Does an audio interface affect sound quality? How do I get sound on live stream? These are questions that kept bugging me for a long time. If you are a live streamer, chances are you frequently ask yourself the same.
So, how to Livestream with an Audio Interface? First, you connect a microphone to the audio input of the live streaming device. Next, you check the sound levels to ensure they are correct. Finally, connect the audio interface to the computer or smartphone.
The quality of the audio interface directly affects the level of sound quality. Let’s take a deep dive of how to livestream with an audio interface. First things first…
What’s an Audio Interface?
To put it simply, an audio interface is a piece of hardware that connects audio input devices like microphones and musical instruments to your computer or smartphone. That’s right, you can hook an audio interface directly to a smartphone. More on that later, but what exactly does an audio interface do?
It’s basically an analog-to-digital converter. As such, an audio interface converts the analog signal that you input through a microphone, guitar, drums, and other devices into a digital format that your computer can understand and process.
The reverse is also true, i.e. the interface converts digital signals to analog. Hence you can slap a set of headphones or studio monitors on the computer and listen to the audio output.
Why You Need an Audio Interface
You’re probably wondering, “do I need an audio interface for streaming?” I mean, you can use your computer’s existing microphone and headphone sockets, right?
Absolutely, you can use them. However, you will subject your audience to terrible audio. Actually, most of them will probably leave the stream because of bad audio.
While the basic input and output ports on your computer are good for friendly Skyping, gaming, and watching movies, they are massively affected by interference and latency. As a result, they neither receive nor send out accurate and high-quality sound signals.
And that’s where an audio interface comes in. Think of it as a fancier, more powerful soundcard that brings awesome preamps to the table.
That’s the thing with audio interfaces. They improve the sonic capabilities of computers so much that an ordinary livestream ends up sounding like a professional production. Besides, a typical audio interface comes with several input and output ports that you won’t find on a computer.
That’s very important and I’ll tell you why. First of all, a good livestream needs excellent audio, which you can only get if you use an external microphone. Plug any microphone (including the basic, beginner mics) to an audio interface and it will improve the sound ten times over.
Better yet, you can connect two or more microphones simultaneously. That’s a handy feature if your live show requires two or more microphones.
Secondly, the interface allows you to connect other input devices like guitar, keyboard, piano, drums, DJ mixer, etc. These are all important live streaming equipment for musicians and DJs. And if your stream involves putting on a show for the audience, you will need to connect a microphone and at least one more device.
Unfortunately, you can’t do that on a computer unless you have an audio interface. So, long story short, you need this little device as part of your setup.
And since you’re here, I’m going to explain in details how to livestream with an audio interface. First things first, you need the right type of audio interface for your streaming setup. Let’s look at your options, shall we?
Types of Audio Interfaces
There are four main types of audio interfaces, namely, USB, Thunderbolt, Firewire, and PCIe. In case you haven’t noticed, they are named based on computer connectivity. Thus a USB audio interface connects to a computer via USB, a thunderbolt via thunderbolt…you get the gist.
Thunderbolt audio interface
With transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps, Thunderbolt is undoubtedly the industry standard for connecting audio interfaces and other devices. Keep in mind that the fastest USB (USB 3.1 Gen 2) can only manage a quarter of that (10Gbps).
Even better, Thunderbolt has virtually zero latency and can zip data over 100 meters without breaking any sweat. So, what does that imply? It means that if you have a Thunderbolt audio interface, you can use a cable that’s 100 meters away from your computer and audio interface without compromising audio quality.
Think of an energetic livestream where you wouldn’t want any expensive gear like a high-end audio interface and MacBook around. You can keep them at a far, safe distance and only have the mic at the immediate location.
One Thunderbolt interface that might pick your interest is the Apollo Twin X DUO Thunderbolt 3 Audio Interface. It’s undoubtedly the cream of the crop as far as preventing latency and offering great sound dynamic range. The only downside is that it has only 2 inputs and 2 outputs.
In case you need more, you can look at the Apogee ELEMENT 88 which has 16 ins and 16 outs.
While all Apple laptops, desktops, and all-in-ones come with a thunderbolt 3 port, some Windows Pcs don’t. therefore, before settling for this type of audio interface, you will want to ensure that your computer supports it.
USB audio interface
The biggest advantage of using a USB interface is that the USB port is available in almost all computers. Whether you’re using a Mac or PC, there’s every chance that it has a USB port.
Additionally, some USB audio interfaces are designed to draw power from the computer. As such, you won’t need to plug the interface to the wall or an external power supply for that matter.
It’s, therefore, the perfect choice if you want a portable audio interface for streaming on the go. And the 10Gbps that you get with USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2) is not a bad transfer speed either.
One good unit that uses this type of connection is the PreSonus Studio 24c.
FireWire audio interface
Although it’s not the fastest (6Gbps), FireWire 800 is arguably the most reliable connection for your audio interface. It boasts a more consistent transfer rate compared to USB. For that reason, it’s your best bet for connecting multiple audio inputs.
Thus if you have two or more microphones, instruments, DJ mixers, you can seriously consider getting a FireWire audio interface. The only problem is that there aren’t many of them out there. Besides, most computers no longer come with the FireWire port.
The good news is that you can get a FireWire/USB hybrid audio interface like the MOTU UltraLite-MK3 Hybrid FireWire/USB2 Audio Interface. But if you want one that’s strictly FireWire, you might like the TC Electronic Konnekt 24D.
The primary difference between the first three types of audio interfaces and PCIe is that the latter is an internal card-based device. You basically install it on the motherboard of a computer in the same way you would install any other card.
As a result, you really can’t use a PCIe audio interface with a laptop. It only works with desktop computers. The upside of this setup is that the interface is connected directly to the computer, which reduces latency to zero while increases bandwidth.
Needless to say, this option is ideal if your livestream setup includes a desktop computer. And you can’t go wrong with the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX PCIe.
Choosing the Best Audio Interface for Streaming: The Key Features to Look For
Your audio interface’s input and output (I/O) configuration is arguably the most important feature on the device. The exact number of channels that your interface should have depends entirely on your needs.
For example, if you stream games or offer tutorials alone, then one channel is enough because you only need to hook one microphone to the interface. On the other hand, if you are hosting an online music show, then you need at least two channels.
A microphone will use up one channel and you can plug an instrument to the other channel. Of course the more the number of instruments you use, the more the number of channels you should have. Additionally, if you’re going to connect a keyboard or piano, make sure that your audio interface has hi-Z (also known as instrument-level) inputs.
In case you’re hosting something like a talk show or tutorial with multiple guests, you may want to look at audio interfaces that offer as many input channels as the number of microphones that you often use at any given time.
Output is not as important as input when you’re livestreaming. However, you’ll need at least one output channel for headphones or studio monitors. That’s especially true if it’s a music show because you want to hear if you’re hitting the right notes.
A phantom power or +48V microphone is one that draws power from the device in which it’s plugged. In other words, it doesn’t run on batteries. For example, condenser microphones use phantom power because they get their power from a mixer or audio interface.
So, should your audio interface support phantom power? If you’re going to record audio using a mic during the livestream, then it should. Phantom power improves sound dramatically during the recording process.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that most modern audio interfaces offer the ability to switch phantom power on or off. And that means you can always turn it off when you don’t need it.
XLR is extremely important if you plan to connect microphones to your audio interface. Why? Because in addition to providing a stable and reliable connection, XLR offers professional-level audio quality.
Almost all audio interfaces that are designed for connecting microphones come with 1 to 8 XLR inputs. High-end interfaces offer combo jacks that support both XLR and ¼-inch TRS. That’s a good option if you frequently switch between XLR and TRS microphones.
When shopping for an audio interface, you will notice that almost every product has a bit depth specification in its description. What does that even mean?
Well, bit depth refers to the dynamic range of sound. It’s a bit of a mathematical thing in that 1 bit equals 6 decibels (1 bit = 16dB). It follows that the CD standard of 16 bits has a total of 96dB.
Although that’s the standard, 16-bit sound is, in fact, far from good. It has lots of digital noise, especially in the quieter sections. That’s why you always hear some strange noises in audio CDs during the silence between one song and the next.
To avoid that, you’ll want a higher bit depth. 24 bits (144dB) will offer professional-quality sound in high and low frequencies. Therefore, that’s what you should be looking to get.
MIDI ports – do you need them?
If you’re a musician, composer, pianist, keyboard player or producer, then chances are you know all about MIDIs. Now, in case you’re planning to showcase the production process, and you plan to use a MIDI keyboard, then you definitely need an audio interface that supports MIDI connectivity. Otherwise, if your livestream doesn’t involve any of that, there’s no point in having the port.
Live Streaming Audio Setup: How to Connect the Audio Interface
Learning how to livestream with an audio interface starts with learning how to connect the interface. You can hook this device either to your smartphone or computer. Here’s how:
Connecting Audio Interface to a Smartphone
Things you’ll need
- Your smartphone
- USB audio interface
- USB cable for your phone
- USB cable for the audio interface
- Powered USB hub with its power supply cord
- Lightning to USB camera connection adapter
How to connect an audio interface to a smartphone
- Plug the lightning to USB camera connection adapter to your smartphone.
- Hook the powered USB hub to the lightning to USB adapter.
- Now, connect the USB hub to the socket or external power supply using its power supply cord.
- You will obviously need to charge the phone as you stream. So, go ahead and plug the USB part of your charger to the USB hub and the other end of the charger to your lightning to USB adapter. Your phone should start charging at this point.
- Next, connect the audio interface to the USB hub. With that, you should be done with all the hardware connections. Of course, unless you want to connect your computer as well (not necessary if you’re streaming from your smartphone)
- Test if the hack is working. To do that, open any audio input app on your smartphone (Voice Memos App for example). If you haven’t connected an audio input device like a microphone, the app will simply display a straight line. That means it’s recording silence since there’s no audio input. Nonetheless, the hack is working.
- At this point, you can go ahead and slap your audio input devices to the audio interface. If you’re streaming a tutorial, podcast or talk show, that input will obviously be a microphone. If you’re putting on a music show, you’ll probably need some microphones, a few instruments and possibly a DJ mixer.
Connecting an Audio Interface to a Computer
Things you’ll need
- Audio interface
How to connect an audio interface to a computer
Start by telling your computer to pick audio from the audio interface.
You can do that by adjusting settings in your operating system.
In Windows, head over to the Control Panel > Hardware & Sound > Sound > Recording and choose to input sound from the interface.
If you’re using a Mac computer, open sound settings by going to Apple > System Preferences > Sound > Input and then select the audio interface.
Note that if you can’t see the audio interface, then that means it’s not communicating with your computer. Most of them are plug-and-play devices but you’ll still want to ensure that the drivers are installed. Otherwise, it might be a case of incompatibility with your computer.
Set your streaming software to use the audio interface as the primary audio input device.
This varies from one OBS to another, but I’ll assume you can navigate to audio settings in your OBS.
Regardless of the software, you will find a tab that looks more or less similar to the sound settings in your operating system. It should allow you to pick the audio input device of your choice. Of course you will want to choose the audio interface.
Choosing the Input Tracks
Depending on your OBS, you might need to choose specific input tracks that your computer will pick from the audio interface. You see, most audio interfaces have multiple input ports. That’s how they enable you to connect multiple audio input devices like microphones, instruments, DJ mixers, etc. Now, the OBS in your computer might detect each of them as an individual track that you can mute and unmute as you please.
As you may have noticed the best audio interface for live streaming depends on your needs. It all boils down to the number of channels you need and the connectivity ports available on your computer.
Nonetheless, the above info covers everything you need if you want to know how to livestream with an audio interface. The only remaining things are lights, camera, and action!