Audio Interface Vs Preamp – The Differences

Are you new to the music and recording industry, and all these music components confuse you?

Now that you are here, you might want to know what an audio interface and a preamp are.

If you are looking for an audio interface vs. preamp, their differences, and benefits of the dedicated external preamp for an audio interface, you landed in the right place.

Being a beginner in audio engineering, these different audio components might baffle you in many ways. Learning the difference between these components is essential to produce a high-quality sound.

This article is going to be a beginner-friendly guide in which I will explain the function of an audio interface and a preamp.

You will learn the functioning and working of these audio components in really simple words. Excited to learn about all these things?

Stick to the end of this article.

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What is an Audio Interface?

Video: “What Is An Audio Interface And What Do We Do With It?”

An audio interface is a device, which converts a given analog audio signal from the equipment into a digital signal. This is then recorded by your computer.

In simpler words, an audio interface is a component that is used to connect your guitar, microphone, or other such devices to the computer.

An audio interface is like a Sound card (that is already present inside the computer) . However, an audio interface works a lot better than a sound card.

An audio interface is really useful in recording good quality audios.

Audio Interface vs Sound Card

If you found yourself baffled about the difference between the audio interface and sound card, don’t worry. I got you.

The job of an audio interface and a sound card is essentially the same. The purpose of both these devices is to move the sound into and out of your computer.

Every computer comes with a built-in sound card, but it does not give an output of higher resolution.

So basically, a sound card is a device that is already present on the computer but gives a low-quality output.

On the other hand, the audio interface has to be purchased separately, and it provides high-quality output with many options of input and output for instruments.

In previous days, people used to fit a new sound card inside the computer to improve the recordings.

But today, an audio interface is used instead of inserting a new sound card into the computer. There is no harm if we call an audio interface an External Sound Card.

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How does it work?

In order to understand an audio interface completely, we need to be aware of the working of this device.

An audio interface contains different parts or key features that perform specific tasks.

Let us look deep into the features of an audio interface and see how it works.

Line inputs

This input jack is used to connect keyboards, guitars, monitors, mixing desks, and similar devices used for recording. The line jack usually contains ¼” jacks.

There are many audio interfaces available that use the same port for the mic input and jack connections. With this type of interface, you can record only two sources at a time.

This can be done in either of the following combinations:

  • 2 jacks
  • 2 microphones
  • 1 jack and 1 microphone

Microphone inputs

This input is specifically for your microphone. These inputs are able to carry phantom power of +48V for condenser mics.

An audio interface usually uses 3-pins XLR microphone cables. With an audio interface of 2 mic inputs, you can record two inputs simultaneously.

Audio interfaces with multiple mic inputs are also available, which comes with extra or high-quality preamps. This is the reason they are costly.

Headphones outputs

While recording audio, you need to listen to that audio using a pair of headphones; otherwise, the sound could spill into the microphone. This might damage your take.

You will be able to listen to the exact sound this way as the headphones will be connected directly to the audio interface.

Monitor outputs

Monitor outputs are basically for connecting the studio monitor. The recorded sound can be played back this way.

You will get more connection types for a larger audio interface.


An audio interface comes with a built-in mic preamp.

Its function is to convert the weak electrical signal to a line-level signal before the signal reaches the other device for further processing.

A dedicated preamp for an audio interface is sometimes enough to perform the task.

But professionals like to have an external preamp for outstanding quality of audio.

Phantom power button

Condenser mics work on phantom power of +48V. For that, modern interfaces come with a separate phantom power button.

If you want to use a condenser mic, don’t forget to check the phantom power button in the interface before purchasing it.


In addition to the phantom power button, you need to check an interface for direct monitoring before purchasing it.

With the help of direct monitoring, you can listen to the audio being recorded through your headphones without any delay.

If an audio interface lacks this feature, there will be a time delay in hearing the sound, which is called Latency.

Therefore look for an audio interface with excellent direct monitoring.

What is a Preamp?

Video: “What Is A Preamp, And Do I Need One?”

A preamp is a device that converts a weak signal to a line-level signal. It basically increases the gain by taking a low-level signal and boosting it to a standard operating level.

A preamp can come in two different ways: It either comes as a built-in preamp within any device or as an external dedicated preamp.

The function of a preamp is not related to improving the quality of sound. It just works on signals. The signals released by microphones are low-level signals.

In order to boost these signals to a standard operating level, preamp comes into action.

The preamp is already present in an audio interface. Usually, people do not feel the need to buy one.

How does it work?

A preamp is liable to boost up the output signal of your microphone or a guitar to a line-level. The signals produced by such devices are weak.

The level of the signal should be raised before sending them to a mixer for further processing. A preamp performs the task by providing a stable gain.

It also reduces the level of noise, which could be otherwise harmful to the signal.

The signal level of a microphone is not up to the mark. A gain of around 30 to 60 dB is required in this situation.

While finding out the standard signal level for most of the instruments, it comes out to be +4dBu. You can use a shorthand of “-10 and +4”.

External dedicated preamps are essential if you have a condenser microphone. A preamp will feed phantom power of 48V to your mic so that they can work well.

External preamps provide this phantom power over XLR cables.

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Audio Interface Vs. Preamp – What are the differences?

An audio interface is essentially a translator, which converts analog audio signal to digital signal. Whereas a preamp will convert the low-level signal to a standard operating signal.

To understand why one needs a preamp, you should consider that preamps come in two forms.

Built-in preamps

These preamps are already present in a device in the form of circuits.

Built-in preamps serve the purpose of converting weak signals to line-level signals.

External dedicated preamps

These preamps can be purchased separately like you buy any device. They work the same way as any built-in preamp does. External preamps are usually costly.

99% of the audio interface comes with a built-in preamp. This means we should not worry about transforming the weak signals to the line-level. The audio interface will do the task itself.

You only need to get a preamp if you are a professional and want to produce the perfect noise which lacks distortion of any kind.

If you are a perfectionist and want to create top-notch audio, get yourself a dedicated preamp.

External preamps also offer some additional sound characters that are not really important to be added to the sound, especially if you are a beginner.

Benefits of a dedicated external Preamp for Audio Interface

Video: “Vocal Comparison – Audio Interface Vs Pre Amplifier”

If you have already made up your mind to have an external dedicated preamp for your audio interface, let us see how it could be beneficial for you.

Built-in preamps usually are not noisy. In case you are using a low output microphone, a dedicated preamp will prove beneficial for you.

You can get a dedicated preamp for your interface to reduce or eliminate the noise entirely from your recording.

With a dedicated external preamp, you can get extra sound characters for your audio.

Built-in preamps work fine when it comes to clarity and transparency, but if you want to have a sort of vintage effect or 60s style, an external preamp will do this job for you.

The preamp will increase the weak signal to a line-level. Some microphones want to have quite a lot of gain to perform the task efficiently.

Dedicated Preamps

Since many audio interfaces can’t handle this alone, an external preamp will handle this for you.

You can get a better and improved sound quality with an external preamp. When you increase the gain, you can witness the improvement in the quality of sound.

Using an external preamp, you can hear less noise. Also, the circuitry of the external preamp will be more sophisticated, thus improving the quality of the sound.

The best thing about preamps is there is a variety of them available for almost any purpose you want it for.

You can find a preamp with around eight to thirty-two channels that are well-suited for a band. Nevertheless, preamps for solo guitarists are also available, consisting of two channels.

You can add color to the music with an external preamp. Music artists work much like a painter or a designer, who gives an entirely different look to a painting by just changing the colors.

A music artist also offers a slightly different touch to the music by simply adding warm or cool effects. A thin or fat effect can also be given to the music. You can use a preamp to perform these tasks.

Do I need a dedicated external Preamp for Audio Interface?

Now that you have found the difference between built-in and external preamp for an audio interface, you must be looking forward to getting the exact answer to the question

Should I get an external preamp or not?”

The simple and straightforward answer to this question is, Do not get a dedicated external preamp if you are a beginner.

The reason is quite simple. There are lots of audio interfaces available that contain a good quality built-in preamp. The built-in preamp is enough to do the necessary tasks for you.

When it comes to beginners, they do not need lots of features in the beginning. At the learning stage, a mess of devices tangled with each other will only perplex the situation.

Preamps do play a role in improving the sound quality, but they belong to high-end studios.

Get a high output condenser mic and a good quality audio interface. This will be enough for your studio.

An external dedicated preamp will make a difference only if you have a low output condenser microphone or a cheap audio interface having bad quality built-in preamp.

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An audio interface has to convert the given analog signal to a digital signal. However, a preamp is built to convert a weak signal to a line-level signal.

You can get a preamp separately as well as present inside the audio interface.

All audio interfaces come with a preamp, which is of really good quality. The built-in audio interface is enough to do the job.

So, if you are at a beginner level and looking to get a dedicated external preamp, I suggest you avoid it.

Instead of spending on an external preamp, just get a good quality microphone and an audio interface of excellent quality.

I hope this article solved the problems you were facing in terms of audio components. Thanks for sticking by me.

Juan Stansbury
Juan Stansbury

I'm Juan Stansbury, author and owner of Homerecordio – your ultimate destination for everything about homerecording. With hands-on experience, courses, workshops, and industry research, I offer tips on selecting the best equipment, and mixing and mastering your recordings to achieve professional-quality results at home. Join me on this journey to explore the world of homerecording and music production.

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