The 8 best audio interfaces for all budgets

Again, inexpensive interfaces can operate at bitrates well above 44.1kHz / 16bit, but the question is how? If you record a drummer, singer and guitarist at the same time using eight microphones and capturing at 44.1 kHz / 16 bit, that means there are 352,800 snapshots taken per second, each with 65,536 possible values. . This is a staggering amount of calculations, and less expensive equipment can confuse the results slightly. Add to this that it is quite common today to record in 48k / 24 bits (it is 224!) or more. And unlike vintage tape recorders and tube preamps coveted by sound engineers, digital inaccuracies offer no “warmth” or “mojo.”

The quality of the conversion must therefore be taken into account when purchasing an interface. “Nothing is more important to digital audio than data conversion,” writes Dennis Bohn of pro audio company Rane. But there are other characteristics that must be taken into account: how many inputs and outputs? A singer-songwriter or electronic producer working primarily in the box may only need two of each, while a budding engineer will opt for more. Portability is also a concern for some. Does it have mic preamps and are they good? What about other types of integrated audio processing? And does it send and receive MIDI? Finally, is it “good enough?” The audio specifications have a way of causing dizziness, of highlighting microscopic impurities in the sound that may not even be noticeable. No converter can destroy a solid performance of artfully arranging a well-written song, but an interface nonetheless remains the single door through which all of your recorded sounds must pass. Sometimes the $ 150 unit is all you need, sometimes only the top of the line will do. With that in mind, here are some of the best audio interfaces on the market today.


Little wonders

The budding home recorder lives in an era of unprecedented access: Focusrite’s 2i2 is not only a quality 2-in / 2-out interface, but it comes with Ableton’s free introductory software. and ProTools as well as Focusrite’s own suite of plugins. As limited as that may be, this is all you need if you only plan to follow one or two sounds at a time. The preamps are solid, it has an “Air” button to add high-end sparkle, and it can handle 24-bit resolution at a 192kHz sample rate. Best of all, the Focusrites are eminently plug-and-play and are now even compatible with iPad Pros. It’s no mystery why the Scarlett – affordable, portable, convenient, and easy to use – is as popular as it is.

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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd generation


In the world of pro audio, SSL is one of those names that commands immediate respect. The company’s consoles have been devices in studios since the 1980s, revered for their sound, workflow, and compression. So when they came up with a $ 299.99 interface, some were suspicious: was it a cash grab or a legitimate addition to their legendary lineup? Fortunately, that’s the real deal, with two mic inputs, stereo outputs (plus two headphone outputs), MIDI compatibility, and an attractive “4K legacy button” that provides nice high-end frequency boost. There are also bundled software and competitive conversion specifications. It might not quite bring the console feel to your bedroom, but it’s a well-built, low-cost, pint-sized chip of the old block.

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Universal Audio’s pedigree is undisputed in the audio field: the preamps and compressors they developed in the 1960s are among the most coveted and emulated today. But at the turn of the millennium, the company returned to the market with classic hardware software models, followed by their famous Apollo series of interfaces. At first glance, the Apollo Twin doesn’t look all that different from the SSL or the Focusrite: a pair of mic / line inputs on the rear, an additional instrument input on the front, and a small complement of outputs. . So why does it cost almost four times as much? Well, the quality of the preamps and converters is pretty high, but this is mostly the plug-in bundle: UAD plug-ins are some of the best in the game, bringing compelling vintage warmth and power to your recordings. House. The catch is, you can’t just buy them on their own; you need UAD hardware to run them. But the advantage is that the interface will handle the CPU load of these plugins instead of your tired laptop. And you can record through them, printing the audio as if you were using a real Neve console with a Pultec connected. Their Unison software optimizes your signal chain for the two built-in mic / line inputs, but there’s also the much-vaunted “10- in / 6-out” function: It turns out you’re also free to patch up. to eight additional preamps via the optical input on the rear. If you’ve dreamed of traveling the world with a world-class console in your backpack, the Apollo Twin is about as close as it gets.

Universal Audio Apollo Twin X


More appetizers, more options

Despite its fancy name (an acronym for Mark of the Unicorn), MOTU is the workhorse of digital audio. The company’s no-frills units have been the favorites of countless room and small studio producers, offering plenty of connectivity and great conversion at a competitive price. If you want to multitrack an ensemble but still need to rent, the UltraLite mk5 gives you eight channels of crystal clear audio input, with 10 outputs for external processing or multichannel mixing. Like the Apollo Twin, it can accommodate additional inputs, allowing up to 18 inputs and 22 outputs simultaneously, and it comes with a built-in DSP (digital signal processing): equalizers, reverbs, compressors. It even sends and receives MIDI. MOTU doesn’t have the same drool factor as some of the competition, but there’s a reason you see it as much on the court as you do. Intuitive enough for beginners, powerful enough for professionals, and versatile enough for almost any application, these units are the rule.

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If you’re looking for a mixer / interface combo, Soundcraft offers a series, ranging from ten inputs to twenty-two, that lets you follow familiar channel strips right on your computer. The dual functionality of these units is quite tempting: if you need a mixer for a gig, you’re good to go. Meanwhile, if you’d rather follow through analog preamps and EQs rather than meticulously dialing in plugins, you can close your eyes and turn the knob until the sound is correct. While its sample rates aren’t as high as some of its counterparts – it only goes “up” to 48k, which, let’s be honest, is more than enough for most applications – the ease of use. use and workflow can inspire you to make better music.

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Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK


On the surface, the RME Fireface doesn’t seem to offer much more than the MOTU. So why does it cost almost $ 1,000 more? Enjoy all this digital connectivity: USB 2.0, MIDI in & out, ADAT in & out, AES / EBU, SPDIF, as well as the RME DURec signature (which allows you to record audio directly on a USB key, without computer) – the Fireface outperforms its peers with a potential total of 20 simultaneous inputs and outputs. But it’s also worth noting how good the unit’s built-in mic preamps are. Clean, transparent and built to last, the Fireface has attracted a dedicated following. If you have the cash to spend, this will give you the peace of mind that if your recording stinks, it’s not your interface’s fault.

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Full-fledged

Lynx’s Aurora (n) has a knack for making even the chicest of her peers seem picky. That’s because he only does one thing, but he does it extremely well. Note that Lynx doesn’t even call it an interface, it’s an “AD / DA converter”. This box takes whatever you give it and converts it with as much precision and transparency as you can hope for. It doesn’t have mic inputs — you’ll need to plug in your own mixer. It does not send MIDI clock to your instruments. There is no free software. Only 16 pure conversion inputs and 16 outputs that you can trust completely. For many, this may be overkill. But when you’re already obsessed with your guitar pickups, amp settings, drum tuning, preamps, room acoustic treatment, mic placement, and room acoustic treatment, there is Maybe it’s time for a Lynx.


$ 6,000 for eight inputs and eight outputs might seem like a lot, but when you consider the crisp Class A specs and Burl transistors on each input, it makes sense. Burl products all seek to match the power and warmth of classic studios, with pristine Neve consoles running in perfectly calibrated Studer tape recorders. Unlike its peers, the Mothership sends your sound through an analog signal path, which changes character as your signal level increases. Similar to the Lynx, this case only works as a converter, but while the Lynx guarantees unblemished clarity, the Burl promises beauty.

Burl Audio B16-BMB1-8×8 Mothership


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