It depends! In this post, I’ll be exploring whether or not you need an audio interface for MIDI, depending on your specific needs and the type of MIDI keyboard controller you might have.
As always, I’d like to give a quick answer first: If your MIDI keyboard has a USB out, then you do not need an audio interface. That’s it, you’re done! Plug the USB into your computer, run your DAW of choice and start making music!
On the other hand, if your MIDI keyboard has a MIDI I/O and no USB out, then you will need an extra device to connect it to your computer, which may or may not be an audio interface. Let’s discuss!
If your MIDI keyboard or controller does not have a USB out, and you’re confused by the two circular slots of the MIDI I/O behind it, then fear not. You may still not need an audio interface for MIDI. How? It’s simple. Just by using a simple MIDI-to-USB converter, you can bridge the gap between your MIDI device and your computer. The one linked below even comes with options for either USB-A or USB-C, so be sure to pick the header that matches the slot on your computer or laptop.
With a simple gadget like the one linked above, connecting your MIDI keyboard to your computer is super simple, even without an audio interface!
Even though you don’t need an audio interface to connect your MIDI to your computer, there are a few reasons why you might still want to consider getting one. If you want to record any additional instruments, such as guitars or vocals, then you’re going to want to get an audio interface for the extra inputs they offer. It’s also nice to have control over all your tracks on one device, so you can easily adjust the gain of each input. Not to mention the ability to have several outputs, in case you want to alternate between studio monitors and headphones on-the-fly.
Bear in mind, that not all audio interfaces come with a MIDI I/O, so if you find that you need an audio interface for MIDI, I would recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4. It’s a variant of the highly established 2i2 model, with a few extra bells & whistles, of which the MIDI I/O in its rear is the one of interest for our use-case.
To sum up, MIDI keyboards can have two types of output. A USB out, or a MIDI I/O. If your MIDI keyboard has a USB out, like most modern MIDI keyboards, you do not need an audio interface for MIDI. If your MIDI keyboard comes with a MIDI I/O, then you still don’t need an audio interface, but you do need a device to bridge that gap. That device could be an audio interface, and in fact, it is advisable to be the case, however, it is not necessary and cheaper alternatives exist.
Finally, if you’re looking to buy a brand new MIDI keyboard, in this day and age, it will most likely have a USB out anyway, so you’re good to go!