When you’re loading up your home music studio, you’ll be looking to find a balance between quality and cost-efficiency. So, you may opt for used equipment when looking at audio interfaces. But finding that balance can be tricky, and you want to make sure you have all the facts before diving into a major purchase.
Should you buy a used audio interface? Absolutely if you can find one in good condition. But it is important to look at the pros and cons of each audio interface, such as warranty, features, and compatibility, particularly of much older designs. There are plenty of used interfaces that will still run well, but you need to make sure it is suitable for your specific needs.
How to Approach Your Purchase
It can be overwhelming when looking through all the equipment you will need for a great home music studio, but it doesn’t have to be the anxiety-ridden battle you might think. Whenever you purchase equipment with higher price points, it is going to be intimidating.
But breaking it all down by different aspects will help you take it all on in an easier way, where you will end up happier and equipped with everything you need. Taking a look at the bullet points of things you want to keep in mind is a great place to start.
- Application abilities
- Understanding the purpose and need
A lot of people will ask the question, “Why do I even need an audio interface?” When you have a sound card for your computer that is built-in, many assume that it will be sufficient since it can function as an interface.
But the soundcard will lack many of the features needed, like proper inputs or outputs. Even if you’re only recording something with one instrument, there are still more connections than a soundcard will allow. So, whether you’re looking at working on complex projects, or keeping it simple, the audio interface is still going to be essential.
With that in mind, you need to be focused on finding an interface that will meet all of your tailored needs. You can use a basic model and type if you are planning modest and straightforward projects, or if you need something with high capabilities, then it will be time to splurge.
So now it’s time to ask yourself a few more in-depth questions.
- What are my needs for the level of sound quality?
- What are the inputs and outputs I need?
- What types of computers and devices will I be connecting to?
So, while you consider all the questions that go into purchasing an interface, think about how they might be affected by the purchase of a used unit. All of these questions will apply no matter the condition of it, but some may become more relevant or important when considering the used option.
6 Pros and Cons of Buying Used
As with any major decision, a pros and cons list will help you differentiate your choices and lead you to a clearer decision. Taking a step back and looking at this list from your perspective, based on what your project requirements are, should give you a clear winner or loser.
A used audio interface can end up being an excellent purchase if you cater it to your projects. Remember that you want this to be a long-term solution as well.
This is the clear frontrunner when looking at the list of pros. When you look at used options, they will always be more cost-effective for at the very least, the short term. When you’re purchasing a lot of equipment at once because you are building your studio from the ground up, the initial shock value of those purchases can hit you hard.
So, finding used options will always help take away some of the burdens right off the bat. New audio interfaces can get well into the $1000-$1500 range for the top of the line. So if you are looking for something in that range that has all the capabilities you could imagine, but that price tag is not an option for you; it could be a smart play to look at used options.
If the richness of sound quality, connections, and capabilities don’t fulfill your requirements with newer models that cost the same as a used option for a higher quality unit, then you have to decide which is more important to you. But it can be the more prudent option to stick with used if those features are your top priority.
You could easily find a used option for a higher quality model for even less in some cases than a new model of lesser caliber. So consider what you need this interface to accomplish for you and where you rank your priorities. Used models will be an attractive option if features rank higher than having the newest, latest, and greatest while weighing your dreams vs. your budget.
If you are looking to use the interface on a short-term basis, then cost can be an important factor. Maybe you have a couple of projects you’re working on that you need your own equipment for, but typically you work out of a studio or someone else’s equipment
Basically, if you don’t need something that you want to have a guarantee that will be working smoothly for you for years to come, a used option could work out nicely as a stopgap.
2. Environmental benefits
We live in a world where we constantly feel we need to buy everything new. This is because for most manufacturers, their business model relies on people buying more stuff, if you buy a used item then they don’t get any more money.
Every time an old piece of equipment is tossed in the garbage and not sold on to a new home there is an environmental cost to that. An audio-interface for example, unsurprisingly contains many electrical components and if not disposed of correctly contributes to the growing environmental problem of electronic waste (e-waste).
So every time you give a piece of equipment a second life you can pat yourself on the back because you are doing something great for the planet.
3. Helping out a fellow musician
It’s tough to get by as a musician and only a few people get to make significant money making music. For this reason, many of us have to trade old equipment in order to fund a new purchase (or maybe just to buy some food!). By buying a used audio interface you are more than likely helping out a fellow musician and keeping the money flowing around within the musician community.
This is where you will dive into a more granular look at the requirements and making sure a used model will be able to accommodate. If you are looking at used interfaces that are older, it is crucial to make sure all the features still exist within them.
1. No warranty
This is going to be an issue for anyone looking at used electronics. You don’t know what you can trust vs. what you can’t. Whether it is a microwave from Craigslist or a high-level audio interface, it can be nerve-wracking when you buy electronics that are used.
While cost is definitely checked off the list as a “pro” for used models up front, it can end up being a con as well in the long run if you can’t trust the item, and it has no warranty. A benefit of buying new is more extended warranties and additional reliability.
When you buy a used audio interface from a store, even if it is refurbished, it will tend to have a shorter warranty. While new models can have warranties of up to a couple years, refurbished or used can sometimes be as short as 30-90 days. So when you look at cost, look at long-term cost as well. Reliability factors into that heavily.
Audio interfaces are complex machines that have a lot of things that could go wrong. So making sure you are confident in its reliability, plus having the added security of an extended warranty will provide that security.
If you are looking at used options that are not sold through a store, but rather through a private party, that is a whole other story. There is really no way to know the quality of it other than making sure you are allowed to test it or see it in action before the actual transaction.
But even then, it could be a situation where the unit is starting to fade and won’t end up being a smart purchase in the long run.
2. Older Models Lacking Features
If you go with a used interface, you will want to make sure you know the exact model and year. Older audio interfaces didn’t always have the full span of options for their connectivity. Whether it be actual input and output, or their compatibility with other devices and connectivity.
With every area of the tech world rapidly expanding, it’s always a good idea to double check for connectivity features. If the used item you’re eying is something that just came out, but happens to be a refurbished model, you’re probably fine. But with anything older than a couple of years, I would recommend double checking it will accommodate all of your connectivity needs.
Here is a list of the most common types of connections you will most likely be using with your audio interface:
This is a high-bandwidth Intel technology that is becoming more and more popular as an included option on Macs. If you are doing recordings that are heavily reliant on computer-based programs, this is an excellent tool to have available with robust data transfer rates. Some PCs will also have the option for a Thunderbolt card.
Mainly used on Mac computer and iOS platforms, FireWire is intended to cater to Apple users. It’s primary function is high speed data transfer, which makes it a considerable asset to multi-channel recording. Many newer Macs will come equipped with Thunderbolt ports. But as a hot tip for PC users: you can use a FireWire as well, by installing an expansion card on your PC.
This should be a given on any laptop or desktop these days in either the 2.0 or 3.0 ports, whether it is a Mac or a PC. If it doesn’t have a standard USB, it will typically have a mini that you can purchase an adapter for.
Otherwise known as PCI Express, this is a computer connection typically found in desktops. It is card-based internally, and the connection provides low latency, along with high-data bandwidth. Its primary focus is allowing audio interfaces with many inputs and outputs to be used simultaneously.
When purchasing used, these are all key features to look out for. If your older model interface doesn’t speak with any of these, you will want to look into newer models that are up to date with al connectivity options.
In the same light, you need to check that any older models are equipped with the sound quality you need. You get what you pay for with audio interfaces, whether they are new or used. But in the used department there may be some gaps in the types of quality you are looking for.
Audio quality can be influenced by a few factors:
- Sample Rate
- Converter Quality
- Bit Depth
For more information about what these mean check out this article.
3. Uncertainty/ Reliability
I want to talk specifically about buying from a third party. Going into a BestBuy or ordering online for a used, refurbished, or B-stock item is very different from purchasing from someone directly.
While those used purchases come with a sense of security and high ratio of success, you really don’t have that same comfort level when purchasing some a stranger. As mentioned earlier, you could give it a test or ask to see it in action before money exchanges hands, but that is far from a sure thing.
This is particularly true if you are new to the recording world. If you hear an unusual buzz or feel something isn’t working correctly, you will have to scour the internet to figure out if this is normal rather than simply asking the manufacturer. I had this situation with an amp I bought used once, there was an unusual buzz but because I was still young I decided it was normal. It wasn’t until a good few years later I realized that I was sold a faulty amp! Unfortunately, the guy I bought it off is now nowhere to be found.
To Go Used, or Not to Go Used?
Ultimately your choice will need to be made off your specifications on connectivity, sound quality, and additional features for your projects. Overall, refurbished and B-Stock items see a lot of great use and reviews from users as long as you are purchasing from a reputable dealer. Any electronic device can have issues–old, used, brand new–they can all have glitches.
Do your research, know what types of projects you are going to be engineering, and decide if the offset in cost will make sense for you. Once you prioritize your needs and weigh the pros and cons, you’ll be able to make an educated decision for your music studio.
As mentioned already, if you are an absolute beginner I would suggest buying new. You want to guarantee (as much as possible) that you have top quality, non-faulty, piece of equipment suitable for the modern recording studio. But once you get more experienced and want to upgrade by all means look at used options.
Finding Refurbished Options (A good compromise)
The refurbished audio interface is kind of like a middle of the road option. Maybe you want to be cognoscente of the cost, but you also don’t trust going to a private party for such a big purchase. Finding something that is factory refurbished or certified will give you further peace of mind in a used purchase.
In many cases, these units are not even technically used in a traditional sense. Often, people will use it once and realize it doesn’t meet the requirements they need and return it. Or maybe they opened it, and there was a superficial blemish that they didn’t like, so they returned it.
These will often be considered B-Stock by many stores, but the unit is essentially in good-as-new condition. It won’t be as cheap as something you buy that is actually physically used by a private party. But it is an excellent way to meet halfway.
Even if the previous owner did use it for a while before returning it, these machines have to go through a pretty rigorous process before being put back on the shelf as a refurbished unit. Feeling confident in a used purchase becomes much easier when it has gone through tests, and you still get to purchase it from a reputable location.
Stores don’t want this item to be returned again. So, they will really put it through the ringer to make sure everything is running smoothly.
When considering used audio interfaces, I definitely recommend checking out refurbished options to get the best of both worlds–a cheaper price tag along with the reliability of a new model.
Looking for Parts
If you happen to be a whiz much smarter than I, maybe you are looking for parts to build your own modified interface. In this case, buying used will definitely be the way to go unless the used model doesn’t come equipped with a piece you would only find in a more recent model.
Typically you will find people building their own USB audio interfaces, and sometimes they may need an extra part or two. So if your interest lies solely in acquiring parts, then doing your research and finding the best used options to piece together your own DIY model is a great way to accomplish it on the cheap.