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Confused about how to connect your synth to your computer?
Running around in circles wondering why you’re getting no sound?
Follow our simple processes to connect a synth to your computer with ease!
OK, so you’ve finally made the plunge and picked up a new hardware synth. Or, you’re already a synth-head and decided it’s time to look at what computers can do for your production. But maybe you’re having trouble getting the sound from your synth into your DAW in the first place. Don’t panic, as it’s actually quite easy to do!
This article will show you the different methods to connect a synthesizer to your PC or Mac so you can record with it in your DAW. Let’s begin!
How To Connect a Synthesizer to a Computer
Method 1: Use an Audio Interface
An audio interface is an essential part of any recording setup. It’s how you get the sound from your synth into your computer for recording in your DAW. Interfaces also send sound back out to your speakers and headphones and are a huge step up from your computer’s inbuilt sound card.
Step 1: Connect the synth to the audio interface. Choose a matching cable size for your synth and audio interface, usually this will be a ¼ inch cable. If your synth has stereo effects, you will need two cables.
Step 2:Find the output jack on the synth. This is usually labeled “Main Out”. Connect a cable from this to one of the inputs on your audio interface.
Step 3: Connect the audio interface to your PC or Mac. You’ll need a USB or Thunderbolt cable for this. Make sure the interface is switched on and that the correct drivers are installed.
Step 4: Launch your DAW. Ensure your audio interface is selected in preferences as your main in/out device.
Step 5: Set up a track to receive audio from the same input on your interface that the synth is plugged into. This will likely be input #1.
Step 6: Arm the track and do a test recording. If everything has gone well, you are now ready to start using your synth with your DAW.
Some synths have USB ports built into them and may not require an audio interface. Most will only do MIDI via USB however, so don’t expect your synth to function like an audio interface!
To connect your synth to a PC or Mac with a USB cord:
Step 1: Ensure that your synth has a USB port. If it doesn’t, you need an audio interface!
Step 2: Use a USB cable to connect the synth to a spare USB port on your computer. You will most likely be using a Type B USB cable, but on more modern gear you can find Type C or Thunderbolt ports as well.
Step 3:Install necessary drivers. Your PC will recognize the synth or ask you to install the driver software.
Step 4: Open up your DAW and select your synth. Choose between a MIDI or audio device.
Using a USB cord to connect the synth to the computer is beneficial for several reasons. One, you won’t need to use any other equipment apart from the synth and your PC. Two, you won’t need to spend extra money to connect the synth to the audio interface. And three, you won’t have to worry about technical know-how and extra space.
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Method 3: Use an Audio Mixer
Using an audio mixer or mixing console to connect a synth to the computer is similar to using audio interfaces. The process is in two main stages.
To connect your synth to a mixer:
Get a suitable cable – ¼ or ⅛ mm
Place one end of the cable into the main output on your synth
Then place the other end into an input channel on the mixer
Make sure the mixer is set up to receive audio on that channel – there may be a mic / line switch that toggles input jacks from XLR to TRS.
To connect your mixer to your computer:
Sometimes, audio mixers have inbuilt audio interfaces. Find out if your mixer connects to the PC with a USB cable as this may save you some hassle here.
If your mixer does not have a USB interface option, connect two cables from the main L / R out jacks to the first two inputs on your audio interface. You may need XLR cables here or even a Y cable depending on your mixer. So check the connections so you know what cables you will need.
Set up a track that is receiving both inputs on your interface as a stereo signal. If you have used the first two inputs, input 1 will be the left channel and input 2 will be the right channel.
Make sure both input preamps on your interface are equal so that the stereo signal is evenly panned.
They also convert this data back into analog signals that go to your studio monitors and headphones.
With an interface, you can record multiple sounds simultaneously, which is useful for singer songwriters who want to play guitar or keys and sing at the same time. Many audio interfaces will also handle MIDI data, meaning they double as MIDI interfaces as well.
Simply put, you just need an audio interface, and then you can plug the main output of your synth into an input on your interface. You need to check your DAW’s settings to ensure your interface is selected and that the right input is being used for recording.
If you get it all right, you’ll be able to record your synth onto a track inside your DAW, seamlessly integrating it into your production workflow.
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, which is the software you use to produce music. Some of the most popular DAWs are Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Logic Pro.
How Do You Control a Synth With a MIDI?
First you need a MIDI interface, but the good news is many audio interfaces include MIDI ports. You can also get dedicated MIDI -> USB interfaces but be wary of quality here as a cheap one can add too much latency or not handle all the MIDI messages you need to control your device.
If you want to control your synth with MIDI from your DAW, make sure there is a MIDI cable connected to the MIDI out port on your interface, and plug the cable into the MIDI in port in your synth. You can then send MIDI out to your synth with your DAW and record the results on your audio track.
You can also reverse this connection (plugging the MIDI out on your synth to the MIDI in on your interface) if you want to use your synth’s keyboard to control other synths in your DAW.
Keep in mind that there will be latency and if you zoom right in on your recordings you may notice the audio track is a few milliseconds behind the MIDI track (sometimes more than 20 ms!). Your DAW may offer some latency compensation, or you can manually adjust by sending the MIDI notes out early.
MIDI means Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It’s a way to connect music software and other sound devices. MIDI is the universal language of synths and other audio devices. MIDI is mostly used for note pitch and velocity information, determining what note is playing, how hard it’s being pressed, and when it is released (duration).
Do I Need a Preamp for My Hardware Synth?
It depends on the quality of your synth and the sound you’re trying to capture.
If your synth has a low output that cannot be boosted otherwise, then you’ll need a preamp. Also, if you find yourself really cranking the preamps on your audio interface, then this is another sign that you need a dedicated preamp for your synth.
While the preamps on audio interfaces are generally quite good, they are not designed for really big boosts and you should get a dedicated preamp if you need more gain. Learn more about preamps here.
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To connect a synth to a preamp, use the appropriate cable to connect the synth’s main output to the preamp’s input. Then plug the output from the preamp into an input on your audio interface if you want to record into your DAW.
Is a Synth a MIDI Keyboard?
Some synths are, some aren’t.
A MIDI keyboard is any device that can generate MIDI messages and transmit them to MIDI-compatible devices to create sounds. MIDI control can be hardware or software.
MIDI is the universal language of synths and other audio devices. When it comes to synths, MIDI is mostly used for note pitch and velocity information, determining what note is playing, how hard it’s being pressed, and when it is released (duration).
The main difference between synths and MIDI keyboards is that synths actually make sound while MIDI controllers don’t. MIDI controllers can only be used to control other synths.
Some synths, like the Roland JD-800, can send MIDI signals to other devices and are considered MIDI controllers as well as synthesizers.
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Connecting your synth to your computer is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Really it’s just a matter of plugging the output of your synth into the input of your audio interface, and making sure the interface is plugged in to your computer and selected in your DAW.
Your synth may also send audio to your DAW via USB however most do not. Additionally, you may also find mixers that connect to your computer via USB that can be used as audio interfaces.