Home Recording USB Interfaces - dummies

By Jeff Strong

USB interfaces for home recording come in two varieties: those using USB 1.1 and those using USB 2.0 (and before too long, USB 3). These are handy because most computers have at least one USB port. These interfaces also represent a low-cost solution for people who need only a couple of inputs and outputs.

The only problem with USB for recording audio is the relatively slow transfer speed when you use the USB 1.1 interfaces. This slower speed translates into higher latencies than those found with either FireWire or PCI interfaces. The latency is significant enough that you’re likely to hear it when you record.

A USB interface connects to your computer’s USB port.
A USB interface connects to your computer’s USB port.

To get around this deficit, most USB-interface manufacturers have incorporated some sort of “no latency” monitoring option. With such an option, you can record without hearing a delay between the tracks that you’ve already recorded and the one you’re currently recording.

The problem is that with such an option, your newly recorded track gets placed out of synch with the previously recorded tracks. To correct the synchronization, you must move your overdubbed tracks within your song file. Admittedly, this process is pretty easy, but it takes time. (Check your owner’s manual for details on how to do this.)

If you don’t want to deal with the latency in USB 1.1 interface–based systems, you should use a PCI, FireWire, or USB 2.0 interface. In fact, given this critical issue, Pony up for an interface using USB 2.0, your life will be easier.

USB interfaces can be found for under $200, and run as much as $1,000, depending on the manufacturer and the number of tracks and other options they include.