Best Audio Interface 2017 - Buyer's Guide

We were thinking that music producers, home recording enthusiasts and singers could at least agree on the best audio interface. 

But they don't.

Let's use some statistics to explain what may be the most popular audio interface brands. From a survey done by AskAudio, out of 25,000 music producers and singers, here are the results

Brand

% of Users out of 25,000

Brand

% of Users out of 25,000

Focusrite

16%

Akai Pro

4%

M Audio

12%

Apogee

3.5%

Native Inst

9%

Steinberg

3.3%

Avid

6%

MOTU

3.6%

Presonus

5%

Behringer

2.9%

Tascam

2.6%

Universal Audio

3.6%

Yamaha 

2.8%

Novation

1.3%

In summary,

  • 50% of all these have either a Focusrite, M Audio, Native instument, Avid or a Presonus audio interface.
  • 6% more people own a Focusrite audio interface than a Behringer.

in this post we're going to answer all the unanswered questions about audio interfaces. Whether you're looking for a mac interface, a USB or one for under $500 or $200 we have something for you.

best audio interface 2017

If you don't have time to go through the entire reviews, here is a highlight of our recommendations. We also have in-depth reviews of each of them below


Best Audio Interface 2017 

Best USB audio interfaces

Best Budget (Cheap) Audio Interfaces - Under $100

Audio interface for Mac

The best thing with most recent audio interfaces is that almost all of them are compatible with mac and windows. Our recommendation is Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

What is an audio interface?

Simply put, this is a piece of studio hardware that allows you to connect your studio audio gear including guitars, studio monitors and midi keyboards to your computer.

What does an audio interface do?

Here is a 2 minutes video explaining what is an audio interface and what it does, including its difference with a sound card. 

No

Name

Connectivity

OS

I/0  Conf

Format

Price

7

Steinberg UR22MKII

USB

8 GB

2-Channel

Desktop

1

Tascam USB US-2x2

USB

PC &Mac

2-Channel

Desktop

3

Behringer UCA202

USB

PC &Mac

2-Channel

Desktop

4

Lexicon Alpha Studio

USB

PC &Mac

2-Channel

Desktop

5

PreSonus AudioBox USB 2x2

USB

PC &Mac

2-Channel

Desktop

6

Mackie Onyx Blackjack

USB

PC &Mac

2-Channel

Desktop

2

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

USB

PC &Mac

2-Channel

Desktop

8

Avid Mbox High-Performance

USB

PC &Mac

4x4

Desktop

9

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40

FireWire

PC &Mac

20/20

Rackmount

10

Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt 2

Thunderbolt 2

Mac

30/34

Rackmount

11

Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

Thunderbolt

PC &Mac

18/20

Rackmount

12

Antelope Audio Zen Studio

USB

PC &Mac

20/14

Rackmount

When Tascam introduces a product in the Audio interface category, we must have a look. Tascam is one of the manufacturers whose devices we can vouch. The US-2x 2 Audio interfaces can track two channels at the same time with zero latency and superior sound quality.

It has MIDI I/O support and a lot more features to offer at the same price point as the Focusrite 2i2. It works great in home studios, mobile studios, and projects. The Ultra-HDDA line/mic preamps give up to 57db gain without distortions or audible noise. It is your remedy for rich sound.

  • USB 2.0 power connectivity 
  • Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS
  • 24bit 96 kHz sample rates
  • Angled Aluminum design
  • Comes with Software downloads
  • Low noise microphone
  • Direct-monitoring Zero Latency

Construction and Design

At first glance, you’ll notice the exterior angled design of this device. It is in an aluminum casing which speaks of a durable product to last in decent condition for a long time. It provides for easy desktop visibility such that you don’t need to crane your neck when viewing switches and knobs.

Two LEDs accompany the signals for better monitoring. There’s also a gain control, plus the headphone jack with the line output and headphone are independent. On the front interface, we also find the direct monitoring which gives it the zero latency. If you get distracted by delays, you can depend on the Tascam US2x2 to provide room for creative recordings.

Performance

This USB interface provides dual channel recording. It integrates seamlessly with desktop computers, laptops, tablets as well as iOS and other smart devices. Since it connects via USB, it can work with virtually every digital audio workstation. It supports semi-professional quality at 96 KHz which gives crisp, clear sound. The audio performance is supported by NE5532 op amps among other musical components which contribute a great deal to the sound’s flavor.

For those that love trying out different software, you have the advantage of using two DAW applications. Both the Ableton Live  Lite and the SONAR X3 LE are included in the accessories bundle. This way, you can use both Mac and Windows software. The SONAR X3 gives you 64MIDI tracks, 32audio tracks and 24-bit/ 96 KHz resolution.

It’s not precisely full-featured, but you can get more out of the Ableton Live 9 Lite. It provides a set of exciting features including a library of diverse sounds and presets.

Verdict:

The Tascam US2x2 covers the semi-professional world, independent artists, and home studios for top-notch recordings. It sets up quickly to give a well-organized space in your studio. If you want it for mobile use, have at it since it is very portable weighing 3.4pounds only.

At the same price range as that of the Focusrite, this device gives more in terms of connecting to a MIDI controller and having two ultra HDDA line/mic preamplifiers, TRS analog balanced outputs, plus the angled design which gives a clear desktop view.

Pros

  • Angled design gives good visibility
  • Gives clear audio with inaudible noise
  • Dual channels recording
  • Compact for mobile recordings

Cons

  • Troubles setting up in Windows

Whether you are an amateur or professional musician, here you got one of the most recommended audio interfaces.

Focusrite got you covered with their Scarlett 1st Generation model. It is a 2i2 model, meaning it has two inputs and two outputs USB recording interface. 

One of Its main attractive feature is the award-winning Focusrite precision digital conversion and preamps conversion.

Located in the United Kingdom, Focusrite has been on point manufacturing audio products for over thirty years. With a large marketing base in the USA, this company has had the opportunity to distribute their products to over 160nations. That is influence right there.

If you are looking for superior sound quality while DIY recording on a laptop, we suggest you pick the Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 as it is made for exemplifying sound quality. As they say, Sound is everything, and you don’t want to miss out on clear, noise-free recordings.

Design and Portability

This USB interface is best for portable computer environments. Weighing in only 2pounds, it excels in ruggedness thanks to the aluminum anodized body. It is built to withstand harsh outdoor elements from bumpy rides and surprise rain showers. The beautiful exterior combined with a ready to record bus power makes it just the right companion for music road trips.

  • Power-USB
  • Dual 2-pin
  • 24 bit/96 kHz sample rates
  • Mic Preamps: Sapphire PRO 40 & Liquid Sapphire 56
  • Supported Systems: Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10
  • Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite
  • 24-bit converters
  • Low-distortion preamp
  • Direct Monitor Function

Performance Features

Among reasons why many people choose the Scarlet 2i2 model is because it enjoys zero latency. You’ll only need to plug in the device and start hearing the music straight from the speakers; hence there’s no delay by passing through the computer first. As such, your full concentration is on the recording and not on the technical aspects of the unit.

Simplicity of Usage

All inputs are on the front panel. Here, you can connect microphones, instrument level signals, and lines. It allows smooth recording and tracking instruments without any element of distortion.

The two outputs are well-balanced plus there’s a discrete headphone output which is volume-controllable. The digital conversion is one of the best seeing that it supports the 24bit resolution with up to 96 kHz sample rates. Expect excellent sound clarity where even the slightest details and notes are captured in the audio.

Accessories

Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 brings you the whole package with the DAW and Effects Software. It includes Ableton to boot the software which helps to deliver the EQ, compressor, reverb, and gating. It helps to vitalize your music by adding melody, bass, and other sound effects.

Verdict:

Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 provides great sound. It supports a wide range of application systems to help you record music from many devices. It features high-quality mic preamps and supports leading DAW software

Pros

  • Tactile volume control on the monitor
  • Can access online recording software through Ableton
  • Flexible combination of inputs
  • Sturdy and attractive casing

Cons

  • It needs the latest drivers to eliminate latency

4 Budget-Friendly Audio Interfaces under $100

To start off our list we have picked four best cheap audio interfaces that will cost you less than $100. Its a surprise that some of these budget friendly units are more popular than some highly priced units. 

1. Behringer U-Control UCA202 - Mac and Windows

Starting us off at the cheaper end is this 2-channel Behringer U-Control UCA202, which is one of the best cheap options there is on the market.

I’d recommend this to complete beginners who want something to start them off with the basic recording features before saving up for an advanced model.

It’s also a great option for the professionals who are in dire need of a simple digital converter to use on-the-go. This budget-friendly unit comes from a Germany-based audio equipment company, Behringer.

It was established in 1989 by Uli Behringer and currently serves over 130 countries in the audio and lighting equipment and music instruments markets.

Worth noting, Behringer moved its production facilities to China. Ever since this company moved its facilities, it has had a history of copying high-end audio equipment and making cheaper models affordable to those who want high-end quality without spending much.

  • USB powered Interface
  • Weight 8.8 lbs
  • Format - Desktop
  • Free recording and editing software
  • Well thought design
  • I/O count - 2 channels

Construction and Design

One of the reasons why this unit, features in our list  is purely because of its construction. Behringer UCA202 has the definition of the best portable units here. It features a well thought-out design with a solid build from sturdy plastics. The labels have been thoughtfully carved into the plastic plate thereby eliminating the possibility of rubbing off.

It weighs approximately 9 ounces and measures 7.2 x 5.5 x 1.4-inches. This makes it easy to grab and carry alongside your recording laptop. 

Performance and ease of use

UCA202 is a USB audio interface fitted with a remarkably long USB cord for great relief. It’s powered through this cable and requires no other external power supply. It also has a bright LED that reassures you that you’ve correctly mounted the interface to your computer or laptop.

One thing that we loved about this Behringer UCA202 is that it’s compatible with both PC and Mac computers and requires almost no setup or drivers for installation.

It offers 2 analog inputs and outputs for your monitoring needs and an S/PDIF optical output if you want analog-to-digital conversion. Unfortunately, this interface lacks XLR and TRS inputs. As such, you may find it a little bit painstaking to connect your microphones. The inputs here are both RC. However, they can be converted for flexibility with the proper cables to allow you connect the USB interface to your instruments, mixers, and other audio equipment.

This audio interface also gives you a headphone jack output with a dedicated level control that allows you to listen to both your inputs and outputs.

It’s also fitted with superior quality converters with resolutions as high as 48 kHz thereby giving you state-of –the-art audio conversion at an unimaginable lower price.

Don’t you have a DAW recording and editing software? Don’t worry. UCA202 comes bundled up with 3 free and downloadable software (Kristal Audio Engine, Audacity, and Energy XT2) so you can start your studio thing right away.

Of these 3, Audacity is the easiest to use and is compatible with all the operating systems including Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. It also offers lots of flexibility including recording live audio, editing MP3 and WAV sound files and converting tapes into digital records or CDs amongst others.

This is a great package if you’re just starting out or need a compact unit for on-site recording. It has stable sound quality and works well in latency reduction. It also comes with 3 free recording and editing DAW programs. On the downside, it has no microphone inputs.

If the XLR and TRS inputs are vital for your case, you may consider Lexicon Alpha 2 below.

User reviews

About 67% of this unit’s verified purchasers and reviewers had given it a clean 5/5 stars when we reviewing it. Behringer U-Control UCA202 received an overall star rating of 4.3/5 stars from its close to 900 buyers. Most of them appreciate that it’s compatible with both PC and Mac systems. They also praise the fact that it works right out of the box with no software or drivers to install.

Pros

  • Compatible with all PCs including Mac computers
  • No detailed setup is required
  • Very portable
  • Impressive design
  • Here Comes Pros Bullet List Five

Cons

  • Isolated complaints of the user's guide being hard to follow.





Verdict

The Behringer U-Control UCA202 has a well thought-out plastic but solid construction. We recommend this for beginners as well as studio pros who need a quality unit for backup and for the road. It’s USB-powered, offers plug-and-play operations and its sound is quite good.

If the XLR and TRS inputs are vital for your case, you may consider Lexicon Alpha 2 below.

Coming in at a slightly higher cost than the UCA202, is this Lexicon Alpha Studio interface. Lexicon is an American company founded in 1971 and headquartered in New York.

This company is widely known for the manufacture of professional audio reproduction equipment, consumer audio, and home theater equipment.

The Alpha Studio is an extremely compact, sleek, and stable studio unit  that won’t easily miss a slot in most reviews but for a good reason.

  • 44.1kHz to 48kHz sample rates
  • 24-bit convertors
  • Records 2 tracks at once
  • Anolog inputs: 1 XLR T, 2 TRS, 1 Hi-Z
  • Analog outputs: 2(1/4) TRS 2 RCA outs
  • Desktop format
  • USB format
  • Headphone output at the back
  • Low-noise mic pre-amp
  • Bundled with Cuba LE4 and Pantheon reverb plug-in
  • System compatibility: windows and macs

Construction and Design

Alpha Studio is a USB-powered dual channel interface measuring 6.8 x 6.5 x 1.6-inches and weighing approximately 1.1 pounds. It scores highly in the aesthetics department with its rugged metallic chassis unlike our previous model the UCA202. It also flaunts the brand's name carved on its upper side and a non-slip base to keep it put on your desktop

Performance

This is a dual channel interface with 1 low-noise microphone XLR input (located at the back) and 2 TRS inputs that allow you to connect the interface to your standalone gear. Its front panel is quite attractive and features a high-impedance hi-Z ¼’’ input for your electric guitars or bass.

It also has 2 separate input controls for the 2 channels (line level and microphone) and a monitor mix switch used to select the audio source from either live input or playback mix level. The audio source can be changed between the 2 by simply pressing the control.

At the other far end, you’ll find a 1/8’’ headphone output and compatible with your iPhone earphones too. Notably, Alpha Studio features a high-powered headphone amp that delivers excellent power for ultra-clear and high fidelity sounds when used with any professional or consumer headphones.

As I mentioned before, Alpha Studio is solely powered from the USB bus with no need for any other external powering. It supports both PC and Mac recording computers and is capable of 24 bit/48 kHz recording.

Even better, this unit comes bundled with Steinberg’s Cubase LE software which works excellently with both PC and Mac computers. Cubase Le is professional-grade software that enables you to record, edit, and mix up to 48 audio tracks, 64 MIDI tracks (no midi I/Os in this gadget though), and VST instruments. It also supports plug-ins.

On this note too, you get Lexicon’s Pantheon VST plug-in with 6 different reverb types, and 35 factory presets.

Notably, you’re not limited to Cubase LE software. Thanks to Alpha Studio’s universal compatibility, you can use any DAW of your choice from the major audio recording programs options including Cubase SX, GarageBand, CakeWalk Sonar, Motu, Steinberg Nuendo and many others.

Lexicon Alpha Studio is an excellent choice for home and mobile studios. It’s easy to use and highly portable. The only one thing that you’re missing here is Phantom power if you use condenser microphones.

As such, you may have to get yourself a suitable standalone power supply here.

But wait, here’s another good-sounding interface with not only the Phantom power but also the midi inputs and outputs that Lexicon Alpha Studio lacks. 

User reviews

Though a little pricier and with more features than the Behringer U-Control UCA202, Lexicon Alpha Studio received a slightly low rating and approval from its previous users. Though it worked for some, others were put off by the popping sounds from the USB cable and its rather cheap design.

Pros

  • Compatible with numerous operating systems
  • Comes fitted with Cubase LE software
  • 2 channels design
  • Compact, sleek and stable

Cons

  • The only downside with this unit is that is pricier. However, comparing with what you get, it is worth.



Verdict

If you’re looking for a 2-channel audio interface, the Lexicon Alpha Studio could be a good unit to consider. It works well and has great sound quality. However, be warned; you may find it cheaply constructed given its dirt cheap cost.

Here’s another good-sounding interface with not only the Phantom power but also the midi inputs and outputs that Lexicon Alpha Studio lacks.

3. PreSonus AudioBox USB 2x2  Audio interface

Presonus is one of our most favorite brands. This Presonus AudioBox is a cousin to one of the best studio monitors we heavily rely on in our studios; the PreSonus Eris E4.5.

What we like about this Louisiana, USA-based Company is that it’s made up of artists and musicians who design and craft the audio equipment during the day and rock the local clubs overnight with the same sound systems for testing. Presumably, they know what the musicians want.

Their Presonus AudioBox USB is a good grab if you want an all round great interface with professional-caliber recordings without parting with more than 100 bucks.

It’s a plug and play piece of studio gear with a rugged construction. It will with no doubts serve you for a pretty long time.

  • 44.1kHz to 48kHz sample rates
  • 24-bit convertors
  • Power - USB
  • 1 XLR female balanced microphone
  • 1/4 Inches TRS female unbalanced instrument
  • 1/4 inch TRS female output
  • USB format
  • Dual 5-pin MIDI I/O
  • System compatibility: windows and macs, Windows XP, Vista, MAC OS

Construction and Design

Another reason why this unit features in our list is because of its chassis. AudioBox USB has arguably the strongest chassis amongst all other portable units in this list. The powder-coated blue housing is made of up of heavy-duty steel, and the knobs are metallic too. Presonus argue that they drove a truck over the box to test its toughness and it was still able to stand a full recording session.

Well, this is just a reassurance that it’ll take serious pounds but not a green light to run your truck over it!

It’s 5.5 x 1.8 x 5.5-inches, and 14.1 ounces again makes it a great choice for either an amateur of studio pro who wants to go mobile.

Performance

AudioBox 2x2 is a USB- powered interface that offers you all the flexibility you’d ever think of in your recording career or hobby. The fact that it’s entirely bus-powered eliminates the need for wall warts, power cables, and line lumps associated with the rack-mounted designs.

This convenient powering system backed by the all-metal chassis and metallic knobs allows you to take your music creation and to record anywhere your laptop goes.

A favorite choice for most mobile musicians and podcasters, this is a 2-channel budget-friendly interface bringing 2 mic/instrument inputs on its front phase and conveniently positioned and labeled metallic control knobs for the 2 channels and headphones. Another important feature here is the mix control knob that lets you find the perfect balance between the input and computer playback minus the annoying delays.

Unlike Alpha Studio above, the TSR ins here are packed with 48-volt phantom power making AudioBox an affordable interface to work with your condenser microphones. The rear phase has a USB port for both connectivity and powering and 2 5-pin MIDI in/out ports for your synth or MDI controllers. You’ll also find clearly labeled L/R TRS outputs and a headphone jack at the furthest end.

Lastly, AudioBox comes with Presonus’ Studio One 3 in its full version. Yes, it’s not the best there is out there, but its 6GB+ of free beats and sample contents are enough to get you on your feet if you’re just starting.

User reviews

Presonus AudioBox 2 x 2 enjoys impressive ratings and approval from its users and independent reviewers. Those who like it appreciate that its price is a real steal and it has a durable feel. The other lot feels that it’s still not the best out there. However, they all find it great for its price.

Pros

  • Has a tough construction
  • The latency is low
  • Budget friendly
  • Durable

Cons

  • Some users have a problem setting it up.



4. Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2x2 Audio Interface Review - Great for Ableton

Here is yet another cheap USB PC and Mac studio audio interface for the money. Mackie’s Onyx Blackjack competes favorably with the Presonus AudioBox above but edges out the competition with its powerful high-fidelity preamps in its mic/instruments combo inputs.

Mackie is a highly reputed brand in the audio equipment world. Its studio monitors and mixers are amongst the best that the market has.

In fact, their Mackie CR Series CR3 still holds the number one position in our list of the best studio monitors.

Their Onyx Blackjack is a great choice if you’re caught in between a tight budget and the need for Mackie’s high-quality preamps and digital converters found in their larger high-end audio interfaces and mixes.

  • Compatible with both Mac and Windows PC
  • 2 way channell
  • USB-bus powered
  • (2) 1/4 inches balanced monitor output
  • Separate monitors and headphones output with separate level control
  • 48V phantom power
  • 24-bit recording/playback
  • High-quality mic preamps available.
  • High-headroom design
  • Bundled with Tracktion 3 software
  • Compatible with several major music production DAWs
  • Inputs: Mic/hi-z
  • Cirrus Logic chip convertors

Construction and Design

It’s quite evident that Mackie put some considerable thought into the overall design of this unit. This is a desktop model made of an all-metallic chassis with a powder-coating and a sleek appearance. Again, this interface sits on your desktop with a 250 inclination thereby bringing the control knobs not only closer but within your full view.

This means that unlike most of its competitors with markings and knobs on the top panel, you’ll never accidentally turn the wrong knob here. It may not mean much, but it’s still a sensible idea especially for an interface with a busy face like this one.

Secondly, its high-headroom design helps in minimizing distortion during your music production, mixing, and edition sessions.

Performance

Onyx Blackjack has several state-of-the-art features to boast here. This is a 2-channel USB audio interface and a monitor-level controller in one ultra-compact desktop unit. What’s amazing about its 2 channels is that they have also been professionally designed to act as built-in DIs.

This, therefore, means that you can connect your drum kits, keyboards, guitars, basses, and other studio sound gear without any problem.

Even better, we liked that the 2 channels also have 48V phantom power and an accompanying on/off button on the control panel. Needless to say, the phantom power allows you to use your condenser mics without much hassle.

Another great feature- though common with all the previous models with this list- is that you’re getting a USB-powered music recording audio interface. This means that you have an additional power supply and fewer cables on your workspace.

One thing I like about this budget friendly unit is that all the major connections are at the back except the headphone output port which is exactly where we like it best- at the front.

Onyx Blackjack again blows all the other models that we’ve reviewed thus far with their pre-amps. These pre-amps have a total of 60dB of gain and aim at offering you an ultra-wide dynamic range and superior radio frequency rejection.

Its high-quality AD/DA, Cirrus Logic converters, are also a cut above considering their 114dB dynamic range which is common with extremely expensive options.

We are talking about zero-latency recording too…

One of the major problems with most inexpensive audio interfaces has always been latency. In case you’re new to this term- which I doubt- latency refers to the difference in time between when you press a key to when you hear it via the headphones or monitors. This difference matters a big deal. A 5-ms delay is almost unnoticeable by the human brain. Anything above that is an automatic vibe killer and may destroy the morale in a recording session.

Onyx eliminates all that by including a true analog monitoring path linking the flagship preamps directly to the studio monitors and headphones. This allows you to monitor your tracks directly from the analog source with no routing.

Mackie’s Onyx Blackjack also comes with Tracktion 3 Software, which does perfectly well with both Mac and PC. However, you can also change to any of the major DAWs including Final Cut Pro, Cubase, Ableton, Sonar, Logic, and many more.

Besides Mackie Onyx Blackjack, all the other interfaces we’ve reviewed in this category are perfect for hobbyists and new entrants in music productions and recording. However, if you feel that you want something more serious than the routine 2 inputs and outputs, you should consider units that are above the bottom range.

User reviews

The unit's simple and clean operations have earned it an incredible star rating. Most of its reviewers appreciate that it has a small footprint and it’s effective despite its low price. Others, however, found it time-taking to get it going with Windows 7 64 bits system.

Pros

  • Has a solid build
  • Small footprint
  • Reputable brand
  • Budget friendly price tag

Cons

  • Won't work with window 7 out of the box. You have to do some adjustments.


Verdict

Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2x2 is a staunch competitor of our previous contender the Presonus Audio Box. Not only are these similarly priced but they are also equally rated. What we like most about this model though are its excellent build quality and versatile compatibility.

5. Steinberg UR22MKII - Best Audio Interface Under $200

If you’ve laid your hands on UR22MKII’s original variant, the UR22, then you’ll believe when I say that these things are pretty strong regarding construction. They also offer sonic sounds when mixing and recording. The new version, UR22MKII is even better and has some new features and experiences that we lacked in the UR22. The big surprise here is its iPad compatibility.

First off…

Steinberg Media Technologies is a Hamburg, Germany-based brand that has been designing and conceiving music and media production gear since 1984. However, it was fully acquired by Yamaha Group from Pinnacle Systems in 2005 and now operates fully under Yamaha.

It’s amongst the most renowned brands in the music production arena. You must have interacted with this brand especially if you’re a huge fan of Cubase DAW software. Reason; they own it.

UR22MII has garnered tons of positive reviews from its past users and for a reason. At the time of this review the interface had a favorable 4.3/5-star rating is quite convincing that this is a good way to spend your money on a studio gear. In fact, most of them recommend this unit if you’re hunting for an interface with truly no latency (we’ll come back to this later).

  • 2-Channel
  • USB 2.0 computer connectivity
  • USB-powered
  • Phantom power
  • Metering reader
  • 24-bit /192 kHz sampling rate
  • Midi 5-pin input/output
  • iPad connectivity
  • Cubase AI and Cubasis LE music production software included
  • Class A D-pre mic pre-amps
  • 1 headphone output
  • Separate latency, monitors, and headphone control knobs
  • Desktop format

Performance

UR22MKII features the combined experience of Yamaha’s and Steinberg’s knowledgeable engineers. It has an impressive build quality with a rugged all-metallic casing that will with no doubts withstand major rigors on the road and being bounced in a backpack.

Again, this is a USB-powered interface. This means that you can take your studio experiences with you wherever you have your laptop or iPad. This interface offers 2 powering options at the back panel. There’s a Type-B USB 2.0 port with which you can power it from your laptop or computer and a Micro-B USB port for your iPad.

Worth noting, your iPad can’t power the UR via the Micro-B port. As such, you’ll have to connect your interface to an AC outlet, if you’re near one, or use external batteries as an alternative. There’s a power switch between the 2 ports to help you choose between the 2 options.

Design

This interface’s front panel is quite laden. Luckily, all the controls and ports are clearly labeled and shouldn’t be much of a hassle to navigate. UR22MKII has 2 XLR inputs featuring TRS/TS combo jacks inputs. These inputs are 48-volts phantom powered (done simultaneously). Each input has a dedicated peak LED light just above it. There’s also another LED in between the Input 1 and Input 2 peak lights that lights when the phantom power switch (at the back) is on. Another LED lights when the UR is connected to your laptop or iPad via USB.

Right after the Input 2 knob, there’s a hi-Z switch meant for your guitars and basses. There are 3 other buttons with which you identify the ideal input/DAW balance to reduce latency and an independent knob for your headphones. The 5-pin MIDI in/out connectors are at the back alongside the ¼’’ output jacks.

UR22MKII records at 192 kHz sampling rate. This frequency, by itself, puts this interface a few steps ahead of the stiff 2-channel systems competition. It also flaunts Yamaha’s superior quality D-pre pre-amps that contribute immensely to its detailed and revealing sound.

It also comes ready for your iPad.

This means that there’s almost no configuration or software required to connect your iPad to the interface. All you do is connect the 2 via the USB cable, power the interface either through the AV port or batteries, and launch your iOS or audio app. Of importance, do know that the package does not include the Micro-B USB cable and the 5v power cable.

Lastly, you also get free Cubase Al and Cubasis LE music recording and production software with the purchase. If you don’t have a music app on your iPad, you can easily download one, for instance, the Cubasis LE, from Apple Store.

User reviews

A 4.2/5 star rating is way above what any other model has garnered thus far. It’s also a clear indication that Steinberg UR22MKII does what it’s meant to do. Besides its above average build quality, its users were awed by its great I/O options and quiet press.

Pros

  • Sounds great 
  • Has quiet pres at low and high gains
  • iPad ready
  • Easy to setup and configure
  • Build to last

Cons

  • The pres have no enough power for high-gain mics.





Verdict

Steinberg UR22MKII is an excellent audio interface with more than enough I/O options for a home-based studio. The unit rocks while it’s in use and also performs as described. Another great feature is that it can be used as a standalone unit on the stage.

In our opinion, the units we’ve reviewed thus far are the best dual-channel interfaces we have on the market today. From here, let’s scour the web further for some multi-channel interfaces. You’ll require these if you’re ready to step up your studio and record multiple systems simultaneously.

6. Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional - Best Audio Interface under $300

Focusrite is an audio and music products brand of the larger Focusrite Group. This company has been around for quite some time now. Its headquarters are in High Wycombe, United Kingdom and has a marketing facility in Los Angeles, USA.

Focusrite is renowned for their hands up preamplifiers and interfaces. In fact, most professional sound engineers go for Focusrite audio interfaces mainly because of their high-quality pre-amplifiers and converters which are all about sound quality.

One thing that we like about this multi-channel audio interface gear is its 8 truly power preamps and the freedom it offers for expansion. Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 derives its name from its 20/20 inputs and outputs. That’s a whole lot of inputs to let you record most of your instruments including guitars, synths, and drum kits at once with no need for expansion strips or daisy-chaining.

  • 20/20 I/O count
  • 24-bit/96 kHz Firewire Interface
  • 8 Focusrite quality preamps
  • 8 ADAT I/O optical connectors
  • 2 headphone  buses
  • 2 6-pin Firewire sockets
  • DSP mixer/router
  • MIDI I/O
  • 2 XLR Mic/Line/Inst Combo inputs
  • 6 XLR Mic/Line Combo Inputs
  • S/PDIF I/O on RCA
  • Stereo RCA S/PDIF output
  • 8 TRS jack outputs
  • 2 TRS jack monitor mix outputs

Design

Saffire Pro firewire is designed with the modern studio in mind. It’s a bit on the larger side measuring 1.8’ x 13.8’ x 9.3’ and weighing 6.6 pounds. As such, mounting it on a rack could be more preferable. It features a metallic chassis with great craftsmanship clearly evident on the positioning of the control knobs, inputs, and outputs.

Saffire Pro 40 offers you 2 connectivity options. You can choose to use either FireWire or Thunderbolt port if you’re using a Mac computer. To do this, you’ll require a FireWire 400 or 800 cables to connect via the FireWire-Thunderbolt adapter (not included).

Performance

Focusrite’s great drive for pristine sounds reigns supreme. As I had hinted earlier on, this interface is loaded with Focusrite’s 8 award-winning preamps which offer good amounts of gain for your condenser microphones and high noise and distortions reduction.

The sonic sound is again rocketed by Saffire Pro 40’s high-quality digital converters. It also boasts JetPLL jitter reduction technology that takes the audio quality to its near-legendary status. In case you feel that these 8 preamps aren’t enough for your studio thing, the ADAT inputs onboard will be a great way to add 8 more channels to your music production.

The S/PDIF input is also available for 2 more channels flexibility.

The presence of the 5-LED metering panel for the analog inputs distances this audio interface from others in its price range. This gap is made even wider by the DSP mixer/router that contributes to zero-latency due to its unprecedented output monitoring and routing.

Another feature worth noting here is the 2 fully independent headphone outputs on the front panel. For precision needs, each of this bus has a dedicated level control. Next to the headphone control knobs is yet another one for the monitors with 2 dim and mute switches for customizable experiences.

Saffire Pro 40’s host of input and output options, award-winning pre-amps, and the freedom for expansion ranks it highly in any list of the best FireWire audio interfaces 2017. Moreover, the DSP router/mixer and the professional plug-in suit here give home and professional studio owners the best multi-channel interface under 500 dollars

User ratings

At the time of writing this, 72% of this unit’s buyers had given it a score of 5/5 despite its high price tag. Words like ‘great’, ‘five stars’ ‘wow’ and ‘great sound quality’ adorn its reviews page. This is an indication that it met its users’ expectations.

Pros

  • Good sound quality
  • Feature packed
  • Reputable brand
  • Made for the modern studio
  • Grear craftmanship

Cons

  • Configuring for the first time is not easy




7. Avid Mbox High-Performance - Best Audio Interface under $500

Avid brings us another great interface for our Macs and PCs. If you’re a fan of Pro Tools, then it would be better if you considered Avid’s bundle. It’s simply one of the best ways to break into Pro tools with no frills.

It’s slightly pricier than the interfaces we’ve reviewed so far. That is because you’re getting a different spin in terms of inputs, best-in-class audio quality, and extremely reduced latency regardless of the signal source.

Avid is an American company based in Burlington, Massachusetts. This technology and multimedia company was established in 1987 by Bill Warner who was by then a Marketing Manager from Apollo Computers. Avid mainly deals in audio and video systems. It also owns Pro Tools- a reputable DAW for that matter- which is compatible with both Windows and OS X systems.

  • 4x4 I/O channels
  • Connection USB
  • Power: USB
  • 2 XLR mic/line combo
  • 1/1 Midi I/O port
  • 2 Mic preamps
  • 48v phantom power
  • Build-in guitar tuner
  • ​Dedicated volume knob
  • 32-bit/96 kHz sampling rate
  • 2 instruments Dis
  • Onboard Mono, Dim controls
  • 1/4" stereo headphone output

Design

The Avid Mbox 4x4 boasts a metallic casing with a solid powder coating. The front panel has a rubberized coating and carries all the control knobs.

Different from other interfaces in Avid’s flagship series, this 4X4 flaunts an all new build with phenomenal preamps, converters, and drivers. Amazingly, this highly functional interface still retains its compact design despite the additional components.

Its USB bus-powering design makes it a go-to for a musician who is always on the road and for on-site recording and music production.

Performance

Mbox brings you 4x4 channels with 4 inputs and outputs (2 XLR mic/line combos, 1/1 S/PDIF input/output, 1/1 5-pin MIDI I/O and a pair of monitor outputs). Worth noting, most of these inputs and outputs have been positioned at the back- out of your way- allowing you enough space to manipulate the knobs and the switches as you would like. This interface also gives you 48V of phantom power if you intend to use your condenser microphones.

It also comes fitted with 2 onboard guitar inputs and a guitar tuner. The integrated guitar tuner is not only meant for your guitar but also for the bass and any other music instrument. This goodness doesn’t stop here.

The interface also boasts a dedicated DSP engine that allows you to do include reverb or delay in your recording sessions with almost zero latency and no difficulties with any outboard gear.

Mbox also has soft-clip limiter- a feature found in most Avid’s Pro Tools- and which allows you to track louder sources without the worries of clipping.

As expected at this price, this unit comes bundled with Pro Tools Express music production software. This DAW software is made by the same engineers who design the Mbox Interfaces. Simply put, these programs are specially designed for Avid’s Mbox interfaces so you can be sure that you’re getting one with its most suitable DAW.

Importantly, do know that this software doesn’t come in its full version. However, it still includes most of the features found in the full version including 30+ plug-ins. It’s also capable of recording up to 16 stereo tracks at 24-bit/96 kHz simultaneously too.

User ratings

Avid Mbox hasn’t been highly reviewed as other models in this list. This is partially attributed to its seemingly high price compared to its size. Its reviewers, however, found it a high-quality price with excellent and stable operations.

Pros

  • From a reputable brand
  • Build to last
  • Compact design and impressive performance
  • Guitar tuner and onboard inputs

Cons

  • Limited inputs and outputs



Verdict

Mbox simply gives us the definition of an extremely powerful interface that can be used by both semi-pros and professional musicians. We love its high-quality converters, preamps, and other advanced features that allow you to mix and edit your performances effortlessly and with pristine clarity and quality.

8. Focusrite Clarett 8Pre - Best Thunderbolt Audio Interface under $1000

Should you find Ensemble Thunderbolt 2’s price slightly above your budget, Focusrite has your back.

Clarett 8Pre is a huge competitor of Apogee’s Ensemble Thunderbolt regarding impeccable sounds and real-time monitoring and recording.

While it is incredibly cheaper in comparison to Ensemble T-2, it also offers few I/Os count; 18 inputs and 20 outputs.

  • OS system compatibility: PC, Mac OS X (, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, and Mac OS Sierra)
  • 2 (¼‘’)TRS Headphone Outputs
  • 2 Combo TRS/XLR Mic/Line/Instrument Inputs
  • 6 Combo TRS/XLR Mic/Line Inputs
  • 8 TRS Line Outputs
  • 2 TRS Monitor Outputs
  • 1 WordClock Output
  • 1/1 ADAT Optical In/Out
  • 1/1 S/PDIF In/Out
  • 1/1 5-Pin MIDI In/out
  • 1 Thunderbolt
  • 8 Preamps
  • 24-bit/192 kHz sampling rate

Design

To my eyes, the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre brings out all the ‘’wow’’ factor in you right out of the box. It’s housed in a solid metallic casing measuring 15” x 24.7” x 18.8”. This T-bolt interface also features a stylish red and gray powder coating, which gives it its cool design compared to the FireWire-based Focusrite Saffire Pro 40’s all-black body.

Its faceplate is quite impressive. Despite its numerous controls, it still looks less busy due to the simplistic and on-point layout of the knobs, switches, and ports. The far left side welcomes you with 2 combi jack/XLR high-impedance sockets allowing you to connect your bass, synth, electric guitars or any other instruments and line level sources. The positioning of these jacks at the front panel is a great feature since you can plug in your mics or guitars and also disconnect them easily and effortlessly.

Right after the combo sockets are 2 48-volt phantom power switches for the analog inputs 1-4 and 5-8 respectively. Each of these buttons is accompanied by a LED light to indicate activity. Next, you find 8 metallic knobs that will help you fine-tune the analog input’s gain.

The far right of the front panel is occupied by a solid Monitor Level Control knob. This knob is accompanied by 2 dim and mute buttons below it which will be your great friends while mixing. You also get the power off ‘’rocker’’ switch here.

As with most rackmount audio interfaces, most of the remaining inputs and outputs wait for you at the back. You’ll find 6 analog inputs on the far right, 8 TRS/TS ¼’’ jacks analog outputs, 2 monitor outputs that also accommodate the TRS/TS ¼’’ jacks, 1 port World-clock output, and digital Toslink connectors.

Performance

Another reason making this unit a top contender is because of its performance. Clarett 8Pre offers straightforward functionality.

The ‘’Getting Started’’ guide included in the package will give you an easy time as you get to understand your new sound gear. It offers great sounds whether the ‘’Air’’ is engaged or not and has more than enough gain for the instruments that may need it.

Its 8 preamps are worth mentioning considering this interface’s price range. They are transparent and also do a great job in minimizing noise and data transfer hitches.

Focusrite Clarett 8Pre Reviews

A higher percentage of Focusrite Clarett 8Pre's reviewers were extremely happy with it. Several noted that it has incredibly powerful headphone amps and low latency. Some also highlight the ease to customize its functions as the tipping point feature for choosing it.

Pros

  • Exceptional low latency
  • Professional quality
  • Build to last
  • Has 8 preamps

Cons

  • Isolated complaints of problems when connecting to Windows 10 via Thunderbolt



2 Best Professional Audio interfaces

Next on line is a beast that requires a special mention on this list.

Ensemble Thunderbolt 2 comes from Apogee, a Santa-Monica, USA brand established in 1985. Initially known for its digital tape machines custom filters, Apogee currently owns high integrity converters in the audio interface realm.

Apogee’s audio interfaces have for long been a go-to for many Mac users in need of great sounds and good I/O counts in compact sized studio gears. This went on until recently when Apple started taking an entirely different route by replacing the FireWire port with the powerful Thunderbolt.

Most Mac users have, therefore, been relying on FireWire-to-Thunderbolt adapters seeing that Apogee had not embraced the Thunderbolt phenomenon still.

However, Apogee has now redesigned their previous model right from the ground up to deliver Apogee Ensemble with the native Thunderbolt connection.

  • Total I/O count: 30/34
  • Compatible System: Mac OS (10.9.3 or greater)
  • Connectivity: Thunderbolt 2
  • Analog inputs
    4 mic/line/inst combo inputs
    4 XLR mic/line inputs
    2 (1/4”) hi-Z guitar/instrument inputs
  • Digital I/O: Optical in/out supporting ADAT, SMUX and S/PDIF
  • Built-in talk back microphone
  • 8 mic preamps


Design

The new Apogee Ensemble has a cutting-edge design compared to its forebear; the FireWire Ensemble. In fact, only the name and the rackmount format have been retained from its predecessor. This beast now features a classy matt look with a smart black powder coat finish. This new design also brings lots of input-to-output encoding knobs and buttons and 2 stylish OLED displays.

It also comes with 2 dedicated knobs for the 2 headphone buses on the front-panel. Over at the back, perhaps the biggest change there is the shedding off of the FireWire port for the trendy Thunderbolt 2.

Performance

Like most of the units that we’ve seen so far- and for professional standards- most of Apogee Ensemble’s input and output suspects have been bundled at the rear panel. Starting from the far left, this box gives 8 analog inputs labeled In 1-8. Inputs 1-4 have XLR/TRS combi jacks whereas inputs 5 to input 8 are XLR jacks only. Both Input 1 and 2 are followed by a dedicated pair of 1/4’’ TRS sends and returns ports.

Apogee Ensemble also offers a flat out packed digital I/O arena starting with 2 sets of optical ins and outs (note an addition of one set from the original model here) to the S/PDIF ins/outs with 192 kHz performance capabilities. Again, this new Ensemble retains world-clock in/out ports.

Another feature worth noting with this model is its 8 mic preamps each with 48V of phantom power and with 75db of gain. This is a guarantee that it will offer gorgeous sounds no matter which microphones you toss at it.

This review can’t be over without recognizing Ensemble Thunderbolt 2’s close to zero latency. It’s quite terrific how Apogee was able to bring down the time taken by the signal from the source through the interface, computer, DSP plug-ins and out to your monitors to 1.1ms.

You get a built-in talkback microphone too!

This is another claimed advantage here that allows you to communicate with your band members via their headphones. The fully assignable mic can also be used to communicate across the room and even as an additional input channel in your software.

Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt User Reviews

This Apogee Ensemble has not received many reviews from past customers as well as other independent reviewers. As such, for integrity reasons, we had to fetch this section from other reliable sites. As expected, this unit has received lots of respect. Most of its uses claim that its latency is almost undetectable. Others point out that it has detailed sounds and crystal clear recording.

Pros

  • Simple to use
  • From a reputable and renowned brand
  • Has a tank-line construction
  • Impressive input and output counts
  • Trendier thunderbolt 2

Cons

  • It is pricier than most other models here




I chose to wind up this list with the Antelope Zen Studio assuming that you’d like a multi-channel audio interface ideally built for the long haul music editor and producer.

Zen Studio has a good definition of a portable USB audio interface designed with today’s traveling producers and sound engineers in mind. It’s pricier than the Clarett 8Pre above but way cheaper than the Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt 2.

Amazingly, as you’ll come to find out, Zen Studio features several superior analogs and digital connectivity components that the Pricey Ensemble T-2 lacks.

Because of its features, it is usable by a range of users on diverse applications. whether you are setting up your home studio for the first time, or you are looking for a perfect upgrade to your existing audio interface, this unit will be a great fit.

  • System Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • Input-output count: 20/14
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0
  • Powering: USB bus and AC port
  • 4 mic/line/instrument XLR combos (front panel)
  • 8 mic/line XLR combos (rear panel)
  • 8 channels DB25
  • 2 headphones out
  • Digital outputs: (2) ADAT 1 S/PDIF
  • Construction and design

Design


Zen Studio boasts a beautiful metallic chassis and a less clumsy facial panel in comparison to our previous models in this category. It has a sturdy handle on the left that helps in positioning it not only on your desktops and racks but also in slipping it inside your backpack for on-the-go recording.

Zen Studio’s controls, inputs, and outputs have been arranged in quite a sensible design. It has 4 XLR combos on the front panel that double as instrument and microphone inputs. We also get a dedicated volume control knob here and 2 stereo headphone outputs.

Zen Studio also flaunts a detailed colored display with 2 rows and capturing 16 channels. However, it also offers 2 option buttons to select between other parameters including sampling rate, headphone volume, clock source, and preamp gain.

Performance

Zen Studio is fitted with 12 high-grade mic preamps- the highest so far- and also uses the best warm A/D/A converters there possibly are. I think the coolest thing with this interface is its 48-volts phantom power which is switchable on a per-channel basis. This feature alone gives it a cutting-edge compared to the Clarett 8Pre above whose channels are powered simultaneously.

Another superior feature worth dying for in this interface is the freedom to control it fully from its desktop application. You also get a USB interface with a powerful DSP chip with super fast multiple effects processing.

Zen Studio is a convenient, attractive, easy-to-use unit. It offers a boatload of I/O in a small box. It also has the largest preamps count and high-quality warm converters. Add all these together, and you have great value for your bucks, and excellent sounds with superb signal routing flexibility and reduced latency.

Antelope Zen Tour Reviews

Similar to Apogee Ensemble’s case, there were scattered reviews capturing what users say about this audio interface. From the reviews, Zen Studio scores highly in terms of sound quality. One customer notes that it has great stereo width and tight low ends. Others also appreciated its ease of portability.

Pros

  • Amazing I/O options
  • Easily portable, not just in the home studio, but also when traveling
  • Impressive preamps control counts
  • Impressive professional performance

Cons

  • Has a small metering








Verdict

The Antelope Audio Zen Studio packs almost everything in a backpack. What you’ll like most about it is that its learning curve is quite easy to understand. The interface offers transparent sound qualities and it’s also easily portable. 

Audio Interface Buying Guide

FireWire 800

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