Choosing the best audio interface can be overwhelming as you are faced with hundreds if not thousands of options when shopping for one.
In this post we're going to answer your unanswered questions about audio interfaces. Whether you're looking for a firewire, thunderbolt, mac interface, a USB or one for under $500 or $200 we have something for you.
In simple definition, an audio interface is a device that allows you to connect different music equipment to your computer. This include mics, guitars, drum kit, bass and guitar amps and keyboards.
It picks sounds produced by these instruments and converts it into digital form; what the computer can understand and store. Then when you want to play the sound, the audio interface converts the stored digital file to analogue so that its played on your studio monitors and headphones.
There are 4 types of connectors which is one of the major features that differentiates models. Connectors refers to how the interface connects to the laptop. Different connectors include thunderbolt, USB, FireWire and USB-C.
The important thing here is to make sure that your laptop is compatible with that connector. Connector also influences the speed of data flow between the computer and the audio interface. For instance data transfer in thunderbolt connection is faster than in USB.
Another distinguishing feature among audio interfaces is the number of inputs and outputs. Number of inputs refers to the number and type of instruments that you can connect to the audio interface.
There are 4 types of inputs:
Outputs allows you to connect audio interface to gear like studio monitors, headphones and mixing consoles. There are also 4 types of outputs
Other considering include ensuring that the audio interface is compatible with your DAW of choice, phantom power, latency, bit depth and sample rate
The best thing with most recent audio interfaces is that almost all of them are compatible with mac and windows operating systems. Our recommendation is Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
We have also reviewed some of the best audio interfaces for FL studio DAW, which also works perfectly with the other music production software.
Tascam USB US-2x2
Focusrite Saffire Pro 40
Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt 2
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
PreSonus AudioBox USB 2x2
Mackie Onyx Blackjack
Focusrite Clarett 8Pre
Avid Mbox High-Performance
Lexicon Alpha Studio
Antelope Audio Zen Studio
Our pick for the best audio interfaces for $200 which are great for beginners are Tascam US-2x2 and Focusrite Scarlet 2i2.
When Tascam introduces a product in the Audio interface category, we must have a look. Tascam is one of the manufacturers whose devices we can vouch. The US-2x 2 Audio interfaces can track two channels at the same time with zero latency and superior sound quality.
It has MIDI I/O support and a lot more features to offer at the same price point as the Focusrite 2i2. It works great in home studios, mobile studios, and projects. The Ultra-HDDA line/mic preamps give up to 57db gain without distortions or audible noise. It is your remedy for rich sound.
Construction and Design
At first glance, you’ll notice the exterior angled design of this device. It is in an aluminum casing which speaks of a durable product to last in decent condition for a long time. It provides for easy desktop visibility such that you don’t need to crane your neck when viewing switches and knobs.
Two LEDs accompany the signals for better monitoring. There’s also a gain control, plus the headphone jack with the line output and headphone are independent. On the front interface, we also find the direct monitoring which gives it the zero latency. If you get distracted by delays, you can depend on the Tascam US2x2 to provide room for creative recordings.
This USB interface provides dual channel recording. It integrates seamlessly with desktop computers, laptops, tablets as well as iOS and other smart devices. Since it connects via USB, it can work with virtually every digital audio workstation. It supports semi-professional quality at 96 KHz which gives crisp, clear sound. The audio performance is supported by NE5532 op amps among other musical components which contribute a great deal to the sound’s flavor.
For those that love trying out different software, you have the advantage of using two DAW applications. Both the Ableton Live Lite and the SONAR X3 LE are included in the accessories bundle. This way, you can use both Mac and Windows software. The SONAR X3 gives you 64MIDI tracks, 32audio tracks and 24-bit/ 96 KHz resolution.
It’s not precisely full-featured, but you can get more out of the Ableton Live 9 Lite. It provides a set of exciting features including a library of diverse sounds and presets.
The Tascam US2x2 covers the semi-professional world, independent artists, and home studios for top-notch recordings. It sets up quickly to give a well-organized space in your studio. If you want it for mobile use, have at it since it is very portable weighing 3.4pounds only.
At the same price range as that of the Focusrite, this device gives more in terms of connecting to a MIDI controller and having two ultra HDDA line/mic preamplifiers, TRS analog balanced outputs, plus the angled design which gives a clear desktop view.
Whether you are an amateur or professional musician, here you got one of the most recommended audio interfaces.
Focusrite got you covered with their Scarlett 1st Generation model. It is a 2i2 model, meaning it has two inputs and two outputs USB recording interface.
One of Its main attractive feature is the award-winning Focusrite precision digital conversion and preamps conversion.
Located in the United Kingdom, Focusrite has been on point manufacturing audio products for over thirty years.
With a large marketing base in the USA, this company has had the opportunity to distribute their products to over 160nations. That is influence right there.
If you are looking for superior sound quality while DIY recording on a laptop, we suggest you pick the Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 as it is made for exemplifying sound quality. As they say, Sound is everything, and you don’t want to miss out on clear, noise-free recordings.
Design and Portability
This USB interface is best for portable computer environments. Weighing in only 2pounds, it excels in ruggedness thanks to the aluminum anodized body. It is built to withstand harsh outdoor elements from bumpy rides and surprise rain showers. The beautiful exterior combined with a ready to record bus power makes it just the right companion for music road trips.
Among reasons why many people choose the Scarlet 2i2 model is because it enjoys zero latency. You’ll only need to plug in the device and start hearing the music straight from the speakers; hence there’s no delay by passing through the computer first. As such, your full concentration is on the recording and not on the technical aspects of the unit.
Simplicity of Usage
All inputs are on the front panel. Here, you can connect microphones, instrument level signals, and lines. It allows smooth recording and tracking instruments without any element of distortion.
The two outputs are well-balanced plus there’s a discrete headphone output which is volume-controllable. The digital conversion is one of the best seeing that it supports the 24bit resolution with up to 96 kHz sample rates. Expect excellent sound clarity where even the slightest details and notes are captured in the audio.
Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 brings you the whole package with the DAW and Effects Software. It includes Ableton to boot the software which helps to deliver the EQ, compressor, reverb, and gating. It helps to vitalize your music by adding melody, bass, and other sound effects.
Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 provides great sound. It supports a wide range of application systems to help you record music from many devices. It features high-quality mic preamps and supports leading DAW software
4 Budget-Friendly Audio Interfaces for under $100
To start off our list we have picked four best cheap audio interfaces that will cost you less than $100. Its a surprise that some of these budget friendly units are more popular than some highly priced units.
Starting us off at the cheaper end is this 2-channel Behringer U-Control UCA202, which is one of the best cheap options there is on the market.
I’d recommend this to complete beginners who want something to start them off with the basic recording features before saving up for an advanced model.
It’s also a great option for the professionals who are in dire need of a simple digital converter to use on-the-go. This budget-friendly unit comes from a Germany-based audio equipment company, Behringer.
It was established in 1989 by Uli Behringer and currently serves over 130 countries in the audio and lighting equipment and music instruments markets.
Worth noting, Behringer moved its production facilities to China. Ever since this company moved its facilities, it has had a history of copying high-end audio equipment and making cheaper models affordable to those who want high-end quality without spending much.
One of the reasons why this unit, features in our list is purely because of its construction. Behringer UCA202 has the definition of the best portable units here. It features a well thought-out design with a solid build from sturdy plastics. The labels have been thoughtfully carved into the plastic plate thereby eliminating the possibility of rubbing off.
It weighs approximately 9 ounces and measures 7.2 x 5.5 x 1.4-inches. This makes it easy to grab and carry alongside your recording laptop.
Performance and ease of use
UCA202 is a USB audio interface fitted with a remarkably long USB cord for great relief. It’s powered through this cable and requires no other external power supply. It also has a bright LED that reassures you that you’ve correctly mounted the interface to your computer or laptop.
One thing that we loved about this Behringer UCA202 is that it’s compatible with both PC and Mac computers and requires almost no setup or drivers for installation.
It offers 2 analog inputs and outputs for your monitoring needs and an S/PDIF optical output if you want analog-to-digital conversion. Unfortunately, this interface lacks XLR and TRS inputs. As such, you may find it a little bit painstaking to connect your microphones. The inputs here are both RC. However, they can be converted for flexibility with the proper cables to allow you connect the USB interface to your instruments, mixers, and other audio equipment.
This audio interface also gives you a headphone jack output with a dedicated level control that allows you to listen to both your inputs and outputs.
It’s also fitted with superior quality converters with resolutions as high as 48 kHz thereby giving you state-of –the-art audio conversion at an unimaginable lower price.
Don’t you have a DAW recording and editing software? Don’t worry. UCA202 comes bundled up with 3 free and downloadable software (Kristal Audio Engine, Audacity, and Energy XT2) so you can start your studio thing right away.
Of these 3, Audacity is the easiest to use and is compatible with all the operating systems including Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. It also offers lots of flexibility including recording live audio, editing MP3 and WAV sound files and converting tapes into digital records or CDs amongst others.
This is a great package if you’re just starting out or need a compact unit for on-site recording. It has stable sound quality and works well in latency reduction. It also comes with 3 free recording and editing DAW programs. On the downside, it has no microphone inputs.
If the XLR and TRS inputs are vital for your case, you may consider Lexicon Alpha 2 below.
About 67% of this unit’s verified purchasers and reviewers had given it a clean 5/5 stars when we reviewing it. Behringer U-Control UCA202 received an overall star rating of 4.3/5 stars from its close to 900 buyers. Most of them appreciate that it’s compatible with both PC and Mac systems. They also praise the fact that it works right out of the box with no software or drivers to install.
The Behringer U-Control UCA202 has a well thought-out plastic but solid construction. We recommend this for beginners as well as studio pros who need a quality unit for backup and for the road. It’s USB-powered, offers plug-and-play operations and its sound is quite good.
If the XLR and TRS inputs are vital for your case, you may consider Lexicon Alpha 2 below.
Coming in at a slightly higher cost than the UCA202, is this Lexicon Alpha Studio interface. Lexicon is an American company founded in 1971 and headquartered in New York.
This company is widely known for the manufacture of professional audio reproduction equipment, consumer audio, and home theater equipment.
The Alpha Studio is an extremely compact, sleek, and stable studio unit that won’t easily miss a slot in most reviews but for a good reason.
Construction and Design
Alpha Studio is a USB-powered dual channel interface measuring 6.8 x 6.5 x 1.6-inches and weighing approximately 1.1 pounds. It scores highly in the aesthetics department with its rugged metallic chassis unlike our previous model the UCA202. It also flaunts the brand's name carved on its upper side and a non-slip base to keep it put on your desktop
This is a dual channel interface with 1 low-noise microphone XLR input (located at the back) and 2 TRS inputs that allow you to connect the interface to your standalone gear. Its front panel is quite attractive and features a high-impedance hi-Z ¼’’ input for your electric guitars or bass.
It also has 2 separate input controls for the 2 channels (line level and microphone) and a monitor mix switch used to select the audio source from either live input or playback mix level. The audio source can be changed between the 2 by simply pressing the control.
At the other far end, you’ll find a 1/8’’ headphone output and compatible with your iPhone earphones too. Notably, Alpha Studio features a high-powered headphone amp that delivers excellent power for ultra-clear and high fidelity sounds when used with any professional or consumer headphones.
As I mentioned before, Alpha Studio is solely powered from the USB bus with no need for any other external powering. It supports both PC and Mac recording computers and is capable of 24 bit/48 kHz recording.
Even better, this unit comes bundled with Steinberg’s Cubase LE software which works excellently with both PC and Mac computers. Cubase Le is professional-grade software that enables you to record, edit, and mix up to 48 audio tracks, 64 MIDI tracks (no midi I/Os in this gadget though), and VST instruments. It also supports plug-ins.
On this note too, you get Lexicon’s Pantheon VST plug-in with 6 different reverb types, and 35 factory presets.
Notably, you’re not limited to Cubase LE software. Thanks to Alpha Studio’s universal compatibility, you can use any DAW of your choice from the major audio recording programs options including Cubase SX, GarageBand, CakeWalk Sonar, Motu, Steinberg Nuendo and many others.
Lexicon Alpha Studio is an excellent choice for home and mobile studios. It’s easy to use and highly portable. The only one thing that you’re missing here is Phantom power if you use condenser microphones.
As such, you may have to get yourself a suitable standalone power supply here.
But wait, here’s another good-sounding interface with not only the Phantom power but also the midi inputs and outputs that Lexicon Alpha Studio lacks.
Though a little pricier and with more features than the Behringer U-Control UCA202, Lexicon Alpha Studio received a slightly low rating and approval from its previous users. Though it worked for some, others were put off by the popping sounds from the USB cable and its rather cheap design.
If you’re looking for a 2-channel audio interface, the Lexicon Alpha Studio could be a good unit to consider. It works well and has great sound quality. However, be warned; you may find it cheaply constructed given its dirt cheap cost.
Here’s another good-sounding interface with not only the Phantom power but also the midi inputs and outputs that Lexicon Alpha Studio lacks.
Presonus is one of our most favorite brands. This Presonus AudioBox is a cousin to one of the best studio monitors we heavily rely on in our studios; the PreSonus Eris E4.5.
What we like about this Louisiana, USA-based Company is that it’s made up of artists and musicians who design and craft the audio equipment during the day and rock the local clubs overnight with the same sound systems for testing. Presumably, they know what the musicians want.
Their Presonus AudioBox USB is a good grab if you want an all round great interface with professional-caliber recordings without parting with more than 100 bucks.
It’s a plug and play piece of studio gear with a rugged construction. It will with no doubts serve you for a pretty long time.
Construction and Design
Another reason why this unit features in our list is because of its chassis. AudioBox USB has arguably the strongest chassis amongst all other portable units in this list. The powder-coated blue housing is made of up of heavy-duty steel, and the knobs are metallic too. Presonus argue that they drove a truck over the box to test its toughness and it was still able to stand a full recording session.
Well, this is just a reassurance that it’ll take serious pounds but not a green light to run your truck over it!
It’s 5.5 x 1.8 x 5.5-inches, and 14.1 ounces again makes it a great choice for either an amateur of studio pro who wants to go mobile.
AudioBox 2x2 is a USB- powered interface that offers you all the flexibility you’d ever think of in your recording career or hobby. The fact that it’s entirely bus-powered eliminates the need for wall warts, power cables, and line lumps associated with the rack-mounted designs.
This convenient powering system backed by the all-metal chassis and metallic knobs allows you to take your music creation and to record anywhere your laptop goes.
A favorite choice for most mobile musicians and podcasters, this is a 2-channel budget-friendly interface bringing 2 mic/instrument inputs on its front phase and conveniently positioned and labeled metallic control knobs for the 2 channels and headphones. Another important feature here is the mix control knob that lets you find the perfect balance between the input and computer playback minus the annoying delays.
Unlike Alpha Studio above, the TSR ins here are packed with 48-volt phantom power making AudioBox an affordable interface to work with your condenser microphones. The rear phase has a USB port for both connectivity and powering and 2 5-pin MIDI in/out ports for your synth or MDI controllers. You’ll also find clearly labeled L/R TRS outputs and a headphone jack at the furthest end.
Lastly, AudioBox comes with Presonus’ Studio One 3 in its full version. Yes, it’s not the best there is out there, but its 6GB+ of free beats and sample contents are enough to get you on your feet if you’re just starting.
Presonus AudioBox 2 x 2 enjoys impressive ratings and approval from its users and independent reviewers. Those who like it appreciate that its price is a real steal and it has a durable feel. The other lot feels that it’s still not the best out there. However, they all find it great for its price.
Here is yet another cheap USB PC and Mac studio audio interface for the money.
Mackie’s Onyx Blackjack competes favorably with the Presonus AudioBox above but edges out the competition with its powerful high-fidelity preamps in its mic/instruments combo inputs.
Mackie is a highly reputed brand in the audio equipment world. Its studio monitors and mixers are amongst the best that the market has.
In fact, their Mackie CR Series CR3 still holds the number one position in our list of the best studio monitors.
Their Onyx Blackjack is a great choice if you’re caught in between a tight budget and the need for Mackie’s high-quality preamps and digital converters found in their larger high-end audio interfaces and mixes.
Construction and Design
It’s quite evident that Mackie put some considerable thought into the overall design of this unit. This is a desktop model made of an all-metallic chassis with a powder-coating and a sleek appearance. Again, this interface sits on your desktop with a 250 inclination thereby bringing the control knobs not only closer but within your full view.
This means that unlike most of its competitors with markings and knobs on the top panel, you’ll never accidentally turn the wrong knob here. It may not mean much, but it’s still a sensible idea especially for an interface with a busy face like this one.
Secondly, its high-headroom design helps in minimizing distortion during your music production, mixing, and edition sessions.
Onyx Blackjack has several state-of-the-art features to boast here. This is a 2-channel USB audio interface and a monitor-level controller in one ultra-compact desktop unit. What’s amazing about its 2 channels is that they have also been professionally designed to act as built-in DIs.
This, therefore, means that you can connect your drum kits, keyboards, guitars, basses, and other studio sound gear without any problem.
Even better, we liked that the 2 channels also have 48V phantom power and an accompanying on/off button on the control panel. Needless to say, the phantom power allows you to use your condenser mics without much hassle.
Another great feature- though common with all the previous models with this list- is that you’re getting a USB-powered music recording audio interface. This means that you have an additional power supply and fewer cables on your workspace.
One thing I like about this budget friendly unit is that all the major connections are at the back except the headphone output port which is exactly where we like it best- at the front.
Onyx Blackjack again blows all the other models that we’ve reviewed thus far with their pre-amps. These pre-amps have a total of 60dB of gain and aim at offering you an ultra-wide dynamic range and superior radio frequency rejection.
Its high-quality AD/DA, Cirrus Logic converters, are also a cut above considering their 114dB dynamic range which is common with extremely expensive options.
We are talking about zero-latency recording too…
One of the major problems with most inexpensive audio interfaces has always been latency. In case you’re new to this term- which I doubt- latency refers to the difference in time between when you press a key to when you hear it via the headphones or monitors. This difference matters a big deal. A 5-ms delay is almost unnoticeable by the human brain. Anything above that is an automatic vibe killer and may destroy the morale in a recording session.
Onyx eliminates all that by including a true analog monitoring path linking the flagship preamps directly to the studio monitors and headphones. This allows you to monitor your tracks directly from the analog source with no routing.
Mackie’s Onyx Blackjack also comes with Tracktion 3 Software, which does perfectly well with both Mac and PC. However, you can also change to any of the major DAWs including Final Cut Pro, Cubase, Ableton, Sonar, Logic, and many more.
Besides Mackie Onyx Blackjack, all the other interfaces we’ve reviewed in this category are perfect for hobbyists and new entrants in music productions and recording. However, if you feel that you want something more serious than the routine 2 inputs and outputs, you should consider units that are above the bottom range.
The unit's simple and clean operations have earned it an incredible star rating. Most of its reviewers appreciate that it has a small footprint and it’s effective despite its low price. Others, however, found it time-taking to get it going with Windows 7 64 bits system.
Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2x2 is a staunch competitor of our previous contender the Presonus Audio Box. Not only are these similarly priced but they are also equally rated. What we like most about this model though are its excellent build quality and versatile compatibility.
If you’ve laid your hands on UR22MKII’s original variant, the UR22, then you’ll believe when I say that these things are pretty strong regarding construction.
They also offer sonic sounds when mixing and recording. The new version, UR22MKII is even better and has some new features and experiences that we lacked in the UR22. The big surprise here is its iPad compatibility.
Steinberg Media Technologies is a Hamburg, Germany-based brand that has been designing and conceiving music and media production gear since 1984. However, it was fully acquired by Yamaha Group from Pinnacle Systems in 2005 and now operates fully under Yamaha.
It’s amongst the most renowned brands in the music production arena. You must have interacted with this brand especially if you’re a huge fan of Cubase DAW software. Reason; they own it.
UR22MII has garnered tons of positive reviews from its past users and for a reason. At the time of this review the interface had a favorable 4.3/5-star rating is quite convincing that this is a good way to spend your money on a studio gear. In fact, most of them recommend this unit if you’re hunting for an interface with truly no latency (we’ll come back to this later).
UR22MKII features the combined experience of Yamaha’s and Steinberg’s knowledgeable engineers. It has an impressive build quality with a rugged all-metallic casing that will with no doubts withstand major rigors on the road and being bounced in a backpack.
Again, this is a USB-powered interface. This means that you can take your studio experiences with you wherever you have your laptop or iPad. This interface offers 2 powering options at the back panel. There’s a Type-B USB 2.0 port with which you can power it from your laptop or computer and a Micro-B USB port for your iPad.
Worth noting, your iPad can’t power the UR via the Micro-B port. As such, you’ll have to connect your interface to an AC outlet, if you’re near one, or use external batteries as an alternative. There’s a power switch between the 2 ports to help you choose between the 2 options.
This interface’s front panel is quite laden. Luckily, all the controls and ports are clearly labeled and shouldn’t be much of a hassle to navigate. UR22MKII has 2 XLR inputs featuring TRS/TS combo jacks inputs. These inputs are 48-volts phantom powered (done simultaneously). Each input has a dedicated peak LED light just above it. There’s also another LED in between the Input 1 and Input 2 peak lights that lights when the phantom power switch (at the back) is on. Another LED lights when the UR is connected to your laptop or iPad via USB.
Right after the Input 2 knob, there’s a hi-Z switch meant for your guitars and basses. There are 3 other buttons with which you identify the ideal input/DAW balance to reduce latency and an independent knob for your headphones. The 5-pin MIDI in/out connectors are at the back alongside the ¼’’ output jacks.
UR22MKII records at 192 kHz sampling rate. This frequency, by itself, puts this interface a few steps ahead of the stiff 2-channel systems competition. It also flaunts Yamaha’s superior quality D-pre pre-amps that contribute immensely to its detailed and revealing sound.
It also comes ready for your iPad.
This means that there’s almost no configuration or software required to connect your iPad to the interface. All you do is connect the 2 via the USB cable, power the interface either through the AV port or batteries, and launch your iOS or audio app. Of importance, do know that the package does not include the Micro-B USB cable and the 5v power cable.
Lastly, you also get free Cubase Al and Cubasis LE music recording and production software with the purchase. If you don’t have a music app on your iPad, you can easily download one, for instance, the Cubasis LE, from Apple Store.
A 4.2/5 star rating is way above what any other model has garnered thus far. It’s also a clear indication that Steinberg UR22MKII does what it’s meant to do. Besides its above average build quality, its users were awed by its great I/O options and quiet press.
Steinberg UR22MKII is an excellent audio interface with more than enough I/O options for a home-based studio. The unit rocks while it’s in use and also performs as described. Another great feature is that it can be used as a standalone unit on the stage.
In our opinion, the units we’ve reviewed thus far are the best dual-channel interfaces we have on the market today. From here, let’s scour the web further for some multi-channel interfaces. You’ll require these if you’re ready to step up your studio and record multiple systems simultaneously.
Focusrite is an audio and music products brand of the larger Focusrite Group. This company has been around for quite some time now. Its headquarters are in High Wycombe, United Kingdom and has a marketing facility in Los Angeles, USA.
Focusrite is renowned for their hands up preamplifiers and interfaces. In fact, most professional sound engineers go for Focusrite audio interfaces mainly because of their high-quality pre-amplifiers and converters which are all about sound quality.
One thing that we like about this multi-channel audio interface gear is its 8 truly power preamps and the freedom it offers for expansion. Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 derives its name from its 20/20 inputs and outputs. That’s a whole lot of inputs to let you record most of your instruments including guitars, synths, and drum kits at once with no need for expansion strips or daisy-chaining.
Saffire Pro firewire is designed with the modern studio in mind. It’s a bit on the larger side measuring 1.8’ x 13.8’ x 9.3’ and weighing 6.6 pounds. As such, mounting it on a rack could be more preferable. It features a metallic chassis with great craftsmanship clearly evident on the positioning of the control knobs, inputs, and outputs.
Saffire Pro 40 offers you 2 connectivity options. You can choose to use either FireWire or Thunderbolt port if you’re using a Mac computer. To do this, you’ll require a FireWire 400 or 800 cables to connect via the FireWire-Thunderbolt adapter (not included).
Focusrite’s great drive for pristine sounds reigns supreme. As I had hinted earlier on, this interface is loaded with Focusrite’s 8 award-winning preamps which offer good amounts of gain for your condenser microphones and high noise and distortions reduction.
The sonic sound is again rocketed by Saffire Pro 40’s high-quality digital converters. It also boasts JetPLL jitter reduction technology that takes the audio quality to its near-legendary status. In case you feel that these 8 preamps aren’t enough for your studio thing, the ADAT inputs onboard will be a great way to add 8 more channels to your music production.
The S/PDIF input is also available for 2 more channels flexibility.
The presence of the 5-LED metering panel for the analog inputs distances this audio interface from others in its price range. This gap is made even wider by the DSP mixer/router that contributes to zero-latency due to its unprecedented output monitoring and routing.
Another feature worth noting here is the 2 fully independent headphone outputs on the front panel. For precision needs, each of this bus has a dedicated level control. Next to the headphone control knobs is yet another one for the monitors with 2 dim and mute switches for customizable experiences.
Saffire Pro 40’s host of input and output options, award-winning pre-amps, and the freedom for expansion ranks it highly in any list of the best FireWire audio interfaces 2017. Moreover, the DSP router/mixer and the professional plug-in suit here give home and professional studio owners the best multi-channel interface under 500 dollars
At the time of writing this, 72% of this unit’s buyers had given it a score of 5/5 despite its high price tag. Words like ‘great’, ‘five stars’ ‘wow’ and ‘great sound quality’ adorn its reviews page. This is an indication that it met its users’ expectations.
Another one of our picks for best audio interface under $500 is the Avid Mbox High-Performance 4x4 Audio Interface for Mac and PC
Avid brings us another great interface for our Macs and PCs. If you’re a fan of Pro Tools, then it would be better if you considered Avid’s bundle. It’s simply one of the best ways to break into Pro tools with no frills.
It’s slightly pricier than the interfaces we’ve reviewed so far. That is because you’re getting a different spin in terms of inputs, best-in-class audio quality, and extremely reduced latency regardless of the signal source.
Avid is an American company based in Burlington, Massachusetts. This technology and multimedia company was established in 1987 by Bill Warner who was by then a Marketing Manager from Apollo Computers. Avid mainly deals in audio and video systems. It also owns Pro Tools- a reputable DAW for that matter- which is compatible with both Windows and OS X systems.
The Avid Mbox 4x4 boasts a metallic casing with a solid powder coating. The front panel has a rubberized coating and carries all the control knobs.
Different from other interfaces in Avid’s flagship series, this 4X4 flaunts an all new build with phenomenal preamps, converters, and drivers. Amazingly, this highly functional interface still retains its compact design despite the additional components.
Its USB bus-powering design makes it a go-to for a musician who is always on the road and for on-site recording and music production.
Mbox brings you 4x4 channels with 4 inputs and outputs (2 XLR mic/line combos, 1/1 S/PDIF input/output, 1/1 5-pin MIDI I/O and a pair of monitor outputs). Worth noting, most of these inputs and outputs have been positioned at the back- out of your way- allowing you enough space to manipulate the knobs and the switches as you would like. This interface also gives you 48V of phantom power if you intend to use your condenser microphones.
It also comes fitted with 2 onboard guitar inputs and a guitar tuner. The integrated guitar tuner is not only meant for your guitar but also for the bass and any other music instrument. This goodness doesn’t stop here.
The interface also boasts a dedicated DSP engine that allows you to do include reverb or delay in your recording sessions with almost zero latency and no difficulties with any outboard gear.
Mbox also has soft-clip limiter- a feature found in most Avid’s Pro Tools- and which allows you to track louder sources without the worries of clipping.
As expected at this price, this unit comes bundled with Pro Tools Express music production software. This DAW software is made by the same engineers who design the Mbox Interfaces. Simply put, these programs are specially designed for Avid’s Mbox interfaces so you can be sure that you’re getting one with its most suitable DAW.
Importantly, do know that this software doesn’t come in its full version. However, it still includes most of the features found in the full version including 30+ plug-ins. It’s also capable of recording up to 16 stereo tracks at 24-bit/96 kHz simultaneously too.
Avid Mbox hasn’t been highly reviewed as other models in this list. This is partially attributed to its seemingly high price compared to its size. Its reviewers, however, found it a high-quality price with excellent and stable operations.
Mbox simply gives us the definition of an extremely powerful interface that can be used by both semi-pros and professional musicians. We love its high-quality converters, preamps, and other advanced features that allow you to mix and edit your performances effortlessly and with pristine clarity and quality.
Thunderbolt Audio Interface under $1000
Should you find Ensemble Thunderbolt 2’s price slightly above your budget, Focusrite has your back.
Clarett 8Pre is a huge competitor of Apogee’s Ensemble Thunderbolt regarding impeccable sounds and real-time monitoring and recording.
While it is incredibly cheaper in comparison to Ensemble T-2, it also offers few I/Os count; 18 inputs and 20 outputs.
To my eyes, the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre brings out all the ‘’wow’’ factor in you right out of the box. It’s housed in a solid metallic casing measuring 15” x 24.7” x 18.8”. This T-bolt interface also features a stylish red and gray powder coating, which gives it its cool design compared to the FireWire-based Focusrite Saffire Pro 40’s all-black body.
Its faceplate is quite impressive. Despite its numerous controls, it still looks less busy due to the simplistic and on-point layout of the knobs, switches, and ports. The far left side welcomes you with 2 combi jack/XLR high-impedance sockets allowing you to connect your bass, synth, electric guitars or any other instruments and line level sources. The positioning of these jacks at the front panel is a great feature since you can plug in your mics or guitars and also disconnect them easily and effortlessly.
Right after the combo sockets are 2 48-volt phantom power switches for the analog inputs 1-4 and 5-8 respectively. Each of these buttons is accompanied by a LED light to indicate activity. Next, you find 8 metallic knobs that will help you fine-tune the analog input’s gain.
The far right of the front panel is occupied by a solid Monitor Level Control knob. This knob is accompanied by 2 dim and mute buttons below it which will be your great friends while mixing. You also get the power off ‘’rocker’’ switch here.
As with most rackmount audio interfaces, most of the remaining inputs and outputs wait for you at the back. You’ll find 6 analog inputs on the far right, 8 TRS/TS ¼’’ jacks analog outputs, 2 monitor outputs that also accommodate the TRS/TS ¼’’ jacks, 1 port World-clock output, and digital Toslink connectors.
Another reason making this unit a top contender is because of its performance. Clarett 8Pre offers straightforward functionality.
The ‘’Getting Started’’ guide included in the package will give you an easy time as you get to understand your new sound gear. It offers great sounds whether the ‘’Air’’ is engaged or not and has more than enough gain for the instruments that may need it.
Its 8 preamps are worth mentioning considering this interface’s price range. They are transparent and also do a great job in minimizing noise and data transfer hitches.
Focusrite Clarett 8Pre Reviews
A higher percentage of Focusrite Clarett 8Pre's reviewers were extremely happy with it. Several noted that it has incredibly powerful headphone amps and low latency. Some also highlight the ease to customize its functions as the tipping point feature for choosing it.
2 Best Professional Audio interfaces
Next on line is a beast that requires a special mention on this list.
Ensemble Thunderbolt 2 comes from Apogee, a Santa-Monica, USA brand established in 1985. Initially known for its digital tape machines custom filters, Apogee currently owns high integrity converters in the audio interface realm.
Apogee’s audio interfaces have for long been a go-to for many Mac users in need of great sounds and good I/O counts in compact sized studio gears. This went on until recently when Apple started taking an entirely different route by replacing the FireWire port with the powerful Thunderbolt.
Most Mac users have, therefore, been relying on FireWire-to-Thunderbolt adapters seeing that Apogee had not embraced the Thunderbolt phenomenon still.
However, Apogee has now redesigned their previous model right from the ground up to deliver Apogee Ensemble with the native Thunderbolt connection.
The new Apogee Ensemble has a cutting-edge design compared to its forebear; the FireWire Ensemble. In fact, only the name and the rackmount format have been retained from its predecessor. This beast now features a classy matt look with a smart black powder coat finish. This new design also brings lots of input-to-output encoding knobs and buttons and 2 stylish OLED displays.
It also comes with 2 dedicated knobs for the 2 headphone buses on the front-panel. Over at the back, perhaps the biggest change there is the shedding off of the FireWire port for the trendy Thunderbolt 2.
Like most of the units that we’ve seen so far- and for professional standards- most of Apogee Ensemble’s input and output suspects have been bundled at the rear panel. Starting from the far left, this box gives 8 analog inputs labeled In 1-8. Inputs 1-4 have XLR/TRS combi jacks whereas inputs 5 to input 8 are XLR jacks only. Both Input 1 and 2 are followed by a dedicated pair of 1/4’’ TRS sends and returns ports.
Apogee Ensemble also offers a flat out packed digital I/O arena starting with 2 sets of optical ins and outs (note an addition of one set from the original model here) to the S/PDIF ins/outs with 192 kHz performance capabilities. Again, this new Ensemble retains world-clock in/out ports.
Another feature worth noting with this model is its 8 mic preamps each with 48V of phantom power and with 75db of gain. This is a guarantee that it will offer gorgeous sounds no matter which microphones you toss at it.
This review can’t be over without recognizing Ensemble Thunderbolt 2’s close to zero latency. It’s quite terrific how Apogee was able to bring down the time taken by the signal from the source through the interface, computer, DSP plug-ins and out to your monitors to 1.1ms.
You get a built-in talkback microphone too!
This is another claimed advantage here that allows you to communicate with your band members via their headphones. The fully assignable mic can also be used to communicate across the room and even as an additional input channel in your software.
Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt User Reviews
This Apogee Ensemble has not received many reviews from past customers as well as other independent reviewers. As such, for integrity reasons, we had to fetch this section from other reliable sites. As expected, this unit has received lots of respect. Most of its uses claim that its latency is almost undetectable. Others point out that it has detailed sounds and crystal clear recording.
I chose to wind up this list with the Antelope Zen Studio assuming that you’d like a multi-channel audio interface ideally built for the long haul music editor and producer.
Zen Studio has a good definition of a portable USB audio interface designed with today’s traveling producers and sound engineers in mind. It’s pricier than the Clarett 8Pre above but way cheaper than the Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt 2.
Amazingly, as you’ll come to find out, Zen Studio features several superior analogs and digital connectivity components that the Pricey Ensemble T-2 lacks.
Because of its features, it is usable by a range of users on diverse applications. whether you are setting up your home studio for the first time, or you are looking for a perfect upgrade to your existing audio interface, this unit will be a great fit.
Zen Studio boasts a beautiful metallic chassis and a less clumsy facial panel in comparison to our previous models in this category. It has a sturdy handle on the left that helps in positioning it not only on your desktops and racks but also in slipping it inside your backpack for on-the-go recording.
Zen Studio’s controls, inputs, and outputs have been arranged in quite a sensible design. It has 4 XLR combos on the front panel that double as instrument and microphone inputs. We also get a dedicated volume control knob here and 2 stereo headphone outputs.
Zen Studio also flaunts a detailed colored display with 2 rows and capturing 16 channels. However, it also offers 2 option buttons to select between other parameters including sampling rate, headphone volume, clock source, and preamp gain.
Zen Studio is fitted with 12 high-grade mic preamps- the highest so far- and also uses the best warm A/D/A converters there possibly are. I think the coolest thing with this interface is its 48-volts phantom power which is switchable on a per-channel basis. This feature alone gives it a cutting-edge compared to the Clarett 8Pre above whose channels are powered simultaneously.
Another superior feature worth dying for in this interface is the freedom to control it fully from its desktop application. You also get a USB interface with a powerful DSP chip with super fast multiple effects processing.
Zen Studio is a convenient, attractive, easy-to-use unit. It offers a boatload of I/O in a small box. It also has the largest preamps count and high-quality warm converters. Add all these together, and you have great value for your bucks, and excellent sounds with superb signal routing flexibility and reduced latency.
Antelope Zen Tour Reviews
Similar to Apogee Ensemble’s case, there were scattered reviews capturing what users say about this audio interface. From the reviews, Zen Studio scores highly in terms of sound quality. One customer notes that it has great stereo width and tight low ends. Others also appreciated its ease of portability.
The Antelope Audio Zen Studio packs almost everything in a backpack. What you’ll like most about it is that its learning curve is quite easy to understand. The interface offers transparent sound qualities and it’s also easily portable.
We were hoping that music producers, home recording enthusiasts and singers could at least agree on which is the best audio interface.
Luckily, we've done it for you.
Whether you're looking for a USB, firewire, or thunderbolt audio interface, we've got you sorted.
Let's use some statistics to explain what may be the most popular audio interface brands.
From a survey done by AskAudio, out of 25,000 music producers, and singers, these were the results
% of Users out of 25,000
% of Users out of 25,000
1. 50% of all the respondents have either a Focusrite, M Audio, Native instument, Avid or a Presonus audio interface.
2. 6% more people own a Focusrite audio interface than a Behringer.
Simply put, this is a piece of studio hardware that allows you to connect your studio audio gear including guitars, studio monitors and midi keyboards to your computer.
Here is a 2 minutes video explaining what is an audio interface and what it does, including its difference with a sound card.
Assuming that you already have the best computer for your studio, let’s check out another important sound gear that holds half of your studio’s power and capabilities; an audio interface.
No other studio gear purchase is as overwhelming and confusing as buying an audio interface. This holds true regardless of how experienced a musician or artist is. It becomes even peskier if you’re considering buying one for the first time.
So, how do you navigate a dozen options that the market offers especially if you’re a first timer?
That’s what this article is all about. First off…
Simply put, an audio interface is a piece of studio hardware that allows you to connect your studio audio gear including guitars, studio monitors and midi keyboards to your computer.
It works by receiving analog signals generated by keyboards, guitars, and microphones and converting them to digital signals that the computer can deal with. This process is referred to Analog-to-Digital Conversion or simply A-to-D or A/D.
Upon processing, the computer again does the reverse. It sends the digital signals back to the interface for conversion into analog signals that are audible through the studio monitors and headphones. This process is called, you guessed it right, Digital to Analog conversion or D-to-A or D/A.
But your computer already has a microphone input and a headphone/studio monitors output onboard.
Well, the sound card in your studio computer/laptop is ideal for listening to music, watching movies, Youtube, and Skype. However, it will give you an absolute nightmare if you think of recording your music solely through it.
Microphone inputs from any real-world source including guitars, keyboards, and your voice will be affected by radio and electromagnetic interference, latency, and jitter on the way in and out of the computer thereby resulting to poor quality records and performances.
So unless you’re not after anything serious, you require a professional audio interface for studio-quality sounds. Needless to say, even an inexpensive audio interface like Behringer U-control delivers 100x better sounds than your computer’s built-in audio.
As I hinted before, selecting the best audio interface sound card isn’t a walk in the park. There are numerous considerations and comparisons to make. However, to help you understand better, we’re going to split our discussion into 5 specs as follows:
Before putting your money down for an audio interface, always consider whether it’ll work well with your DAW of choice if you already have one either in the studio or mind.
Some interfaces come with built-in Digital Signal Processing (DSP) mixers for onboard effects, mixing, and equalization. Others come with dedicated DAWs which could drastically affect your choice especially if you’re loyal to a particular recording and mixing software.
However, this shouldn’t cause you any fear because most of the top DAWs are compatible with most interfaces. However, this isn’t always the case. As such, a little research on this may save you a big deal of frustrations.
Though not so common, your best audio interface may work with your DAW of choice today but fail to work with the software’s future versions. In fact, in my opinion, this is one reason why most interface manufacturers won’t indicate the DAW compatibility in the device’s description.
As such, it’s advisable to go for a DAW/interface combo from the same brand if you’re totally clueless about these gadgets. However, though a safer bet, your choice is limited to a few options since only a few manufacturers make these combos.
But for what good is this piece for if I won’t help you land on your best studio recording audio interface without limitations?
This takes us to the next point…
Here, the number of channels you need is highly reliant on your goals as an artist, musician, or sound engineer. It will also be dependent on the projects that you aim at recording both today and in the future.
The type and number of inputs and outputs available dictate what instruments you’ll be able to plug into the interface, the number of inputs that can be monitored or recorded at a go, and the outputs available for your sound gear- studio monitors and headphones.
The market has a wide range of options in this category from 2 input 2 output audio interfaces to devices to with up to 20 inputs and 20 outputs. Needless to say, a 2-channel audio interface is ideal for a solo rapper or musician who needs to record a single track or 2 at once and only requires 2 outputs for a pair of studio monitors.
On the other hand, a team of songwriters who work in small groups may require an interface with between 6-8 inputs/outputs. Lastly, a full band sound engineer may need a device with up to6 channels depending on the number of tracks they want to record simultaneously.
Important notes to understand here;
Besides the input/output count, always ensure that the inputs are of the required type. For instance, if your studio is equipped with condenser microphones, consider going for an interface with phantom-powered preamps.
Make sure that your interface has hi-Z/instrument-level inputs if you plan to connect your guitars and keyboards.
Lastly, do know that electric drum kits may require up to 8 inputs if each of its parts offers a different channel. This may severely affect your choice even if you plan to do your thing solo.
Bottom line: if you foresee buying more gear for your recording studio, opt for an interface with a higher I/O channels in line with your desired audio equipment.
Put in layman’s terms, connectivity here refers to how you’re going to connect your audio interface soundcard to your computer. Here, your choice will solely depend on the type of connections offered by your recording laptop.
There are 4 different types of cable connectivity options in this sector the most common being USB and Firewire.
USB 2.0 is the most used in most budget audio interfaces. However, you’ll still find some inexpensive units using the outdated USB 1.1. These models are way too slow to record more than 2 channels at once. Moving 1 step up, USB 2.0 audio interfaces are a few bucks pricier than their younger brothers but have a slightly higher bandwidth too. USB 3.0 is far much faster than the previous versions and can support higher channel counts and with greatly reduced latency.
Some decades ago, Firewire was exclusively found on expensive studio audio interfaces. Most laptops and computers used connect to Firewire audio interfaces through adapters until a few years back. There are 2 of versions of Firewire; 400 and 800. Needless to mention, Firewire 800 has almost twice the transfer rate as Firewire 400.
Firewall and USB audio interfaces are the most common today. However, audio interface manufacturers have not fully embraced USB 3.0 while Firewire is becoming less popular each day.
Thunderbolt is gaining popularity than the previous connectivity options. However, they are mostly found on Mac devices and don’t support Window PCs. True to their name, Thunderbolt interfaces are several folds faster than their USB and Firewire counterparts. Their large bandwidth is ideal for supporting hundreds of audio channels simultaneously.
PCIe is quite different from all the others in that it is installed into a computer’s motherboard rather than being used externally. This, therefore, means that it can’t be used with a laptop. These connections are commonly found in professional interfaces since they offer advanced processing power which results to incredibly fast and near-instantaneous data-transfer.
One advantage with these interfaces is that the data goes through ‘reduced’ conversion processes. Consequently, there’s insignificant latency and the bandwidth isn’t affected.
However, since PCIe interfaces are designed to handle high track counts while still maintaining professional-quality speeds and clarity, they tend to be quite expensive than the USB and Firewire connectors.
This term simply refers to the shape of the audio interface. Audio interfaces come in different shapes and sizes. These variations dictate whether a particular home studio audio interface will be positioned on the desktop (desktop interface) or racks (Rackmount interface).
Desktop audio interfaces are smaller and have limited connections. Most of them are also bus-powered and are relatively cheaper and easy to use. Their compact size makes them a go-to if you want something you can hit the road with.
On the other hand, rackmount interfaces tend to be pricier and require permanent installations on racks. They also offer higher counts of I/Os and easy signal routing manageability and flexibility.
The market features many popular brands with some costing as low as $50 and others going as high as $3000. The difference in cost is brought about by several factors including the materials used and the sound quality.
As you’ll come to find out, most of the best audio interfaces have metallic chassis while others feature plastic build.
An interface’s sound quality basically boils down to the quality of the preamplifiers used in its internal build and the A/D and D/A converters. Do know that this is where most of the interface’s work is. As such, there’s no gift for guessing that the quality of these 2 components (preamplifiers and converters) form the highest percentage of the unit’s total cost.
Other than that, the cost of an audio interface will also depend on the number of inputs/outputs and the type of connectivity too as discussed above.
At this point, I believe that you’ve already identified the best audio interface for your studio. For those who are new to these studio gears, I hope that you now know what is a computer interface and the features to look out for when buying a PC or Mac interface.
Whether you’re looking for a guitar interface or a boost for your mics or keyboards, the list above definitely has one or 2 units that will meet your needs.
We may not have covered all the best interfaces on our market today. However, we did our best to help you narrow down to some of the best. In case, you’re using a different model from the 10 above, tell us about it in our comments section.
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Quinn is an audio engineer who is passionate about music production gear. He's been a journalist profiling popular musicians and the gear they use. When not helping musicians and audio producers in studios, he's scouring the market to find the latest gear and music production tech.