SKIP INTRO? See The Best 10 Audio Interfaces
Our job is to help you select the best audio interfaces that will guarantee excellent recordings
Are you looking for the best audio interfaces to upgrade your studio’s recordings? Audio interfaces are an essential part of making great music, in fact, the most important aspect in our view. If your studio is not equipped with an audio interface, you are undertooled because you can't make excellent recordings without one. The best audio interfaces give us total control of our equipment, helps us achieve more amplification and phantom power. They also help to achieve improved sound quality, eradicate latency and inputs and outputs can be managed by one device. We are going to showcase the capabilities of our top 10 audio interface picks available on the market so you can be better guided when you need to get one for your studios.
Audio Interface Explained
An audio interface is a device which is used to connect your computer to other sound instruments such as studio monitor speakers, microphones control surfaces, MIDI keyboards and so on. Audio interfaces transform analog input from musical instruments into a digital form recognizable by a production computer which integrates the sound into songs. Audio interfaces can help to amplify your microphones through phantom power, offer XLR ports for microphones and MIDI in/out interface for connecting other instruments or controllers.
Using sound cards on computers as an audio interface does not give the best results because they create delays in sound and cause interference and they don’t have enough power to control most studio equipment. Audio interfaces are the acceptable sound cards for the music industry that give your studio the capability to produce top level sound quality. My audio interface helps me achieve greater organization by drastically cutting down the use of cables, and creates more dynamic ways of recording my songs. My microphones became clearer, the guitars produced crispy audio, and the audio had greater quality for final mixing and mastering in my DAW. Overall, an audio interface helped to increase my creativity and reduce my workload.
How to Choose Your Audio Interface?
- Budget - The choice of your audio interface might depend on the funds available to you. Audio interfaces are sold within the range of $30 to $2000. Most come at an affordable price but can become expensive if you are after some powerful capabilities. We selected from different price ranges to increase your choice when you go shopping.
- Connectivity - The choice can also be determined by the type of connectivity you desire. Available connectivity options include USB, FireWire, and Thunderbolt. The amount of money you will need to spend increases with the sophistication of the type of connectivity you prefer, but if you have the cash, you can go as high as you want.
- Number of Inputs/Outputs - What number of gear do you intend to connect? Are you going to increase the number of studio equipment that will need an audio interface in future, for example, more microphones, 3.5mm ports or USB ports? Or does your studio work with musicians who record multiple musical instruments simultaneously. If the answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, then you need to consider buying an audio interface with enough input and output connections that will cater for the present and the future.
- Software Needed - Do you need specific software? Some audio interfaces are equipped with digital sound workstations, effects, and virtual instruments. Does your studio require an audio interface of this type?
Depending on your preferences, choosing an audio interface can be influenced by a lot of factors, and we can't give you a perfect answer because you will need to consider a lot of these factors to make the right choice.
You will need to look at how it will be powered, the type of computer system it will be connected to, is it a PC or a Mac and the number of musical instruments that you wish to record at the same time.You will also need to consider the number of inputs and output ports, MIDI interface for controllers and so on. All these factors need to be carefully weighed before taking a decision.
You can check the Sweetwater’s audio interface shopping guide or Sound on Sound magazine for their article on choosing your audio interface.
Our Top 10 Best Audio Interface Picks
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
Mackie Onyx Blackjack
M-Audio M-Track Plus
Below is a roll call of our top ten best audio interfaces supported by PC and Mac. We endeavored to touch all ranges, all input/output options as well as all connectivity options. We supplied the retail price that fits your pocket, we compared features, and we provided information on compatibility of different connectivity options. We would love to know your pick after going through the list.
1/ Behringer UCA202
- High resolution 48 kHz conversion
- Stereo Headphone output
- USB for power and connectivity. Does not need drivers
- Free editing software- Audacity and KRISTAL Audio Engine
Behringer's UCA 202 is the cheapest audio interface on our list. It has a resolution of 48 kHz and does not need an external power source because a USB port provides power and connectivity, which makes it portable. The interface comes with standard RCA ins, volume control, and a headphone jack, but is missing XLR and TRS which makes connecting a mic difficult. Also included is some free software such as Audacity and KRISTAL Audio Engine.
2/ Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
- USB connectivity
- A/D resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
- Inputs: Two XLR/TRS combination
- Direct control of monitor on front panel (easy switching between speakers and headphones)
- Features Scarlett bundle (effects, processors) and Ableton Live Lite.
By our appraisal, this audio interface is by far the best on the market. The Scarlett 2i2 has a rugged build which ensures portability and stability, a generous option of inputs and outputs and offers an excellent microphone pre-amp. If you make music at home or own a semi-pro studio, this interface is the ideal choice. Focusrite equipped this audio interface with two in-built pre-amps as well as two inputs and two outputs, hence its name 2i2. In comparison with other mechanisms seen in more expensive interfaces as well as condenser and ribbon microphones, this audio interface has legendary amp quality. It is an affordable interface, and user reviews have shown it has one of the highest acceptance levels in the market.
The Ableton Live Lite that comes with the interface makes it an irresistible piece of equipment. Ableton LiveLite is a digital workstation much favored by music heads. It is an excellent software for recording and in this package, is powered by USB though without any MIDI input or output. The Focusrite Scarlet has always topped our list of favorite audio interfaces but makes sure connectivity will not pose any challenge for your future needs before buying it.
For some extra cash, you can get the upgraded Focusrite Saffire Pro interface which comes with FireWire connectivity and some MIDI in/outs. You can as well check the Scarlett Studio Audio Bundle featuring an interface, a mic and a headphone for some extra dollars. Focusrite has many other Scarlett models with more input and outputs available on the market.
3/ PreSonus AudioBox
- Solid steel design
- 48 volts of phantom power
- MIDI inout
- Combo XLR microphone/balanced 1/4 “ input
- 24-bit resolution and 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96 kHz sampling rate
- USB 2.0 port
- Features Studio One software
The AudioBox from PreSonux is one of the popular audio gear from the reputable maker of sound equipment. The audio interface comes at a lower price than many of its rivals and features a simple design. Buyers get an audio interface with a solid steel construction, two MIDI in/outs on the front as well as two in-built top quality pre-amps. At the back of the audio interface, you will find a USB port for connectivity and power, a right and left stereo inputs, TSR ins as well as a headphone jack. This audio interface is not recommended for users with headphones above 100 in impedance or instruments which require over 35 decibels of gain. This is because it comes at a modest price and is equipped with decent features.
The AudioBox comes with the Studio One software from the same company and is ideal for doing basic studio activity, though it's not very powerful and lacks a fancy appearance. If you are on a low budget and you need an audio interface with the basic capabilities, the AudioBox is a great pick.
If you want information on their newest models, the AudioBox iOne and AudioBox iTwo, check out our reviews on the products.
4/ Avid MBox
- Monitor Control
- Two XLR microphone/line combo inputs
- Stereo S/P/DIF digital in and out
- Two 1/4’’ DI inputs
- MIDI in and out (1x 1)
- Dedicated volume knob
- Inbuilt guitar tuner
- Pro Tools Express included
If you want an all in one audio interface plus one of the best DAW software of the industry, this is your deal. Among all the audio interfaces we have reviewed so far, Avid’s MBox is the one that will dig the deepest hole in your pocket. The Mbox’s is bundled with the Pro Tools Express software and comes with two 1/4’’ ins and outs, a headphone out, two XLR microphone/line combos as well as MIDI ins/outs.
The Avid Mbox is perfect for semi pro and even pro studios. It has an inbuilt tuner which provides onboard effects for guitars, a soft-clip limiter and a standard 48 volts phantom power for your condenser mic. It’s an excellent choice for those who want a sophisticated audio interface.
5/ Universal Audio Apollo Twin
- 24-bit/192 kHz audio conversion
- Input for headphone and guitar at the front
- Monitor/ preamp switches
- Dedicated master volume knob
- 2 XLR/TSR microphone ins
- Realtime UAD Processing
- Inbuilt plug-in bundle (analog classics)
- Two line/microphone preamps
- Thunderbolt connection
Next on our list is the highly sophisticated audio interface from Universal Audio Apollo Twin which supports only Mac. With an incredible audio conversion rate of 24-bit/192kHz and a 2 x 6 thunderbolt connection, it offers recordings of the highest quality with zero latency. The interface makes tracking of different instruments with EQs, compressors, and amplifiers easy through its real-time UAD processing. Universal Audio provides quality products worthy of investment. Even though this audio interface is compatible with only Mac, it's one of the best you can lay your hands on right now.
If you have the money, Universal Audio Apollo Twin is a great investment choice, it's popular and has exceptional delivery. And remember you will need a Thunderbolt cable for the interface. Here is an excellent video on the Apollo Twin Interface.
6/ Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
- MIDI in and out
- 24-bit/96 kHz processor
- 2 balanced microphone/line/instrument XLR
- 2 balanced line 1/4'’ TRS
- 4 balanced analog outputs 1/4'’ TRS
- Two microphone inputs/headphone output
- 48 volts phantom power
- LED status lights
- Direct monitoring using mono input switch
- Powered by USB
Equipment and software from Native Instruments are a favorite of many people. A lot of features make this audio interface a darling, it is designed for long service, and it packs a formidable suite of top of the line DAW software which includes Cubase LE 6, Komplete Elements and Traktor LE 2, putting over 1k VSTs and effects at your disposal. The audio interface also provides plenty connectivity options such as four balanced outputs, 2 balanced XLRs and one MIDI inout. Also included is 2 balanced 1/4'’ TRS, a dedicated volume knob and a USB port for hitch free hook ups and power. It also has one of the best VST plug-ins.
If you have plans to increase your studio gear in future, you might want to opt for this audio interface, if you can foot the bill. It has very reduced latency and produces very high-quality sound. The Native Instrument’s Komplete Audio 6 is a rival to Avid’s MBox but comes at a lower price and gives you Cubase LE 6 instead of Pro Tools.
7/ Mackie Onyx Blackjack
- Two Onyx mic pre-amps
- Amps as high as 60 dB
- High-headroom design
- USB powered
- Separate studio outputs for headphone/monitor
- Comes with Tracktion 3 production software
Coming with two top of the range Onyx mic pre-amps, this audio interface from Mackie gives optimum value for money, even though it's more suitable for DJs. Due to a high-headroom design, the interface provides some level of protection against distortions. Each line in (1 and 2) can be turned up as high as 60 Db, provides controls on the front and you can increase the phantom power to maximum on the monitor or headphone. The audio interface’s amp gain control gives excellent results with dynamic microphones and electric guitars, and it also offers zero latency recording.
It offers more capabilities with its high-quality amps and two XLR and TSR, as well as standard ins and outs. If you are after a low priced but powerful audio interface, we recommend the Mackie Onyx Blackjack.
8/ M-Audio M-Track Plus
- 24-bit/48 kHz digital audio processor
- Minimal latency when monitoring
- Solid aluminum design
- Headphone out on front
- Selectable phantom power
- 2 balanced ¼” , MIDI in and out, 2 XLR inputs
- Features Ignite by Air and Pro Tools
Like all other M-Audio products, this USB-powered audio interface is a rugged equipment offering a generous amount of the needed ins and outs. It comes with Ignite creation software from Air and Avid Pro Tools Express which is an excellent combination of software. It features insert jacks on each channel and provides high phantom power for guitars and mics. It also comes with MIDI ins/outs as well as 2 XLR and TSR. If what you need is an interface that’s worth more than its price tag, this is it right here.
If all you need is a few ins and outs and you are not so particular about sound quality, the M-Audio M-Track Plus is a great choice. Though it can’t be used when recording multiple instruments simultaneously, it's affordable and is on par with the earlier Scarlett model.
If you are willing to spend a little more cash, then check out our review of M-Audio’s M-Track QUAD audio interface.
9/ Apogee One
- A/D and D/A conversion: 44.1/48 kHz 24-bit
- Internal condenser mic
- Single input channel
- XLR microphone pre-amp
- Encoder knob (output level control, gain control)
- Comes with Maestro software
The Apogee One is one of the best Mac supported audio interface on the market. For its modest size, it can deliver up to 63 dB, and this justifies the high price tag, though it has a simple connectivity. It provides an inbuilt condenser microphone which can serve as a mic while the interface is mounted and comes with 48 volts of phantom power. It is equipped with a 1/8’’ for headphones but lacks XLR ports or MIDI ins and outs. You can overcome this by using a converter cable to connect an external MIDI keyboard, microphone or any other device you wish to connect with it.
If you have some cash to spare, you can check out the more powerful Apogee Duet audio interface, though it costs twice the price of the One. You can as well check our review on the new Avid Pro Tools Duet audio interface also from Apogee; it’s the product of the two company’s collaboration.
If you use Mac and need a small but powerful audio interface that will enhance the quality of your music, the Apogee One offers a different experience of audio interfaces, and you should try it out.
10/ Lexicon Alpha
- Records up to two tracks simultaneously
- 44.1 kHz to 48 kHz sample rates
- Two RCA and TRS outs
- Inputs: 1 x XLR, 2 X TRS, 1X Hi-Z
- USB powered
- Low- noise microphone pre-amp
- Headphone output on back
- Comes with their Pantheon reverb VST and Cubase LE4
Coming with one XLR microphone, one Hi-Z input and two TRS, Lexicon Alpha audio interface is worth far more than its meager retail price, earning it plenty of positive reviews. Selling below $100, this interface is a real giveaway, though it doesn’t come with MIDI and phantom power. The Lexicon Alpha is stable and gives no delay when recording due to its very low latency. If you have recording instruments that don’t require phantom power or need an audio interface for connecting studio monitors, this audio interface will get the job done.
Additionally, it comes with Cubase LE4 and the company’s Pantheon reverb VST plug-in software which are mid-range studio software. If you are comfortable with cables to different instruments such as a keyboard and a guitar while recording, go for the Lexicon Alpha.
In our opinion, the Behringer UCA202 is the most pocket-friendly audio interface in the market at the moment. It offers the standard features of an audio interface at the lowest price but still delivers on the job. It is a simple digital converter ideal for people who want a portable audio interface.