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Is Your Audio Interface Broken? 12 Steps to Check

Are you having some trouble with recording or playing back music with your audio interface? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some of the most common problems people face when using an audio interface:

  • A loud pop when you’re starting up or shutting down your computer is normal. You can avoid this by turning on the audio interface before starting up, and turning it off first before shutting down.
  • A low buzzing sound. Use the troubleshooting steps below.
  • Low volume or no sound. Use the troubleshooting steps below.
  • Sound only plays on one side. Use the troubleshooting steps below.
  • The recorded sound is electronic noise. Use the troubleshooting steps below.
  • Clicks and pops in your recording. Use the troubleshooting steps below.

Now let’s look at a step by step guide for troubleshooting your audio interface.

12 step troubleshooting guide

Start fresh

If you have your devices plugged in, turn off all the power and unplug everything in your system. This includes all other electronic devices connected to your audio interface and computer.

This step is crucial because right now you have no idea which device is causing the problem, and it may not be the audio interface that is causing the problem.

Also, it’s a good idea to turn all the knobs on your audio interface down to zero. We will bring them back up later.

Connect the power adapter

Now, connect the power adapter of the computer and the audio interface. If you’re using a laptop, or your audio interface does not need an additional power supply, you can just turn on your computer and head to the next step.

At this step, make sure no other device is connected, except the minimum required to run the computer and your audio interface on.

Connect the USB cable

After the computer is turned on, connect the audio interface to your computer. Usually, the connection is done via a USB cable, but depending on your audio interface it could be Thunderbolt, FireWire, PCIe, or other connectors.

After the connection is made, check your audio interface for indicators. Usually, there will be a light indicating that the audio interface is successfully connected. If the indicator does not light up, it may mean several things: The connection is loose, you have a faulty cable, or the audio interface is broken. Try connecting with a different cable and see if that helps. If not, your audio interface may be broken.

Connect your headphones and monitors

Now, connect your headphones and/or monitors one by one. Make sure all the connections are secure, both on the computer end and the headphone/monitor end.

If you don’t connect them properly, you may get no sound, a very quiet signal, or a sound that only plays on one side.

Also, make sure you’re using the correct cable types. If you have the wrong connector, there may be no sound at all.

Check audio playback

After you’ve connected your headphones/monitors, it’s time for our audio playback test. Turn your volume knob up, around a quarter of the way to start, so that you won’t get bombarded with a loud sound when you play something on your computer. Make sure you’re turning the correct knob: Output/monitor knob for monitors (usually the biggest knob), and headphone volume knob for headphones (usually near where you plug in the headphones). Feel free to adjust these volume knobs from now on to suit your needs.

First, open an MP3 file on your computer or simply go to a streaming platform like Spotify or Youtube and play any song. This ensures that the file we’re playing has no problem, so if there’s no sound or there are problems with the music, it’s easier for troubleshooting.

If you’re getting sound with no audible problem from your headphones or monitors, move on to step 7. Otherwise, go to the next step (step 6).

Check software settings

So you’re not getting sound, or you’re finding the audio playback to be flawed? Don’t worry. Currently, the most possible problem is the software settings. Follow these simple instructions to fix:

  • Install the latest software drivers for your audio interface. A simple Google search with the model name and you should find the download link on the official website for your audio interface.
  • Change all the sample rate and bit depth settings on your computer to be the same across all software. This includes the sample rate and bit depth in “Sound Settings” (if you’re on Windows). The recommended sample rate is 44.1kHz while the bit depth is advised to be 16bit.
  • Check your audio routings, if you’re using a DAW. Make sure there are 2 outputs (stereo) in the routings.

If you’ve done the above actions and still have problems, either you have faulty cables, or maybe your audio interface is broken.

Connect your instrument/microphone

Now, connect your instrument or microphone one by one. Again, make sure all the connections are correct and secure.

If you’re using a USB microphone, MIDI keyboard, or MIDI controller, note that you can simply connect straight into the computer, if you have the relevant slot available. However, this also means that if the recording you’re getting from the devices connected this way has problems, it is not the audio interface’s problem.

Turn on phantom power

If you’ve connected a condenser microphone or a microphone that requires phantom power, turn the phantom power switch on. The phantom power switch is usually a button with the marking +48V. It supplies the necessary power needed to power the microphone directly through the XLR balanced cables.

If you don’t turn this button on, you’ll either get a tiny input signal or no sound at all. So look up your microphone model and check if it needs phantom power. If it does, turn it on before moving onto the next step.

Select Mic/Line input

A very common mistake is choosing the wrong input level type. If you’re connecting a microphone, select mic input on the audio interface for that input. If it’s an instrument, select line input.

If you plug in a microphone and select line input on the audio interface, you’ll get a very quiet signal, if any signal at all! So make sure you select the correct type.

Turn on volume knobs

Now, turn the input gain knobs to about a quarter of the way. Now when you sing into the microphone or play the connect instrument, you should see the lights on the audio interface light up for those connected input channels. If you don’t, try turning the input gain knobs up, but no more than three-quarters of the way.

If you’re still not getting a signal, or you’re getting a very low signal, check if your instrument is supplying a high enough volume. If you’re using a microphone, check if the microphone has a pad turned on, if so, turn it off.

Still not getting the lights to light up? Not getting signal? Either you’re using faulty cables, the instrument/microphone is broken, or the audio interface is broken.

Check direct monitoring

If you’ve reached this step, so far you’re getting audio into the audio interface with no problem.

Now, turn on direct monitoring. Sing into the microphone or play your instrument. Are you hearing sound from your headphones or monitors? The sound should be exactly what you’re singing or playing.

Note that for some audio interfaces, the sound you hear may be low in volume, and that’s one of the limitations of your audio interface. But for more advanced audio interfaces, you should be able to increase the direct monitoring volume to the point where you can hear it comfortably.

If you’re getting a signal, which is not too quiet but you still would love to boost it, we can use our digital audio workstation (DAW) to lower the music volume while bringing the overall volume up, so that you can hear your own voice or instrument clearer.

If you’re not getting any direct monitoring signal, it may be an indication of a broken audio interface.

Check recordings

Last but not least, we have to check our recordings.

Open up your digital audio workstation (DAW) or recording software if you haven’t already, and press record. Once you’ve recorded a track, play it back and listen to any problems.

If you don’t hear anything, check if you’ve muted the track. Also, check if you’ve got the routing correct. Do you have the master track set up properly? Make sure you’re using an audio track to record. If you’re using a MIDI track and you haven’t added any virtual instrument or sound, there won’t be any sound for you to playback. If you still aren’t hearing any sound, and your software is set up properly, your audio interface may be broken.

Getting lots of clicks and pops? Try increasing the buffer size inside your digital audio workstation (DAW). A good starting point is the maximum value available, usually being 1024 samples. Also, close all other programs on your computer except the recording software. If you’re still getting clicks and pops, either your computer is not fast enough and needs upgrading, or there’s a chance your audio interface is broken.

The audio interface is still not working?

If you’ve done the steps above and your audio interface is still not working, your audio interface may very well be broken. But hold your horses! Before your throw it away and go buy a brand new one, head to your local music store and ask for some advice.

If they can plug the audio interface into their system and check it, you can be more certain if your audio interface is really broken. You’ll be surprised how many times people find out something else was not set up properly instead of their audio interface being broken.

If your audio interface is confirmed broken, and you’re looking to buy a new one, I personally would recommend buying something decent, so that it will last longer. It actually saves money if you buy a decent, branded audio interface, in the long term. The cheapest audio interfaces I would recommend are around $150 in price. So if you’re looking at something that costs less than that, I would recommend not to do so. Otherwise, you’ll be back to this article very soon…

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