Do you want to record some songs or guitar riffs but you lack an audio interface? When and why do you even need one of those little boxes? In this guide, we’ll go over the value of an interface.
But I’ll also show you some ways to record at home without one.
- Do You Need An Audio Interface To Record Guitar?
- Why Do I Need An Audio Interface For Recording Guitar?
- How Do You Record An Electric Guitar Without An Audio Interface?
- How Do You Record An Acoustic Guitar Without An Audio Interface?
- Finding A Budget Audio Interface
Do You Need An Audio Interface To Record Guitar?
Technically no, there are ways to record acoustic and electric guitar without an audio interface. However, they are not ideal techniques and won’t give you the best sound quality. If you cannot afford (or can’t reasonably attach) an interface to your computer, then this article will outline several methods to get your guitar recorded anyway.
What Is An Audio Interface?
An audio interface is a piece of hardware (usually box-shaped) that connects your audio sources to your computer. They have inputs for XLR microphones and ¼” guitar cables, both of which you cannot connect to a computer otherwise. Lastly, interfaces come equipped with a built in audio driver and a pre-amp.
These features amplify and convert the audio signals of your microphones and instruments into digital signals that your computer can process.
Why Do I Need An Audio Interface For Recording Guitar?
An interface will provide the highest sound quality you can get in a bedroom studio setup. The other methods in this guide can suffer from the following issues:
- High latency
- High room noise
- Distortion or degraded tone
Latency refers to how much delay occurs in a network. For audio, it means how long it takes the sound you’re recording to be heard in your monitors or headphones. The higher the latency, the longer it will take to hear what you’re recording.
If the amount of latency to too high, then it can and will throw off your guitar playing (or singing, etc). You’ll be hearing what you record later than what you’re recording it against (say, a backing track). It’s going to throw off your rhythm.
By room noise, I mean the amount of hum that’s audible in your recording. Cheaper electronics will produce more hum. And, once that background noise is in your recording, it’s very hard to remove it without cutting important frequencies of your actual instrument or vocal.
Distortion & Degraded Tone
Recording without an audio interface is not ideal because your computer (usually) won’t have a dedicated sound card. The stock audio drivers and hardware in a computer cannot provide a high fidelity sound and won’t have a pre-amp.
As a result, the audio signal that you record could easily get distorted if you record too hot (by “hot”, we mean the signal is too loud).
Because you won’t have a pre-amp, the tone of the instrument or vocal may turn out sounding weak, thin, or strangled (due to a lack of proper frequency response in the lows and mids).
How Do You Record An Electric Guitar Without An Audio Interface?
You can record an electric guitar without an interface by either: mic’ing an amp or plugging into a field recorder. I will walk you through both methods.
1. How To Mic An Amp Without An Interface
If you own any kind of amplifier, then you can record the output of it with a standard USB microphone. You won’t need an interface to connect the USB mic to the computer.
Here’s how to do it:
- Plug your guitar into your amp and set your tone
- Plug your USB microphone into your computer
- Position your USB microphone in front of the amp speaker, about 4 inches away (but experiment with the angle and distance to get the right sound)
- Record the audio from the mic into your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice
Note: you may need to download an ASIO driver to do this.
An ASIO driver is a piece of software that directs the audio you record into your DAW. It’s not very different from your monitor having a graphics driver, etc. You can download a basic free ASIO driver here.
If you have ever opened your DAW program before, then you probably already have an ASIO driver set up.
2. How to Direct Record With A Portable Recorder
A field recorder can be used instead of an audio interface. Normally, this would be done by either:
- Recording your guitar track to the recorder (perhaps while listening to a backing track) and exporting the audio file to your DAW afterwards, or
- Connecting your recorder to your computer like you would a normal audio interface
The second option only works on a few select portable recorders. Some more expensive ones are designed to double as a standalone audio interface. The models that can do this include:
- Tascam DR-40X
- Zoom H4n
- Zoom H6
If you already own such a recorder, then this is a feasible alternative.
But I would not recommend buying one just to pull this off. An actual audio interface would be higher quality than a portable recorder with the same features. A dedicated interface may even be cheaper with better preamps.
Songs with simple instrumentation will work best for this technique. For example, a track with just a vocal and one or two guitars.
How Do You Record An Acoustic Guitar Without An Audio Interface?
An acoustic guitar can be recorded directly to your computer with a USB microphone. Alternatively, you could record the guitar part with a portable recorder and export the audio file to your computer later. Neither of these options need a dedicated interface to try.
If you don’t own a USB microphone or a portable recorder, a smart phone could be used in a pinch. But I warn you: the audio quality of your phone recording will be mediocre at best.
But how do you position your microphone or recorder to get the best tone from an acoustic guitar? For details on mic placement, check out this guide.
Finding A Budget Audio Interface
These options won’t provide the highest fidelity of recordings and I wouldn’t consider them permanent solutions. You may only be a hobbyist and cannot justify spending a lot of money on audio equipment. That’s totally understandable.
A USB microphone, handheld recorder, or even a smart phone can all capture sound. Plenty of people record and release music from these sources on YouTube, SoundCloud, etc.
File Requirements for Spotify Distribution
But keep in mind that the bitrate and sampe rate of your audio files from these LoFi sources may not meet Spotify minimum standards. Most distribution services have the following audio requirements:
- Sample size: 16 bit
- Sample rate: 44.1 kHz
- Bit Rate: 1411 kbps
- File type: stereo WAV file (sometimes AIFF, FLAC, or MP3)
Look For Name Brand Bundles
If you do want to distribute your music professionally but you’re on a budget, then I would recommend shopping for an audio interface bundle to get you started. The microphones that come in bundles may not be the best, but the fidelity will still surpass that of USB mics or phone recordings.
If it were me, I would look at budget brands that are well-known in the music community, like:
- Focusrite (practically the industry standard for budget bedroom setups; I use a Scarlett Solo)
- PreSonus (I can vouch that they make very nice budget monitors, but I haven’t tried their interfaces)
- M-Audio (their MIDI keyboards are a home studio mainstay, so they’ve got some street cred)
- Behringer (but this may be pushing the bottom of the barrel, check the reviews closely)
Recording guitars, vocals, or any other instrument is possible without an audio interface. However, the lack of a dedicated sound driver means your tracks may suffer from extra room noise and high latency.
Are you looking for more info on producing indie music at home? If so, then here are some other guides to consider reading: