Let’s take a look at the difference between line and instrument inputs on an audio interface and mixer. Both inputs use the same 1/4″ jack but handle the inputs very differently.

Understanding the difference between these inputs will help you get a better recording.

Quick Answer: Line inputs are designed to receive line-level signals, which are come from computers, synthesizers, and other electronic musical instruments. Instrument inputs are meant for musical instruments such as electric guitars and bass guitars with magnetic pickups. Instrument inputs are equipped to handle signals with a higher impedance, and lower volume in comparison to line-level signals.

Line Level vs Instrument Inputs

Mic Level vs Instrument Level vs Line Level

Having a clear understanding of the differences between line and instrument audio inputs is key to achieving a high-quality recording with your audio system.

Line inputs connect audio devices with a line-level output, such as electric pianos, digital audio players, synthesizers, and other electronic musical instruments. These outputs produce a strong signal meant to be used with line inputs.

Instrument inputs, also known as Hi-Z inputs, are designed for musical instruments like guitars and basses with magnetic pickups. These inputs have a higher impedance, effectively handling the lower-level, high-impedance signals generated by instruments. This makes instrument inputs ideal for connecting your electric guitar or bass guitar to your audio gear.

Line vs Instrument Inputs
You will usually find a button on your interface or mixer to switch between line and instrument mode.

Plugging a line-level output into an instrument input can lead to a distorted and overdriven signal.

Connecting an electric guitar to a line-level input will create a thin signal that lacks detail.

Line Level vs Instrument Input Specs

Let’s take a look at the input specs of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, as an example;

Input GainImpedance
1/4″ Line Level+22 dBu (Min Gain)60 Kilohms
1/4″ Instrument Level / Hi-Z+12.5 dBu (Min Gain)1.5 Megohms

Here you can see the difference between both 1/4″ input types on the Scarlett 2i2. The line-level input expects more gain and less impedance than the instrument-level input.

Line Level vs Instrument FAQs

Is instrument input high impedance?

Yes, an instrument level has a high impedance to handle the input from a magnetic pickup on an electric guitar or bass guitar.

What is an instrument input for?

You can use an instrument input to connect an electric guitar, bass guitar or any other instrument that uses magnetic pickups.

What is the difference between line and instrument?

A line input is expecting a louder signal than an instrument input. A line input also has a much lower impedance than an instrument input.

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