Does an audio interface matter for mixing? (Quick Answer)

By Bob •  Updated: 11/02/21 •  4 min read

No, unless you are using headphones or speakers that are dependent on the interface to function.

The only people for whom an audio interface does matter are those who have external hardware running through the interface, whether it be speakers or headphones that only work with certain interfaces or outboard effects processors whose main output is routed into the computer via the audio interface.  

If your headphones run off of an amplifier in your mixing desk, then you can plug them directly into your computer’s headphone jack and they will function just fine.

If you have a home studio set up where all of your outboard gear runs through your audio interface, then yes, it would probably be best if you had that same brand of audio interface; however, this wouldn’t matter unless you were using the equipment with the interface as the primary output, the way that some people use headphones with their computers.

If you are using speakers as your main monitoring system, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have an audio interface with decent preamps or some sort of built-in mixer functionality so that you can control the volume of those monitors from within your DAW.

Otherwise, if you were to connect them via an unbalanced RCA to 3.5mm cable (a very common connection for consumer equipment) then the sound could work its way back into your computer via poor grounding and cause ground loop hums which would degrade the quality of your recordings.

This problem is quite easy to avoid by having either balanced connections on both ends or unbalanced connections on both ends.

Should I use an audio interface for mixing?

The audio interface has nothing to do with mixing.

You need an audio interface if your headphones or speakers require power from an external source. If you aren’t using any of those then it’s not a requirement.

The better interfaces allow for more inputs and outputs as well as preamps, but this will always come at a higher price point.

In my opinion, unless you plan on using some sort of hardware synthesizer or a MIDI controller down the road, there is no reason to spend more than 100 bucks on a simple 2 in/2 out USB-based interface.

Can you mix with an audio interface?

Yes. You can even mix with a mixer. The audio interface is for converting analog to digital and back again, but you don’t need one for mixing.

An audio interface is not designed to be used for mixing – it’s simply a tool that lets you convert sound from analog to digital so the computer can process it.

Does a better audio interface affect sound quality?

A better audio interface will help you achieve better sound quality.

You’ve heard the saying “garbage in, garbage out.”

That means that your sound quality will be limited by the quality of the source material. If you record low-quality audio, it won’t get any better once it’s in your DAW no matter how good your interface is.

For example, if your guitar sound doesn’t sound good, recording it won’t make it better it’ll just sound like it does going into the interface.

There are many factors that affect sound quality in general, not just when recording or mixing – but an audio interface will help reduce the noise floor and provide enough power to run properly functioning gear.

An interface with 4 or more preamps can give you a bit more flexibility for adding multiple microphones into a single channel which reduces the number of tracks you have to use when mixing down.

The same goes for outputs – having 2 RCA line-level outs gives you less flexibility than having 1 balanced TRS out.

Yes, but unless you have specific needs for an audio interface, there is no need to spend a ton of money on one.

USB Audio Interface with Mic Preamplifier XRL audio interface (USB Audio Interface)

But if you are using some high-quality studio monitors then it may be wise to look into an interface with some preamps or maybe even XLR connectivity so that you can cut the noise floor down by having balanced connections between all of your gear.