This article is for you if you want to record the actual sound of your keyboard or digital piano on your computer, iPad or iPhone. This is a complete step-by-step guide to the kit you need and how to connect it so you can make a great, high quality recording of yourself playing digital piano or keyboard.
[TL/DR] Our Favourite Interfaces For Recording Your Keyboard
- Completely cross-platform interface for Mac/PC, iPhone, iPad, or Android device
- Audio AND MIDI Recording
- Software For All Platforms Included
- Multi-platform: PC, Mac and iPad
- Audio AND MIDI on one interface
- Recording software included
- Perennial best-selling audio interface
- Most suitable for Mac and Windows (can be used with iPad or iPhone if you also purchase the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter)
- Consistently well-reviewed
- Cheap and cheerful
- Works on PC, Mac, Raspberry Pi and Linux – no drivers required
- Massive Software Bundle. Good Value if you just want to record keyboard (no mic inputs)
MIDI or Audio Recording?
First, let’s get a common confusion out of the way. Many people get confused about the difference between making a MIDI connection from their keyboard and actually recording the live sound of it (audio recording).
If you want to record the sound of your keyboard, then a MIDI connection will not do the job. A MIDI interface will only transmit your performance data (i.e. which notes you have played, how loudly you played them etc). This MIDI information can be used to play software instruments on your computer. But it is not a recording of the sound!
Your USB To Host Will Not Record The Sound
And one more thing. If you can connect your piano or keyboard to your computer via a USB lead then in most cases this will only by a MIDI connection. To record the sound you will need to follow our steps below.
Still confused about the difference between MIDI and Audio recording? Here is a short video that hopefully shows you the difference!
If after that you realise you want to make a MIDI recording then read our other post on how to make a MIDI connection from your piano or keyboard. Or if you are still raring to go, then here is our simple step-by-step method to how your record your live performance!
How To Record Your Keyboard Or Digital Piano
Here’s how to record the audio signal from your keyboard/piano in a nutshell. You connect the line output signal from your keyboard or piano to a suitable audio interface. Then connect the interface to your laptop, computer, iPad, smartphone or iPhone. Finally listen to the results … using headphones or studio monitors.
Let’s go through the step-by-step process of getting it right.
Step 1: Check Where The Sound Is Coming FROM
Your digital piano, electronic keyboard or synthesizer may have speakers. But to record you need to find the line level output(s).
Check the manual/instruction booklet, or look online for the connectivity of your keyboard model. It may have something labelled ‘Aux Out’ or ‘Line Out’. This information will appear in the ‘Specs’ section. It might be labelled [L/L+R][R], or (MAIN) L/MONO, R: 1/4″ TRS Balanced.
Or, as is often the case with less expensive keyboards, it may be that the only output is actually a headphone output. That is OK. You can record from the headphone out if there is nothing else available.
Step 2: Will You Record On Computer, Laptop, iPhone or iPad? (Or All The Above!)
In step 3, you will choose the right audio interface for the job of recording your keyboard. The audio interface is simply the box you need to take the sound from your keyboard, convert it to a digital signal, and transmit it to your computer. (If you want, read more on what is an audio interface). But there is NO POINT buying an audio interface for a Laptop if you only want to record on an iPad. So think carefully where you want to make the recordings. Or for most flexibility, choose an interface that will work with more than one device.
Step 3: Choose A Suitable Audio Interface To Record The Signal
You will need some kind of audio interface to make a decent quality recording of your piano or keyboard. There are literally hundreds available, at all different prices. So here is the critical things your interface must have: 2 x line level inputs. Without line level inputs you will not be able to make a good recording of your keyboard.
While you are choosing, think what else you might want to do with the interface. Record vocals? Make sure your interface has at least one mic input (this will be an XLR input with mic pre-amp). Record guitar? To record acoustic you can use a mic. To record direct, make sure the interface has a Hi-Z input suitable for directly connecting the guitar (it will often have a picture of a guitar next to it!).
Step 4: Get Connected With The Right Cables
If I could count the number of messages I get asking me which cable to buy. The answer is … it depends. So do your homework. Look at the OUTPUTs of your keyboard and the INPUTs of your interface. The correct cable is simply the one (or more) that will join the two things together!
If you have L and R 1/4″ outputs and L and R 1/4″ inputs, then you need 2 x 1/4″ mono TS cables. Or if the outputs and the inputs are both BALANCED (the manual will state this) then you need 2 x 1/4″ mono TRS cables.
If you are connecting your headphone out – or your aux out is a single stereo port, then you will need a splitter cable of the right size. This will take the stereo output of the keyboard and split it into two mono channels – left and right – on your interface.
Step 5: Recording Software
Do not get too hung up about the recording software at this stage. Make sure you get the hardware right first (see steps 1-4). Chances are, the audio interface will ship with some recording software that you can use to record. OR there are plenty of free or inexpensive apps. On a Mac or Windows Laptop or computer, you can use Audacity. This is free – and excellent. And easy to use. Or on a Mac you can use Garageband. There are plenty of free or inexpensive recording apps for iPads and iPhones. Garageband is great for Apple products.
Step 6: Listen To The Results
When you record through an audio interface you will usually listen to your recordings back through the interface. So you will almost certainly plug your studio headphones or monitors into the headphone or audio outputs of the interface. The exception would be if you have a recording interface that does not have outputs.
If you want to record the actual sound of your keyboard on your computer then you need to connect the line out (or headphone out if no line out) from your keyboard up to your pc, mac or ipad. The way you do this really depends on your budget.
We have divided this article into four sections:
- Spending the minimum: record keyboard on a tight budget
- A Better Solution: the entry-level USB interface for recording sound of keyboard
- THE Best Way To Record Keyboard: The Professional USB Audio Interface
- Kickstart Your Home Studio: All-In-One Recording Packs With Mics + Headphones (this is the easiest way to get started. Read our reviews of the best all-in-one studio packages. For Keyboard players we particular recommend the Presonus iTwo studio pack. Contains everything you need – except for the cables to connect your keyboard to the interface – and has MIDI i/o as well)
Once you have decided which route to go, the only other thing you will need is/are the correct audio cables to connect from your keyboard to the input of the interface (or mic port if you choose to go that route)
Low Budget: Record The Sound Of Your Keyboard On The Cheap
Up until relatively recently, most people had a computer or laptop with a separate microphone port, and it was possible to simply connect an audio cable from the audio output of the keyboard to the mic port on the computer – and if you have this port available then you will find this method documented in my complete FREE video course on how to record your keyboard.
What if you don’t have a mic port and you want to use this very cheapest method, just to get started? I suggest you buy an external sound adapter that has a separate headphone and mic port and simply connects to a USB port. These work really well on iPad too, if you have an iPad-USB adapter. Although this is not the most high quality way of recording your keyboard, it is definitely the cheapest. If you want to see a demo, then watch this quick video which shows you how to record your keyboard through a simple external sound adapter.
Better: Entry Level Dedicated Recording Interface For Keyboards
What if you are looking for a cost effective and reasonable quality solution, and want to spend a little more? Then for a small investment you could purchase the Alesis LineLink or equivalent line out-USB interface. The LineLink will connect your keyboard straight to your USB port, bypassing your existing soundcard and outputs studio quality stereo, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz digital audio. The LineLink will connect direct to your keyboard if you have left and right quarter inch mono jack outputs. If you only have one stereo output you will also need to invest in a y-cable converter. This is a lead that has been designed from the ground up to record the sound of your keyboard – pure and simple. Again this will also work on an iPad with the appropriate iPad-USB adapter.
The disadvantage .. you can only use it to record the sound of your keyboard. Nothing more. So it does one job well. But if you are looking for a more complete home recording studio set-up then read on …
Best: Getting A High Quality Professional Recording Result With An Audio Interface
To get the best recording quality recording result, invest in a professional audio interface – and if you don’t know what that is then we have written a complete beginners guide on what is an audio interface. Choose one with line inputs. Then pick the appropriate cables to link from the audio output of your keyboard to the inputs of the interface. Choose a good brand like Focusrite or Presonus. They may cost a little more but will give you a good quality recording result.
At the entry level, my personal favourite audio interface for recording your digital piano or keyboard is the Presonus Audiobox 2×2 USB which you can buy here on Amazon. Why that one? It is well priced and is the only one at this price point that also has MIDI i/o as well as dual audio inputs. So you can record the sound of your keyboard, but you can also make a MIDI connection.
Focusrite, M-Audio and Presonus also make fantastic all-in-one recording bundles which are fantastic if you want a complete solution with mic, interface and software (scroll on down to see them …)
If you go to the complete video course on how to record your keyboard, then look at the videos which show you how to record using a professional audio interface. This is my preferred method and will definitely give you the best result. You can view the specific videos which show you exactly how to record your keyboard with a professional interface by watching the videos below, that I have put together in a playlist:
The Total Set-Up: All-In-One Home Recording Studio Packages
Buying an all-in-one home recording studio package can be a great way to record your keyboard on your computer, and have the option of recording vocals and maybe guitar. Most of the good manufacturers put together packs that contain an audio interface, microphone and headphones all in one box. The benefits of this are: it will usually work out cheaper than buying the items separately; you know the separate items will be compatible with each other and there will be one set of instructions to follow; they all come with good software packages as well. Here are a few recommendations – beware that the iTrack is a lovely recording interface that works brilliantly on an iPad in particular, but it will record your keyboard in mono only.
* Perennial Favourite *
* Top Choice For Keyboard Players and For Windows, Mac and iPad Recording *
* Good Value Package For Keyboard Players and Vocalists *
* Cheaper Package – But Will Record Your Keyboard in Mono *
This is a really brief intro to the world of Recording – if you want to know more, then there is a fantastic guide to computer music making written by Cakewalk, The Desktop Music Handbook – which covers MIDI in depth, and also features a great guide to Digital Audio.
And once more, do check out my complete step-by-step video guides to recording your digital piano or keyboard. I cover audio and MIDI recording, plus how to sync your playing to video if you want to upload stuff to YouTube!