Can An Audio Interface Be Used As An Amp?

Are you trying to find a good solution to practice and record your guitar, bass, or keyboard? You may be wondering, can an audio interface be used as an amp? Let’s take a look at some great options for you.

Can An Audio Interface Be Used As An Amp

The answer is yes. An audio interface along with your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can be used as an amp. This does not mean it will sound just like your tube amp or solid-state amplifier. However, you may like the sound of your audio interface better. You will most definitely have more options available to you for instant recording, streaming, and amp simulators through your DAW software. Some other great features are; You can easily control the volume if you have sensitive neighbors, and You always have a headphone jack available so you can practice and play in private.

Which Is Better, An Amp Or An Audio Interface?

This will primarily depend on where you need to play your guitar. What I mean by this is, if you are a gigging musician and need to have an amp with you for gigs, then an amplifier is going to be your best fit.

If you only play your instrument at home and just want to practice, write and record, or collaborate online, than an audio interface might be your best fit. You can do all these things with your amplifier as well but, you will need to mic up your amp or plug it directly into your audio interface.

It’s not that one is better than the other. I would first look at this as what will fill your needs best. You can get a great sound from an amp and you can get a great sound with an audio interface and your DAW Software.

Video Credit: Paul Davids

How Do I Connect My Instrument To My Audio Interface?

It’s very easy to connect your instrument of choice to your audio interface. If you instrument has a 1/4″ output, simply connect your instrument to your audio interface with the 1/4″ cable.

Your audio interface is connected to your computer via a USB cable more than likely. So, your instrument plugs into your audio interface where the signal is converted to a digital signal for your computer to work with. The signal is then sent to your DAW software where it can be recorded, edited, or routed through an amp simulator to get the sound you are looking for.

There are some great amp simulator software packages available today so you have a lot of options. You can also add compression, reverb, and delay to your instrument if you want or need to.

USB Audio Interface With Multiple Inputs And Headphone Jack

If you are a keyboard player, you might want to get an audio interface with midi in and outputs. This is a great way to send your midi information into your DAW software so you can use different VST instruments and plug-ins. In most cases you can also connect your keyboard directly into your computer via a USB connection if your keyboard has a USB output.

There are truly unlimited possibilities when you start using an audio interface along with a good DAW software package.

Do I need A Guitar Or Keyboard Amp If I Have An Audio Interface?

If you have an audio interface that you are using with DAW software and are listening through your studio monitors and headphones that’s all you really need.

If you are a gigging musician and need an amp with you then yes, you will need an amp. Packing around an amp will be a lot easier than trying to bring your audio interface, computer, and studio monitors.

Vintage Fender Telecaster Guitar And Tube Amp

I personally think it’s a good idea to have both. That doesn’t mean you need to rush out and buy both. It just means if you already have one or the other, you will probably end up getting both. It’s a natural progression to own both, especially if you enjoy playing out with other musicians.

The audio interface world is great for when you are at home and do not want to disturb others. The tube amp is great for when you want to get out and lay down some tunes with the band.

What Is The Better Cost Option, An Amp Or An Audio Interface?

Honestly, if you want quality, you are going to spend about the same for each.

An audio interface will not do what you need all by its self. You need a computer and DAW software. So you can easily be in the neighborhood of $1000.00 – $3000.00 for all three. It just depends on what you want to spend. An audio interface by its self runs $100 dollars and up.

You can get into an amplifier for around $100 and up. If you want a good tube amp you will be starting around $500 and up.

Small Audio Interface With Guitar And Microphone Connections

You can practice your instrument on a $100 dollar amplifier no problem. If you already have a computer and DAW software, you can pick up an audio interface that will do what you need for around $100 dollars.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

You have so many options available to you today. It is a great time to set up your own home recording studio. Never before has there been such good and affordable gear available to the public.

Small Marshall Practice Amp

There is also some real crappy gear out there so be sure and do your homework when deciding on what gear will give you the most bang for your buck.

If you want to check out some good audio interfaces to get you started check out my article: The Best Audio Interface For A Home Studio.

What Others Are Saying

Direct QuoteSource
“An audio interface in itself cannot completely replace an amp. That’s because amps give a unique tone to a sound in a way audio interfaces alone cannot emulate. To replace an amp with an audio interface, you need an audio interface, a computer, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), and an amp simulator plugin.”
“In fact, high-end audio interfaces from RME, Universal Audio, and Apogee sound really good. It just means that the headphone amplifier in a $500 audio interface probably isn’t going to sound as good as a $500 dedicated headphone amplifier.”
“Most interfaces, especially those from Pro companies like Focusrite, are really good asynchronous DACs and ADC, but they are not that special on the headphone amp department. Most of the good interfaces have balanced outputs, which makes them excellent to pair with a balanced amp, but then those are mostly out of this world pricing.”
“Many audio interfaces have amplifier circuits that are called a ‘pre-amp’ associated with input channels. These are exactly what they sound like they might be… amplifiers that come ‘before’ the control and processing of the signal in the normal chain of events. Many mixing consoles have pre-amps. The goal of a pre-amp (ANY amp placed between the microphone or other sound source and the control system) is to boost a low voltage source signal up to levels that allow it to be handled properly by your control and processing circuits.”
“The simplest way to connect a guitar amp to an audio interface is by using an output labeled ‘line out’ on the amplifier. This is sent to the input on the interface using an audio cable, where the signal from the amplifier can be recorded.”
“In my experience, dealing with setting up the PC to work well with audio, minimising latency, dealing with drivers and updates, and trying to chose from dozens of possible amp and guitar sim plugins is a hassle and detracts, and distracts, from practising and playing the guitar. The very fact that you have to turn on your computer, wait for it to boot, and load some sort of app before you can start is a barrier, and anything that means you can’t just grab your guitar and start playing when you feel in the mood is a bad thing IMO.”
“For guitar (and possibly bass) you’ll most likely want some effects (amp simulation, distortion, reverb, …). In that case you’ll either need to put a pedal between the guitar and the interface, or use a pedal unit that has interface capabilities (such as the Line6 HD500X). (Alternatively, you can create these effects digitally in your DAW, but that might give too much delay when listening to the processed signal).”
“Guitar into guitar interface / audio interface into computer. There are many products out there which act as a bridge between your guitar and your computer (or other device). These boost the signal of the sound coming from your guitar pickups and will then turn it into a loud enough volume to record into your software. This eliminates the need for an amplifier. This audio is normally recorded without effects, but these can be added in software afterwards.”

Audio Interface Pros

An audio interface is a great piece of gear for your home recording studio setup. Here are some audio interface pros.

  • Easy To Record With
  • Can Plug In Multiple Instruments And Microphones Simultaneously
  • Has Phantom Power For Condenser Microphones
  • Huge Selection Of Amp Simulator Possibilities With Your DAW
  • Easy To Control The Volume
  • Has Headphone Jack For Privacy
  • Can Use With Your Studio Monitors

Audio Interface Cons

An audio interface can have some drawbacks. Let’s take a look.

  • Not Very Portable
  • May Not Sound Exactly Like A Real Amplifier
  • Need To Have A Computer And DAW Software

Amp Pros

A good amplifier is a great piece of gear to have in your home recording studio setup. Let’s take a look at some Pro points.

  • Tube Amps Have Great Warmth And Color
  • Very Portable
  • Plenty Of Volume Available
  • Great For Recording In The Right Environment

Amp Cons

Amplifiers have some cons to be aware of. Let’s take a look.

  • Tube Amps Need To Be Turned Up Pretty Loud To Get The Great Sound
  • Most Tube Amps Do Not Have A Direct Line Out For Recording
  • A Lot Of Amps Do Not Have A Headphone Jack

Final Thoughts

Yes, an audio interface can be used as an amplifier in a sense. Meaning, you can use an audio interface, computer, and DAW software instead of using a traditional amplifier.

Which is the better choice? That will be completely up to you. Take a look at which setup will best serve your needs, fits your budget and go with that. I have both because I play out and I also write and record my own music in my home studio.

If you are interested in taking a look at some good Audio Interfaces to get you started, be sure and check out my article I mentioned above.

If you want to learn more about audio interfaces, check out my article: What Is An Audio Interface?

While you are here, take some time and take a look around. I have a lot of helpful articles that will give you the information you need to make good decisions and get your journey started. I enjoy talking about writing, recording, and producing music.

If you have questions or comments please leave them below.

6 thoughts on “Can An Audio Interface Be Used As An Amp?”

  1. My son recently started playing the guitar and we have been looking at getting him an audio interface, mainly that he can record himself and listen back to where he can improve. But after reading this post, I think we should also seriously consider the option of an amp. He is hoping that he can get to do some gigs as well, and for that, it looks as if an amp is the better choice for his needs. 

    • I soo wish they had computers, DAW software, and audio interfaces when I was a kid getting started playing guitar.  I had to resort to the next best thing which was a GE cassette recorder.  I could spend hours recording parts on cassette and then playing along with my recorded track.  It was a lot of fun!

      I really think having both an amp for gigs and an audio interface for home use and practice is the perfect setup.  It’s the best of both worlds.  

      I have an article you and your son may be interested in:  PreSonus Studio One Review.  This is a great DAW software to get started with.  It can do everything you need, it’s simple to use, and won’t break the bank.  Check it out!  

      I hope your son enjoys learning to play his guitar and the world or writing and producing his own music.  Let me know if you have questions.

  2. I am mostly practicing at home and collaborating online. So, I don’t need an amp for nor. Thank you for helping me save that money. I am impressed with how good my laptop sounds when I am practicing. But I was concerned I might ruin something by using it daily as an amp. I am glad I read your post.

    • Are you using an audio interface with your amp?  If so, what kind are you using?  You really can’t hurt your computer by using it daily for production work as long as everything is hooked up properly.  

      If you are interested in some great quality audio interfaces to get you started, check out my article:  The Best Audio Interface For A Home Studio.  There’s some great information to help get you started.

  3. It sounds like both an amp and an audio interface have their advantages and disadvantages. Personally, if I had to choose either one, I would have the audio interface first. That’s because I live in a small apartment and don’t have anywhere else to practice. I would get an amp later on if my circumstances changed. 

    • I agree with you.  An audio interface gives you a lot more options than an amp.  If you are in an apartment or where loud sounds are going to be an issue, this is the perfect setup.


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