Well, that’s one hot topic for the ages. There is no clear winner here as each has its own pros and cons. It all boils down to your needs, preferences and budget. So let’s break it down: Can an audio interface replace amp?
Pros of an amplifier
1. Amplifiers have stronger signals therefore maki ng them ideal for playing live music.
2. It has more control knobs t hat enables you to control it better despite the fact that you are using different guitars with different pickups. This will give you maximum flexibility when performing .
3. Since amplifiers produce sound themselves, they do not require external speakers unlike audio interfaces which need external speakerng them easier to drive.
4. Amplifiers are more versatile as they have equalizers, gain controls, channel inputs and outputs, headphone jacks and can even double up as a pre amplifier if needed.
5. Amplifiers tend to sound better than audio interface’s DACs . This is because amplifiers usually have hi-fi grade components and quality which shines thorough when amped.
6. Most amps have nice designs and tend to look good in a home studio or at home.
7. Amplifiers are cheaper than audio interfaces .
8. Some amps like the powered monitor speakers for example, can lower the amount of cabling needed as they already come with built-in amps.
Cons of an amplifier
1.Amps are not portable. If you are just starting out, you might want to get a small compact audio interface that can be carried around easily, which most amps cannot do.
2.Most amps do not have MIDI I/O ports which limits them in terms of DAWs they can work with.
3.Some amps like the headphone jack models are not really useful for recording as they tend to be cheaply built and do not have pro quality components .
4.USB powered audio interfaces are sometimes more versatile than an random amp you might come across, since they double up as many things in one device (preamps , converters, recorders and playback devices)
Pros of an audio interface
1. Audio interfaces are more mobile than amps. They can be connected to a PC or laptop easily by just plugging in a USB cable and they will work right off the bat! There’s no need to buy an extra PSU as most laptops already come with a USB port so you can just plug in and go!
2.Audio interfaces usually have a better DAC than most amps., leading to clearer sound quality.
3.Some audio interface models have LCD screens which allow on screen parameter controls, easy preset management and extra features that amps may not have on some models, especially the older ones.
4. Audio interfaces are cheaper, more versatile and usually better than amps in terms of sound quality when it comes to recording .
5. Some audio interface models like the Scarlett series work with DAWs that automatically detect the device as an ASIO audio device and is automatically configured without having to go through complicated control panels (although this feature is not standard across all models).
Cons of an audio interface
1. Most audio interfaces are NOT suitable for high impedance headphones like the 600 ohm beyersdynamic DT990 Pro . Amps usually do better with these headphone models due to their higher power rating and customizability.
2. Although most audio interfaces nowadays have analog line level I/O ports, many of them are still plagued by high noise issues .
3. Most audio interfaces do not have easily accessible gain controls or buttons unlike amps so you will need to go through the control panels every time to adjust your input signal’s volume which can be a pain if you’re switching between tracks often.
4. USB powered audio interfaces only allow playback, not recording . You will need to buy a mic or instrument that can be recorded into an input channel for it to work.
Pros of using amps instead of audio interfaces
1. Amps are more powerful than most audio interfaces so they can drive headphones with higher impedance without issues unlike the limited power, lower latency and higher noise issues with USB powered audio interfaces .
2. Amps can drive more headphones at a time than most audio interfaces due to the multiple output channels that most amps have (some even up to 15!).
3. Although not as customizable as software based VST amp sims , amps do still sound a lot better than a software amp sim.
4. Amps can be used as standalone DACs . You can hook up your PC to the headphone jack of an amp and use it as a normal device without having to worry about using your audio interface’s drivers, DSP settings etc. which might bother some users who don’t want to bother with these problems.
5. Some amps have separate gain controls for each input channel so it’s easier to set your levels without having to go through complicated menus
Cons of using amps instead of audio interfaces
1. Most amps are NOT portable due to their size and weight, which limits them in terms of usability in many situations when you need to record on the go or in different setups at home with multiple devices.
2. Most amps are not USB powered which makes them less versatile when recording due to having to use multiple cables and they’re not compatible with all computers unlike audio interfaces.
3. Amps usually have no input channels so you can only plug one thing in at a time which limits you when recording.
4. Amps are not as versatile for sound quality due to the high amount of noise/interference issues with many models on the market, especially older ones without an isolated PSU . You will usually need headphones that have very low impedance to get rid of this problem.
5. Amps do not have any on screen parameter controls like audio interfaces which means you will need to go through complicated control panels to adjust settings.
There’s no straight answer to this question and it all depends on your specific needs. If you want something that is easy to set up and more portable, use an audio interface. If you want pure sound quality and more versatility, use an amp .
You can’t really go wrong with either choice as long as you research well what you need to get so it suits your needs. But if you’re really unsure about which one is right for you, buy both like many users do and see which one suits your current needs more.