workflow is to try it out for yourself and see what is missing for you. If you decide later on that you will need a proper interface, then that’s fine. It’s not like the USB mic will become useless. I don’t own a usb mic, but there have been plenty of times where I wish I had.

The mic itself will probably come with a free version of some DAW.

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You did :slight_smile:

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Sure! :smiley: No problem. I think you’re offering a lot of good dialogue here!

I could have swore Live Lite had this options. Unless I’m reading this wrong, it does appear to support sends/returns.

But yes…I do concur otherwise. I wasn’t contesting that Garageband is a viable daw for a newcomer. I was questioning if it was sufficient to grounds for buying a mac and switching OS platforms.

I think we’re on the same page. I would say condenser unless the immediate and only emphasis is guitar amps. But now that I think of it, you could also argue for a 57 in the case of tight budget. There aren’t may condenser mic under $100 that would do any better.

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That’s normally how it goes, Apple fans say Apple is best, then in the next breath - that they don’t know about computers… :slight_smile:
I have worked with Apple computers since 1981 and PCs since 1982 and I can tell you, I prefer PCs.
If you have a little bit of knowledge, you get a better bang for your buck with a PC. That’s not to say I love Microsoft, because I certainly don’t…
And I don’t see any stability problems with PCs today, so I’m confident to say you’re wrong on that point.



Thanks all. I get a pretty good sense of the pluses and minuses of USB vs. mic with AI. As ODAS has noted, my needs here are pretty minimal, maybe dusting off the old guitar, put some new strings on it, and try recording some music. A number of the USB mics (with headphone input) and Audacity software will more than fill my needs.

And I am not going out and buying new Apple gear; my PC will work just fine for this.

Best, David.