Preamps and audio interfaces are essential to any modern digital recording setup. These two terms are often used side by side, and we will try to delve into the differences between a preamplifier and a sound card. What is the difference and what exactly to choose? You will find the answer below.
What is the key difference?
- A preamplifier is used to amplify an instrument or microphone level signal to line level for recording.
- The audio interfaces are designed to make it easy to record and monitor sound with a computer or a music production laptop, with inputs for microphones and instruments, as well as outputs for studio monitors and headphones.
- Almost all audio interfaces include at least one preamplifier for connecting instruments and microphones.
Preamplifiers are indispensable when recording. In professional audio, they are mainly used for microphones, which is why people often refer to them as microphone preamps. A preamplifier (also known as a preamplifier) amplifies (amplifies) the signal to line level before it (pre)records the signal and processes it. Without this process, the signal will be too weak. For this to happen, amplification is applied to signals from relatively low voltage instruments or microphones, such as guitars, synthesizers, etc.
Preamplifiers come in many forms, depending on their intended use. For example, they can be found in consumer products such as stereos, mixers, and USB microphones. But its main function remains the same: to make a weak signal stronger and more recordable.
Of course, there are countless differences in sound, build quality and design. External preamps can have multiple inputs, they can use class A or class A/B amplifiers, use tube or solid-state technology, and the list goes on.
The audio interface connects to a computer and allows you to record and control sound more easily than with the built-in sound card. The job of the device is to convert analog signals into digital data that your computer can understand, and vice versa, so that the digital audio data on your computer can be sent to monitors or headphones.
Compared to preamplifiers, audio interfaces are more versatile. Audio interfaces provide XLR and TRS inputs, preamplifiers, speakers, and headphone outputs. In addition, many audio interfaces also have MIDI input and output ports. Sound card preamps provide 48V phantom power when needed, allow you to adjust gain, and volume, and can even provide visual feedback with fancy LEDs and backlighting.
But in most cases, their most important job is analog-to-digital or digital-to-analog conversion, allowing you to connect analog equipment such as instruments, microphones, or speakers to your computer.
What are the specific requirements of the audio interface in your studio:
- Do you want to record audio using the interface? Or do you just do the mixing and mastering?
- How many channels do you want to record at the same time?
- Do you plan to use microphones that require 48V phantom power?
- Have two sets of monitors and want to switch between them?
- Do you need more than one headphone output?
Now we assume that we have clarified the difference between an audio interface and a preamplifier. If you think this article is useful, don’t forget to share it with other friends.