A USB audio interface is a device that lets you input instruments and/or microphones directly into your computer. This allows you to do things like record music, podcast, live stream, chat, etc. They can have anywhere from 1 to 128 inputs. For gaming purposes, you really only need one input (unless you plan on sharing your computer or laptop with other gamers). Basically, what the interface does is convert the input signals into digital format. That’s about as technical as we need to be on that subject. You should just be able to plug and play but depending on your purchase you may need to install a driver, which is usually no biggie.
When it comes to the audio interface, again, there are tons of choices. You can have everything from a single input to enough for tracking an entire orchestra. For most people, a one- or two-input unit is just fine for things like gaming, podcasting, or recording music. I personally use what is technically a 12-track interface, however, I only use one input most of the time. As I previously mentioned, I got it with the intention of podcasting with multiple guests, but really for practical purposes I could sell it and get something smaller. I won’t, of course, because I really love it, and it has sound effects which can really enrich the gaming experience!
Recommended Audio Interface Boards
My weapon of choice is the Behringer Xenyx QX1202USB.
I really like Behringer products. In their early days they started off replicating high-end audio components (on which the patents had expired) with cheap imported parts. This brought great-sounding audio gear to the market at much more affordable prices. They competed well against high-dollar, industry standard equipment that was out of most independent musicians’ budgets. I’ve been using Behringer gear for a long time and haven’t had a lemon yet. I’m impressed with their longevity; I’m still using stuff that I’ve had for over 10 years!
The reason why I wanted to say all that is because the audio interface I’m going to recommend is the Behringer U-Phoria UM2.
Yes, it’s $50. Yes, there are less expensive options out there, and you are free to research to find one under that price. If you do go with the U-phoria Um2, go to Behringer’s website to download and install the driver for it. If you do have more to spend, I can also attest to Focusrite’s Scarlett line or Presonus, but they tend to be rather pricey. Another good brand is M-Audio. They offer one priced around $50 as well.
If you aren’t tech-savvy, a good way to get an idea if a product is right for you is to read customer reviews and look it up on YouTube. You don’t need to know the science behind how it works.
You may have noticed that the links for Behringer stuff is from a company called Sweetwater. I think Behringer has some kind of deal with them because they just so happen to have the best prices on brand new Behringer gear, even over Amazon. Every now and then you might find good prices on Ebay, but it’s hit or miss, and I don’t recommend buying used electronics. That can come back to bite you in the arse and you’ll miss out on warranties.
If you want to up your game a little more but still keep it under $100, here’s another great little Behringer interface, the Xenyx 302USB. It’s only $10 more than the U-Phoria UM2, but this one offers a little equalization and that’s never a bad thing.
If I didn’t already have an interface, I would totally go with this one. It not only offers an XLR / 1/4” jack, but you can also hook up an outside audio source via a stereo cable or USB, which is great! It also has continuous phantom power for large diaphragm mics should you choose to go that route. It’s a lot of board in a little package! I would 100% purchase this! The only thing I would miss is the effects, but that’s not a deal breaker for me.
If you have more to spend, Behringer offers other choices as well but remember to make sure they specifically say USB because Behringer has two Xenyx lines: one with USB and one without.
If you decide to look for something even more affordable, make sure it says USB OUT in the description. Both Amazon and eBay are plagued with cheap mixer boards for DJing that say USB, but it’s input only and you don’t want that! And again, if you do happen to find something more affordable be sure to check out reviews and look it up on YouTube to get a better idea of how it sounds and how to set it up for maximum performance.
Well, that’s about all I have for this topic. There are other brands out there for those of you who have a bigger budget, but since this is an article about more budget friendliness, I don’t really want to delve much into those. If you want some other good names, look into Yamaha, Alesis, and Mackie. Alesis makes a USB mixing board much like mine that has awesome effects, if that’s something that interests you.
Anyway, tune in next time for the last part in the series where I will get down on my hands and knees and beg you to install a free software program called Voice Meeter. I’ll also touch base on headphones as well. Until then, Cheers!
Disclaimer: I am not sponsored or have any affiliations with any of the brands and websites mentioned.
This is Part 3 of a 4-part series.