Buying an Audio Interface

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An interface is a box or card that attaches to your computer (via USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt) to enable audio recordings. The DAW (Digital Audi Workstation) that you use will usually recognise the interface so you can then record into the computer. The interface will contain an input section where you plug in whatever you want to record and an output section which will attach to headphones or a monitoring system so you can hear what you are doing.
Inside the interface are three main things, an A/D converter to convert your analogue signal into digital, a D/A converter to bring the digital back into analogue so you can hear your sound and a preamp for microphones which lifts the signal of the mic to necessary levels.
There is a lot of talk about preamps and more advanced users sometimes prefer to get a separate one (usually for classic colouration purposes) but these days most preamps in interfaces are of a decent enough quality to get started. Some preamps also have a 48v boost for condenser mics (dynamic mics don't need this)
Buying an interface can be tricky when starting out so it's good to have an idea what you want it to do. If you are a singer/songwriter a simple 2 channel interface will suffice (one for guitar one for a vocal mic.) Or if you have an 'in the box' midi set-up you may only want to only overdub one thing at a time, again a simple set-up will suffice. M-Audio, Focusrite and many others do basic interfaces for such needs. £80 or so will get you a decent one. If you want to record a band you will want more inputs for guitars, drum mics, keyboards etc.
If you wish to find out more about various products, forums are more likely to be more informative that the manufacturers blurb because they are the people that use them (although always hear something a few times if you want to be fairly sure) . However if you find a manufacturer with an approachable tech department they can be very helpful too.
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