We pick our top audio interfaces, from small, affordable models aimed at beginners through to feature-laden pro choices.
As a producer, if you want to get sounds in and out of your computer, you probably need an audio interface. Audio interfaces (sometimes still referred to as ‘sound cards’, a relic of the days when most interfaces took the form of internal expansion cards) are the devices that convert analogue audio signals to digital on the way into your computer, then convert the digital signals back into analogue on the way out. That means you can hook up things like synths, drum machines, microphones and effects units on the way in, or just connect your monitors on the way out.
Your computer probably has basic built-in audio capabilities (say, a line/microphone input and a headphone output), but the sound quality from most built-in options leaves a lot to be desired. Even if all you’re doing is monitoring on headphones or perhaps recording the odd track or two via the line inpu, tthe most basic portable audio interface will improve on the quality of most built-in interfaces.
Of course, each producer’s specific needs will determine what kind of interface to go for. Typically, the most important factor is the number of input channels. If you’re recording lots of instruments at the same time, you’ll need lots of input channels, and possibly lots of preamps as well as line inputs. But even if you only ever record one or two channels of audio at a time, you still have a lot of options. There are portable interfaces for use on the go, cheap options for those on a strict budget, and far more expensive alternatives that make no concessions to sound quality despite their limited feature set.
Like all of our Ten Of The Best features, these aren’t the only units we’d recommend, but these would be our starting points for exploring the options on the market.
As always in Ten Of The Best, our selections are listed in ascending order of price.
SPL’s Crimson is awesome as well…
Audient ID22 is the best sound quality in the sub $1k price range IMO. and yes, I’ve tried them all including the SPL crimson.
Another helpful article from the Attack nerds. Thanks for writing this.
Opinions on the soundcraft signature mtk series coming out? (Analogue mixer w/interface, interesting for hardware pimps?)
Careful on USB 3 Ports/System Hubs and the NI Komplete audio. Might cause problems. I run Abbleton on the Komplete 6 and into an S4 (connected to the same computer) and i have to switch of usb3 support in the BIOS (lucky enough my notebook supports turning off)
AKAI EIE Pro doesn’t work OK with Windows 8(.1) !!!
forgot to mention: I bought a TASCAM USB4x4 instead and this one works perfectly!
Is this an advertorial?
I’ve heard nothing but awful stories about Akai’s support and have read several reports of EIE interfaces with outdated drivers that are literally used as doorstops or paperweights in the studios of suckers who bought them.
Even if these reports are only isolated/anecdotal I still have a hard time believing it belongs in any objective ’10 best’ roundup.
Anyone out there looking to purchase a new audio interface should definitely checkout Arturia’s recently released AudioFuse. Although it’s Arturia’s first foray on the audio interface market, I’ve been reading great reviews and the price point is not bad. I’m currently trying to get my hands on one. Also, no I don’t work for Arturia LOL!
Great Read, a few years ago I bought the focusrite saffire pro 24 and have been thoroughly impressed by it, great mic preamps and multiple choice inputs! With that said the Apollo line is the way to go, with their UAD processing power and thunderbolt connections, it can’t be beat. I use my friends Apollo satellite unit, in conjunction with my focusrite saffire and they seamlessly work together.
Cheers, Kount Dubyula
No Roland Quadcapture? Come on! 😉
Yes disgraceful that there was no mention of the excellent Roland capture interfaces. Best sound quality that I have heard and very, very underrated.
No Audient ID22? Indeed Maxwelldub!
Apogee / Burl ?
This list is not complete with out these brands..
Compressor list was good.. but this one was off the mark..
How about the MOTU range?
God article. Anyone have any thoughts on RME Babyface Pro?
I was thinkning about getting the Focusrite 6i6. But upon reading this I’m now swayed by the Komplete 6. I don’t have a huge need for anything terribly more complicated. The major issue with my current 2in 2 out is I want more outputs to rig up an effects chain of guitar pedals which I want to run VST’s though. Pedals and maybe reel to reel tape.
Some comment on the quality of the headphone amps would have been nice. I find USB bus-powered interfaces often struggle to drive headphones to acceptable levels. I have a Scarlett 2i2 and I’m pleased with it apart from the headphone output (I have 32 ohm ‘phones so not difficult to drive).
What is this crap…. For cheap stuff you go for focusrite? Where’s Roland’s cheap stuff? By far better then any Scarlett on the market. Also for the higher end ones wheres Audient???? Baby face???? Even the tascam uh7000
Metric Halo = flawless, endless capabilities no one knows about. Mio Console takes the 80 bit win!
Still using my Audio 8 after all these years (for dj’ing)
These “reviews” are nothing of the sort, are they? The are simply short lists of functions, with absolutely no rigorous testing of these units’ compatibility with various gear, no analysis of sound quality, no description of the electronics design or parts listing – which would require your knowledge of how components actually work together to make an audio interface, plus understanding why one circuit design might yield higher sound quality and reliability, and how prices of more expensive models might, or might not, reflect selection of better components.
This is my first visit here, but the dismal level of useful information here does not bode well for my future interest in Attack website.
I would have loved to see mention of the USB3 Zoom UAC series. Besides those made by RME, Zoom’s UAC sweies are the only USB interfaces worth having IMO. With it’s 1.2 driver update it has become the only non-RME USB interface that can rival PCIe performance. And at a FRACTION of RME’s cost, it’s a dream come true!
Presonus and Focusrite market the heck out of their pretty looking interfaces but it’s universally agreed on all of the audio forums that their USB drivers are slow performing, high-latency, generic garbage rendering their pretty hardware the same. Zoom have invested in their USB driver technology like no other developer besides RME has and they should be rewarded.
If you’re someone like me who’s dreamed of playing software synths without hearing/feeling the annoying delay between when you strike a key and hear the sound, if you’re a guitar player who likes to play through the many awesome virtual amp simulations available today without feeling a delay between when you pluck the string and hear the amp sim, or if you would like to monitor your vocal through some of your cool software reverbr and compressors without hearing that annoying spacey comb-filtered sound caused by high-latency delay, then Zoom’s USB low-latency breakthrough is a big deal. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?
Whats about steinberg ur22?
RME’s HDSPe MADI FX card linked to the RME MADI Covertor which is linked to a Harrison 832c filter unit then linked into the Harrison MPC5 console. This setup makes it impossible to beat for any small home studio interface, & you can stash 2000mtrs + of cable in your closet.
If you want the best this is it, END.
apogee is there pls check that in titan review apogee symphony is noted in that place well …..
Where is MOTU in all of this…?