The 8 best audio interfaces for every budget
Again, inexpensive interfaces can work at rates well over 44.1 kHz / 16 bit, but the question is, how well? If you record the drummer, singer and guitarist simultaneously with eight microphones and record at 44.1 kHz / 16 bit, this means that 352,800 snapshots with 65,536 possible values each are recorded per second. This is an amazing amount of calculations, and cheaper equipment can skew the results a little. In addition, it is quite common today to use 48k / 24 bits (that is, 224!) or higher. And in contrast to the vintage tape machines and tube preamps coveted by sound engineers, inaccuracies in the digital domain offer no “warmth” or “mojo”.
The quality of the conversion must therefore be considered when purchasing an interface. “Nothing is more important for digital audio than data conversion,” writes Dennis Bohn of the pro audio company Rane. But there are other characteristics that need to be considered: How many inputs and outputs? A singer-songwriter or electronic producer who mostly works 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 built-in audio processing? And does it send and receive MIDI? After all, is it “good enough”? Audio specs can induce dizziness, highlight microscopic imperfections in sound that may not even be audible. No converter can break a solid performance of an accomplished arrangement of a well-written song, but an interface still remains the only gateway through which all of your recorded sounds must pass. Sometimes the $ 150 unit is all you need, sometimes just the top-of-the-line device is enough. With that in mind, here are some of the best audio interfaces on the market today.
The budding home recordist lives in a time of unprecedented access: Focusrites 2i2 is not only a high-quality 2-in / 2-out interface, but also comes with free introductory software from Ableton and ProTools as well as Focusrite’s own plug-in suite . As limited as it is, this is all you need if you only want to record a sound or two at a time. The preamps are solid, they have an “Air” button to add some top-end sheen, and they can handle 24-bit resolution at a sample rate of 192 kHz. Best of all, Focusrites are superbly plug-and-play and are now even compatible with iPad Pros. It’s no secret why the Scarlett – affordable, portable, practical, and easy to use – is as popular as it is.
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In the world of pro audio, SSL is one of those names that immediately inspires respect. The company’s consoles have been firmly found in studios since the 1980s and are revered for their sound, workflow, and compression. When they offered an interface for $ 299.99, some were suspicious: was this a win or a legitimate addition to their legendary line? Fortunately, it’s the real deal, with two microphone inputs, stereo outputs (plus two headphone outputs), MIDI compatibility, and an enticing “4K legacy button” that offers nice high-end frequency boost. There are some bundled software and competitive conversion specs too. It might not quite bring that console feel to your bedroom, but it’s a well-built, inexpensive, pint-sized chip from the old block.
Universal Audio’s pedigree is undisputed in the audio field: the preamps and compressors developed in the 1960s are among the most sought-after and most imitated today. But around the turn of the millennium, the company returned to the market with software models of classic devices, followed by their famous Apollo series of interfaces. At first glance, the Apollo Twin doesn’t look that different from the SSL or Focusrite – a pair of mic / line inputs on the back, an additional instrument input on the front and a small addition of outputs. Why does it cost almost four times as much? Well, the quality of the preamps and converters is pretty high, but it’s mostly about the plug-in bundle: UAD plugins are some of the best in the game and add a compelling vintage warmth and power to your home recordings. The catch is, you can’t just buy them individually; You need UAD hardware to run them. The advantage, however, is that the interface handles the CPU load of these plug-ins instead of your tired laptop. And you can record through them and print out the audio just like a real Neve console with a connected Pultec. Your Unison software optimizes your signal chain for the two integrated mic / line inputs – but there is also the much-touted “10- in / 6-out” function: It turns out that you can also use up to eight additional preamps connect the optical input on the back. If you’ve dreamed of traveling the world with a world-class console in your backpack, the Apollo Twin is as close as possible.
More entrances, more options
Despite its quirky name (an acronym for Mark of the Unicorn), MOTU is the workhorse of digital audio. Favorite by countless bedroom makers and small studios, the company’s no-frills devices offer plenty of connectivity and great build quality at a competitive price. If you want a multitrack ensemble but still have to pay rent, the UltraLite mk5 offers you eight crystal clear audio channels with 10 outputs for external processing or multichannel mixing. Like the Apollo Twin, it can accommodate additional inputs that allow up to 18 inputs and 22 outputs simultaneously, and it has an integrated DSP (digital signal processing): EQs, reverbs, compressors. It even sends and receives MIDI. MOTU doesn’t have the same drool factor as some of the competitors, but there’s a reason you see it in the field as often as you do. Intuitive enough for beginners, powerful enough for professionals, and versatile enough for almost any application, these devices are the norm.
If you’re looking for a mixer / interface combo, Soundcraft offers a range of ten to twenty-two inputs that let you follow familiar channel strips right on your computer. The dual functionality of these devices is tempting: if you need a mixer for a gig, you’re good to go. In the meantime, if you’d rather track through analog preamps and EQs than meticulously dial in plugins, you can close your eyes and turn the control until it sounds right. While its sampling frequencies aren’t as high as some of its counterparts – it “only” goes up to 48k, which let’s face it is more than enough for most applications – the ease of use and workflow could inspire you to create better music .
On the surface, the RME Fireface doesn’t seem to offer much more than the MOTU. Why does it cost nearly $ 1,000 more? Enjoy all these digital connectivity: USB 2.0, MIDI in & out, ADAT in & out, AES / EBU, SPDIF as well as RME’s signature DURec (with which you can record audio directly to a USB stick without a computer) – which Fireface surpasses its competitors with a total of 20 simultaneous inputs and outputs. But it’s also worth noting how good the device’s built-in mic preamps are. Clean, transparent, and built to last, the Fireface has attracted a loyal following. If you have the money to spend, rest assured that if your recording stinks, it’s not your interface.
The Aurora (s) from Lynx makes even the smartest of her colleagues look picky. This is because it only does one thing, but it does it extraordinarily well. Note that Lynx doesn’t even refer to it as an interface, but rather as an “AD / DA converter”. This box takes whatever you feed and transforms it with as much accuracy and transparency as you can ask. It doesn’t have microphone inputs – you’ll need to plug in your own mixer. It doesn’t send MIDI clock to your instruments. There is no free software. Just 16 inputs and 16 outputs of pure conversion that you can absolutely trust. For many it may be an exaggeration. But if you’re already obsessed with your guitar pickups, amp settings, drum tuning, preamps, room acoustics, mic placement, and room acoustics, it might be time for a Lynx.
$ 6,000 for eight inputs and eight outputs may seem like a lot, but considering Burl’s impeccable Class A specs and transistors on each input, it makes sense. Burl products all strive for the performance and warmth of classic studios, with flawless Neve consoles running on perfectly calibrated Studer tape machines. In contrast to its peers, the Mothership sends your sound over an analog signal path that changes its character when your signal level increases. Similar to the Lynx, this box only functions as a converter, but while the Lynx guarantees flawless clarity, the Burl promises beauty.