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The 17 Best Audio Interfaces for Home Studios and Music Production: What to Consider Before Purchasing

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Whether you work in a multi-million dollar studio or you record and produce at home, an audio interface is the key that unlocks your potential. While audio interface hardware used to be out of reach for home studio engineers and producers, many of the best audio interfaces available today are affordable on almost any budget, meaning you don’t have to break the bank to get pro-quality audio.

Best Audio Interfaces

Audio interfaces can be used to record single sources, such a vocals, but they can also be used in multi-track recording sessions to capture many audio sources at once. This makes them versatile for all types of recording and production environments, including podcasting, studio recording and live performance recording.

PRODUCT

OUR TOP PICK

Best Audio Interfaces

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition

  • Included talkback button for communication from mixing room

  • Unison preamps

  • Includes Analog Classics UA plugin bundle

Best Audio Interfaces

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB

  • Packages come with digital production software

  • Each input has automatic settings for Air, Pad and Instrument

  • Halo signal indicators show optimal gain settings

Best Audio Interfaces

Audient iD14 MKII USB-C

  • Noise floor is quieter than signal level by a lot

  • 126dB of dynamic range

  • Talkback feature can utilize any connected mic, including built-in laptop mic

Best Audio Interfaces

Apogee One

  • Built-in mic

  • Useful as a headphone amp

  • Integrates seamlessly with Apogee’s Maestro software

Best Audio Interfaces

PreSonus AudioBox 96 USB

  • Affordable option for home studios and small studio spaces

  • Portable for recording on-the-go

  • Easily integrates with almost any DAW

Best Audio Interfaces

Pro Tools Carbon

  • Plenty of input options, including ADAT, XLR and ¼” TRS

  • Integrates flawlessly with HDX hardware and Pro Tools

  • Onboard HDX DSP built right in

Best Audio Interfaces

Antelope Zen Go Synergy Core Desktop 4x8 USB Type-C

  • Synergy Core Effects can be monitored in real-time with very low latency

  • Includes onboard amp sim and compression effects

  • Small form factor

Best Audio Interfaces

PreSonus Studio 24c USB-C

  • Lightweight and portable

  • Built well and feels solid

  • Excellent sound conversion for vocals and acoustic instruments

Best Audio Interfaces

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 MkII USB

  • Includes powerful NI software, including Monark, Maschine Essentials and Replika

  • Display information is located on the top of the unit for fast access

  • Utilizes LED input and output meters

Best Audio Interfaces

Mackie Onyx Producer 2-2 USB

  • Compact and rugged

  • Comes with DAW software and plugins

  • Simple, straightforward panel controls

Best Audio Interfaces

Steinberg UR22C USB

  • Solid construction and durable

  • Can be powered using USB or 5V DC

  • Included DSP effects

Best Audio Interfaces

IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo I/O 2-channel Audio/MIDI Interface for iOS, Android

  • Can be powered using DC, USB or AA batteries

  • Provides 48V phantom power

  • Convenient, easy-to-read LED indicators

Best Audio Interfaces

Arturia AudioFuse Rev2 USB

  • DiscretePRO preamps deliver noise-free audio recording

  • Includes AudioFuse Control Center software

  • No need for proprietary drivers

Best Audio Interfaces

MOTU M4 4x4 USB-C

  • Tough metal construction

  • Low latency with 32-sample buffer

  • Loopback feature for recording audio from studio computer

Best Audio Interfaces

Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD USB

  • Signal and clipping indicator lights for easy monitoring

  • Midas-designed preamps

  • Metal body is impact-resistant

Best Audio Interfaces

Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB

  • Comes with SSL NativeStrip and Drumstrip plugins

  • Onboard Legacy digital processing

  • Includes licenses for Pro Tools First and Ableton Live Lite

Best Audio Interfaces

Roland Rubix22 USB

  • Small size is great for portable use

  • Simple onboard controls

  • Plug-and-play connectivity

Our Overall #1 Rated Pick

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition​

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition

Who It’s For: Studio engineers who work with a variety of musical genres requiring a “sounds-good-over-anything” solution.

In the world of plugins, Universal Audio is a legend.
The brand’s compressors and EQs are unparalleled in delivering an analog sim experience that stands up to the best hardware out there, so I was already expecting to be blown away by the Apollo Twin MkII.

This interface packs a punch at a more affordable price and includes the ability to run double duty as a DSP box.

Vocals sounded like butter, and guitar and keys, both analog and digital, sparkled beneath a layer of analog sweetness.

What Is In This Guide?

Top 5 Best Audio Interfaces For Music Production

In a hurry? Check out our top 5 best audio interfaces for music production! Keep reading to discover more about our top picks.

  1. Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition
  2. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB
  3. Audient iD14 MKII USB-C
  4. Antelope Zen Go Synergy Core Desktop 4×8 USB Type-C
  5. Arturia AudioFuse Rev2 USB

What is an Audio Interface?

Before I get into my reviews of the best audio interfaces, I think it’s first important to define what an interface is when it comes to recording and producing. Essentially, an interface can be any piece of hardware that is used to get sound from an external source into your digital audio workstation (DAW) software.

>>> Related Reading: The Best DAW Software for Music Production

Most audio interfaces include multiple inputs and outputs, and some make use of various different types of inputs and outputs on the same unit. Additionally, an audio interface usually has a converter inside that can take an analog signal and convert it to a digital signal.

Basically, your interface serves as the bridge between your audio source and your studio computer or recording device. The interface itself doesn’t usually record anything at all, but instead, it simply serves as the processing unit that converts and passes along the sound.

What Makes the Best Audio Interfaces Cost More?

If you’ve shopped for or even browsed audio interfaces recently, you already know that they are available in a range of prices. Some may only set you back a few hundred dollars (and sometimes less), but others can cost thousands.

Like with most electronics, a big part of the cost comes down to the quality of the parts, but the amount of features is also a contributing factor. In most cases, more inputs and outputs is going to mean more money. You’ll also likely pay more for interfaces that include built-in effects and high-quality preamps.

While it may be tempting to spend a lot on an interface, especially if it comes with lots of bells and whistles, my advice is to stop and think about what you really need. If you aren’t going to use all of the fancy features, why pay extra for them? If all you need for now is a simple, inexpensive interface, put aside that extra money and save it for bigger, more expensive equipment down the road when you need it more.

Key Considerations Before Making a Purchase

If you’re having a hard time narrowing down what to look for in an audio interface, I’ve put together a list of some key considerations that I believe are important. While reading through my reviews below, keep the following in mind:

DAW Compatibility

If an interface doesn’t work well with your preferred DAW software, you’re likely not going to get much out of the interface. While most interfaces are compatible with virtually every modern DAW through USB and similar universal connections, it’s always best to check with the manufacturer first.

Really, the compatibility issue that I think you should be most concerned about is how your interface connects to the hardware running your DAW software. Because USB is a standardized solution, you shouldn’t have any problem connecting most interfaces to a Windows machine. Macs running DAWs like Logic Pro X, on the other hand, will probably work best with Thunderbolt connections.

Inputs & Outputs

Inputs and outputs are at the heart of any interface. Most interfaces use either traditional XLR inputs, ¼” line or instrument inputs or a mixture of both. This allows you to use a variety of input devices, including dynamic and condenser mics, guitar cables, and secondary audio sources.

When it comes to outputs, you’re more than likely going to want to connect your interface to a computer that runs your DAW software, but you may also want to connect monitors directly to the interface. To do this, most interfaces will feature balanced ¼” stereo outputs, and most will also include headphone output options for monitoring.

Connectivity

Of course, how you connect an interface is one of the most important aspects of using one. After all, if you can’t connect your interface to your DAW, you can’t really use it, right? The good news is that connections these days are fairly universal.

USB is by far the most common type of audio interface connection, but you might also need to connect via Thunderbolt if you’re using a Mac. Some interfaces may also have special connectivity when working within a closed system, but these are the exception. For the most part, you’re going to use a simple USB or Thunderbolt connection.

Low Latency Recording

Latency is the delay that takes place between an audio source and the recording medium. Latency isn’t a huge deal if you’re recording a single track, but if you’re dubbing over another recording, working with a multi-track recording setup or doing any kind of work that requires monitoring, latency can throw off the sound and ruin the recording. A lot of the issue with latency comes down to technical stuff like buffer size and sample rate.

The unfortunate fact is that some degree of latency will always be present in a recording. Even the best audio interfaces can’t achieve absolute zero latency, but they can get pretty close. In general, latency in recording is measured using milliseconds. I recommend you aim for a latency of no more than three milliseconds if you’re looking for a low-latency interface. When you get down to delay amounts of that size, they’re pretty much imperceptible to the human ear.

Sample Rates & Bit Depth

Sample rate and bit depth are technical aspects of digital recording that ultimately affect the quality of reproduction. I’m not going to get into the deep math behind these elements as that’s beyond the scope of my reviews, but the concepts are fairly simple.

When you record something digitally, the sound is converted into samples. Essentially, this is the result of taking one second of audio and slicing it into many tiny pieces. Each one of these is called a sample. The rate of playback is what determines your sample rate. A higher sample rate usually means a better recording because samples are being played back in a fluid fashion, but keep in mind that converting sample rates from lower to higher will not necessarily help. In fact, in some cases, converting sample rates can lead to pitch shifting and artifacts.

Bit depth deals with the resolution of your sound. It is calculated by evaluating the amplitude of your samples. A higher bit depth typically means a clearer, sharper sound. As bit depth gets lower, sound quality degrades.

Input Channel Type

Your input channel or channels determine what and how you’re able to record using an interface. Most interfaces accept ¼” tip-ring-sleeve (TRS) balanced inputs, and some will also include a MIDI input. You might find audio interfaces that accept USB inputs, 3.5mm jack inputs, optical cable inputs, RCA inputs and more, but these are not traditional interfaces.

Also, I want to note that you need to be aware of whether an input is stereo or only mono. A stereo input will automatically separate your channels during recording, but a mono input will only record single-channel audio. This becomes increasingly important when you start think about mixing a track.

Form Factor

Lastly, the form factor of your interface plays a key role in how well it works within your studio. For many people, a desktop interface works great, but in a crowded studio environment, a rack-mounted interface may work better.

In general, I think that the determining factor is how many inputs and outputs you have running to your interface. If I’m recording a mic and a line input for a vocalist and a guitar player, I’ll usually opt for a desktop interface.

If I’m working with a group and I have to snake cables through different rooms and use patch bays, I want to keep my workspace as clear as possible. For these situations, I like the option of having a rack-mounted interface to get cables through the back and out of my work area.

Our Reviews of the Best Audio Interfaces For Music Production

Because I get asked all the time about my recommendations for audio interfaces, I decided that I should put my money where my mouth is. That’s why I took on the task of testing 17 audio interfaces from 16 different brands so that I can bring you my hands-on reviews.

In reviewing each unit, I recorded vocals using both XLR and line inputs, but I also recorded guitar, bass and ambient noise to see how these products stood up to different sounds and environments. While all of the products I tested worked great, some excelled in specific areas while others lagged behind.

To learn which I found to be the best, take a look through my reviews below:

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition

Who It’s For: Studio engineers who work with a variety of musical genres requiring a “sounds-good-over-anything” solution.

In the world of plugins, Universal Audio is a legend. Award-winning producers and bedroom studio engineers alike love the rich warmth provided by the Universal Audio sound. The brand’s compressors and EQs are unparalleled in delivering an analog sim experience that stands up to the best hardware out there, so I was already expecting to be blown away by the Apollo Twin MkII.

While Universal Audio’s beefier Apollo 8 and 16 models are the go-to industry solution for top-quality audio, I think the Apollo Twin may be sliding in under the radar. This interface packs a punch at a more affordable price and includes the ability to run double duty as a DSP box. To add to this, I fell in love with the included Unison preamps that I’ve heard so much about from others in the industry.

These Unison preamps model classic sounds from a variety of vintage gear, and I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t tell the difference between the real thing and the modeling. It is that good! This technology utilizes the combined talents and technology of brands like Neve, Manley, SSL and API to create the distinct analog sound found on so many hits over the years.

No matter what I recorded using this interface, I wound up with a smooth, crisp sound that has a sweet warmth to it. Vocals sounded like butter, and guitar and keys, both analog and digital, sparkled beneath a layer of analog sweetness.

Pros

  • Included talkback button for communication from mixing room
  • Unison preamps
  • Includes Analog Classics UA plugin bundle
  • Utilizes UAD-2 DUO core processing to track through plugins

Cons

  • Only supports Thunderbolt
  • Hefty system requirements
  • Price is still a bit steep despite being lower than Apollo 8 and 16
  • Additional inputs require optical connection

Summary

Connectivity: Thunderbolt

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/line inputs

Analog outputs: 2 digitally-controlled analog outputs

MIDI I/O: n/a

Importance of a quality Audio Interface

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB

Who It’s For: Beginner and intermediate producers who need an affordable, compact recording solution for home studio use.

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is a USB powerhouse packaged in a sleek, stylish body. I’ve used a number of Focusrite interfaces before, so I know the brand’s quality; however, I was really surprised by how easy it was to get the Scarlett 2i2 up and running. 

Within minutes of powering the unit on, I was already working in my DAW recording a vocal take, and I easily switched to my Roland keyboard and began laying down some harmony backing tracks through the ¼” output.

The form factor of the Scarlett 2i2 makes me believe that this unit is a solution for both home studios and for producers who record on the road. I get really tired of monster interfaces that take up my entire desktop, but the Scarlett 2i2 fit nice and neat tucked off to the side.

During testing, I recorded using a variety of different XLR mics and TRS inputs, and all of them sounded clean and clear. In fact, Focusrite includes some really nice mic preamps in the interface that gave me a lot of headroom to play with. My vocal takes had plenty of detail and clarity, and I believe this was due in large part to the Scarlett 2i2’s included Air setting for each input.

Overall, I was really impressed by the Scarlett 2i2 and felt it stood as a testament to Focusrite’s passion for supporting everyday musicians. The sound was great, connectivity was fast and the price is right. I’d recommend this interface to virtually anyone who’s ready to take their recording journey to the next level, especially if you’re sticking to a budget.

Pros

  • Packages come with digital production software
  • Each input has automatic settings for Air, Pad and Instrument
  • Halo signal indicators show optimal gain settings

Cons

  • No direct MIDI I/O
  • Only bus-powered

Summary

Connectivity: USB 2.0

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 ¼” line/XLR inputs

Analog outputs: 2 ¼” TRS

MIDI I/O: n/a

PreSonus AudioBox 96 USB

Who It’s For: Intermediate recording engineers and producers who don’t have a need for large amounts of input and output options.

I use PreSonus’ StudioOne software on a fairly regular basis, and a big reason why I got into StudioOne was because it first came bundled with a friend’s audio interface.

I had never tried the DAW before and only had limited experience with PreSonus interfaces at the time, but these days, I find it hard not to recommend the brand to every producer I know.

The PreSonus AudioBox 96 continues PreSonus’ tradition of providing excellent products at great prices. Now, I’ll be honest in saying that the features of the AudioBox 96 are a bit sparse, but the sound is fantastic. PreSonus traded simplicity for sound on this one, and I’m thankful for it.

Recording at 96kHz and 24-bit, my vocal tracks were as clear as ever, and the onboard gain controls allowed me to monitor levels and make adjustments to get things right where I wanted them. The phantom power supplied by the AudioBox 96 was also fine for powering my condenser mic, and that just meant fewer cords to get in my way.

If you use MIDI controllers, including keyboards and pad controllers, the AudioBox 96 offers a MIDI I/O on the back. This came in handy when I wanted to add some backing tracks to my recording, but I could even see this being used for live performance capture.

The AudioBox 96 comes with a license for StudioOne Artist, a scaled down version of the full StudioOne suite. Even with its lighter offerings, StudioOne Artist is a great DAW that is perfect for producers who are new to recording and digital audio.

Pros

  • Affordable option for home studios and small studio spaces
  • Portable for recording on-the-go
  • Easily integrates with almost any DAW
  • Comes with a license for StudioOne Artist

Cons

  • Only two inputs can record simultaneously
  • Lack of features outside of onboard gain control
  • Included USB cable feels cheap

Summary

Connectivity: USB

Audio resolution: 24-bit, 96kHz

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” line inputs

Analog outputs: 1 ¼” headphone out, 2 ¼” main outputs

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI in/1 MIDI out

Apogee One

Who It’s For: Producers and recording engineers who need a simple, portable interface.

When it comes to simplicity, the Apogee One is where it’s at. Although this interface lacks a lot of the bells and whistles found on other units, it excels at what it does while keeping things fast and easy.

The form factor makes the Apogee One excellent for recording while traveling, and it also includes a built-in mic for capturing live moments when they happen. During my review, I found the mic quality to be on par with similar portable digital recorders, but I don’t know that I would use it as a main mic in a studio.

Technically, the Apogee One only has one line in. In fact, it really doesn’t have any lines in because the way that it connects to input devices is through a proprietary input jack that leads to a split adapter. This adapter then allows you to connect an XLR cable and a ¼” line. The third “input” is the built-in mic.

Connecting this interface to my studio computer was simple using USB, and it was recognized as an input device by all of the DAWs I tried. Although the Apogee One is great for fast recording needs, I was a bit underwhelmed by the output configuration. Basically, the Apogee One uses a 1/8” jack as an output for audio. Secondary to that, output comes through USB. This works if you just want to get audio to a computer or monitor it using headphones, but it doesn’t work if you want to connect the unit to a pair of studio monitors.

Pros

  • Built-in mic
  • Useful as a headphone amp
  • Integrates seamlessly with Apogee’s Maestro software
  • Includes integration with Logic Pro X

Cons

  • No direct MIDI support
  • Adapter required for XLR
  • No option to output stereo lines to monitors

Summary

Connectivity: USB

Audio resolution: 96kHz, 24-bit

Analog inputs: 1 ¼” TRS, 1 XLR (with adapter) and built-in mic

Analog outputs: 1 1/8” jack, 1 USB output for DAW software

MIDI I/O: n/a

Pro Tools Carbon

Who It’s For: Audio professionals working in film, television and stage production.

So you want to play with the big boys, eh? Well, my friend, then you want Pro Tools Carbon! Actually, here’s the thing about this interface: I have a real hard time recommending this to anyone except for producers and engineers who work in big, expensive studios working with film or television media.

The thing about Pro Tools Carbon is that it’s not only going to be overkill for a small studio or home recording space, but it’s also not going to work unless you have the additional hardware to support it. Carbon uses Ethernet and ADAT to send and receive audio back and forth between the interface and your DAW, and it is engineered to be used in networked studios.

What this means is that it is not an easy plug-and-play device. You’re not going to connect a USB cable and start recording.

Now, with all of that stated, if you’re looking for an audio interface that is basically made to integrate perfectly with Pro Tools, Carbon is fantastic. This interface offers plenty of features, including 192kHz/32-bit audio resolution, 16 channels of ADAT connectivity, eight line/mic inputs as well as stereo and headphone outputs.

Again, if you’re already using Pro Tools and you’ve got the supplemental hardware in addition to a high-end Mac Pro, Carbon has everything you need. If, on the other hand, you’re working on your audio PC in a home studio or you only need to record vocals, a guitar track and a drum loop, Carbon is going to be like driving a Ferrari in a 25mph zone.

Pros

  • Plenty of input options, including ADAT, XLR and ¼” TRS
  • Integrates flawlessly with HDX hardware and Pro Tools
  • Onboard HDX DSP built right in
  • Possible sub-1ms latency

Cons

  • May include unnecessary features for beginners and intermediate producers
  • Connectivity is not suitable for home computer use
  • One of the most expensive options
  • Pretty much locks you into the Pro Tools ecosystem

Summary

Connectivity: Ethernet and Thunderbolt

Audio resolution: 192kHz/32-bit

Analog inputs: 8 line/mic inputs, 8 inputs using DB25, 2 8-channel ADAT inputs, 1 word clock input

Analog outputs: 2 stereo outputs, 8 analog outputs using DB25, 2 8-channel ADAT outputs, 1 word clock output, 4 stereo headphone outputs
MIDI I/O: No direct MIDI, can be connected via clocking I/O

Audient iD14 MKII USB-C

Who It’s For: Intermediate recording engineers who work with instrument recording.

Audient isn’t a new company, but I wasn’t all that familiar with their interfaces prior to trying out the iD14 MkII. This USB-C interface connected easily to my studio PC, and while USB 3.0 is required to fully power the unit, this wasn’t a problem for me. I believe USB 2.0 could get the job done, but you may run into some hiccups by doing this.

In terms of sound, the mic inputs provided clean, clear vocals, but I really fell in love with the JFET instrument input. I plugged in a Fender, recorded for a little while and was shocked at how easily the interface warmed up the sound. I feel like this is really the selling point of the iD14. The mic preamps are comparable to any other top-name interface, but I’ve yet to run into a unit that can handle instrument input audio like the iD14 for the price.

The interface itself is also compact, and because I travel a lot to work with other producers and artists in various studios, this makes the iD14 a wonderful asset. It integrated flawlessly with each DAW I tested, essentially functioning like any other plug-and-play interface. I didn’t experience any problems with connectivity, and aside from being stuck using USB 3.0 to power the unit, I really had no complaints about my experience with this interface.

I would recommend the iD14 to recording engineers and producers who may have a little experience working with interface technology and are ready to take things to the next level. Audient products tend to fall in the mid-range when it comes to price, but this unit provides exceptional value and delivers a big sound for both vocal capture and live instrument recording.

Pros

  • Noise floor is quieter than signal level by a lot
  • 126dB of dynamic range
  • Talkback feature can utilize any connected mic, including built-in laptop mic
  • Able to assign custom features to iD button for fast access to controls

Cons

  • No direct MIDI support
  • Must use USB 3.0 for full power

Summary

Connectivity: USB-C

Audio resolution: 96kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs, 1 JFET instrument input, supports ADAT input

Analog outputs: 2 sets of ¼” TRS outputs, 2 ¼” headphones outputs

MIDI I/O: n/a

Antelope Zen Go Synergy Core Desktop 4x8 USB Type-C

Who It’s ForEngineers who are looking for an all-in-one hardware solution for recording and effects processing.

The Zen Go Synergy Core is a sleek, powerful interface that works great for desktop spaces. I’m really impressed by the design, and while I haven’t worked with too much Antelope gear in the past, I think this is a brand to keep a look out for.

I consider Antelope to be a boutique brand in that it’s not one of the “big box” brands that everyone turns to, but it approaches audio processing from an angle that prefers quality and character over volume.

As a smaller version of Antelope’s Zen Studio interface, the Zen Go Synergy Core interface provides a scaled back experience that still packs a punch. What I really love about this interface is that it comes loaded with onboard DSP effects, including amp simulators, compressors and cabinet sims. Using the included DSP, I’m able to shape my sound before it reaches my DAW, and this saves so much processing power in the end.

Although the Zen Go Synergy Core only features two physical inputs, it’s able to process up to eight inputs and outputs using USB-C into and out of a DAW. This comes in really handy when applying the DSP effects to existing tracks, and it saves time over having to route cables.

During my testing, the raw audio with no DSP applied sounded clear and concise with no coloration. While I usually like interfaces that provide some warmth, it’s also a good idea to work with a clean signal so that you can hear an accurate representation of what’s coming through. All in all, for smaller studio spaces or even for traveling, the Zen Go Synergy Core is the perfect solution, and its price point seems to fit well with intermediate production budgets.

Pros

  • Synergy Core Effects can be monitored in real-time with very low latency
  • Includes onboard amp sim and compression effects
  • Small form factor
  • Price point fits nicely within intermediate budgets

Cons

  • Bus powered
  • No direct MIDI support

Summary

Connectivity: USB-C, connection supports 8 input/output channels

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 Hi-Z XLR/¼” line inputs, 1 S/PDIF input

Analog outputs: 1 set of ¼” TRS and 1 set of RCA outputs, 2 stereo headphone outputs, 1 S/PDIF output

MIDI I/O: n/a

PreSonus Studio 24c USB-C

Who It’s For: Producers on a budget and recording engineers who are new to studio recording.

Perfect for connecting mics, instruments, outboard gear and MIDI controllers, the PreSonus Studio 24c is an overall great pick for producers on a budget and recording engineers who are learning their craft. I discussed my affinity for PreSonus and its StudioOne DAW earlier in my reviews, but I’ll reiterate that the company really gets musicians.

This interface, like many PreSonus products, comes bundled with a license for StudioOne Artist and Ableton Live Lite. This alone is a huge selling point because both DAWs are incredible.

I tested the Studio 24c using a variety of mics, including condensers and ribbon mics. Each test produced a fantastic result that sounded clear and crisp without any noise interference. The front panel of this interface features easy-to-use gain controls, and I like the styling of the digital level meters. They resemble something from the 80s, and the aesthetic is appealing in my studio space.

Even though the Studio 24c is fairly lightweight, I didn’t feel like it suffers from any poor workmanship. If it’s like any of my other PreSonus gear, it will hold its own for years to come despite the occasional ding and bump. The size makes this interface convenient for desktop applications, but it’s small enough to be moved around the studio for convenient placement.

My only real complaint is that, due to the phantom power setup, I couldn’t use mics that required phantom power and those that did not at the same time. Phantom power is supplied to all inputs at once, so this can cause damage to certain mics. This isn’t a huge deal if you’re recording solo or duo artists, but it can be a problem as your scale your recording needs.

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Built well and feels solid
  • Excellent sound conversion for vocals and acoustic instruments
  • Affordable on nearly any production budget

Cons

  • Bus power may be an issue depending on location
  • I didn’t like the placement of the rubber feet on the unit
  • May not be enough to power some headphones fully

Summary

Connectivity: USB-C or USB-A

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs

Analog outputs: 1 set of stereo L/R ¼” TRS outputs, 1 ¼” headphone output

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI in, 1MIDI out

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 MkII USB

Who It’s For: Producers who want the power of Native Instruments software tied into their interface experience.

Native Instruments is a pioneer in the world of DAW plugins and is best known for suites like Komplete and various generators and effects. I’ve used Native Instruments plugins extensively over the years, and I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on the Komplete Audio 6 MkII.

This interface follows Native Instruments’ unique take on all things musical by incorporating a digital readout on the unit’s top surface. This made it easy to operate without having to bend over and read the front panel like I usually have to do with traditional interface equipment. The interface also features a large main control knob on the top panel for fast access and easy leveling.

One of the biggest reasons I recommend the Komplete Audio 6 is that it comes with a host of Native Instruments’ plugins, including Maschine Essentials and Replika. Additionally, packages come bundled with a license for Ableton Live Lite so you can start recording today even if you don’t already have any DAW software.

During my testing, I was able to achieve very low latency in the range of two milliseconds or so. This, combined with a clear, crisp sound that was free of coloration, gives the Komplete Audio 6 all that I need for general recording purposes. I also liked that I had plenty of headroom to work with and never came close to hitting the threshold.

Pros

  • Includes powerful NI software, including Monark, Maschine Essentials and Replika
  • Display information is located on the top of the unit for fast access
  • Utilizes LED input and output meters
  • Large control knob for main volume located on top panel

Cons

  • Bus powered only
  • Could possibly run into LFO issues due to power consumption limitations
  • Can’t monitor output other than headphone jacks

Summary

Connectivity: USB

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 4 XLR/¼” TRS analog inputs, 2 digital inputs,

Analog outputs: 4 ¼” TRS outputs, 2 RCA outputs, 2 headphone outputs

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI IN/1 MIDI out

Mackie Onyx Producer 2-2 USB

Who It’s For: Small studio engineers who need an interface that comes with plenty of software to support recording and producing

Mackie’s Onyx Producer is a small step up from the brand’s Onyx Producer 1-2 model. The difference here is that the 2-2 model features an additional input (hence the 2-2). The Mackie name is known in the music industry for manufacturing good quality gear at decent prices, and most of the time, Mackie hardware is geared toward beginners who want to take the plunge and dive into the music industry.

The Onyx 2-2 is fairly plain in appearance, but I kind of like the look. A lot of pro audio hardware ends up looking like something out of a science fiction movie with lights and buttons everywhere. At the end of the day, you want to record great audio, and flashing lights don’t make a bit of difference if your interface can’t achieve that basic goal.

During my time with the Onyx Producer 2-2, I tried several different mics and a few different acoustic recording tests. The vocals sounded clear and natural, but I had to fiddle with the gain more than I would have liked to get the acoustic guitar where I wanted it. The interface did, however, integrate flawlessly with my DAW, so I had no complaints there.

The Onyx Producer 2-2 also comes with the Mackie Exclusive Musician Collection. This bundle features software licenses for Pro Tools First, the 304E EQ/compressor bundle and large range of EQ, delay, reverb and distortion effect plugins. I always love when pro audio companies include software like this because it provides tools for newer producers and gives experienced producers more toys to play with.

Pros

  • Compact and rugged
  • Comes with DAW software and plugins
  • Simple, straightforward panel controls
  • Utilizes OSX Core Audio drivers

Cons

  • No onboard input mute
  • Limited inputs can restrict recording sessions
  • Latency controls have an effect on monitor output and headphone output

Summary

Connectivity: USB 2.0

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs

Analog outputs: L/R ¼” TRS outputs

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI input/1 MIDI output

Steinberg UR22C USB

Who It’s For: Studio engineers seeking an affordable alternative to large, pricey interfaces while still getting great build and sound quality from a name brand trusted in the industry.

When I first read up on the Steinberg UR22C, I was intrigued by the implementation of the Yamaha SSP3 DSP chip. This technology offers ultra-low latency DSP effects integrated right into the interface, and DSP is always a plus since it reduces the processing power needed from my studio computer. I couldn’t wait to try this feature out since Yamaha is legendary for its digital audio hardware internals.

I tested a few different mics, including condensers and dynamic mics, with the UR22C, and I also ran a few lines from my digital piano to the interface. Each test produced a clean result, and I did get to apply the aforementioned processing effects with great results. The DSP add-on really warmed the sound of every source I recorded, and this gave me a lot of room to maneuver when it came time to mix my audio.

The D-Pre preamps inside of each input kept levels in line as I never experienced any real clipping or distortion. In fact, I was able to get some real volume out of my mics without much effort, but the sound never suffered as the gain went up.

When testing out the line inputs, I ran some hardware synths at moderate volume using TRS cables. I didn’t experience any issues, but I felt like I was getting closer to the red line. Part of this had to do with gain staging and having to adjust knobs back and forth between different devices. I think with some time and effort, this wouldn’t be a problem. Nonetheless, the sound still came out clean and clear with no added noise or coloration.

Pros

  • Solid construction and durable
  • Can be powered using USB or 5V DC
  • Included DSP effects

Cons

  • May not be beneficial in large group recording sessions
  • Reverb effect in DSP may require additional room dampening to avoid psuedo-latency

Summary

Connectivity: USB 3.0

Audio resolution: 192kHz/32-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs

Analog outputs: 2 ¼” TRS outputs

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI input/1 MIDI output

IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo I/O 2-channel Audio/MIDI Interface for iOS, Android

Who It’s For: On-the-go producers who want to be able to record ideas when creativity strikes.

Mobile recording used to be the stuff of dreams back when you absolutely had to go to an expensive studio to record any type of worthwhile audio. Today, however, products like the IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo offer the ability to record on the go from just about anywhere, and the best part is that the iRig Pro Duo can record to your tablet, phone, laptop or studio computer.

I was impressed by the iRig’s capabilities considering the unit itself is fairly small. The size is the way it is to facilitate portability, but I didn’t expect this interface to perform at such a high level. I was able to connect two ¼” TRS cables or XLR cables to the iRig Pro Duo, and once I set the gain using the simple knobs on the front of the interface, I was ready to record.

Regarding the sound quality, I had expected to run into the same washed out sound I experience from other portable digital recording hardware, but the thing with the iRig Pro Duo is that it is only facilitating the recording instead of doing the recording. This means that you are still relying on your gear for the sound instead of the recording capabilities of the interface (because it’s not doing any of the recording). The iRig is simply processing the input signal and then sending it to your preferred recording device.

In my case, I used an iPhone and an iPad as my audio destinations, and I have to say that I got a completely clean signal from my TRS inputs despite recording an electric-acoustic guitar out on a busy sidewalk in the city. Once captured, I was able to export the recordings to my DAW back in the studio for processing, and if you hadn’t told me the recordings were made using a portable interface hooked to a mobile device, I probably wouldn’t have guessed.

Pros

  • Can be powered using DC, USB or AA batteries
  • Provides 48V phantom power
  • Convenient, easy-to-read LED indicators
  • Direct monitoring at the flip of a switch

Cons

  • Physical volume control wheels for monitoring could be triggered accidentally
  • Size makes the iRig easy to misplace
  • No standard MIDI ports, must use adapter

Summary

Connectivity: Lightning and USB

Audio resolution: 96kHz, 24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs

Analog outputs: 2 ¼” TRS outputs

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI input/1 MIDI output (using adapter)

Arturia AudioFuse Rev2 USB

Who It’s For: Intermediate producers who want to take another step toward professional studio work.

Arturia is a hidden gem among a sea of big names in the music industry. Digital audio products from Arturia have been used by everyone from Trent Reznor to Alan Parsons, and the brand produces some incredibly convincing analog simulations with their full line of vintage synth plugins.

Arturia also makes a number of MIDI controllers and hardware synths that produce some of the most luscious tones available in modern music production.

The company’s AudioFuse Rev2 is another example of Arturia’s unique blend of analog and digital that provides plenty of features while offering rich tones and big sound. Part of the secret to the AudioFuse’s success lies in its use of DiscretePRO preamps.

This technology has been engineered to pump up the volume on microphones without introducing noise that can often interfere as gain is added. During my testing, I was blown away at how easily these preamps handled a variety of mics and volume levels, and the best part was that I didn’t experience any line noise or interference. For vocals, the AudioFuse Rev2 is a must have!

Another advantage to the AudioFuse’s technological approach to preamp design is that I didn’t have to mess with my EQ settings nearly as much as I usually would. The frequency response is tuned in such a way that natural tone comes through by default, and total harmonic distortion levels were kept to a minimum in order to reduce coloration that normally comes from circuitry in digital interfaces.

The pricing for Arturia’s AudioFuse Rev2 places it in the intermediate bracket. It’s not too expensive, but it’s not cheap either. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this interface for beginners due to the price and due to the level of complexity involved in the controls; however, if you have a working knowledge of interface technology and your budget is a bit looser, the AudioFuse Rev2 is a fantastic buy.

Pros

  • DiscretePRO preamps deliver noise-free audio recording
  • Includes AudioFuse Control Center software
  • No need for proprietary drivers
  • Power-saving Green Mode available

Cons

  • Plethora of panel controls may be intimidating to some users
  • May be too pricey for beginners and some intermediate producers
  • Workflow takes some getting used to

Summary

Connectivity: 3-port USB hub

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs, 2 RCA inputs, ADAT input

Analog outputs: 4 ¼” TRS outputs, ADAT output, S/PDIF output, 1 word clock output

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI input/1 MIDI output

MOTU M4 4x4 USB-C

Who It’s For: Home studio producers who need an affordable, rugged solution for fast and easy recording.

Although the MOTU M4 is fairly plain in appearance, this interface packs a lot under the hood. During my review of this unit, I found that the included ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC technology afforded me a sound that I didn’t think I could obtain on a budget. 

The interface itself is priced fairly for the beginner and intermediate producer, and I wouldn’t expect to find ESS Sabre32 on an interface like this. Usually this tech is reserved for interfaces costing thousands of dollars or more.

To add to this, my testing revealed a 120dB dynamic range on the outputs, and the mic inputs provided -129 dBu EIN. What this translates to is more headroom during recording and playback without the worry of distortion or clipping. The sound quality of all sources recorded through this interface was top-notch with vocal takes from both male and female testers cutting through clearly and naturally.

I recorded some acoustic guitar as well, and I rounded things off by running some synths through the inputs. All of these tests produced beautiful audio that didn’t experience any coloration. I would have liked some additional warmth from the preamps, but with digital, you can only take things so far at this price point.

In terms of construction, the unit itself feels solid and sturdy; however, I do have concerns about the finish. I looked and felt like it could scratch easily despite being strong. I never felt like the interface itself was cheap, but the finish would be an issue for me during travel.

I do, however, like that the MOTU M4 comes with licenses for MOTU Performer Lite, Ableton Live Lite and a variety of sample packs, loops and VSTi plugins. This adds to the interface’s value for newer producers who are just beginning their journey and may need to gather plugins and samples to start making music.

Pros

  • Tough metal construction
  • Low latency with 32-sample buffer
  • Loopback feature for recording audio from studio computer
  • 120dB of dynamic range

Cons

  • Bus powered
  • No option for optical connection
  • Exterior finish seems like it could scratch easily

Summary

Connectivity: USB 2.0

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS inputs

Analog outputs: 4 ¼” TRS outputs, 4 RCA outputs, 1 ¼” headphone out

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI in/1 MIDI out

Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD USB

Who It’s ForBeginners in the field of digital audio recording and home studio engineers who need an affordable interface.

I personally believe that everyone has the ability to make incredible music when given the right tools. Much of the time, however, these tools are out of reach because they’re simply too expensive. I talked earlier in this article about why some audio interfaces are more expensive, but I want to emphasize the fact that you can still get great sound without spending an arm and a leg.

This is where the Behringer U-Phoria202HD comes in. This interface is simple, affordable and powerful. Upon setting the interface up, I was impressed by how easy it was to get going. Once I had the drivers installed, my DAW immediately recognized the U-Phoria, and within minutes, I was already recording. The whole process was fast and easy.

The pricing for the U-Phoria is a big feature in my opinion since it allows access to pro audio tools on a budget. I’ve even seen pre-owned models going for less than $100 online, and to me, this is just a steal, especially considering the quality of sound this interface delivers.

During my testing, the interface handled everything I threw at it with ease. My only complaint was that I experienced a bit of noise interference a few times while recording at low volumes, but this wasn’t a common occurrence and may have been something to do with my cables.

Once again, for the price, the Behringer U-Phoria is a wonderful stepping stone for producers who are ready to start learning about digital audio recording. It works well for pro audio, but I can also see it being useful for demo tracks and experimentation.

Pros

  • Signal and clipping indicator lights for easy monitoring
  • Midas-designed preamps
  • Metal body is impact-resistant
  • Indicator lights provide instant feedback for signal and clipping

Cons

  • USB plug input feels a bit cheap
  • Gain controls are a bit too sensitive
  • Relies solely on phantom power

Summary

Connectivity: USB 2.0

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/¼” TRS

Analog outputs: 2 TRS line outputs

MIDI I/O: n/a

Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB

Who It’s ForEngineers who want to get the most out of vocal performances while also taking advantage of some of the best preamps in the industry.

Solid State Logic has provided the music industry with some of the hottest plugins and hardware for years. I’ve tried the SSL2 interface before, but I wanted to see the difference the SSL2+ model could make considering it features more outputs for RCA and MIDI. The preamps in both models are the same, so I already knew I was going to get exceptional sound.

I love playing with different musical ideas and listening in different environments, so the additional outputs gave me more options for testing.

Before getting into my experience, I just want to point out that owning an SSL product is one of those things that often signifies a step up in production and recording. I always caution against buying a product because of a brand name, but SSL has proven time and again that it is dedicated to manufacturing some of the best audio gear on the planet. As a result, the price point for the SSL2+ really sold me on the benefits of ownership since it’s tough to beat this level of quality for the price.

In terms of build quality, the unit feels well put together, although I’m not crazy about the plastic housing. During my testing, the preamps gave me more than enough room to capture a huge range of sounds. According to SSL, the SSL2+ has a gain range of 63dB and an EIN of of -130.5, and because phantom power is supplied individually to the inputs, you can mix and match mic types with ease.

The big feature that really pushes the SSL2+ to the top is the 4k legacy switch on each input and how it affects vocals. When engaged, the 4k legacy processing delivers just the right amount of grit and character to vocal takes. Whether I was recording spoken word audio, gospel, or rock, all manner of vocals really came to life with this feature activated.

Pros

  • Comes with SSL NativeStrip and Drumstrip plugins
  • Onboard Legacy digital processing
  • Includes licenses for Pro Tools First and Ableton Live Lite
  • Integrated 4k analog switches

Cons

  • Can’t override the monitor mix control during output
  • Not much variety in panel controls

Summary

Connectivity: USB-C

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 ¼” TRS/XLR inputs

Analog outputs: Balanced TRS L/R ¼” out, 2 headphone ¼” jacks, 2 sets of RCA out

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI in/1 MIDI out

Roland Rubix22 USB

Who It’s ForHome studio producers and recording projects requiring limited simultaneous takes.

Roland is famous in the music industry for its storied keyboards and electronic drums. When I saw that the brand released a desktop budget audio interface, I was excited to try it since I knew right away that the company would put out a stellar product.

Out of the box, the quality of the Rubix22 feels great. The shell of the unit is made of metal and feels sturdy, and the size of this interface allows me to use it in tight spaces. It features a simple two-in/two-out design that is perfect for project studios where a huge array of mics and cables isn’t necessary. I was also able to route MIDI through the box allowing for additional recording capabilities for my various MIDI controllers.

One thing I didn’t fall in love with is the placement and design of the Rubix22’s indicator lights. These are located above the main output knob and above each of the unit’s channel gain knobs. It’s not so much that I have a problem with the lights themselves, but the placement is awkward to me. The lights extend horizontally a small distance across the top panel of the unit, and I felt this was not the most aesthetic choice. In fact, I found it kind of distracting when recording in my darkened studio since the indicators also extend vertically down the front panel.

In terms of audio quality, the Rubix22 delivers rich, full sound at up to 192kHz and can record at 24-bit. For me, this is more than enough to work with for any recording project. In fact, few consumer-grade products go higher with these values, and in most cases, things like 32-bit are simply not going to make a difference when recording music for streaming, downloading and digital listening. Everything I recorded sounded natural with no discernible coloration, providing me with plenty of room to work in post.

Pros

  • Small size is great for portable use
  • Simple onboard controls
  • Plug-and-play connectivity
  • Works well with almost any DAW

Cons

  • Limitation of two inputs could be a problem for large projects
  • Requires special DC adapter
  • Control over sample rate through ASIO is not user friendly

Summary

Connectivity: USB 3.0

Audio resolution: 192kHz/24-bit

Analog inputs: 2 XLR/TRS line inputs

Analog outputs: L/R ¼” TRS stereo outputs

MIDI I/O: 1 MIDI in/1 MIDI out

Our Top Pick: Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition

Our top pick for music production is still the Apollo Twin.

This interface performs amazing and sounds brilliant. Great for music production and while it is a bit on the pricey side it brings a ton of value to the table.

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII Heritage Edition​

You’ll spend more time creating and less time trouble shooting. If you’re looking to get started with the Apollo Twin, check out the price here.

 

My Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Audio Interface

Choosing the best audio interface really depends on your needs and your budget. What I always tell up-and-coming producers and audio engineers is that the important thing is to get the best sound for your project instead of worrying about what everyone else is using. If achieving that sound requires an expensive, feature-rich interface, then spend the cash. If you can achieve the best sound by using a budget interface, then that’s the interface you should use.

Recording and producing requires a lot of experimentation. Going with any pro audio product simply because some big-name producer endorses it may mean missing out on other products that could work better for your specific needs at a lower price. Take the time to explore all of your options, but remember that at the end of the day, your audio interface is your key to unlocking your own personal production style and sound.

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