Audio interfaces allow users to expand the capabilities of their computer by installing additional components through the interface itself. There are several different types of audio interfaces, as well as several different types of connectivity for audio interfaces. So if you are in the market for a new audio interface for your computer, you might find yourself overwhelmed with choice and selection. That’s why we put together this comprehensive buying guide and review of the best audio interfaces on the market today, so you can get to upgrade your computer faster, and worry less about making the wrong choice when it comes to choosing the right audio interface for you and your needs. Audio interfaces allow you to connect external audio components, such as microphones, instruments, headphones, and more. They are a vital piece of the recording process, so whether you are a professional audio engineer, or you dabble in audio production on the weekends in your basement, you need an audio interface to make the magic happen.
Best Audio Interface Reviews
We will cover the basics of what you need to consider when purchasing an audio interface in a bit, but for now, we’ll review the best overall audio interface, runner-up, professional, desktop and entry-level audio interface on the market today. There’s something for everyone on this list.
1. Best Overall Audio Interface
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 offers audio professionals and novices alike, the chance to capture great sound and music with an easy to use USB connection system. This audio interface offers 2 instrument switches that provide great connectivity for whatever musical instruments you have on hand or want to record. They work lightning fast so they can keep up with even your loudest and fastest rock sessions. There are also 2 balanced outputs so you can connect to studio monitors and watch for sound quality and more. This 192 kHz system means you’ll have plenty of options for recording various speeds and sounds. In addition to the great recording options, this audio interface also looks super cool with its red chassis and metal controls. It’s lightweight and easily portable but packs a punch in the recording department, so it’s great for both the pro and the newb. This package also includes Samson stereo headphones that are lightweight, and adjustable. They allow you to listen along as artists or friends play music in your studio or living room. They also provide great playback and comfortable earphones. What’s more, this audio interface also comes with a cleaning cloth, and while cleaning your equipment might not be on the top of your to-do list, keeping your audio equipment in fine working order is the key to recording great music. This kit is complete with 1 xlr cable, and 2 ¼” cables. It weighs only 5 pounds and makes it great for on-the-go or studio recording. For its small size, complete studio kit, multiple input options, and awesome color, we like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for our favorite audio interface on the market today. It’s accessible and practical while offering state-of-the-art performance and quality.
2. Runner-up for Best Audio Interface
Our choice for the runner-up for the best audio interface is the MOTU 828x. This is a studio-grade audio interface, and if it weren’t for the higher price tag, it would have made the cut as the overall winner of this review. However, given the professional nature of this audio interface, it makes it inaccessible to some users, which knocks it down a peg in our books. It features a ridiculous amount of inputs and outputs, so you could conduct a whole orchestra with this puppy. It has studio-grade mic inputs and is compatible with most popular computers, such as Mac and PCs. It does use hi-speed USB 2.0 and offers compatibility with USB 3.0 as well. It functions with Thunderbolt connectivity which offers the fastest speeds on the market. You get plug-and-play convenience in this audio interface, and you can create beautiful music with it. The device itself is small, and it weighs less than 3 pounds. It’s great for recording multiple inputs at once, and it has the capability to be expanded multiple times by connecting it to other audio interfaces and multiple computers. It’s really a powerhouse machine. This device is certified for up to 5 addition audio interfaces to be attached using networking cables that are made for the MOTU, which you need to buy separately. But it’s nice to know that there is extensive expansion power with this model. While this is a great option for semi-professionals and professionals, it could be a little overwhelming for newbie audio engineers, and that’s why it takes the runner-up spot on our review, instead of the top spot.
3. Best Professional Audio Interface
If you are a professional audio engineer, or you just take your audio recording very seriously, you’ll want to check out the RME Fireface audio interface. It features a lot of inputs and outputs and has a number of analog and digital channels to record on. This device has 30 input channels and 30 output channels: you can build a whole network of audio recording devices and take over the world! It features 12 analog channels and 18 digital channels for recording up to 30 different tracks at a time. That’s incredible recording power. This audio interface provides every mic with double, parallel AD conversion, and the quality of this product can’t be rivaled. If you are looking to upgrade your current audio interface system, this professional interface could take your audio recordings to a whole new level. It offers low latency recording performance and has amazing headphone quality. While it doesn’t come with cords and headphones, professional audio engineers likely have everything they need to plug-and-play this awesome audio interface anyway, so while it is technically a downfall, it’s more about the fact that professionals probably have this stuff anyway. We like this for its sleek design, and enormous recording capability. The one drawback of the audio interface, if there is any, is that if a novice wanted to jump right into setting up a professional audio studio, they would need to invest in a lot of equipment to make this audio interface run. But again, it’s the demographic, so it’s not a deal breaker for those who purchase this prepared.
4. Best Desktop Audio Interface
If you are looking for a compact audio interface to set up on your desktop and leave it there permanently, you are probably in the market for something lightweight and small, yet powerful and productive. The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 offers all that and more. This is a low-latency performance audio interface that can be used for virtual instruments and effects. That means that you can record sound on your computer, using software or other musical programs. It has pre-amps that offer individual gain controls, so you have maximum control over the sounds you record. It has a one input port for recording one singer, one instrument or other audio source. The Komplete 6 audio interface offers a USB hook-up system with 6 channels of audio recording. This is a great option for people who are moving up in their recording efforts, or who want a better quality sound than what a more entry-level audio interface could provide. What’s great about this audio interface is that it comes with a software package for DJs, which is a big demographic of audio interface users. The Traktor LE2 software package operates with your computer, or mobile device to browse your music and recorded tracks with ease. This audio interface also comes with recording software called Cubase LE6. This allows users to record, edit and mix music so you can customize and personalize your recording experience right on your desktop or laptop. Whether you are learning the ropes at home, or you are traveling the world as a DJ, this audio interface offers you just enough to get started and build a reputable audio recording studio at home, or on the go. While this is a complete recording studio in a box because of its digital aspects, the audio interface doesn’t come with any cables or hookups to get started. We like it for our desktop version because it focuses on software and digital recordings.
5. Best Entry-level Audio Interface
Every audio interface review needs an entry-level product to offer the folks who are interested in audio engineering but aren’t sure how interested they are. These models also help people decide the level of quality they actually need for their recording efforts; after all, not everyone needs to be a professional audio engineer, and not everyone wants to be. Some people just want to mix tracks in their spare time and play with music for the fun of it. Still, though, a good level of quality is important when it comes to spending your hard-earned money, so the PresonusAudiobox Studio kits it the best entry-level audio interface on the market, for just that reason. Not only does this kit come with everything you need to plug-and-play from the moment you open it, but it also offers headphones, a studio condenser microphone, and a software package so you can start recording and editing music right away. The Studio Magic Plugin Suite of software allows you to capture sound, manipulate it in every way imaginable, and store your recordings for future use or editing. It’s a complete production software package and product in one! It features USB connectivity, MIDI interface with cable, and USB 2.0 connectivity. What’s more, the Audiobox is compatible with your PC or Mac device, as well as your iPad. The iPad app provides easy connectivity and allows you to send your work to your laptop for further editing. It’s a great feature for an entry-level product. Singers, songwriters, DJs, and more will love this complete audio interface package. While this is a great option for those just starting their audio recording careers, it does lack the ability to connect several devices, so if you have a larger bank that you want to record, you’ll need something a little more robust; however, if it’s just you and a friend, this is a great option for recording at home, on the go, or at the dance studio.
Audio Interface Buying Guide
Why Do You Need an Audio Interface?
If you are serious about recording music, then you need to have an audio interface. Not only does it allow you to connect all of your musical instruments to your computer, but it also does so in a crystal clear way that allows you to focus on the music, and it drowns out the noise around it. In conjunction with a software program, you can create and record music for years to come. Audio interfaces are generally used by professional audio engineers, but don’t let that stop you from getting into recording and creating your own music. After all, experts were once beginners, too.
Is an Audio Interface Different From a Sound Card?
If you have an audio interface, you don’t need a sound card installed on your computer. The interface will replace the sound card if it is there, and will do the job of both the sound card and the audio interface. Experts will tell you that audio interfaces are much better at capturing sound than a traditional sound card, so if you are making your way to the professional side of things, or if you are just interested in recording really good quality music at home, an audio interface is the way to go.
Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, is what you will use to record, interpret, and manipulate music in order to create a finished product. The thing to consider about DAW compatibility is that while most audio interfaces are compatible with a lot of the DAWs on the market today, it is best to double check if the DAW you currently use is compatible with the audio interface you want. Of course, if this is your first rodeo, then you will need to make sure you buy a DAW that is compatible with the audio interface you chose, or vice versa.
There are four main connectors used in audio interfaces. Although there are more, the four most popular ones include USB connectivity, Firewire connectivity, Thunderbolt connectivity, and PCI-E, which is a little more complicated but has been around the longest in the audio industry. Some old school audio engineers still like to use these for sound quality and professional results. More and more audio interfaces are adopting USB connectivity, as are the instrument manufacturers to comply with those changes, but you should know that USB tends to be slower than some of the other options; in particular, Firewire is quite fast at transferring information from your musical instrument to your audio interface, so that’s something to consider if you are always making changes and updating your music. In addition to the software that you use, you’ll need to make sure that the audio interface is also compatible with the type of computer you have, whether that be a Mac or PC.
Number of Inputs and Outputs
When it comes to how many inputs and output channels you need, all you need to do is count up the number of devices and instruments you want to connect to your recording software or computer. For example, if you want to record an electric guitar, a set of drums, and a singer, then you need 3 inputs. If you want to connect your audio interface to your computer, then you need 1 output.
Types of Input Channels
If you have a lot of inputs, then you’ll need to consider the types of input channels you will need. For example, if you have 15 guitars that need to be recorded at the same time, you’ll need an audio interface that has a larger number of audio inputs. A smaller unit, with say 3 inputs, is not going to do your recording justice. Of course, you can connect multiple audio interfaces to create more inputs, but buying a larger input is a more economical and logistical way of getting the job done.
What the Audio Interface Look Like
This is really an aesthetics thing, but serious audio engineers want their audio interfaces to look a certain way. This might be because they are stacking multiple interfaces on top of one another, or they want them for easy traveling purposes to record shows on the road or in other locations. There are two sizes that are typically available for audio interfaces; these include desktop units, which are smaller and easily transportable between computers, and rackmount interfaces that have many more inputs and outputs than a desktop model and are used for more professional recording, such as at events and concerts. They fit into a specially designed mounting system used by audio engineers.
Overall Thoughts about Audio Interface
The world loves music and you should take any chance you have to capture it and share it with others. Audio engineers take their craft very seriously, but music recording can be fun and exciting as well, even for the newbies in the crowd. So whether you are in the market for a professional audio interface, or you are just getting your feet wet, there is something for everyone on this list of the best audio interfaces on the market today. Our pick for the best one, however, is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. While it doesn’t have as many inputs and outputs as some of the others on this list, it is the most accessible and powerful audio interface available, which means it’s great for a wide range of applications and functions. So the next time you hear a song, consider all the work that went into recording, editing, and remastering that song to make it sound that great. Happy recording!