Music enthusiasts always wonder, do they need an audio interface for headphones? Actually, it depends on your needs.
If you are just playing a song on your mobile and want to listen to that on your headphones then you don’t need an audio interface. Just connect the headphone to the mobile and enjoy your song.
But if you are an audio recording engineer and have a digital audio recording studio setup and want to monitor audio then an audio interface is an essential piece of equipment for you.
If you are a live sound engineer then you have the option to monitor the sound by directly connecting the headphone to the mixer’s headphone output. There you don’t need a dedicated audio interface.
Now, let’s dig deep into this topic.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Does an Audio Interface Do for Headphones?
- 2 Do Audio Interfaces Amplify Headphones?
- 3 Does Audio Interface Affect Sound Quality?
- 4 Who Needs an Audio Interface?
- 5 How Much Should I Pay for an Audio Interface?
- 6 How Do You Choose a Good Audio Interface?
- 7 Is Audio Interface Better Than Headphone Amplifier?
- 8 Is a Mixer Better Than Audio Interface?
- 9 Bottom Line
What Does an Audio Interface Do for Headphones?
Audio interface is digital equipment equipped with different features required for music production.
The common features of an audio interface are,
- Mic inputs and instruments inputs
- Main out, monitor out, headphone out
- 48 volts phantom power to power up condenser mics
- MIDI inputs and outputs
- DAC – Analog to digital audio converter
- Universal audio recording hub
- Digital mixer
So, you can see that it handles different audio recording-related tasks and one of them is headphone out.
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This allows you to connect headphones and monitor your audio through them. There is a dedicated circuit provided inside the audio interface to connect the headphones.
Do Audio Interfaces Amplify Headphones?
Most of the audio interfaces come with 1 or 2 headphone outs. These outs are sufficient to power up a single headphone for each out.
The headphone circuit given inside the audio interface is not ideal for more than 1 headphone. If you do that, chances are you may damage the audio interface circuit.
There is no headphone amplifier provided inside the audio interface.
So, don’t connect more than one headphone to any audio interface.
Instead, you can buy a separate headphone amplifier such as Mackie HM Series Headphone Amp to power up more than one headphone.
Does Audio Interface Affect Sound Quality?
Yes, the quality of audio interface affects the sound quality. You can feel a significant difference between the sound quality of a high end audio interface and a regular and cheap audio interface.
The Analog-to-Digital-Converter (DAC), preamps, circuitry, chips and other things used in an audio interface affects the sound quality.
Obviously, a budget audio interface has cheap-quality components installed inside. And a high-end audio interface has high-quality components.
So, if anybody tells you that an audio interface is a digital binary device so, the audio quality is the same in all then he is definitely not telling you the truth.
A few years back I used to record my projects on M-Audio M-Track Pro audio interface which was a budget 2-channel audio interface. The sound quality of that audio interface seems good to me.
BUT, when I changed my audio interface to Motu 896 I felt that it had much more clarity the M-Track Pro.
That’s how I’m sure the quality of audio interface affects the sound quality.
Who Needs an Audio Interface?
To answer this question, let me tell you first that there are two types of audio interfaces.
- Integrated audio interface
- Dedicated audio interface
An integrated audio interface is a part of the computer’s motherboard and is used to power up headphones and speakers to listen to the computer’s audio.
There is a mic input also given to connect a mic to the computer.
On the other hand, a dedicated audio interface is a standalone audio interface that can be connected to a computer via different ports such as USB, Firewire, PCI, etc.
These audio interfaces are built for dedicated audio-related work like audio recording and music production.
So, audio interface is an essential thing in this digital world, but a dedicated audio interface is only required if you are doing professional audio and video production.
How Much Should I Pay for an Audio Interface?
It depends on your needs.
- If you just want to listen to songs and play games on your computer then an integrated audio interface is sufficient for you.
- If you are a music producer or a video editor and want to record and listen in HD quality audio format then you need a dedicated audio interface.
- Again, if you are a bedroom producer and want to record tracks one by one or want to do live streams then a 2-channel audio interface is sufficient for you.
- If you want to set up a recording studio then you need more inputs and outputs. In that case, you need a high-end audio interface.
How Do You Choose a Good Audio Interface?
A good audio interface should have these features,
- High-quality pre-amps
- High-quality DAC (analog to digital converter)
- Multiple inputs and outputs
- MIDI input and output
- HD audio recording formats such as 48kHz/24-Bit, 96kHz/24Bit etc.
- Low latency
You can refer to my audio interface guide to choose best audio interface for you.
Is Audio Interface Better Than Headphone Amplifier?
No, a headphone amplifier is ideally built for headphone amplification but an audio interface is built for several other tasks. Obviously, a headphone amplifier is better than audio interface.
You can connect multiple headphones to a headphone amplifier but the audio interface does not have multiple headphone inputs.
Even, if you by the way connect multiple headphones to an audio interface, chances are you may damage the chip inside it.
So, if you are connecting multiple headphones then headphone amplifier is my recommendation for you.
Is a Mixer Better Than Audio Interface?
It all depends on your needs.
If your area live sound engineer then a mixer is the essential equipment for you. BUT, if you are a recording engineer, music producer or songwriter then an audio interface is suitable for you.
Audio interface allows you to record audio on your computer but most of the mixers don’t. However, you can use both an audio interface and mixer in your recording studio to get better routing options.
Using a mixer with an audio interface expands the inputs and outputs.
By the way, I use only the audio interface in my studio and it’s sufficient even for some complicated audio-related tasks.
So, here’s what I think about the headphones and audio interfaces. Definitely, you need an audio interface to connect headphones whether it’s an integrated audio interface or a dedicated one.
But, you need this. It’s an essential part of computer audio. Without an audio interface, you can’t even listen to audio through the computer.
However, a dedicated audio interface opens the door to several other audio-related tasks. Whether it’s an audio recording, music production, live streaming, video editing, or anything else.
You need an audio interface to connect headphones or any other speakers to the computer.