I'm currently recording songs on my computer and the quality of my microphone is awful and the microphone is very quiet. That doesn't surprise me, because it's a 20$ karaoke microphone...

I got into a shop and wanted to look for a new microphone. The shop assistant suggested me to buy a USB Audio Interface first and he suggested me the "Roland Tri Capture" to start.

Because I'm very new to the world of recording and don't want to spend 150$ unnecessary I wanted to ask you guys how important such an interface is?

Is it worth the money or should I directly look for a better microphone? Would such an Audio Interface even improve the sound of my 20$ microphone?

4 Answers 4


"Worth the money" is very subjective. Let's instead talk about the various factors you have to consider.

Fitting A into B

Good quality microphones usually have XLR connectors. These have three wires arranged so that any interference picked up in the cable is cancelled out.

Many USB audio interfaces have XLR sockets (but check that the one you choose does).

Your computer's microphone input will be a stereo 3.5mm socket. So if you don't buy a suitable audio interface, you have the issue of physically plugging stuff together.

You can get XLR to 3.5mm cables, such as this one.

XLR to 3.5mm cable

These are not all that common, and I see anecdotes on the internet about many of them being incorrectly wired. However, it's potentially an $8 spend that would allow you to make-do without a USB interface.


XLR doesn't only carry a sound signal. Condenser microphones need power, and usually the most convenient way to get power to the mic is phantom power, whereby a small current is carried on the signal lines of the cable.

You can expect the XLR sockets on USB audio interfaces to provide phantom power -- but check the specifications before buying.

Your PC's 3.5mm microphone socket won't provide phantom power. With many microphones, you can put in a battery instead - but it's an extra thing to worry about.

Audio quality

The input of the standard audio interface on a PC is not designed for connoisseurs. After all, most of them don't get used at all, and the rest get used for Skype-type chats. However, whether it's good enough for your needs is entirely subjective.

If you can record music from the line-in input to a quality you consider "good enough", then there's a chance the mic input will also be "good enough". The one extra step is the pre-amplifier in the PC which boosts the signal from mic level to line level - again, this may or may not be good enough for your needs.

You'll always be able to find an audiophile who will insist you need more expensive equipment.

If your built-in sound card does an acceptable job with line-level input, then one possible alternative to a USB audio interface, is to buy a microphone pre-amp:

A microphone pre-amp

Connecting it as: mic (XLR)-> pre-amp (phone)-> PC line-in.

This would effectively be replacing the low quality pre-amp in your PC with a high quality pre-amp. A good pre-amp like this costs about a third of the price of a USB interface, though, and handles only one mic. The USB interface will contain a broadly equivalent pre-amp for each input it has.


Latency is the delay between a sound wave hitting the microphone, and the digital audio stream reaching your computer program. If you're monitoring live, add on the delay between the program writing its output stream to the device, and it reaching your speakers.

Non-music uses of a microphone don't need particularly low latency, so the designers of built-in inputs don't strive for low latency. However when you're layering tracks in a DAW, or listening to the computer's output as you play, it's very significant. Effects range from ragged timing on multitracked recordings, to complete befuddlement as you play!

Better audio interfaces have lower latency in general. They generally also have drivers designed for lower latency. Often the driver configuration includes sliders to affect the buffer length. Larger buffers tolerate overloaded CPUs better, but lead to higher latency.

Control and convenience

Your PC mic input is one socket.

USB audio interfaces like the one you've been recommended, have a number of sockets, each of which your software sees as a separate input. With the right software you can even record from two inputs at the same time (e.g. two singers; a singer and a guitar; two mics, one for the instrument, one for room ambience).

They also tend to have dedicated knobs, controls and displays. Some have built-in compression, to gracefully handle level clipping.

It's much more convenient to adjust input levels with a physical knob on the input device, than to fiddle with sliders in software.

It's much more convenient to have a guitar and a mic both plugged in, than to have to unplug, plug in, adjust levels, each time you switch.

The right microphone

Different microphones are good for different purposes. Make sure you know what you want to use your microphone for, before spending money on it.

What should I look for in a recording microphone for personal use?

  • After reading your answer I think that such an Audio Interface would be very useful! I'll start putting money aside this month ^^ Thank you!
    – muffin
    Jul 1, 2013 at 10:46
  • 2
    Now, two months later I want to thank you again for your answer! It helped me a lot, and I learned a lot about recording lately, so I see how qualitative your answer actually is! I hope it will help a lot of rookies like me, nice work man! :)
    – muffin
    Sep 16, 2013 at 12:23
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    USB microphones are available, which incorporate the mic and USB audio interface into one unit, and are probably the most convenient solution if you only need one channel. I think these range in quality from professional to awful, so check reviews before buying. Also another way to get multiple mic preamps is to buy a small mixer, which might be a more versatile piece of kit in future than a dedicated mic preamp.
    – nekomatic
    Oct 6, 2014 at 7:51
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    An alternative to a mic preamp is to buy a small mixer, for example the Yamaha MG-06. That way if you want to add other sources (guitar, keyboards, other microphones, etc.) you don't need to do anything with the computer. (As an aside, the mixer can supply phantom power too.)
    – Duston
    Sep 25, 2020 at 13:45
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    @Duston Pedantic mode on: a mixer isn't an alternative to a pre-amp. Many mixers contain mic pre-amps - and indeed the quality of those pre-amps is a selling point.
    – slim
    Sep 28, 2020 at 13:28

You really don't need an expensive USB audio interface. Invest in a good dynamic microphone like the SM58 or a condenser mic if really needed.

An audio interface also decreases audio latency. This helps when you want to monitor your vocals live with a headphone 'wet' as in with effects.

  • Adding another processor between the mic and the PC decreases latency? How so?
    – user28
    Jul 2, 2013 at 15:03
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    @MatthewRead You're not adding another processor. You're using a fast processor instead of the slower, cheaper built-in one.
    – slim
    Jul 3, 2013 at 10:46
  • Oh, so the sound card is completely bypassed? Sounds great.
    – user28
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:16
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    A good microphone still needs to be connected to a suitable input, so some sort of preamp or interface is still necessary - but you're right it doesn't have to be expensive.
    – nekomatic
    Oct 6, 2014 at 7:52

Nothing is necessary. However, a USB audio interface will dramatically increase the sound quality, even with a cheap microphone.

You don't have to invest in expensive devices. Even an entry-level interface will give you enough sound clarity to do a very decent job. Focusrite Scarlett models are the best sellers for amateurs because they are reasonably priced and have very good sound and build quality. Of course there are much better interfaces with exceptionally better sound, but they are intended for people who have great microphones, more experience, know what they're looking for, and they have the skills to fully utilize them.

A Focusrite Scarlett Solo is probably less than 100$. It has one microphone input, but I guess it will work for you. If you want to use two microphones at the same time, there's Scarlett 2i2. It depends on what you want, there are other models with 4+ mic inputs.

However, if even that is expensive for you, there's no reason to avoid even cheaper alternatives. Behringer is a brand that's talked about a lot. It's a budget brand that releases products that resemble reputable brands and models. It's usually trashed quite a lot by professional audio guys on various forums. Of course their build quality and their reliability are mediocre, but it's a great solution if you are a beginner and just want something to have to do your hobby.

There's also products that are a microphone and instead of XLR/Jack outputs, they have an internal USB interface. This is a possible solution, but it's not very flexible if you later want to add something else. I would generally advise you to get a cheap interface with one or two XLR inputs and record your music before you start worrying about what the "pros" say. Pair it with a cheap microphone (~50-80$) and you'll be good to go. Later, when you get a job or something, you can upgrade your mic to something better, and even later you might have more money to invest in a better preamp/interface.

For me, it is much preferred to be able to have something, even if it's not great, than not having anything at all and not being able to do what I'm passionate about. Music is a great thing, and doing it in any way is so much more important than waiting until you have money for the perfect mic/interface/guitar/amp.


If you want to record on computer with a Dynamic microfone, you need an Audio Interface because computer audio input is not designed for it. You can even mess up with the motherboard.

If you want to record without Dynamic mic, you can use those simple desktop mics or headset built-in mics, but again the quality is bad, worst than a mobile phone mic.

Most important, though, is a term in music production called Opportunity Time. With the time you use recording by yourself with good equipment at home, learning how and what to use, mixing etc, you could instead use this time focused on songwriting, networking, music business etc Don't worry about high quality at home recording. Do your songs and let a music producer with a good studio/equip/knowledge do the technological job for you

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