Firewire Audio Interface Buying Guide

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Firewire Audio Interface Buying Guide

An increasing number of musicians are choosing to record music at home rather than in a studio. Home production allows amateurs to record and produce their own studio quality music without having to spend several thousand pounds on studio time. The great thing about having a home studio is that it can be used time and time again once the equipment has been purchased.

About Firewire Audio Interfaces

A Firewire audio interface can be thought of as an advanced sound card, handling the audio input and output of a computer. A key way in which an audio interface differs from a typical sound card is that there is minimal latency, meaning that the user should notice a delay between a sound being made and being able to hear it through a set of connected headphones. Depending on the device, it is possible to plug in several audio inputs simultaneously, making it a great way of recording music. A Firewire audio interface is a great choice as it can transfer data between the device and the computer much more quickly than a USB device could. Because it is external, it is much easier to plug in and unplug devices from it than a sound card or any other device directly built into the back of a computer. As many of the Firewire audio interfaces that are currently on the market are designed to be to some extent future proof in terms of the quality at which they can record, it is convenient to be able to plug the device into a new computer when the time comes to upgrade.

Choosing a Firewire Audio Interface

There are many Firewire audio interface devices on the market, the majority of which offer excellent recording quality. Picking one out will depend on the specific features required. Some of the most important considerations when choosing a device will be what types of audio inputs are required, the connectivity in terms of the number of input and outputs available, and the recording quality in terms of both sample rate and bit depth.

Firewire Audio Interface Input Types

There are three main types of input that can be found on Firewire audio interface devices. These are line, microphone, and instrument. Each one is used for inputting from different sources, and many Firewire audio input devices will have more than one of each input. As a general rule of thumb, the more inputs the interface can handle, the more expensive it will be, so it is important to work out not only how many inputs are required now, but also how many inputs may be required in the future as replacing a Firewire audio interface is not likely to be cheap.


A line input is used for connecting another piece of electronic equipment. For a more sophisticated setup, this could be a mixing desk; however, it is also commonly used for connecting CD players, synthesizers, and preamplifiers.


A microphone input is used for exactly that – connecting a microphone. As microphones usually output a much lower-level signal than other instruments, a preamplifier is sometimes needed between the microphone and the audio interface. Microphones are commonly used for recording vocals and drums and will sometimes be used for recording acoustic instruments.


The instrument input can be used for a number of different instruments. However, they are commonly used for recording the sound from electric guitars and bass guitars. Recording acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars can cause problems when using line and microphone inputs; however, in some cases the instrument input can be used on the piezo pickups of these instruments.

Not all Firewire audio interfaces have instrument inputs. However, this does not necessarily have to be a deal breaker even if one is required as a direct injection box can be used to plug an instrument such as a guitar into a microphone input. On other occasions, a preamplifier with a line output can be used to connect an instrument to the line input of the Firewire audio interface.

Firewire Audio Interface Connectivity

There are a few interfaces on the market that come with just one line input. Whilst this will be enough for some people, mainly those working with pre-recorded samples, most people will desire at least two, even if it is just to make sure that the interface will be useful for future projects. The majority of solo artists wishing to record their own music will need an audio interface with a microphone input along with either an instrument or line input for their guitar, keyboard, or other instrument. For recording an entire band, an 8-input audio interface is likely to be required – four microphones for the drum kit to cover the kick, snare, and two overheads, a fifth microphone for the vocalist, a guitar, a bass guitar, and a spare, perhaps for either a second guitar or keyboard. It is also possible to overdub the recording tracks one at a time if the Firewire audio interface does not have enough inputs. Many people, however, see this is an extra effort that they would prefer to avoid. It can take a lot of time and practice to get it right, and these are things that an amateur recording in a home studio does not often have. DJs who use computers may also want a Firewire audio interface; however, it is likely they will use it in a very different way. Rather than focussing on what inputs are available, a DJ will be more interested in the outputs, requiring an output to the main speakers as well as one for the DJ themselves to listen to in order to cue the mix. Other DJs like to operate a virtual turntable, where each has its own output, allowing mixing to be done in a more conventional way.

Sample Rate of Firewire Audio Interfaces

The sample rate refers to how many times per second the signal is measured. The standard for a CD is 44.1kHz, but many audio interfaces will offer double this. Whilst it is possible to get away with a device offering a 48kHz rate, the standard most frequently used is 96kHz as this allows for the artefacts of the digital conversion process to be better filtered. A more expensive Firewire audio interface may allow an even greater sample rate, with many on the market offering a sample rate of 192kHz. An improved sample rate is often accompanied by an increase in price, however.

Bit Depth of Firewire Audio Interfaces

The bit depth refers to the accuracy of each reading of the input signal. Originally, CDs usually had 16-bit depth, but now 24-bit depth is seen by many as offering an improved listening experience. As with the sample rate, an interface with a higher bit depth will usually be more expensive although the majority of modern audio interfaces on the market support 24-bit depth.

Finding a Firewire Audio Interface on eBay

To locate Firewire audio interfaces on eBay, firstly open up the All Categories tab and click on the link for Musical Instruments. On this page there should be a section for Pro Audio Equipment, and within this there is a section for Audio/MIDI Interfaces. Along the left hand side of the page, there are a set of filter options which can be used to narrow down the search further. One of these should be called Firewire Audio Interface. For musicians with a specific brand in mind, there is an option to filter the search down further by brand name such as Focusrite or M-Audio.


There is a lot to think about when choosing a Firewire audio interface. Many people will have a good idea of the number and type of inputs and outputs they require. However, it is also important to think ahead and plan for any additional inputs that may be required in the future. The price will go up quite quickly for Firewire audio interfaces with several inputs, so while it is good to plan for an extra input or two, if the chances of these being used are small, many will find that it is not worth spending the extra. The quality in terms of sample rate and bit depth will vary, often being higher on more expensive audio interfaces. Many people will find that they do not find the improvements audible, however, and therefore, not worthy of spending extra for. Other musicians will see quality as of paramount importance, and anybody falling into this category will want to focus on devices in the high end of the market.

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