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I'm really new to everything, to be honest
Old 8th September 2011
Here for the gear

I'm really new to everything, to be honest

I would like to know that basics to the most basic of things. I've been trying to read through some of these posts to understand things but they really dont make sense to me. So...
What is a pre-amp?
How can one Interface be better than another? I thought the point was only to translate the external things into the digital world of a computer so it can be modified by maybe a pre-amp?
If its not too much trouble I'd like these explained to me, if you use technical terms please dumb them down after or point out examples so ill understand it better.
Note : ive been playing music for 5 years and decided i'd like to learn to record.
Old 8th September 2011
Ill try to help, and be as simple as possible.

A preamp is a preamplifier, most of the time when the term is used around here, it is used in the context of a microphone preamplifier.

There are other kinds of preamps, some are used for instrument level signals, and some are for what is referred to as "line level" as well.

The preamplifiers job, is to raise a low signal level, to a more workable, and manageable higher level. In short, it amplifies a small level, and outputs a larger one, mostly so that it can be "sent" to other devices in a studio or broadcast environment. These devices can be analog to digital converters, signal processors, other amplifiers etc.

The microphone preamp about which you are most likely asking, is needed to bring the very low signal level that a microphone puts out, up to this line level. This line level is a much more robust level, and can be sent longer distances without as much degradation, and interference.

The term "converter" refers to in this context, an analog to digital converter, or a digital to analog converter. The analog to digital converter, or a to d converter, converts the analog line level that is sent from your preamplifier's output, into digital information, for storage and manipulation later.

The digital to analog converter, does the opposite, and takes the "stored" digital information that was captured, and recreates an analog signal that can be played back through preamplifiers, amplifiers, and speakers.

It can then be heard again by the ear.

The things that make a converter "better", are typically the converter "chips" that are used to capture and to reproduce the analog signal. These chips are an integrated circuit, designed for this purpose.

These have taken leaps forward technologically in the last 10 years or so.

The other things that would make them better, would be a lower noise design, flexibility in sample rates, features etc.

The biggest thing however that sets good converters apart from their lesser counterparts, is the build quality, and the quality and design of the analog circuitry surrounding the converter chips I just mentioned.

Manufacturers are often trying to meet a price point, and design these converters with just passable quality, focusing more on selling quantity.

This is the business model. Make something that works just well enough, and sell TONS of them.

More expensive converters, tend to use better components, better analog and digital circuit designs that are time consuming to research and develop, and in general, just sound "better" as a result.

Of course, because this costs more, they sell far less of them, and must price their product accordingly to make up for it and survive.

One last point. Try not to confuse the preamp and converter thing.

What can make this difficult, is the fact that many manufacturers make products that have both in one unit.

These units should usually be considered an "audio interface".

Typically, but not always, you will get the best performance where a manufacturer has concentrated on one thing, and one thing only to get the best possible result.

That is, a seperate microphone preamplifier, and a seperate analog to digital converter.

The all in one units can be good, and some are actually great, though these are more expensive.

I hope this helps. I am tired, and I told myself this was the last post for a while. Need to get back to work.

If I made any typos or blunders anybody, please forgive me. This was done in the spirit of trying to help the OP.

Good luck,
Old 8th September 2011
Lives for gear
mattjew24's Avatar

A mic preamplifier is needed to record using a microphone. Mixers have mic preamps. Some interfaces have preamps. Anywhere you can plug in the mic cable, there is likely a preamp.

Interfaces are considered good or bad based on a few different criteria....

How many inputs and outputs?

USB or FireWire?

Max sample rate (44.1KHz, 48Khz, etc.)

How does the preamp(s) sound?

How accurately does the interface CONVERT analog sound into 1's and 0's...AKA DIGITAL.

Draw a squiggle. Draw 3 dots along the squiggles line. Draw a new line connecting the dots.

That is what happens when your audio signal gets turned into digital 1s and 0s.

The better the Converter, the more dots on the squiggle, the more accurate resolution of the audio on your computer.
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