If you’re serious about music production, having the perfect audio interface is a priority. But choosing the right interface can be tricky, especially if you’re new to audio production.
In this article, we’ll explain what an audio interface is, why you need one, and 6 of the best entry-level to professional audio interfaces.
What is an Audio Interface and Why Do You Need one?
An audio interface connects your microphone and instruments to your PC and converts analog signals into a digital audio format that your computer software can recognize and interact with. This is why they are also called “converters”. It also connects to your studio monitors and headphones, feeding sound directly from the inputs.
An audio interface is necessary if you want to record the sound of instruments and other audio devices, as it will help you achieve much higher sound quality during production.
Best Audio Interfaces
Some of the things to consider when choosing an audio interface are:
- Input/output configuration. Inputs are where you connect incoming audio devices, such as guitars or microphones. The number of outputs will determine the type of speaker configuration it can be connected to. Depending on your uses, you may only need one or two inputs/outputs. However, if you want to record from multiple sources at once (for example, if you need multiple instruments and vocals), you’ll need more. Interfaces range from 2 in/2 out to hundreds of channels.
- The type of inputs/outputs. Depending on the audio interface, it may have line inputs and instrument inputs. Line inputs pick up line level (high power) signals from powered gear like a synthesizer, while Instrument inputs are designed for things like microphones and guitars that output a low voltage signal (this is where preamps help by boosting the signal to line level). level). The connection format is also important depending on your needs (e.g. 1/4″ XLR, TRS, ADAT, RCA connectors). As with the inputs, you will need to pay attention to the output format and whether it matches your team and your needs.
- The type of connection. Most interfaces connect to a workstation via a USB cable (Windows) or via FireWire (for recording on Apple Macs and iOS devices like iPads). Newer models use USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt. The last type of connection is PCIe, which involves installing the interface on your computer’s motherboard. These are usually reserved for high-performance professional studios and are usually more expensive.
- Bit rate and sample rate. The higher they are, the better the overall audio quality you will record. Most of the audio interfaces on this list have a bit rate of 24 bits and a sample rate of 192 kHz, which is sufficient for almost all uses.
- Mark. Various brands create high quality audio interfaces including Behringer, Presonus, Motu, Clarett, M-Audio, Audient, etc. Some of them target different niches, so depending on whether you’re a singer-songwriter, podcaster, band, producer, or film composer, certain brands may suit your needs better.
With that out of the way, here are 6 of the best audio interfaces ranging from budget to pro-level options.
The cheapest option on our list, the UMC404HD is perfect for those on a tight budget. For just $169.00, this Behringer interface offers impressive value for money. Some of its features include:
- Four XLR-1/4″ combo inputs and one MIDI input
- Four line outputs with MIDAS mic preamps
- Latency-free headphone playback
- USB 2.0 connectivity
- Phantom power switch for all four inputs (provides DC power to condenser microphones that require it to operate)
- 24-bit/192kHz recording quality
There are a few obvious downsides to this USB audio interface, like older USB ports, but for the price, it’s still one of the better options.
There are several Focusrite audio interfaces, many of which are popular with producers. On a tight budget (or for beginners), the best option is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Third Gen, which is suitable for solo or duo recording.
Third Generation Scarlett 2i2 Features:
- A cheap price of around $200 on Amazon
- Two high-headroom combo inputs (doubles as line/instrument inputs with built-in mic preamps)
- One headphone output and two 1/4″ TRS monitor line outputs
- USB 2.0 Type-C connectivity
- 24-bit 192 kHz converters
The 2i2 also comes with free lite versions of Ableton 11, ProTools and Focusrite’s plug-in suite, meaning you can get to work right away.
If you need more inputs/outputs, the Focusrite Scarlett range goes all the way up to the scarlet 18i20 with 18 inputs and 20 outputs.
Audient ID4 Mark II is an affordable, high-quality audio interface with the perfect functionality for your home studio. Replacing the discontinued original model, the ID4 MkII brings several new features to the board, including faster USB 3.0 speeds and updated cosmetics.
- Budget price at $199
- Two inputs with world-class preamps
- Two studio-grade headphone outputs
- USB-C 3.0 connection
- Compatibility with Mac, iOS and Windows
- Free ARC software bundle including virtual instruments and FX plug-ins
The ID4 MkII is another great option for small-scale home recording. A good alternative at a similar price to the ID4 MkII is the Hearing EVO 4. Compared to the ID4’s single mic preamp, the EVO 4 has two mic inputs with preamps, one of which also serves as an instrument input .
SSL2+ is a robust interface that features all the specifications needed for small-scale music production. Some of the SSL2+ features include:
- Affordable mid-range price at $349.99
- Two XLR-1/4″ combo inputs with state-of-the-art preamps
- USB 2.0 Type-C connectivity
- A built-in MIDI interface that allows you to connect external MIDI equipment (such as keyboards)
- Two monitor outputs and two high-current headphone outputs with independent controls
- Four rear panel RCA outputs (two mirrored and two independent monitor outputs)
- Legacy 4K knob for adding high frequency boost and distortion, inspired by 4000 series consoles
- Includes Ableton Live Lite 11, Vocalstrip 2, Drumstrip and 6 months free use of native SSL plugins.
The Apollo Twin MkII Duo is a professional-grade audio interface that’s essentially a simplified version of Universal Audio’s flagship Apollo 16.
Apollo Twin MkII Duo Features:
- Pro price at $1,299
- 2-in/6-out configuration with two combo inputs, two monitor outputs, two line outputs, stereo S/PDIF output and headphone output
- 24-bit/192kHz audio quality
- Thunderbolt 3 connectivity
- Supports all major digital audio workstations (DAWs) including Studio One, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Logic Pro X, and more.
- DSP functionality with Unison preamps and a stack of plug-ins including compressors and effects like distortion and reverb
The AXR4 is a professional-grade interface available with Thunderbolt 2 (AXR4T) or USB 3.0 (AXR4U) connectivity. The AXR4 is aimed at professional sound producers and sound engineers. Some of its features include:
- Professional price around $2,799
- Rack-mountable design for studio use
- 28-in/24-out configuration with four combo inputs and two headphone outputs on the front panel and eight TRS and two ADAT x S/PDIF inputs/outputs on the rear panel
- MIDI in/out
- DSP powered (meaning it has its own digital signal processor instead of running off your computer’s processor)
- Two Thunderbolt 2 ports allow daisy chaining of up to three interfaces
- 32-bit/384kHz sound quality
- Extremely low latency
Play that funky music
Whether you’re new to sound production and want an affordable audio interface, or you’re a professional sound engineer who needs a professional-grade device, there’s something for you.
Is your favorite audio interface in the list? Let us know in the comments below.