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An interface allows you to get audio or control signals in and out of your computer.
PCIe, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 based interfaces are generally best, as they have the fastest connection to the computer and can handle the biggest number of audio channels, although low channels counts, Midi and CV are perfectly able to be transferred via USB at optimal performance.
At the heart of the Digital Audio world lies arguably the most important part of the system, the Analogue to Digital and Digital to Analogue convertors. Simply put, these convertors take an Analogue signal (such as a voice through a microphone) and convert it into a series of numbers, able to be sent great distances or stored over a long time, and then convert them back from digital into Analogue, but without them, we couldn't even begin to make music with our computers.
Most Digital mixers mimic the look of the old analogue desks, but have the advantage of no added noise,easy signal routing and being able to save and load whole templates. There are also usually many on-board effects getting rid of the need for external hardware.
Firewire interfaces come in two varieties, Firewire 400 (1394a) which use a 6pin connector and Firewire 800 (1394b) which use a 9 pin connector. Most Firewire interfaces offer lower audio latency than many USB units and many can be used with Apple's Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter. You can use Firewire 400 devices on a Firewire 800 connection using a 9pin to 6 pin adapter cable. Firewire interfaces are still very popular in the audio industry, as it is possible for some of them to be daisy chained together for high track counts. Firewire can sometimes be a compatibility minefield on windows, Scan Pro Audio's technical department has an enormous multi manufacturer knowledge base for firewire compatibility, so please feel free to ask us when you are planning a purchase.
iOS Interfaces are compatible with Apple's iOS devices including iPhone and iPad. Check the product description for interface type, either 30 pin, Lightning or Headphone Socket
PCI based audio interfaces are internal sound cards fitted inside your system. Whilst not as portable as the USB & Firewire variants they can offer slightly better latency in some situations due to the direct connection to the motherboard and the drivers having more direct control over the hardware.
Thunderbolt interfaces use an extremely fast connection to not only offer very low latency audio, but many also offer dedicated DSP processing, which wont put any load on your CPU.
USB & Firewire audio interfaces offer high quality inputs and outputs for recording and playing back your audio. With the added advantage of being easy to transport and move between systems, they are a popular solution for performers wishing to have a single high quality interface they can move between the studio and stage with ease.
MIDI interfaces convert USB to MIDI signals using a 5 pin DIN type connector. Use these to connect non-USB synthesizers, keyboards and devices to your computer.