When it comes to gear, the audio interface is the heart of a home recording studio. This device packs premium-quality preamps and converters that help create amazing audio works. In fact, some of the more affordable pieces created today, if used correctly, can equal high-premium devices that are ten times more expensive.
Of course, this is all about home studios and people who do audio recordings at a small level. As such, today we’ll talk about the best audio interface that will help audio content creators improve their performance.
We’ll talk about the features that make a good audio interface and we’ll review some of the best products on the market (considering a home studio budget). So, if you’re looking for such equipment, make sure to keep reading!
How To Choose The Best Audio Interface
These are the most important features to consider when looking for an audio interface:
What computer do you have?
Most audio interfaces today work with a computer or tablet, where you can use recording software to adjust the results. So, before you set your eyes on a device, make sure you have the right computer and ports.
While there is no best audio interface for Windows 10 or for Mac and tablets, there are USB interfaces that support Thunderbolt connectivity or not. Some older models may only work with a firewire port, but these are quickly fading away since most users prefer a USB 2.0 or 3.0 interface.
Also, make sure the drivers for the interface work with your version of Windows or Mac OS.
Number of Simultaneous Inputs
This feature tells you the number of audio streams that can be recorded simultaneously. For instance, if you are a songwriter or singer and only use the guitar and voice or keyboard and voice, you only need two inputs. This is also known as a 2-channel audio interface and they usually have two preamps.
Now, if you want more audio streams at the same time, you will need more inputs. Of course, more inputs mean more preamps, which means a bigger financial investment.
So, it’s best to think about this in time increments. If for the foreseeable future, you will only work with voice and one instrument, a 2-channel interface is enough for now.
You can check your progress at a later date and see if it’s worth investing in something more complex. But, if you know you’ll need more channels from the start (like for recording a band or more instruments), a more complex interface makes sense.
As you can see from our reviews, the software component is attached to the audio interface (as in the interface needs the software to work).
Most devices come equipped with a software bundle that allows users access to light versions of professional recording software. However, before you can access any of these you first have to deal with the driver installation and the basic set up software.
If any of these are difficult to use or confusing, it can be frustrating to work with the interface. So, before you decide on which device to purchase, read reviews regarding the software and its usability.
Best Audio Interfaces
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen)
The World’s Best USB Audio Interface
The Focusrite Scarlet audio interface series is well-known among producers around the world and it’s one of the easiest devices to use at home.
The interface features two mic preamps (each with its own gain control), Phantom power switch (for condenser mics), two instrument inputs, two-volume controls (for your monitors and for the headphones), Direct Monitor setting (switch between stereo and mono), and two balanced monitor outputs. In addition to that, the mics have switchable air Mode, to give recordings a brighter and more open sound.
The two high-headroom instrument inputs are great for plugging in your guitar or bass. Also, the interface comes with high-performance converters that allow users to record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz.
However, you should keep in mind that this is a two-channel interface. This means that you can only record two mono things at once (two mics, one instrument and one mic, or two instruments) or one stereo instrument.
Lastly, the Type C USB 2.0 connection makes this perfect for PC or Mac. It’s also equipped with a quick Easy Start tool that helps with the first setup. Also, Focusrite offers some professional software tools for free once you register your audio interface on their site.
- Compact & portable design
- The interface is easy to understand
- The sound quality is clear and well-balanced
- It allows you to hear the recording in real-time
- Dedicated controls for each element
- It works with PC and Mac
- It comes with access to several professional software tools
- It’s a two-channel interface
- The bundled software is quite confusing
- It’s not a stand-alone interface
Native Instruments Komplete Audio
The Best Audio Interface for a Home Studio
This interface has the full package for creatives who work from home! Fitted with two channels for mics and instruments, the device helps you record with pristine audio quality (192 kHz and 24 bit).
In terms of control, it has two gain knobs, 48V Phantom power, dual jack outputs, headphones output, and volume knobs for each type of output. In addition, the two combi-XLR/jack inputs help you work with stereo sounds and the VU Meter tool helps accurately adjust the levels.
The device is easy to install and use on a PC or Mac (due to the USB connection) and it comes with a software bundle that will get you started without delay. Users can create synths, effects, and tracks.
Overall, this is a portable device for anyone interested in producing entry-level audio recordings. It’s easy to install and use and it does the trick in any situation. It also has two 5-segment LED signal indicators at the top, so it’s easy to know which channel is working and how.
- 2x combi-XLR/jack inputs with 48V Phantom power
- It can blend audio playback while recording
- It comes with a software bundle
- Easy to use and setup
- LED indicators at the top & easy to control knobs
- Solid preamps & an impressive gain range
- The headphone out signal is quite weak
- The material feels a bit cheap and flimsy
BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC202HD
The Best Budget Audio Interface
The 2 channel U-PHORIA UMC202HD is perfect for people who want to get started in the audio recording and production niche. The device delivers 24-Bit/192 kHz resolution for professional audio quality and is compatible with most USB 2.0 computers (PC & Mac).
The interface allows users to record amazing vocals due to the four world-class MIDAS-designed mic preamps with a 48v Phantom power setting (for condenser microphones). In addition, there are gain controls for each mic, volume controls for output and headphones, and Direct Monitor.
Singers, songwriters, producers, and others have the chance to monitor their performance due to zero-latency direct monitoring while recording. They can also add effects using analog inserts (¼” TRS, RCA, and XLR) for external effects such as compressors and others.
Regardless of your interest in audio recordings, the U-Phoria UMC202HD is a portable, durable, and reliable piece of equipment that works with most computers and audio editing software. And, considering the price, we think this is the best audio interface under $100!
- Compatible & easy to transport
- Quick & easy setup
- Equipped with genuine MIDAS-designed mic preamps
- High-quality sound due to 24-Bit/192 kHz high-resolution converters
- Zero-latency direct monitoring
- It only features 2 channels
- It can be a bit tricky to find the right drivers for Windows users
PreSonus Studio 24c 2×2
The Best Audio Interface Under $200
PreSonus is a powerful brand in the world of audio equipment, so you can trust that their Studio 24c interface comes with a series of high-quality elements. The 2×2 version is marketed as a portable, ultra-high-def, USB-C compatible audio interface with studio-grade converters for 24-bit/192 kHz recording and 2 pristine XMAX-L solid-state mic preamps that capture every detail.
The interface features professional input metering and +48V phantom power (for condenser mics), It also has balanced, ¼-inch TRS, line-level main outputs and a built-in MIDI interface that allows users to connect a keyboard, sound module, or control surface.
The easy-to-use mixer knob provides low-latency direct input monitoring and combines analog input and computer playback. In addition, the headphone output supports high-end headphones (to monitor your progress in real-time).
Overall, the Studio 24c is the best audio interface for guitar and voice, in this price range.
- Portable & durable design
- High-quality elements
- Both headphone and speaker outputs are loud
- Great preamps with clean and crisp sound & lots of headroom
- Feels high-quality and solidly built
- There are some hiccups during the initial setup
- It still caps at USB 2.0 bandwidth (even though it is marketed as a USB-C)
Mackie Audio Interface
The Best Professional Audio Interface for Monitor Control
The Mackie Big Knob design proves once more that you don’t need a complicated audio interface to create amazing results. For instance, this is a compact (built-like-a-tank) monitor controller with a simple and sleek interface.
First, it allows users to choose between two sources and two monitor pairs (A & B). Second, it provides full control via features such as Professional Mono, Mute, and Dim. The Mono function lets you check on your mix, while the Dim and Mute functions let you control the output without changing the main level settings.
This Big Knob interface uses a completely passive audio path. This means that you don’t need a power supply and there is no interference on the audio integrity. Add to this the balanced ¼-inch TRS inputs and the ⅛-inch stereo Aux input on input B, and you have a great interface for various activities.
While you don’t have the possibility to connect it to a computer, this is a very clean and well-built monitor controller with the standard Big Knob quality and design.
- Metallic case and very smooth volume knob
- It doesn’t need a power source
- It doesn’t require software set up
- Easy to use and understand
- It’s easy to change the volume by accident
Steinberg UR242 USB Interface
The Best Audio Interface for Mac & iPad
The UR242 is a high-quality, mobile interface with 4 inputs and 2 outputs. For clear sound and high audio quality, the unit packs 24-Bit/192 kHz converters and class-A D-PRE mic preamps. It supports full connectivity with Apple’s iPad (besides the standard USB 2.0 connectivity) and has MIDI input/output connections.
The unit is very solid and features an ultra-sturdy metal case with an easy to understand frontal panel. The two connectors in the front accept both XLR and TRS and feature individual gain control and peak LED indicators. UR242 also features +48v Phantom power and a headphone output with its own volume control.
The audio interface can be connected with a wide array of instruments and mics and features an additional pair of line-level inputs. There are also two balanced line-level outputs for connectivity with active monitors and other devices.
The UR242 is perfect for beginners in using an audio interface due to the Cubase AI software and compatibility with the best audio editing, mastering, and music recording & production software.
- Impressive build quality
- Stellar mic preamps
- Lots of I/O options (2 mics, 2-line input, and Midi I/O)
- Connectivity with iPad & computers
- The headphones are not very loud
- The first set up is a bit cumbersome
M-Audio AIR 192|4
The Best Audio Interface for Ableton
The M-Audio AIR 192|4 is a USB audio interface with two inputs and two outputs. It also comes with some of the best recording software such as ProTools & Ableton Live, Plus Studio-Grade FX & Virtual Instruments.
The USB interface allows compatibility with Mac or PC computers and the 24-bit/192kHz resolution ensures professional recording. Also, the connectivity ensures low latency (only 2.59ms). The unit is equipped with Transparent Crystal preamps and A/D converters and supports different types of connectivity (XLR+¼inches TRS combo input, ¼inches instrument input, stereo ¼inches outs and ¼inches headphone out with independent level control).
Everything is packed in a rugged metal case with a large knob for volume control and VU LED meters. Furthermore, there is a switch for Phantom power and a USB/Direct knob for zero-latency monitoring.
Overall, the M-Audio AIR 192|4 audio interface is perfect for entry-level songwriters, singers, and audio performers who want to test their performance and go public with it.
- Solid build with easy to use interface
- Impressive sound quality
- The unit can record 2 channels at once
- The ¼” instrument input accurately represents a guitar or bass
- Comes with a professional software bundle
- Some driver issues during the first installation
The audio interface is a hub that connects all your audio recording equipment together. As such, it must fulfill all your current and future needs (at least near future) and it must produce the best possible quality for your budget and level of experience.
In short, buying an audio interface is not an easy decision and you need to do proper research & digging!