Skip to Content

Audio Interface VS Amp (What’s The Difference?)

Unless you own costly monitors or headphones that need a unique power supply, getting an audio interface is always a better option for your typical studio setup. Most probably, there won’t be any noticeable difference in sound, and you’ll get more bang for your buck.

Audio Interface VS Amp

Navigating through the audio world can be confusing at times. Considering how many products there are on the market, it’s easy to find yourself unable to decide which one is the best for you.

Online resources can do the hard work for you and digest the issue to help you make an informed decision. This is precisely what this article aims to do.

Suppose you’re having a hard time deciding whether to buy an audio interface or an amp. Carry on reading as we will break down all the pros and cons for each, so you can see which product better fits your needs.

Audio Interface

What’s an Audio Interface?

An Audio Interface is a multi-purpose device that does a couple of things.

First of all, it converts your analog input signal to a digital output. This means that you can plug in a microphone or an electric guitar and record directly to your computer with low latency. Additionally, it acts as an amplifier that can feed your studio monitors or headphones.

What’s an Amp?

An amp is a straightforward device that allows you to turn up the signal of any source, whether it is loudspeakers or headphones.

Every audio system you currently have in your room has one in it. Unless you’re a music producer or audiophile, you probably never thought of it as having a significant impact on sound quality. However, in some instances, amplifiers can have a profound effect on the quality of the signal.

Are Audio Interface And Amp The Same Thing?

They kind of are. An audio interface has the amplifier section as the fundamental part of the device. However, an audio interface is also capable of recording sounds through input preamps. 

At the same time, an Amp does one thing only- turns up the volume of your signal.

You may wonder why the amp should be sold separately at all if you can find a device that conveniently puts together the amplifier together with some valuable features?

The build quality is the strongest argument for buying a separate amp to power your monitors or headphones. Logically, a dedicated amp is undoubtedly better than those found in all-in-one boxes like audio interfaces. But is this true?

There’s no denying that a lousy amplifier will drastically affect the performance of your speakers. 

This is especially true for high-impedance headphones. If your amp’s impedance doesn’t match your headphones, you can seriously worsen the performance of your otherwise perfect headphones.

However, amps in modern audio interfaces are excellent, even in budget versions like Focusrite Scarlett or Presonus AudioBox

Getting a dedicated amp in a similar price range will perhaps theoretically give you a slightly better sound, but that’s something you’ll hardly ever notice.

What Makes Each Product Stand Out?

When it comes to audio interfaces, their main advantage is convenience. In a single unit, you get pretty much everything you need to run your studio setup.

There are models with various inputs and outputs depending on your needs. You can even find ones with multiple monitors and headphone-outs. This means that you can record multiple source signals from a single device like acoustic guitar, guitar amp, or vocal with your mic and power multiple monitors and headphones simultaneously.

These features are indispensable for checking if your songs translate well to other systems during the mixing stage. And not only that, but an audio interface also saves you from unnecessary complications when it comes to setting up your studio gear. It acts as a central part of your studio to which all other devices are connected to.

A dedicated amp’s main strength is the quality of sound it offers. Additionally, the better general build quality should, in theory, give you a better sound, but that’s highly dependant on the price point we’re talking about.

Since designers dedicate all of their time to a single device, circuits and electrical components are usually a fair bit better than those found in budget audio interfaces. The degree to which it elevates the sound quality is highly dubious and personal.

However, what doesn’t get into the territory of “mojo” is that many monitors and headphones are pretty specific regarding which amps are in charge of feeding them.

This is usually the case with some high-end monitor speakers that are pretty big and need a lot of power to work optimally. In such cases, a plain USB audio interface probably won’t do the job. High-impedance headphones should probably work well with any audio interface, though.

Audio Interface VS Guitar Amp

There’s a lot of heated debate among guitar and bass players concerning the use of digital technologies for either studio work or live applications. 

If you’re a beginner guitarist, you may be confused about which one to get as your first practicing tool. 

Getting a real guitar amp will always be a worthy investment. Here are my two cents on the whole matter. 

There’s a certain feeling of having an amp in the room and just feeling the sound waves bounce against the walls. It creates a sort of magical experience while playing your instrument. 

Additionally, it’s super easy to use. You plug in a guitar, turn on the amp, and you’re good to go. No latency and no fussing around with malfunctioning software. 

What I’ve also found quite interesting is how you position the amplifier regarding your ears. 

The amp is usually placed on the floor and most likely not pointing right at your face. This creates a smooth high end and chunky bass. 

I always prefer that sound over the mic pointing right at the speaker’s center, which is usually what you get in any amp simulator. 

However, we can’t deny that digital technology is here to stay and possibly will become a standard option for up-and-coming guitar players. 

It not only sounds fantastic (possibly as good as the real stuff), but it’s also incredibly convenient and powerful. 

Getting an audio interface instead of guitar amps has become a viable and sensible option these days. 

Having an audio interface will allow you to enjoy the benefits of digital technology by giving you a clean, latency-free signal. It will also turn your unbalanced signal into a balanced one, which means as little noise as possible on the way in.

Choosing which amp simulator to use is becoming less and less of a hassle, as pretty much everything sounds great. 

Some of the most widely used ones are Amplitube, Guitar Rig, and BIAS amp. Neural DSP has also significantly contributed to the digital stuff getting almost identical to the real thing. 

These amp sims are incredibly powerful and offer you a vast range of amplifiers to try out and possibly find your signature sound. On the other hand, this may be a major turn-off for some people. 

A sheer number of options might suck you into the auditioning wormhole. You might spend all of your practicing time just scrolling through endless patches and trying out different amps instead of focusing your time on actually practicing some interesting musical ideas or simply learning a new song. 

Also, the whole experience of using an amp sim doesn’t have any ”mojo” to it. Having a real amp beside you, feeling the heat of the tubes, twisting knobs, and stuff is a tactile enhancement to the whole experience of playing music. 

Sadly, you can’t get that while using an amp sim through your audio interface. 

If you’re looking for a simple and pleasing way to enjoy playing music, getting a real amp is always a way to go. 

On the other hand, if you’re excited about trying different stuff out and don’t mind a slightly complicated setup, then an audio interface coupled with a nice amp sim will bring you hours of fun. 

Related Questions

What is the difference between an audio interface and a mixing console?

An audio interface is quite similar to a mixing console, except it usually doesn’t have EQ and compressor on every channel.

Do you need a headphone amp if you have an audio USB interface?

Most likely, you won’t need a headphone amp even if you have high-impedance headphones. You might need headphone amplifiers if your audio interface cannot sufficiently power them in some rare cases.

Do audio interfaces affect sound quality versus the PC sound card?

Stock PC sound cards are much inferior in terms of recording possibilities and general sound quality.

Do you need a mic preamp if you have an audio interface with a preamp?

You probably won’t need an external preamp unless you want your input signal to be slightly colored right from the start. Audio interfaces have sufficiently good mic preamps, in my opinion.

Can you do without an interface if you have a headphone amp?

If your primary concern is the reproduction of audio signals, then yes.

What is better for both gaming and music production, a USB DAC or an audio interface?

In that particular situation, an audio interface would be a better choice.

Should you buy an audio interface or get your sound card on your computer replaced?

Considering how far the audio interface technology has come in the past couple of years, I would always advise people to go for it over internal sound cards.

Which amp sim is better, Guitar Rig or Amplitube? 

Both have proven to be perfectly capable of handling even world-class productions. I personally use Amplitube. It has amps that sound as good as the real stuff. The only thing that slightly bothers me is the cabinet section, as it’s not that great. I always use 3rd party impulse responses and get amazing tones out of them. 

Are amp sims safe to use live?

If your computer is half decent, you probably shouldn’t have to worry about anything breaking down or cutting out during the show. Amps sims are easy on your CPU and can handle live shows if you have a MIDI controller.

Does the audio interface affect the sound quality of amp sims? 

The effect is probably so minor that you won’t be able to tell the difference honestly. As long as your signal is not peaking on the input, your sound should be fine regardless of which interface you’re using.

Final Words

Suppose you’re a musician that looks into finding an all-in-one solution for your studio setup. In that case, an audio interface is a no-brainer. 

It’s much more convenient, both financially and logistically, to go for one over a dedicated amp. The sound quality is either the same or unnoticeably worse.

Dedicated amps are more present among audiophiles and folks who have high-end gear that requires special conditions to work as intended. 

In most other cases, an audio interface is a better choice.