At first, they made elaborate audio interfaces. You had to open up your computer, install a PCI card, install the drivers, install a breakout cable, sometimes install a breakout box, and then you could get going.
And then they simplified things and got you to buy an elaborate USB or FireWire box that you could connect all the signals crisscrossing your studio into. That was a step up in convenience; but for most home studio enthusiasts, that was still was entirely too much audio interface.
Then came the stripped-down versions of these USB and FireWire boxes; 2-in 2-out audio interfaces that came in a package that could fit in the palm of your hand. M-Audio and Alesis, in particular, have been particularly active in this market, churning out cute little audio interface boxes with stellar sound quality and great features, and always bundled with useful software too.
So where does one go from here? Is it at all possible to make the audio interface and a smaller, any simpler? As a matter of fact, turning to the Alesis audio interface, it certainly is. Meet the Alesis MicLink and the Alesis GuitarLink – two Alesis audio interface models that strip the concept of the audio interface down to the bare minimum. These two in fact are so stripped down, they don’t even call them audio interfaces anymore. They just call them USB cables.
Let’s start with the Alesis MicLink. So you are someone with basic needs in digital audio. You have a good microphone, and you just need to find a way to plug it into your computer and record a few vocals, or record for your next podcast.
Do you go and put down $100 or more for a proper audio interface that’s 2-in 2-out? What on earth would you do with that other in-out, when you only have one microphone? And what do you want all those bells and whistles for?
This Alesis audio interface is so simple, it looks like a simple cable with a USB connector on one end and an XLR connector to plug into your microphone on the other. Somewhere in there, it has a sound card. It’s just so tiny you barely see it.
It converts audio coming in from the microphone to CD-quality 16 bit 44.1 kHz digital audio somewhere along the 16 foot cable. The box doesn’t even come with a driver CD – it’s plug-and-play – on both the Mac and the PC. It’s a simple, effective, phenomenal concept. A sound card that’s so invisible, it looks like a cable and works like one.
The idea has caught on so well that they have adapted it for guitars with the Alesis GuitarLink. It’s the same thing all over again – a simple cable with a quarter-inch guitar plug on the one end and a USB cable on the other.
There is a digital audio interface somewhere along that cable, and it converts the signal from you guitar into a 16 bit 44.1 kHz digital signal to supply the computer. Plug it into your USB port, fire up the old DAW, and there you go. Both cost about $30, and are probably the next biggest thing in sound cards.