Do I Need An Audio Interface For A Midi Keyboard

Are you trying to connect your midi keyboard to your computer? You may be wondering, do I need an audio interface for a midi keyboard? We are going to talk about midi keyboards today and look at different ways to connect your midi keyboard to your computer.

Do I Need An audio Interface For A Midi Keyboard?

The answer to this question is: It depends on what kind of outputs you have on your midi keyboard. If you have a USB output on your midi keyboard, you can connect directly to your computer via the USB connection. If you want to use the midi output on your midi keyboard, then you will need an audio interface with midi in and out, or at the very least a midi interface to connect to your computer. Some midi keyboards have 1/4″ audio (analog) outputs that you can connect to an audio interface as well.

What Does An Audio Interface Do?

An audio interface is a great way to connect all of your instruments and microphones to your computer so you can record them in your DAW software.

USB Audio Interface With Multiple Inputs

When we play an instrument or sing into a microphone, the signal coming out of the instrument or microphone is an analog signal. The audio interface takes the incoming analog signal and Converts it to a digital signal. (ADC Analog to Digital Converter).

The digital signal goes into your computer. Your computer needs a digital signal to work with. Your computer shares this digital signal with your DAW software. (Digital Audio Workstation).

After you have recorded your digital signal inside your DAW software, the sound comes back out of your computer and back to your audio interface. You audio interface now converts the digital signal back into an analog signal. (DAC Digital to Analog Converter). Your studio monitors and headphones need an analog signal to play back.

Humans hear and understand analog signal. Computers and software work with digital signal.

An audio interface serves multiple functions.

  1. A central location to connect all of your instruments and microphones.
  2. Converts analog signal to digital signal.
  3. Converts digital signal to analog signal.
  4. A central location to connect your studio monitors and headphones for playback of your music.
  5. (Bonus) Provides phantom power for your condenser microphones.
  6. (Bonus) Midi In and Outputs to connect your midi keyboard.

Will My Midi Keyboard Sound Better Through An Audio Interface?

A good quality audio interface will have quality ADC and DAC converters. We talked about ADC and DAC converters above.

Midi Keyboard With DAW Software

The consumer grade computer you are working with has built in ADC and DAC converters also. You can plug a set of headphones or speakers into your computer and listen to music and watch videos. The sound is running through the consumer grade converters.

One of the main functions of an audio interface is to provide you with high quality converters. In most cases, the more you spend on your audio interface the better the converters you get.

Also the more you spend on your audio interface, the more connections you get. So cost is not always associated with the quality of the converters you are getting.

So yes, your midi keyboard will sound better when played through an audio interface with good quality converters VS your stock computer converters.

How Do I Connect My Midi Keyboard To An Audio Interface?

There are several ways to connect your midi keyboard to your audio interface. First off, it will depend on what kind of outputs you have on your keyboard.

Your keyboard may have midi in and outputs, USB out, or 1/4″ outputs. You can use all of these options to connect to your audio interface. Let’s take a look.

Ways To Connect Your Midi Keyboard To Your Audio Interface

  1. Using midi cables, come out of your keyboards midi out and plug into your audio interface midi in connection. Take a second midi cable and come out of your audio interface midi out and plug into your keyboard midi in.
  2. If your audio interface has a USB Input available, use the USB output on your midi keyboard and plug into your audio interfaces USB Input. If your audio interface does not have a USB input but has midi in and out, you can get a USB to MIDI adapter and plug into the midi In and Out on your audio interface.
  3. If your midi keyboard has one or more 1/4″ audio outputs, you can come out of your midi keyboards 1/4″ jack and plug directly into one of your audio interfaces 1/4″ inputs. If you use this method, you will not be getting the midi information. You will only be getting an audio signal from your midi keyboard.
Midi Keyboard With A Guitar and An Audio Interface

In my opinion, I think it is best to use the midi in and out connections on your audio interface. The reason being, you will want to be able to use the midi data coming from your midi keyboard inside your DAW software to control VST’s, Drums, etc.

VST’s are virtual instruments, synths, and drums. VST’s are a lot of fun and are very powerful tools to help you build your productions.

Can I Connect My Midi Keyboard Directly To My Computer?

Yes, you can connect your midi keyboard directly to your computer via a USB connection if your midi keyboard has a USB output.

If your midi keyboard only has midi in and outputs, you can pick up a midi to USB adapter and connect to your computers USB connection.

I do recommend connecting through an audio interface because this will give you better quality converters and balanced outputs going to your studio monitors.

Audio Interfaces have some advantages we have already talked about above.

Will An Audio Interface Help Improve Latency?

Latency is almost a thing of the past with newer and faster computers and hardware. If you have a newer computer and audio interface with updated drivers, you will be in pretty good shape.

An audio interface will not guarantee that you will not experience some latency. Neither will plugging your midi keyboard directly into your computer guarantee that you will not experience latency.

Just a millisecond of latency can be a real problem when you are trying to write, record and produce tracks.

I will attach a video below explaining how you can compensate for latency inside your DAW software. The video is meant for PreSonus Studio One users, but the concept will work for any DAW software. Be sure and check it out. I found it very helpful.

Will An Audio Interface Allow Me To Record Midi Data In My DAW?

If you have an audio interface with midi in and outputs, you can use the midi in and outputs to connect your midi keyboard and capture all of your midi data inside your DAW software.

You can also connect your midi keyboard directly to your computer via a USB connection and capture all your midi data this way.

Having the ability to use midi data inside your DAW software is A Big Deal! Midi opens up endless possibilities inside your DAW. I will be talking more about using midi and VST instruments in another article. You will definitely want the ability to use midi. Even if you can’t play keyboard, you can still do a lot of different things with midi data.

An Audio Interface Will Give You Better Quality Audio Playback

We talked about the A/D and D/A converters that are built in to an audio interface. The converters are a big part of what makes the difference in the sound quality.

Human ears hear and understand the analog signal. Digital equipment like your computer needs digital signal. This is a basic understanding. I don’t want to get to technical. If you are a tech genius, you can learn more about the specifics here.

Front And Rear View Of A USB Audio Interface

A good audio interface will have converters with a bit depth and sample rate of 24bit / 192kHz.

The computer you are using with your DAW software may not have as good A/D and D/A converters. This is why a dedicated Audio Interface with good converters is important.

The digital sound coming from your computer will input into your audio interface where the digital signal gets converted back to an analog signal and out to your studio monitors or headphones. Bit depth and sample rate are important factors to keep in mind.

An Audio Interface Will Give You Better Quality Audio To Record

You may be wondering if an audio interface will give you better quality audio signal to record. The answer is yes. A quality audio interface will give you a bit depth and sample rate of 24bit / 192kHz or better.

The audio signal going into your computer from your audio interface gets converted from analog to a digital signal. This happens through the built in A/D and D/A converters.

Focusrite Scarlett USB Audio Interface

The signal that you are recording will only be as good as what you are sending to your DAW. With this being said, there are other factors that can affect the quality of the signal going into your DAW.

If your input signal from your midi keyboard is clipping (signal is too loud) going into your audio interface, you will pick this up in your recordings. You can easily adjust this with the input volume controls on your audio interface or the volume control on your midi keyboard.

If your audio interface is built with less than quality electronic components, you will hear the results in your recordings.

If you are using cheap or damaged cables, you will hear the results in your recordings.

The A/D and D/A converters in your audio interface are important factors as well as the quality of the instruments and cables you are using.

A Quality Audio Interface Has Balanced Line Outputs

The audio signal coming from your computer and back into your audio interface will get played back through your studio monitors and headphones. The sound you hear through your studio monitors or headphones will affect your mixing decisions.

It’s important to use an audio interface with balanced line outputs. The balanced line outputs on your audio interface can easily be connected to your active (powered) studio monitors via a TRS or XLR cable.

If you are serious about creating quality mixes this will be an important factor. All the little things in your signal chain add up to good or bad sound.

What Others Are Saying

Direct QuoteSource
“Most MIDI keyboards come with USB connectivity, which means they are engineered to connect directly to the computer via a USB connection. Nevertheless, if you want the MIDI keyboard to pass by the audio interface, your audio interface should also come with a MIDI input/output. However, not all audio interfaces come with MIDI input and output.”
“A MIDI keyboard does not need an audio interface to connect to a computer. It needs either a separate MIDI interface, or some keyboards can connect via USB. Some audio interfaces do include MIDI, and these dual-purpose interfaces can be used to connect a MIDI keyboard to a computer.”
“To make it work, no, you don’t need anything else. To make it usable, yes, you do need an interface. The interface converts your audio to digital and vis versa. Almost all decent sound cards (aka interfaces) use ASIO drivers (super fast, low latency). Your PC normally uses NME Direct X drivers (super slow, crazy amount of latency, unjammable).”
Simply put, you do not need an audio interface for use of a MIDI keyboard. For the most part, USB MIDI keyboards have a built-in interface so you can use your keyboard on your recording software without a dedicated audio interface. However, you might be missing out on a few nifty features that audio interfaces provide.
“However, what people forget when this issue comes up is that an audio interface gives you better audio quality for playback, as well as recording. Mine drives my powered monitors directly, and this helps me make better mixing decisions for a professional result.”
“There are some benefits to owning an Audio Interface, however, and not just to record analog equipment but also to reduce latency as well as to improve the audio quality coming out of the speakers”
“The built-in audio on your computer generally will only have a stereo input and stereo output and a headphone jack. It is consumer grade quality and will not allow you to get the professional sounding results you want, nor will it have all the connectivity you will need. You probably will want XLR connections for your microphones, maybe a high-Z phone plug-in input for your guitar, etc. The headphone input will probably have more gain and sound clearer.”
“if you have an older keyboard which only has the five-pin DIN plugs for MIDI. Your Mac won’t have these connections, so you absolutely need the Interface (most interfaces have the five-pin connections as well as USB).”
“So if your midi keyboard has a USB connection on the back, you’re in luck.
You just use a USB cable and attach directly to your computer.
You don’t have to worry about the inputs and outputs. There’s only one cable.”
“When MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) was developed over 30 years ago, it resulted in a flood of music technology. Software DAWs have long replaced the hardware sequencers of the twentieth century, bringing an ever-increasing demand for effective ways to get MIDI in and out of computers.”

Final Thoughts

If you are trying to connect your midi keyboard to your computer, an audio interface is a great option that comes with other great benefits we discussed today.

  1. Balanced Inputs and Outputs.
  2. Convenience of having all of your instruments and microphones always connected.
  3. Phantom power for your condenser microphones.
  4. Quality A/D and D/A converters.
  5. Midi In and midi outputs.

Today there are a lot of great audio interfaces available to you at great prices. It has never been easier or more affordable to set up your own home recording studio.

If you want to learn more about some really good audio interfaces to get you started, check out my article: The Best Audio Interface For A Home Studio. You will find some good choices in this article.

If you want to learn more about setting up a home recording studio be sure and take a look around my website. There are a lot of good articles to help you out.

I hope this article was helpful to you. Be sure and leave your questions or comments below.

6 thoughts on “Do I Need An Audio Interface For A Midi Keyboard”

  1. As soon as I saw this article, I just thought of one of my friends. He is a music producer so I know for a fact that he will appreciate this post. It is well written and straight to the point. I didn’t know how to use and audio interface with a midi keyboard  until today. 

  2. Thank you so much for clearing up my confusion on connecting my midi keyboard to my computer. Fortunately, when I bought it I had good advice from the shop assistant and he made sure that I had a USB port. Yeah, so now I can just plug it into my computer and start creating with the software. Next, I will need to buy an audio interface for my guitar and microphone. I think that you have the right idea of connecting the midi to the audio interface and then connecting the audio interface to the computer though so that I can get better sound.

    Thanks for this great advice, it’s a little clearer now.

  3. Great article! Thanks for this!

    I learnt quite a lot from reading this, currently I don’t have much knowledge on all this techy and connection stuff but that’s why I’m reading these posts so hopefully I can have a bit of fun!

    I love playing the keyboard but always wondered how I would mix and upload music I play onto the computer so that’s where an audio interface comes into the scene!

    Thanks again, need to look into purchasing one I guess!

    • Hi, Sariyah.  I’m glad you found the article helpful.  I have a lot of different articles that may be helpful to you if you are just getting started with music production.

      If you are interested in learning more about a good audio interface to get you started, be sure and check out my article: The Best Audio Interface For A Home Studio.  

      If you are interested in a good DAW software that can take you through all phases of production and is easy to use, check out my article: PreSonus Studio One Review.

      Let me know if you have any questions. 



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