There are all kinds of headphones out there, and studio-grade headphones are some of the most advanced tools available. You can get some of the best audio quality when using these headphones, so if you have one around, you may be extremely excited to use it. But, what happens when you connect to your phone and the audio doesn’t sound as good as it should?
Differences in audio quality can happen because the headphones need specialized tools to play music effectively. There are two tools that can do this – audio interfaces and DAC/Amps. These may be necessary if you want the headphones to perform to the best of their ability. However, which one you choose, and what it delivers, depends on a number of factors.
If you are a music enthusiast, learning about audio interfaces or headphone amps can make a huge difference to the experience of listening to music. This can make the difference between normal headphones and studio versions, so if you are interested in learning more, keep reading our article! We will discuss the need for audio interfaces, the cost, and what you should choose.
Is An Audio Interface Necessary?
Studio headphones promise a lot more than the average headphone. They offer better sound quality, and allow you to do a lot more to adjust sound settings. However, you may have noticed that if you connect them to your phone or computer, they just don’t sound all that different from normal headphones. Is the whole thing a scam, and are they just glorified headphones?
The answer is actually very different from this – studio headphones need a lot more power than what your phone or computer can provide. This isn’t often the issue with average headphones, which is why you are able to get decent quality when connecting them to your devices. However, there is one thing you can do to get the advanced quality you paid for.
Using additional tools like audio interfaces or headphone amps can make a huge difference in the sound quality you get with studio headphones. While the sound card on your PC may be unable to give the power requirements that your headphones need, these tools can help take care of this problem. As a result, your headphones will sound much louder, and clearer.
Even though these headphones will still give you a decent sound without an audio interface, why not get one to get the sound you paid for? This is especially true if you intend to use the headphones to produce or create music. In fact, in that case, you will find the use of an audio interface absolutely necessary.
Related: 12 Reasons Why Studio Headphones Are So Expensive
What Does An Audio Interface Do?
To decide whether or not an audio interface is the right choice for you, you need to know and understand what the tool actually does. An audio interface is a device that you can connect to your computer. This is usually through a USB connection. The audio interface then converts the analog signals from your recorder into a digital signal.
The computer can take this digital signal and then transmit it to your headphones or even to your PC’s speakers themselves. This is a signal that the computer can understand better, which is why you will be able to see a big difference in the audio quality in terms of loudness and clarity when you use an audio interface.
The great thing about audio interfaces is that because of the multitude of factors that play into its use, it is available in diverse ways. You can get all kinds of sizes, shapes, and features depending on the type of audio interface you choose to use. One of the factors that helps many decide the audio interface to use is the kind of input and output options available.
Some of the most common options include MIDI I/O and S/PDIF. You can decide what option is the best for you by looking at the requirements and capabilities of your computer system as well. Another way that people decide what audio interface is right for them is through the way that they plan on using the device on their computer.
Most of the audio interfaces out there do have one function in mind – producing and creating new music. That is why so many studio headphones need an audio interface to work properly. The two are supposed to work in conjunction and create quality sounds. However, do keep in mind that some beginner studio headphones are not built to work with audio interfaces.
The Benefits Of An Audio Interface
There are a lot of benefits to using an audio interface over the standard PC sound card and system. Keep reading this section to learn more about audio interfaces and how they can benefit you, especially if you are interested in creating music.
More Input And Output Options
One of the biggest benefits of using an audio interface over the computer sound card is that you can get access to far more input and output options. There are not just more options available, but you have options that are best for recording and producing purposes. Therefore, from a music production perspective, the audio interface is far superior to the computer sound card.
In fact, when you are using an audio interface, here are just some of the input options you may have:
- The microphone jack.
- Line input options for instruments such as guitars.
- MIDI input options for instruments like keyboards.
Aside from this, you can also access a bunch of output options, such as:
- An XLR port, to help connect microphones to the computer.
- TRS ports are essential for recording instruments.
- MIDI ports to send and save important data.
- RCA connections that you can use to transmit both audio and video data.
Therefore, if at the end of the day, recording music, or producing it is the goal at hand, you will benefit from using an audio interface. Just based on the input and recording options, you can get a lot more diversity using this device to accomodate all of your instruments.
It Is Built For Music Production
The benefits of an audio interface don’t just stop at the input and output methods. In fact, the best part of an audio interface is the ability to deliver superior sound. This is because of a very simple fact about its development – audio interfaces are just built for producing music. They have all of the features and tools that someone in the business would need in this situation.
One of the features of the audio interface is that it comes with a preamp that is embedded into the device. This works to help improve the sound using two core features – tone and quality. Preamp helps to get rid of any distortion in the recordings, which makes the sound clear and distinct. It also improves the dynamic range, making the overall sound louder.
You Can Avoid Interference
One thing a lot of amateur song recorders may not know about is how computer recordings are prone to interference. This happens because the sound card on your PC is in a place that is very close to the computer’s motherboard. That, along with the other devices nearby, can interfere with the recording process and lead to a distortion on the recording.
You may hear this as a buzzing sound at the background of your recording, and this is a major flaw especially if you want professional sound. However, using an audio interface fixes this problem. This is because in most cases the audio interface is an external device. In some cases, you can also fix this issue with shielding the sound card from the motherboard.
There Is Reduced Latency
Latency is an important consideration when you are making music, and it is the delay between when you play a note, and when the system recognizes it. One of the things you may have already noticed if you record music on your computer, it’s latency leaves a lot to be desired.This happens because the sound card on your computer doesn’t prioritize latency.
Because there is so much happening on your device, there is a constant push and pull between the resources that the PC will use. An audio interface, however, dedicates all processing power to the audio recording. It also has the ability to reduce latency exponentially because it comes with specific latency tools. It will perform far better than the average sound card.
Related: Studio vs. Monitor Headphones – Is There a Difference?
Can A DAC/Amp Combo Work?
While we have spent a lot of time in this article exploring an audio interface, and what it can do, there is one other thing to consider before you take the plunge for an expensive device. There is a tool on the market that is far more affordable, and in some cases, does what an audio interface can do at a much lower cost. This is the DAC or audio amp.
DAC stands for a Digital to Analog Converter. So, consider it as something that will convert digital signals to analog signals. Now, there is one thing to consider here – the audio interface can work both ways, convert digital to analog, and vice versa. However, DAC only works in one way, meaning it helps to make the output to your headphones better, but that is all.
Therefore, DAC devices are not the best choice when you are recording music. However, if you want to listen to music through studio headphones, a DAC can work just as well. Plus, these devices are quite cheaper than the average audio interface.
What Should I Choose?
Throughout this article, we have talked about the many reasons that one may choose an audio interface over a sound card from the PC. However, now that we know what a DAC/Amp is, the question is, what even is the point of the audio interface? They’re more expensive, so the cheaper option seems to be the DAC/Amp.
That being said, it all depends on how you want to use the devices, rather than the cost at face value. So, if you want to understand what you should choose, you need to decide what you plan to use your studio headphones for. Once you know the answer to this question, you can know what the right choice is for you.
To Produce Music
If the goal with the studio headphones is to produce and create music, then the answer is pretty clear. You should absolutely choose the audio interface. The audio interface is the device that ultimately will help you record music, while the DAC/Amp just can’t deliver when it comes to recordings. In fact, in this case, investing in the latter seems like a waste.
Having an audio interface on your side isn’t just essential to be able to record, but the features it has will make your recordings a lot better. As the article mentioned above, the audio interface devices are built for this purpose, so what can deliver better than them?
To Listen To Music
Not everyone who purchases a studio headphone is doing it to record music. For some people, the promise of better audio quality makes the cost of a studio headphone worth it, even if just for listening. If you are such a person, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars looking for an audio interface, especially if you have no intention to ever record.
Instead, you will be able to get pretty much the same function out of the DAC/Amp combo, and since it’s at a much lower cost, we recommend this option. If you are, however, interested in recording or want to learn, you can still opt for an audio interface.
In general, there is no doubt that audio interfaces deliver a lot of features, and are an essential tool for those in the business of producing music. However, if you have a studio headphone that you only use for the purpose of listening to music, a simple DAC/Amp combo will often be enough to get the most out of your new headphones.