Shopping for audio interfaces can be daunting, specifically due to the overwhelming number of products. Still, this doesn’t minimize its importance – you need the best audio interface if you want to create a powerful home studio. And this applies to recording both vocals and instruments – having the best equipment can make the world of a difference.
On that note, we wanted to make the decision-making process easier for you by comprising this guide. We’d like to introduce you to our top recommendations of audio interfaces that are worth their cost.
- Introducing Audio Interfaces
- What to Consider When Shopping for the Best Audio Interface
- The Best Audio Interfaces
Introducing Audio Interfaces
Still, before we move on to reviewing our top products for you, we’d like to hit the basics. So, what is an audio interface and why do you need one?
Even though you can make basic recordings with pretty much any modern laptop, computer or tablet, an audio interface is meant to improve the sound. We could say that an audio interface is similar to an external sound card – being better, more powerful and providing infinitely better quality than the built-in sound card on your computer or laptop.
While it is true that a sound card is an audio interface, if you are serious about recording, it is less likely to meet your needs. That’s because they are limited in terms of connectivity. What is more, latency is another concern.
Truth be told, latency is the curse of the recording realm. In plain English, latency accounts for the lag or delay that inevitably affects the digital audio playback. Latency is imminent when you create music on a PC with a standard sound card. You will come to notice that there is a significant delay between your performance and the music you hear in the speakers or headphones connected to the computer.
Hence, considering that an audio interface is a device that features an advanced internal circuit, it aims at reducing this lag or eliminating it altogether. At the same time, when you have the right equipment, recording is a breeze. Not to mention that this type of device has a range of input types – this allows you to connect the interface to more than one piece of recording equipment.
What to Consider When Shopping for the Best Audio Interface
Now that we’ve settled that you need an audio interface for your home studio, we’ll outline the main aspects that you should consider during the shopping process.
Assess Your Needs
Evidently, there’s no such thing as the best audio interface for every music enthusiast out there. That is to say, an item should meet your needs, first and foremost. This is why you should assess what kind of recording you plan on doing.
At the same time, you should try to anticipate your future needs. Let’s say that, at the time being, you have a MIDI keyboard, a guitar, and a microphone. In this case, you might get a device with 2-in, 2-out, an XLR input and MIDI in/out. Nonetheless, if you’re planning to make more complex recordings, say, of entire bands, you should get something else.
Presumably, a 6/6 might be a better option, in comparison to a 2/2. What is more, considering that you intend to record multiple microphones at the same time, then you should invest in an audio interface equipped with more than one XLR input.
Type of Connectivity
An equally important consideration is, of course, the type of connectivity you want in your audio interface. Most units facilitate a USB connection, while other devices – the ones that fall into the category of advanced and pricier audio interfaces – have Thunderbolt or FireWire connectivity.
It goes without saying that your computer’s operating system is just as important, in this respect. For example, USB is compatible with any device, which is what would make it fit for literally every home studio.
Furthermore, depending on your budget, some devices might be more suitable for you than others. That being said, you should establish a budget – so, how much do you plan on spending for the best audio interface?
Truth be told, the price range for audio interfaces is wide – starting at $100 and going as up as $1,000+. Obviously, the sound quality you’re looking for has a lot to do with the price of the device. But this doesn’t mean that the units that are more conveniently priced are no good. It simply means that you get what you pay for.
The Best Audio Interfaces
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6
We would wholeheartedly recommend this unit to small bands and multi-instrumentalist producers. Focusrite is one of the leading manufacturers of top-quality recording equipment, and this unit is a perfect example of a high-quality device.
To start with, this is an all-in-one audio interface, being equipped with stand-alone power. This allows it to run smoothly on any device – since it doesn’t need to process power in order to receive power. Concurrently, it has a range of intuitive gain staging controls allowing you to adjust the volumes easily depending on your needs.
It has 4 analog inputs accompanied by 2 built-in mic preamps. At the same time, you get 2 separate headphone outputs and 4 analog outputs. As you can see, if you invest in this unit, you won’t be short of ins and outs – quite the contrary.
Since it has two channels of S/PDIF I/O and MIDI I/O, we could argue that this device is a decent choice for you if you’re thinking of developing or expanding your home studio in the future. That is to say, this is a great unit for you if you’re thinking big, yet your budget is a bit limited. Being compatible with the most important DAWs on both PC and MAC, this unit is as versatile as it can get.
Apogee Electronics is another renowned manufacturer of audio interfaces for MAC. And this particular unit is a great product for numerous reasons. In fact, it is a decent candidate if you want to set up a smaller home studio and you’re on a budget.
This is an all-in-one 2-in/2-out audio interface with USB connectivity, which comes with everything you need to do some serious recording. All you have to do is to connect a microphone and your instrument and you’ll be good to go. Alternatively, you may use the built-in omnidirectional microphone, as well. Even though it does a decent job, for the most part, we wouldn’t recommend you to use it for serious recordings. In that case, you’d need a condenser microphone – but that’s a topic for another day.
Thanks to its specifications, you can record with either a built-in or external microphone or a guitar simultaneously. At the same time, note that it relies on AD/DA conversion and mic preamp technology to reproduce podcast, music, even voice-over recordings while providing you with sound quality that is comparable to studio sound quality. Finally, you shouldn’t make any assumptions due to the small size of the unit – it is much more powerful than it seems. Wait till you give it a go and you’ll see for yourself.
This device definitely qualifies as the best audio interface because it combines excellent sound quality with portability while being quite affordable. This is a winning combination. We couldn’t say that it is the lightest unit out of our list, but it certainly feels sturdy and durable, which is a major advantage. Therefore, songwriters and musicians that are constantly on the move might find this unit down their alley.
It is compatible with both Mac and PC, and the power is supplied via USB connection. It comes equipped with an XLR mic input that has optional phantom power. There is also an unbalanced ¼” jack if you want to connect a guitar or any other mono source – it’s up to you.
The microphone preamp featuring inverted Darlington circuits offers a decent performance. Moving on to the quality, the unit delivers a 24-bit/192kHz A/D resolution, meaning that, in spite of the affordable price, you won’t be making any comprises when it comes to the sound. The line level RCA outputs allow you to link your studio monitors, as well.
As a minor disadvantage, this device has combined output volume control. In spite of that, there’s a not a lot to complain about – if you’re a budget shopper, this unit will address your needs.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
This is a very sturdy device, which is likely to last for many years to come. In regards to the features, it comes with the essential characteristics you are likely to find on any other device within this price range.
That is to say, it is equipped with four inputs, which come in the form of two 1/4” TRS inputs in the back and two XLR/TRS combos in the front.
As for the outputs, you get four balanced ¼” TRS ports, as well as a MIDI cluster. Nonetheless, the thing that really makes this a great purchase is its software. When it comes to the sampling rates, this unit only goes up to 96 kHz. Still, the preamps and converters make the world of a difference.
In other words, you get to enjoy a clear, low-latency sound with both instrument and voice recordings. That is not all; thanks to the top control panel, you can adjust the settings as you wish, not the mention that you get a concise overview of what is happening.
Overall, this is an excellent product that does nearly everything you’d expect it to do – in terms of recording, of course.
M-Audio M-Track II
Furthermore, we consider this low-profile audio interface to be worthy of your attention, as well. Truthfully, many people think that this is one of the best interfaces on the market due to its flexibility and versatility. You get the right connections for linking any instrument. Therefore, if you want to connect an electric guitar or a phantom-powered condenser microphone, you can easily do so.
At the same time, this device has an array of inputs. To be more specific, each channel combines a balanced 1/4” input with an XLR. Evidently, the ultimate goal is to offer excellent results.
As you already know, latency can be a big drag. The good thing about this unit is that there is zero-latency inline monitoring. So, you don’t have to worry about this. In terms of design, the solid metal chassis is really durable, whereas the low-profile design is really on point.
All things considered, you won’t be disappointed if you give this device a chance. It is well-built and it delivers a simple, yet efficient performance.
Another budget-friendly pick is the Lexicon Alpha – a USB 2-in/2-out audio interface. We could say that it easily fits into the category of portable devices. It features a 1/4” instrument input jack designated for electric guitar or bass, as well as input level controls and peak meters.
The monitor mix knob is responsible for controlling the latency issue, by regulating the audio coming from the computer and the live analog inputs of the unit. Moving on, you should note that this device is capable of streaming two separate channels of 44.1 or 48 kHz audio on both PC and Mac.
Being equipped with a Lexicon Pantheon VST Reverb plug-in, this guarantees that the quality of your recordings will be top notch, at the very least.
If we were to assess the quality of the recordings, we would have to say that this is one of this unit’s strongest points. The Reverb is really acknowledged for delivering crystal clear sound, and after conducting several tests, we established that this is something we could depend on.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII
This product is definitely one of the priciest products mentioned in this guide, but it is well worth the investment. You connect it to your Mac or PC via Thunderbolt, and you get two analog inputs, four analog outputs, accompanied by eight channels for ADAT input. When it comes to the connectivity, each of them has a designated purpose.
The AD/DA conversion is responsible for reproducing an excellent sound quality, whereas the 4 built-in UAD SHARC processors provide a sense of unmatched authenticity to the sound so that you can track or mixdown.
Moving on, thanks to the thunderbolt configuration, the latency will be pretty low to nonexistent even for the highest sample rates, which is quite impressive. As for the design of the unit, it is smart and versatile, which makes it a decent option for mixing outside your studio, or recording when you’re on the move. It is also a decent option for performing live.
So, if you have a larger budget to spare, you can accomplish greatness with this audio interface.
Having a compact, practical design, this unit is definitely one of our top favorites, due to its ease of use and versatility. Even though the connections between inputs and outputs are rather minimal, this ensures a user-friendly experience, while facilitating an uncluttered utilization – especially when you plug in a bunch of cables.
When used with Mac devices, Thunderbolt connects the interface to the unit, facilitating bus power. Apple’s thunderbolt connectivity is much faster than any other USB connectivity, which is obviously an advantage.
When you’re playing, the unit will record with outstanding clarity and little to none aliasing noise. In sessions, we could say that the preamps deliver a transparent sound. In reference to the auto gain, it works as expected – however, you have to turn it off manually after the correct level is achieved.
We believe that this is a capable audio interface that has a lot of potential. The only drawback we could think of is its rather flimsy built. Still, it is the impressive audio quality that remains the focal point of attraction.
RME Fireface UC
This is another powerful audio interface whose latency is minimal. This is a high-end model whose technical specifications are really promising. That is to say, you get 2 microphone preamps, S/PDIF, ADAT, and a surprising number of 18 input/output channels, as well as MIDI I/O. As you can see, this unit is nothing short of impressive.
Its performance is stellar on both PC and Mac operating systems. That is accomplished due to its built-in RME Hammerfall core, which aims at diminishing the latency, even in the case of multiple channels. This gives you complete freedom to set up as many monitor mixes as you want.
Alternatively, you can choose to switch the device’s operating mode from Mac to Win at any time. Another noteworthy feature is that the RME analog and digital circuitry offers active jitter suspension. You also get a solid, dependable 648- channel matrix router and flexible I/Os. In spite of its price, you get unparalleled performance and quality – that is to say, you cannot go wrong with this model.
PreSonus Studio 192
Our last recommendation of a reliable audio interface is the PreSonus Studio 192. Reliability, excellent audio and build quality and constant workflow are some of the benefits that come with the purchase. Since we’re talking about an Apple-centered device, you should note that the price goes a bit high – but it is definitely worth it.
You get two direct instrument inputs, featuring dedicated outputs below them. That is to say, you won’t have any trouble with routing the signal through the interface as you concurrently sent it via the outputs to an amp.
Regardless of its portability, you get a lot of extra connections – 20 mic preamps, 10 digital inputs, not to mention that you may choose to combine the instrument and mic inputs. The guitar pre-amping feature is also a pro, as well as the 24 bit/192kHz crisp audio. So, if the price isn’t a problem for you, you should note that this unit is the right device if you want to record like a professional.
To conclude, these are some of the best audio interfaces on the market. Depending on your recording needs, budget and specifications, one of our recommendations might be a decent candidate. Which of the products we mentioned seems to be the most suitable option for you?