If you’re a DJ or music producer, there are few things more valuable than the right audio interface. The best audio interface technology ensures that you can create and manage amazing music on your devices.
These tools are the hub for your MIDIs, electric guitars, synths, microphones and so much more. The problem is, finding the best audio interface isn’t always easy. With so many options to choose from in the current landscape – how do you find something you can rely on?
If you’ve been struggling to select the best overall audio interface for your needs, the following tips could give you just the guidance you need.
The 5 Key Features to Look for in The Best Overall Audio Interface
The exact features you’ll need from your best audio interface will depend on the kind of music and performances you want to create. However, there are five key factors that have a massive influence on what you can do with your studio technology. These include:
1. DAW Compatibility
You need your audio interface to work seamlessly with your software or Digital Audio Workspace. Most of the time, you’ll find that the majority of DAWs can work with any audio interface. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
To avoid making the wrong investment, it’s best to double-check that everything is compatible before you start spending your cash. If you can’t find any details on the product description, you can either send a message to the manufacturer, or check out the reviews online for more information.
It’s also worth ensuring that you get a flexible interface if you can. After all, there’s no guarantee that you’re not going to want to use new software options in the future.
2. Interface Connectors
An audio interface comes with a wired connection standard to support the transmission of signals and data to and from your DAW. These days, there are four connections that most DJs and audio professionals will want to consider, including:
- USB: The more versatile option for cheaper, home-studio interfaces. USB is a little slower than other solutions, but it’s convenient for people on a budget.
- Firewire: This is an enhanced connection for people who are still designing their own home studios but have a little more cash to splash. Firewire comes with a much faster transfer rate.
- Thunderbolt: Thunderbolt is probably the most popular option right now with semi-pro interfaces. It’s a lot faster than both USB and firewire alternatives. If you’re looking for speed on a budget, then thunderbolt might be your best option.
- PCIE: If you can’t afford to settle for anything less than professional standard, this is the connection that you need. PCIE has long been the standard connection for any professional interface because it offers additional processing power and faster data transfer.
3. Input/output (I/O) Count
Your Audio I/O refers to the number of audio channels available through your audio interface. This is probably the most significant factor for interface shopping purposes. The more I/O an interface has, on average, the more you’ll need to pay for your device. A typical interface I/O count can range anywhere between just 1-2 connections, to more than 20 channels.
The more outputs you have, the more you can record from various sources simultaneously. Additional outputs also allow you to create various monitor mixes for different musicians in a session. You can also incorporate more outbound gear into your work.
The number of outputs that’s right for you depends on the number of channels you plan to monitor at the same time. Engineers who work for and record bands often need around 16 inputs at least. Songwriting teams often make do with about 4 to 8, while solo musicians are fine with 2-4.
4. Input Channel types
Input channels refer to the kind of things that you can plug into your audio interface. For instance, you’ll usually have a microphone input, so you can record vocals straight into your DAW. There’s also a line output on most audio interfaces, which allows for the addition of things like an outboard mic preamp. Optical outputs on an audio interface is a kind of digital input that requires you to use both an outboard mic preamp and digital converter with the optical out options. Once again, the right option for you will depend on the kind of music you want to produce.
5. Form factor
Finally, the form factor aspect of your best audio interface simply refers to its size and shape. There are many different styles of technology out there, and each with their own pros and cons to consider. For instance, desktop interfaces are often a lot smaller, which means that they’re easier to transport. They often sit on the desk next to your computer.
On the other hand, if you need a very advanced audio interface, then you might be looking at a rack-mounted solution. These are much larger, and often a lot more expensive too.
The 7 Best Audio Interfaces of 2020
Now that you know which components you need to look for in your audio interface, it’s time to check out some of the top performers in the current market. To save you some time and effort, we’ve done the hard work for you. Here are some of the excellent options we’ve discovered.
1. Focusrite Scarlett Solo [Overall Best Audio Interface Option]
The Focusrite Scarlett Solo is one of the top-performing options for mic preamps in the Scarlett range. The audio interface comes with a fantastic switchable air mode, to give your recordings a more open soundscape. There’s one high-headroom input so you can plug in a bass or guitar, and two balanced outputs for clean playback too.
Focusrite delivers excellent results with this overall best audio interface, thanks to high-performance converters that allow you to record and mix at incredible scale. This device also comes with a quick start tool to get you up and running and access to pro tools like Ableton Live Lite, and the First Focusrite Creative pack. Small, lightweight, and packed with power, this is a great tool.
One slight downside is that the drivers with Windows aren’t great. The software takes a while to install which can be frustrating for music creators.
2. Audient Id14 [Best Audio Interface for Beginners Option]
If you’re on the hunt for an audio interface that delivers excellent value for money, the Audient Id14 is perfect for you. The 10-in and 4-out USB desktop interface is a good choice for beginners, and there are 2 class A mic preamps too. Burr-brown converters come as part of the package, along with an 8-channel ADAT input.
This is one of the most popular interfaces on the market for less than $200, with a simple, yet reliable structure – great for beginners. The whole thing is powered with USB, and it can also work with iPads and iPhones. More importantly, Audient ensures that this solution is easy-to-use too.
There is a little extra gain noise on this device than you get with other, more expensive products, however. Additionally, the connections aren’t the most advanced.
3. Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD [Best 2-channel Audio Interface Option]
Offering best-in-class performance at an excellent price point, the Behringer U-PHORIA is a great all-in-one solution for today’s producers. There are 2 USB 2.0 audio interface options for recording from instruments and microphones. Plus, you get a 24-bit / 192 KHz resolution for professional audio.
The Behringer is compatible with all of the leading DAW software, including Ableton Live, Avid Pro Tools, and more. Plus, you get 2 input/output channels with ultra-low latency too. The Behringer also features 2 state of the art mic preamplifiers with 48 volts of phantom power.
This is a great option for beginners, although there might not be enough inputs and outputs for more advanced music producers. Also, the USB 2.0 connection is quite slow.
4. Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo [Best Professional Audio Interface Option]
This is a slightly more expensive audio interface than some of the other options we’ve covered so far. However, it comes with a lot of advanced features. There are 2×6 thunderbolt audio interface solutions for Windows and Mac, with a world-class audio conversion.
The device comes with real-time UAD processing for tracking with vintage compressors, tape machines, and mic preamps. Plus, you get 2 premium mic/line preamps, two line outputs, and a front-panel headphone and instrument output. There’s even access to 8 channels of digital output through optical connection and 2 digital control monitor output.
Though surprisingly small, the Universal Apollo is packed full of functionality, with an excellent monitoring system and a high-performance DSP capability. The added bonus is that the UA system interface handles processing too. This means you don’t have to rely as heavily on your PC.
5. PreSonus AudioBox [Best USB Audio Interface Option]
The PreSonus Audiobox USB 96 is a super simple and classic USB audio interface, perfect for anyone on a budget. This cost-friendly device comes with two high-quality preamps with jacks to accept quarter-inch and XLR inputs. This product is great for recording DI electric guitar or piano information. There’s also support for MIDI devices.
This device features 96 KHz rates and 24-bit resolution. There’s also 2 combo inputs for microphones and instruments, with high-headroom, low noise mic preamplifiers. PreSonus also includes Studio One DAW software as part of the purchase, along with 6GB of third-party tools.
Although a little more basic than alternative options, the PreSonus is a good choice for beginners. One slight downside is that the USB connections are quite dated.
6. Tascam US- 1×2 USB Audio/MIDI interface [Best Budget Audio Interface Option]
Featuring a high-quality Ultra HDDA mic preamp and a powerful 1 / 4 line input, the Tascam is a great choice for today’s mixers and music producers. The stereo line inputs and outputs offer an easy connection on the rear panel. What’s more, the side panels allow for more convenient usability too.
To help you get up and running as quickly as possible, this Tascam device comes with Steinberg Cubase LE and the Cubasis LE technology included. The mic inputs come with an XLR professional connector with 48 volts of phantom power. Installation of this device couldn’t be easier, thanks to a built-in class-compliant driver .
The Tascam records at up to 96kHz/24 bit resolution to give you more to work with and a smoother sound. One possible downside is that the interface can sometimes overtake audio output devices. The drivers seem to have a few issues with glitches.
7. Audio2000 AMX7322-Professional 6 channel [Best 6 Channel Audio Interface Option]
The Audio2000s AMX7322 audio interface is an easy-to-use and reliable audio mixer. This six-channel solution comes with all the essential mixer features that today’s users might need. You can connect your computer to the USB interface, coordinate your audio mixer with a computer to record more audio, and access a built-in DSP sound effect processor.
There’s Bluetooth streaming built-in and an MP3 player that supports a selection of music formats. Ultra-musical 3-band EQ is available on all channels, there’s also microphone and stereo line inputs. The phantom power switch supports up to 48 volts, while the design of the device comes with rugged steel for excellent durability.
There’s even a multi-functional power supply for using your interface worldwide. One slight downside is that the volume is quite low. Additionally, there’s only one stereo channel.
Choosing the Best Audio Interface
There’s no one-size-fits-all for the best audio interface solution. The device you choose will depend on the kind of music you want to produce and what kind of functionality matters most to you.
Our top choice is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo – one of the leading options for microphone preamps in the current Scarlett range. This device comes with a fantastic switchable air mode, brilliant sound quality, and a bright, balanced playback. If you can get beyond the driver issues, you should have no problem with this solution.
Good luck finding the best audio interface for your needs.