Best Audio Interface 2017
Buying Guide and Review
For computer based musicians, having an audio interface (also called a sound card) is a necessity. Since the standard sound cards built into computers are not very high quality, having an audio interface will greatly increase the quality of your recording. Keep reading for our breakdown of the best audio interfaces available.
There are tons of choices, and the prices vary greatly from very affordable to breaking-the-bank expensive. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a newbie, you will be able to find the one the fits your needs best.
If you are a newbie, you might soon find yourself lost in a onslaught of audio terms when you start your research. It is easy to get lost in the many options there are out there.
To make things easier for you, we have broken down all the important information you need to know before making your purchase. We have also listed the top 10 picks according to user reviews.
Best Audio Interfaces of 2017
1. Behringer UCA202 - Our Pick for the Best Audio Interface of 2017
Compatible to use with your PC or Mac computer, the UCA202 does not require any setup or drivers to work. Powered via USB connection, you don’t need any external power supply to use it.
It is rated as the best USB audio interface. The high resolution 48 kHz converters ensure high-end audio quality.
Connect your mixer, instruments, etc., to record your music and listen to the playback. The stereo headphone output has a dedicated level control so that you can monitor both input and output.
The Behringer UCA202 offers professional quality recording but comes in at a budget-friendly price.
Behringer also offers free audio editing software to help you get the most out of your recording experience.
Featuring a USB connection, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is very portable. Use the inputs on the front panel to connect line and instrument level signals as well as microphones. The design makes it ideal to record the output of a synthesizer or stage piano, and then with a flick of a switch, you can cater to the output of an acoustic or electric guitar.
The halo indicators let you record like a pro by letting you know if you have a good signal for recording.
Use the direct monitor function to hear what you are recording without the signal going though your computer first. This allows you to monitor the recording with zero latency. Protected by an anodized aluminum unibody chassis, this audio interface can withstand the harsh environment of life on the road.
The red finish gives it an attractive appearance. It is light and compact so that you can fit it into a laptop bag for easy portability.
It is bus powered so you don’t need an additional power supply.
As one of the best audio interfaces for Mac computers, the UCA22 allows you to connect instruments, mixers, and more to your computer for recording and playback.
The USB connection makes setup easy and you don’t need any external power source. The high resolution 48 kHz converters provide high-end audio quality.
Featuring two analog mono inputs, you can connect any line-level device to it, such as a tape deck or mixer. Use the two analog outputs for connecting active speakers or studio monitors. The S/PDIF optical output can be used for analog to digital conversion.
The stereo headphone output has a dedicated level control which allows you to monitor both input and output.
With the purchase of the UCA222 comes a load of free software so that you can turn your computer into a complete home-based or mobile recording studio.
Designed for producers and recording artists or bands that require the ability to record many sources at the same time, this powerhouse has 18 inputs and 8 outputs. The ADAT optical digital connector allows you to connect external mic preamps to increase the number of mic inputs to 12.
It is designed to be used with Mac OS X 10.8 or Windows 7 and higher.
The two independent headphone outputs each have a level control. The input level controls have LED rings around the level control that turns green if there is a recordable signal, or red, which indicates overload. The Scarlet 18i8 is housed in a rugged metal case so that it can survive life on the road or at the studio.
Included in the purchase is an authorization code so that you can download online software to get the most out of your recording.
Featuring a sampling rate of 192 kHz and a resolution of 24 bits, the UR44 delivers pristine sound quality. It has zero latency so that you can get the most out of your recording experience.
When you want to go completely portable, you can connect it to your iPad. The MIDI I/O feature allows you to connect your favorite synth, a drum trigger module, or any other MIDI device.
Housed in a rugged full-metal chassis, the UR44 is durable enough to withstand life on the road. To help make recording easier, it is compatible with all the major audio editing, mastering, and music production software supporting ASIO Core Audio, or WDM standard.
Featuring two mic/instrument inputs with Presonus Class A XMAX preamps, the AudioBox 22VSL is a great audio interface for Mac. It delivers professional standard quality with 24-bit 96 kHz audio quality. The rugged enclosure allows you to use it in the studio, or to take along in your backpack.
The MultiHost feature allows you to connect 2 computing devices simultaneously. You can also use your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch as a plugin or controller with your Mac or PC. The Audio PassThru technology digitally routes the audio between your device and computer with zero signal degradation and simply appears as an audio interface to the operating systems.
8. Apogee Duet 2
If you are looking for an audio interface for Mac, this is a great option. It has 2 analog inputs with mic preamps and selectable 48v phantom power. It also has 4 analog outputs-independent speaker and headphone outputs. The full color OLED display gives you great visual feedback for multiple functions like metering, numeric value input and output levels, input grouping, and more. The 2 touchpads allow for easy operation.
Designed for use with iOS devices, you just connect it to a power supply and an iPad and you are ready to go. The iTrack Solo captures and plays back your sound with pristine quality: up to 24 bit/96 resolution when used with a Mac or PC. The unique signal halos let you know when you have a good audio level for recording.
With two mic pres, multiple outputs, and a MIDI/O, the Saffire 6 works great for your home recording setup. Since it is built to be durable, it is also great to take on location for recording. The switchable headphone output allows you to conveniently queue up tracks. With four RCA outputs, outputs, a class-leading digital converter, and high-level headphone output, the Saffire 6 is ideal for the laptop DJ.
Audio Interface Buyer’s Guide
Different Types of Audio Interfaces
There are a few different types of audio interfaces out there and knowing them is important in order to pick the best one.
This is the most common type on the market. They are the most affordable option and easy to use. They range greatly in price so it is easy to find one that fits in your budget.
Since all newer computers and laptops have at least one USB port, this type can easily be swapped between systems. Since they are easily portable, USB types are ideal for mobile studios and DJs who constantly have to set up and dismantle their systems.
They meet the needs for most people, although if you work with multiple inputs and outputs or at high resolutions, they may limit your creativity. Many of them have a limited number of inputs and outputs, and a limited number of channels to and from the computer. But for many people, this option works just fine.
FireWire types are usually more expensive than USB interfaces but offer a faster connection.
They can transfer data to and from several different sources very quickly. This is because they support a higher bandwidth than most USBs and can therefore send data a quicker rate. This results in increased stability, performance, and consistency. They are ideal for handling heavy data traffic efficiently. FireWires have more inputs and outputs and also offer a higher sample rate than many of the USB options.
Another advantage they have is that they stream data while a USB can only pocket data, which results in better synchronization. Unlike USBs, FireWires can send data in both directions at the same time, which greatly increases performance.
Before looking into a FireWire option, make sure your computer has this type of connection. If it does, a FireWire connection will ensure a low-latency, high-bandwidth, plug-and-play setup.
PCI interfaces are physically installed directly into your computer and communicate directly with the motherboard. This results in a fast and efficient bandwidth connection with very little latency. They use cables or a break out box to connect to your audio devices.
Another advantage is that they have the ability to run multiple inputs and outputs. A disadvantage is that they are limited for use only with your computer and won’t work with laptops or mobile devices. This makes them much less portable than the other types.
Although PCIs offer great stability for data transfer, they are much more complicated to set up than the other types.
Before making your purchase, there are some key features that you need to keep in mind. One of the key features we already discussed was the type of connection. Here are some others:
Number Of Inputs And Outputs
The number of inputs and outputs range greatly depending on the type. A simple, inexpensive interface will have one or two inputs. A professional one can have up to 20 or more inputs and outputs. To decide how many inputs and outputs you need, think about what you will be recording. Will you be using a microphone and line-level inputs for a guitar or keyboard? You will need enough inputs to accommodate them. The more inputs you need, the more money you will have to spend.
A solo musician may only need 2-4 inputs and outputs, whereas a songwriting team will want to have at least 4-8 inputs and outputs. To record a band, at least 16 are needed.
Size And Shape
Desktop interfaces are small and can sit on your desk right next to your computer. If you are a beginner, a desktop type is the way to go. They are small, inexpensive, and easy-to-use. They don’t require any special setup, just plug them in and start your recording.
If you need something more advanced, you will want to look for a rack mounted interface. They are larger and mount into a standard size rack unit. They are great for professionals since they have more inputs and outputs, and offer more flexibility. Rack mounted interfaces are more expensive than desktop ones.
This is one of the most important things when recording music. When it takes too long for the sound to be played back to the musician through the headphones, it can be almost impossible to concentrate on singing or playing an instrument. A great interface should have very little to zero latency to avoid this problem.
It can confusing at first when you start your search for an interface, but it is not too difficult when you know what you are looking for.
First decide which type of connection you will need- USB, Fire Wire, or PCI. Be sure to think about what you will be recording so that you know how many inputs and outputs you need. Decide whether you want a desktop or rack mounted type. Since excessive latency is a musician’s nightmare, make sure it has very little latency.
Of course, before making your purchase, keep in mind our list of the top 10 picks since they are the highest rated on the market according to user reviews.
Once you finally make your choice, your can take your recordings to the next level.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com