If you’re serious about making music, an audio interface is a necessity, and these top 12 USB audio interfaces in 2022 will help you narrow down the right choices for you.
An audio interface converts digital audio data from your computer into analog data that speakers or headphones can produce. Likewise, it converts analog data from a microphone, instrument (electric guitar, violin), or analog connections (tape players, outboard gear) into digital data that a computer can read.
What Makes An Audio Interface Good?
Having high-quality digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters makes an audio interface good. Similarly, if you’re looking to use microphones, using an audio interface with a good built-in preamp and phantom power is essential. A good preamp has a low amount of noise and delivers flat audio.
Is An Audio Interface Necessary?
If you’re serious about music production, an audio interface is necessary to ensure quality audio conversion, recording, and better computer performance. However, it’s also possible to produce music without it as it doesn’t play any role in audio rendering, although you might face performance throttling.
What’s The Difference Between USB and Thunderbolt?
Generally, a thunderbolt connection is faster than a USB connection. However, faster speed isn’t essential for audio interfaces, making the difference irrelevant. Furthermore, Thunderbolt is always present on Mac computers, while older and even some newer PCs only have USB ports, making USB more common.
Will An Audio Interface Do The Job Of DAC/Amp?
An audio interface will do the job of a digital-to-audio converter (DAC). However, it doesn’t function as an audio amplifier, except for headphones if it has a headphone output. Further, an audio interface’s headphone amp may not be adequate for heavier (200 Ω+) or multiple headphones.
Top 12 USB Audio Interfaces 2022 (On Any Budget)
1. Solid State Logic SSL 2+ (Most Efficient)
Thanks to its decades of history in manufacturing consoles and gear, Solid State Logic needs no introduction to anyone interested in audio recording.
Many people even purchase SSL consoles or preamp emulation plugins to achieve their outstanding sonic style. While these undoubtedly help you add life to digital sounds, there’s nothing like using the real thing while recording audio. Hence, the SSL2+ audio interface equips you with the brand’s years of research and experience in one convenient, affordable package.
SSL2+ features a slanted body that makes operating it on a desk comfortable. It showcases all the controls on the top panel, where you’ll also find input meters to help you find the perfect amount of input gain. Similarly, a large knob lets you control the output volume. The rear end of the audio interface holds all the input and output ports.
- Audio Ins & Outs
SSL2+ provides two input channels, each featuring an XLR + ¼” TRS combo port. Further, the interface lets you switch between microphone, line, and Hi-Z modes. The Hi-Z mode enables high impedance input appropriate for guitars or high-impedance microphones, which are fairly uncommon. Of course, you can also find a switch to enable a +48V phantom power supply for your condenser mics.
Next, you’ll find four main outputs in total. While all four of them have an RCA port, the first two also provide ¼” TRS alternatives. These are handy when you don’t have multiple monitor speaker cables or adaptors lying around. However, I suggest not using both the RCA and TRS ports of the first two outputs simultaneously, as that will lower the output power.
SSL2+ provides two headphone outputs with individual volume control. You’ll find both the outputs on the back panel of the interface, which, admittedly, is a little cumbersome. However, the headphone outputs provide plenty of current to drive just about any professional headphones well. So, it’s an excellent audio interface for studios, where you might need to monitor alongside a vocalist.
- 4K In Audio?
Each of the input channels provides a Legacy 4K button, which enables an electric circuit inside the interface to add the character of a renowned SSL 4000 series console. First, it boosts the high frequencies, introducing some “air” into the input source. Next, it adds subtle harmonic saturation, akin to the sweet distortion you hear in analog gear.
The audio interface provides 5-pin MIDI input and output. While most MIDI controllers and keyboards have now transitioned to USB, you might still have a few hardware instruments with 5-pin MIDI ports. With the SSL2+ audio interface, you can connect any legacy hardware straight to your computer without bothering with MIDI-to-USB converters.
Character & Sound:
SSL2+ provides pristine audio quality alongside an option to enable an analog stage. So, if you are interested in analog sound, this audio interface allows you to add a little analog mojo to your vocals or guitars. Furthermore, thanks to the low Equivalent Input Noise (EIN) of only -130.5dB, you can expect noiseless audio recordings even with added gain.
Solid State Logic is a well-known manufacturer that has shaped the history of audio recording and mixing technology for decades. So, their SSL2+ audio interface provides the same outstanding quality that has become synonymous with their brand at a surprisingly affordable price. You’ll receive low-noise inputs, innovative analog circuitry, two headphone outputs, and excellent build quality. Furthermore, the monitor mix knob lets you dial the exact amount of direct input you want to hear while performing.
There is hardly any significant issue with this audio interface, even when taking its driver software into account. So, a lot of the criticisms come from a subjective standpoint. For example, when most of the instruments nowadays are digital, having dedicated analog circuitry for the few instruments that we record live may feel pretentious. Similarly, you might prefer TRS ports for all outputs instead of the RCAs.
I recommend the SSL2+ audio interface for general home studios and low-to-mid level commercial studios. It’s excellent for recording vocals and guitars. However, if you only produce music using MIDI instruments, owning an audio interface with analog circuitry may be a waste of money.
2. Universal Audio Volt 276 (Budget Analog Sound)
Universal Audio’s entry-level audio interface gives you a taste of hardware processing at a moderate price.
Most of Universal Audio’s audio interfaces have been dedicated to high-end professional gear with innovative features ideal for commercial studios. However, the Volt audio interface series marks an interesting change in the brand’s strategy. It leaves out the well-known DSP processing that Universal Audio is famous for and adds something else.
Volt 276 features a built-in 1176-derived compressor alongside a 610-style preamp, both of which are milestones in audio recording and mixing. The interface sports a retro, anodized metal build with wooden panels on the sides. Further, the front edge features the inputs and the headphone output, whereas the rear end holds the main outputs. The top panel features large knobs to control the input gain and the output volume alongside other switches.
- Audio Connections
Once you’ve connected the audio interface to your computer via USB and installed the drivers, it’s ready to start recording and playing. Volt 276 provides two audio inputs via the XLR + ¼” TRS combo ports on the front panel. Similarly, you’ll also find a 48V phantom power switch, which enables the power supply only for the XLR connections. And you can disable the Inst switches to use the inputs as line inputs.
Furthermore, you’ll find a pair of TRS outputs on the back of the device. You will require an adaptor or another set of cables if you need other types of outputs. And the front end of the interface provides a TRS headphone connection with separate volume control. Also, the built-in headphone amp is powerful enough to drive 250Ω headphones.
- MIDI Connections
Volt 276 provides 5-pin MIDI input and output ports on the back of the interface. While you will likely use USB for most of your MIDI connections, Volt 276 is designed as a “collaborator’s audio interface.” So, you’ll likely use devices like laptops or iPads, both of which have a limited number of USB connections. So, having 5-pin ports come in handy.
If you’ve been producing music for a while, chances are you’ve come across a UREI 1176 compressor emulation. It’s known for adding punch to drums and clarity to vocals and guitars. So, Volt 276 features an onboard true analog compressor based on the 1176 model. And while the interface doesn’t offer in-depth controls, you can set the compressor to Vocals, Guitars, and Fast modes.
Similarly, the audio interface features a Vintage button on each input channel that activates the proprietary 610-based preamp. It adds tube-like saturation and clipping that sounds particularly awesome on guitars and vocals. For example, you could enable the Vintage switch while tracking electric guitars to make it sound thicker even when using a guitar amp simulation.
Character & Sound:
Universal Audio depicts professional quality when it comes to audio recording, and Volt 276 continues the tradition. From pristine, quiet audio recordings to colored, punchy sounds, this audio interface can do it all. The Vintage mode lets you add some mild saturation to the mid-frequencies with a push of a button. Furthermore, the 1176 compressor sounds startlingly similar to the original model, albeit with limited controls.
UA Volt 276 provides plenty of value for your price with its solid build, excellent preamps with 610-emulation modes, and onboard 1176 compressors. Furthermore, you’ll find 5-pin MIDI inputs and outputs, which are essential if you’re using the device with an iPhone or iPad. Overall, it’s an excellent audio interface that you won’t regret purchasing.
While having onboard preamp-coloration and compressor is great, it may limit the possibilities of mixing in your DAW. For example, if your drums are already pretty compressed, you won’t have any way to remove the compression later on. Of course, you can turn the compressor off, but then, it would make more sense to buy a cheaper gear with a similar number of inputs. So, make sure the optional coloration and compressors are something you wish to have before purchasing Volt 276.
UA Volt 276 is excellent for home studios and traveling. It offers exciting features that make audio recording fun and intuitive, especially since the processing happens before recording. However, if you are looking for clean, uncolored audio recording only, I recommend selecting something else.
3. Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD (Best Budget Interface)
Behringer is renowned and beloved for manufacturing incredibly affordable gear that equips beginners and budget-conscious musicians for every step of music production.
And after acquiring the MIDAS preamp manufacturers, the brand’s recording audio quality has never been better.
U-Phoria UMC204HD features a solid, tank-like metal body with the input ports and most of the controls on the front panel. Furthermore, the panel features a clip and signal input LED indicator for each channel. However, the plentiful features on the interface have forced a small-sized main output volume control. Still, plenty of other features make up for the minor compromise:
- Dual Channels
As the name suggests, the audio interface provides two inputs and four outputs. Both the inputs have combo XLR + ¼” TRS ports. And you can set each input channel to line or instrument level (MIDAS preamp on) as needed. Furthermore, a pad switch reduces the input level to help protect your interface against loud input sources. Finally, you can enable the 48V phantom power supply on the rear panel for your condenser mics.
Likewise, U-Phoria UMC204HD features four outputs on the rear panel. However, you’ll find two sets of ¼” TRS ports and RCA ports. So, you can connect either type of cable without using an adaptor or changing the cable. Similarly, the front panel sports a headphone output with dedicated volume control.
U-Phoria UMC204D allows you to listen to your input signal alongside your DAW’s audio with zero latency using the direct monitoring feature. Furthermore, you can adjust the mix level between the input signal and the USB audio. And you can set the input channels to play in stereo or in mono, where the latter is useful for monitoring vocals or guitars.
- MIDI Connectivity
Surprisingly, Behringer has managed to squeeze in 5-pin MIDI input and output ports on this already feature-rich budget audio interface. So, you could actually connect traditional MIDI keyboards and instruments to this audio interface that barely costs higher than a decent MIDI-to-USB converter!
Character & Sound:
Thanks to the MIDAS preamps, Uphoria UMC204HD sounds way higher quality than its price would make you believe. Like most audio interfaces nowadays, it supports 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. It has an impressive EIN of -129dBA and a decent dynamic range of 110dBA. Overall, it’s an excellent all-around audio solution.
The most impressive thing about this audio interface is its overall quality which far exceeds its price. You receive two inputs and four outputs with both TRS and RCA ports. Furthermore, the direct monitoring feature allows you to mix the amount to your needs and even merge the input channels to mono.
There are no objective disadvantages of this audio interface, especially considering the price. I do wish that Behringer had somehow managed to make the front panel a little less cluttered or used a different design altogether. However, that is hardly even worth calling an issue.
U-Phoria UMC204HD provides surprisingly high audio quality, making it an excellent choice for musicians on a budget and even others. Its solid build makes it ideal for traveling musicians as well. However, it doesn’t support any mobile devices like iPads or Android tablets.
4. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen (Recommended All-rounder)
Audio interfaces have become more and more affordable while the quality has steadily gone up. The second generation of the Focusrite Scarlett interface was a clear example of that.
However, with the release of the third generation, the quality went up yet again. Hence, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is now one of the best audio interfaces you could buy that doesn’t break the bank.
Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen provides a metal body with a hard-plastic front panel. You’ll find all the controls and inputs on the front while the rear holds the outputs. The clear improvement in the build quality is that the knobs now feel vastly sturdier and more expensive than the second generation. Let’s check out what else the interface has to offer:
- Two Ins & Outs
Scarlett 2i2 provides two inputs, each featuring an XLR + ¼” TRS combo port that allows you to connect both mics and instruments easily. Furthermore, you’ll find a 48V phantom power switch around the top right of the front panel. It enables the power supply for both XLR inputs. And the Inst button below each channel’s input gain lets you enable a high-gain input suitable for condenser mics and guitars.
Similarly, you’ll find two TRS outputs on the back of the audio interface. They feel excellent when plugging in and out, ensuring sturdy connections. Furthermore, you’ll find a TRS headphone output with a dedicated volume knob on the front panel. This headphone output supports headphones with up to around 200Ω impedance. So, if you plug in something with more impedance (like Beyerdynamic DT990 Po with 250Ω impedance), the output may not be loud enough, especially when recording vocals.
Many studies have relied on Focusrite preamps and outboard gear for decades. So, it’s no surprise that their audio interface offers low noise and low distortion preamps alongside an Air switch for each input channel. The Air feature adds a high-frequency boost and some mild saturation to enhance the clarity of your recordings. While you could replicate similar effects in your DAW, the built-in feature in Scarlett 2i2 sure is welcome in my book.
- Direct Monitoring
Scarlett 2i2 offers a Direct Monitor switch that lets you switch between two modes of direct monitoring: mono and stereo. The mono mode centers both the input signals, which is excellent for using microphones or guitars. However, the stereo mode pans the first input channel to the left and the second to the right. This mode is suited to monitoring stereo sources like synths or keyboards. Furthermore, while this audio interface doesn’t provide a volume control or mix for direct monitoring, you can find the feature in the more advanced Scarlett interfaces like the 4i4.
Character & Sound:
Overall, this audio interface’s input and output provide excellent, transparent results. The input preamps ensure quiet recordings with an EIN of less than 128dBu. However, enabling the Air button adds a noticeable increase in high frequencies and a slight, negligible increase in noise. It works well on vocals, and it makes the guitars like Fender Stratocaster sound much brighter. You could also use it to open up overly warm neck pickups.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is an excellent audio interface that is affordable and easy to use. It provides outstanding preamps with an Air feature. Furthermore, it features direct monitoring, which, despite not having a mix control, is seldom available at this price range.
At this price point, I couldn’t fault this audio interface for what it is. However, if you happen to use a pair of headphones with more than 200Ω impedance, you might find this audio interface slightly less loud than others. Still, it provides plenty of volume for mixing. So, you could switch to lighter headphones while recording to have plenty of loudness available.
Scarlett 2i2 is an excellent all-rounder audio interface that perfectly covers a home studio’s needs. Similarly, the strong metal body makes it ideal for traveling too. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for commercial studios where you might need multiple headphone outputs or 5-pin MIDI connections.
5. MOTU M2 (All-rounder)
The entry-level audio interface by MOTU provides an incredible amount of value for its price.
If you have been researching audio interfaces for a long time, a mere glance at the specs of this audio interface shows its quality. It features a respectable ESS Sabre32 Ultra™ DAC part, capable of clean audio outputs. Furthermore, the headphone amp is quite surprisingly good.
However, what about the inputs? Well, MOTU M2 hasn’t skimped there either with low-noise and high-dynamic-range inputs. Similarly, the metal body and color LCD metering make the M2 one of the sleekest-looking audio interfaces. Let’s check out its features in more depth.
- Audio Connections
MOTU M2 provides two XLR + ¼” TRS combo ports for its two input channels. You can connect your guitar via the Hi-Z input and mics via the XLR jacks. Of course, you’ll also find a built-in 48V phantom power supply essential for most condenser microphones. Also, you can enable the phantom power for each input channel separately, which is handy when using the XLR ports unconventionally.
Likewise, you’ll find two outputs in total. However, they share a pair of ¼” TRS and RCA ports. So, you can connect either type of jack to the audio interface and connect it to your monitor speakers. Note that using them simultaneously will result in lowered volume. Similarly, the audio interface provides a headphone output with dedicated volume control on the front panel. Despite the modest price of the interface, the onboard headphone amp provides plenty of power for just about any type of headphones.
- MIDI Connections
Alongside audio outputs, you’ll also find 5-point MIDI input and output ports on the back of this audio interface. You can use these to connect legacy MIDI hardware like keyboards and synths to your computer without latency. Of course, you will need to ensure a small buffer size to avoid latency.
- Meters & Monitoring
MOTU M2 sports a gorgeous LCD screen on the front panel showing the input and output peaks. Apart from the esthetic value, these allow you to set the input gains without second-guessing. Furthermore, they are more user-friendly compared to the single LED metering you find on many competing interfaces.
Similarly, another feature that helps you nail your audio recordings is the direct monitoring button per channel. It allows you to monitor each input channel separately. However, direct monitoring happens in mono for each channel. So, it’s particularly suited to monitoring vocals, guitars, etc.
Character & Sound:
MOTU M2 provides surprisingly good quality converters for its price. The statement also extends to the headphone amp, which allows you to drive even high-impedance headphones with ease. Furthermore, with only -129dBu of EIN and a fairly impressive 115dB of dynamic range, the audio interface provides plenty of headroom for clean recordings. Overall, it will provide you with pristine, transparent audio recordings.
MOTU M2 is an excellent audio interface that covers all the typical needs of most music producers. It provides good preamps that offer clean recordings and a notable DAC chip that also drives the headphone output. So, it ensures the best possible audio quality at this price range. Furthermore, its metal body and sleek LCD metering improve the user experience.
The amount of value this audio interface provides is extraordinary. So, it required some dedicated nitpicking to think of cons. However, compared to other audio interfaces at this price range, I’d have loved to see a mono/stereo switch for the direct monitoring and a blend knob.
MOTU M2 is ideal for a home studio, especially for those who own older MIDI instruments. Similarly, it’s also excellent for beginners as the LCD metering allows you to set the input gain intuitively. However, I wouldn’t recommend it if you wish to run a commercial studio as you might require multiple headphone outputs.
6. Tascam US-4x4HR (Budget Connectivity)
Tascam’s affordable but efficient series of audio interfaces offer an ideal solution for the small-scale studio.
While having two inputs and outputs covers most of your needs when recording at your home studio, you’ll often find yourself wishing for a couple more to keep a keyboard or another guitar connected. Similarly, you might have two sets of speakers—one for monitoring and another for reference. With Tascam US-4x4HR’s four inputs and outputs, you can incorporate all of these with no fuss.
The minimalistic design of the interface keeps the operation straightforward. You’ll find all of the inputs and their controls on the front panel. Conversely, the rear panel holds the main outputs and the rest of the connectivity. And although your computer should power the audio interface, you can use the extra 12V input to ensure ample power when using the phantom power. It’s also essential to use the device with an iPad or iPhone.
Tascam US-4x4HR provides four inputs and outputs. Each input features a preamp, an XLR, and a TRS line-input port. However, only the first two input channels provide Hi-Z TRS ports for guitars; the last two inputs are merely line inputs. Furthermore, you can enable the 48V phantom power supply for all of the input channels with a switch.
The rear panel holds the four output ports. They are all balanced TRS ports. Furthermore, you’ll find two headphone outputs on the front panel. These provide fairly enough power to drive most general headphones. However, the interface only provides one volume knob for both of these headphone outputs.
- MIDI Connection
The audio interface allows you to connect any of your legacy MIDI controllers or instruments straight to the gadget. It provides 5-pin MIDI input and output ports on the rear panel. And since the interface is slightly more substantial than a typical two-input home studio interface, it makes sense to have MIDI connectivity on this device.
- Direct Monitoring
While most audio interfaces nowadays offer direct monitoring, many skip a crucial feature: monitor mix. Fortunately, Tascam US-4x4HR allows you to mix between your audio inputs and DAW’s signal using a nifty knob on the front panel. You can blend how much of your DAW you want to hear while recording your vocals or instruments without constantly switching between the DAW’s main volume and the audio interface’s volume.
Tascam US-4x4HR provides two LEDs per input channel. The first is the signal input indicator, which lights up green when your interface receives an audio signal above -32dBFS. Similarly, the peak indicator lights up red when signals get too hot and reach -1dBFS or higher. If the peak indicators light up, you should turn down the input gain for that channel.
Character & Sound:
Tascam has been manufacturing recording equipment for decades, and even their portable recording gear provides excellent results. So, it’s no surprise that despite the modest price, Tascam US-4x4HR provides transparent and noise-free results. It has an EIN of -128dBu, which is outstanding, and a dynamic range of 110dB. Overall, it should pose no objective issues when it comes to recording audio.
The biggest advantage of this audio interface is its unbelievably affordable price. It offers four inputs with preamps, two headphone outputs, and 5-pin MIDI ports! Many similarly-priced or even costlier interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 offer four inputs but only two preamps and one headphone out. So, what you’re getting for the investment is undoubtedly a lot of value.
Objectively, it’s difficult to criticize a product offering so much value at this price range. However, there are a few minor complaints. For example, the 12V power supply can be cumbersome as it needs to be powered before connecting the interface to your computer. Similarly, I’m not too keen on the tiny knobs for everything from the input gain to the master volume. Further, it only offers one volume control for both headphone outputs, although it’s rare to have two headphone outputs at this price range in the first place!
Tascam US-4x4HR is an ideal audio interface if you are on a budget but require more than two inputs and outputs. There aren’t many other audio interfaces at this price range offering four preamps and two headphone outputs. So, Tascam deserves praise for providing this excellent piece of gear accessible to everyone.
7. M-Audio AIR 192|6 (Most Aesthetic)
M-Audio hardly needs any introduction in the audio interface market, and its AIR series has seen plenty of success thanks to its quality sound.
M-Audio AIR 192|6 is a desktop-format audio interface with all the controls on the slanted top panel. It features a large master volume knob right around the middle of the panel, which I find extremely comfortable. Similarly, you’ll find most of the audio ports on the rear panel. However, M-Audio has placed the headphone and instrument ports on the front panel, which are thoughtful design choices for sure.
- Two Channels
M-Audio AIR 192|6 provides two inputs and outputs. However, you’ll find the two Hi-Z ¼” TRS instrument inputs on the front panel, whereas the rear panel holds two combo mic XLR + ¼” TRS line inputs. You can enable a 48V phantom power supply for both the mic inputs using a switch on the front panel.
Similarly, you’ll find a pair of ¼” TRS output ports on the back panel. These provide balanced output for your monitor speakers. Likewise, you’ll find a headphone output on the front panel. And you’ll find the headphone volume control on the top panel.
The audio interface provides 5-pin MIDI input and output ports on the back panel. It’s a rare feature on an audio interface with merely two inputs, especially at this low price. So, it adds extra value to this model if you own a piece of legacy MIDI hardware.
M-Audio AIR 192|6 provides direct monitoring with a mix knob. You can change the balance between your input signals and the USB audio from your computer. And as with MIDI connectivity, this feature is also rare on an affordable audio interface with only two inputs. Furthermore, the four-LED input meters show various levels of input and clipping. It helps you send the proper level of input gain visually.
Character & Sound:
M-Audio AIR 192|6 employs proprietary Crystal™ preamps to ensure transparent, noise-free audio recordings. The preamps have an EIN of -128dBA, which is excellent. And the dynamic range is a decent 104dBA with 55dB of gain range, which should provide enough headroom for most purposes.
This audio interface provides impressive features other than the preamps at a remarkably low price. It provides separate Hi-Z guitar/instrument inputs on the front panel, making them very accessible. Similarly, you’ll find combo jacks with XLR and line-level TRS inputs on the rear. Furthermore, it features MIDI connectivity, direct monitoring with mixing, and a gorgeous build design with a large, satisfying volume knob.
While M-Audio AIR 192|6 provides an impressive number of features that make user interaction and experience smoother, I do find that the preamps could be slightly better. It sounds great on almost all recordings, but I prefer audio interfaces with a dynamic range of at least 110dBA and an EIN of around 128dBA or below. Still, the 104dBA dynamic range shouldn’t be a noticeable issue in most cases, especially considering the price.
The M-Audio AIR 192|6 is an excellent audio interface for those looking for more features at a pocket-friendly budget. I also admire its build design, which improves your home studio’s aesthetics a lot. Similarly, you might find it ideal for traveling as well. However, note that the device doesn’t work with iPad/iPhone or Android devices.
8. SPL Marc One (Best Monitor Control)
If you’re serious about your listening experience when producing music on a computer, check this product out.
Marc One is a monitor controller with a built-in audio interface, rather than the other way around. It prioritizes providing a high-quality listening experience with more control. Furthermore, it offers multiple modes of monitoring and innovative features for headphone monitoring. However, note that the interface only allows line inputs. So, you cannot record microphones or guitars without a dedicated preamp.
- Quality Ins & Outs
You’ll find two analog inputs, a pair of ¼” TS and another of balanced ¼” TRS ports. Neither of these features a built-in preamp. So, you can only use them with pre-amplified audio signals from synths, players, mixers, or microphone preamps. Still, the audio-to-digital converter operates at up to 32-bit and a 768 kHz sampling rate.
Similarly, you’ll find three sets of outputs on this device. The first two sets are for monitor speakers. However, the “A” set provides two ports for each speaker plus a sub-woofer port. Conversely, the “B” set provides two ports for the speakers only. And finally, the third set is a pair of line outputs that you could connect to mixers or other hardware.
- Monitoring Features
The device provides three modes of monitoring: stereo, mono, and reversed stereo. The mono switch is helpful when you need to check your mix for mono compatibility. Similarly, the device features direct monitoring. It also features a monitor mixing knob that allows you to mix the input signal with your USB signal (DAW).
Furthermore, you can switch between the speaker sets, A and B, easily with a switch on the front panel. It allows you to listen and compare the two reference speakers while you’re mixing and mastering. So, it’s an important feature for all serious mixing and mastering engineers.
- Headphone Output
And finally, the headphone output provides plenty of power to drive even the most demanding headphones thanks to its powerful class AB headphone amplifier. Furthermore, it provides a Crossfeed knob, which lets you mix the channels of your headphone output. This feature simulates the cross-feeding that happens when you use speakers in a room. Likewise, you can also change the angle of the “virtual speakers.”
Character & Sound:
Marc One offers one of the most transparent and high-quality AD/DA converters available today. So, both recording and playing via this interface ensure outstanding quality. Furthermore, the crossfeed control on the headphone output allows you to simulate speakers while you’re working with cans. It’s handy when you don’t have open-back headphones or want the open-backs to feel even more open.
Marc One provides excellent quality outputs and inputs at a fairly affordable price for this type of product. It provides an easy way to connect two pairs of speakers and switch between them easily. Similarly, the subwoofer output for the first set of speakers allows you to get extended bass easily and accurately. Further, the headphone crossfeed is an innovative solution for the static stereo image of headphones.
Judging the device for what it is, you get a high-quality audio system with Marc One. I could see complaints about the lack of analog traits in the converters or the lack of a subwoofer input for both speaker pairs. However, overall, it’s an excellent monitor controller and audio interface with a well-built body.
Marc One is ideal if you’re looking for a high-quality AD/DA converter, especially for a studio with multiple pairs of monitor speakers. It offers a sampling rate up to 768 kHz and works at 32-bit depth. However, I don’t recommend it if you are merely looking for a standard audio interface that features a built-in preamp. So, it’s not a good choice for home studios.
9. Steinberg UR22C (Best For Traveling & Performance)
Everyone knows Steinberg thanks to their Cubase/Nuendo DAW, and their audio interfaces have also steadily gained popularity.
Steinberg UR22C is a two-channel audio interface that functions via USB 3 connectivity. It features an all-metal body with the inputs and controls on the front panel and the outputs on the back. All of the knobs feel sturdy and so do the ports, making the audio interface feel very high-quality. Let’s check out what it offers:
- Two Channels
You’ll find two combo XLR + ¼” TRS input ports on the front panel that support 32-bit signal processing. Along with the gain controls, you’ll also find a peak indicator LED that lights up when the signal is too hot for each channel on this panel. Similarly, you can enable a 48V phantom power supply for both inputs.
The audio interface provides two ¼” TRS outputs on the rear panel that you can use to connect your monitor speakers. Similarly, you’ll find a headphone output with a dedicated volume knob on the front panel. The built-in headphone amp is fairly powerful and drives high-impedance headphones quite well.
- Direct Monitoring
The audio interface allows you to listen to your input signals mixed with your USB audio (DAW). Furthermore, you can adjust the mix amount of the direct monitoring signal. Similarly, the Mono button next to the blend knob pans the two input channels to the center. This feature is important because the input channels are usually set on either side of the stereo channel, which is ideal for listening to stereo sources like synths or keyboards. However, mono monitoring is essential when recording vocals or guitars.
Furthermore, it features DSP-supported monitoring with REV-X Hall reverb, a channel strip, and a guitar amp, which are included as VST 3 and AU plugins. These allow you to listen to processed audio with zero latency and could also be useful for live performance.
- MIDI Connectivity
The rear panel sports 5-pin MIDI input and output ports, which allow you to connect old MIDI controllers or instruments to your audio interface easily. So, it’s a plus point if you are looking for backward compatibility with your older gear, especially for iPads, as Steinberg UR22C supports them.
Character & Sound:
Steinberg UR22C features two Class-A D-PRE preamps. They offer clean, transparent audio recordings with little noise. Similarly, the built-in DSP engine allows you to listen to the processed sound as you record. And if you want to replicate the effect, you can use the VST/AU version of the plugins to recreate the sound inside your DAW.
Steinberg UR22C offers a lot of value for investment. It uses USB 3.0 connection, which allows it to power its components easily. However, should you only have a USB 2.0 connection on your PC, you can use an optional power supply to help ensure stability. Furthermore, the audio interface offers direct monitoring with three Yamaha DSP effect processors built into the device, something almost never found on budget interfaces. Furthermore, it’s one of the only two-channel interfaces that support mono direct monitoring alongside mix level control.
Some people have faced issues with the USB 3 connection, although most of it is solved using the latest drivers and OS. However, another noticeable issue is that the headphone amp isn’t quite loud enough to drive high-impedance headphones well. It’s only a possible issue while recording high vocals, though. Also, I wasn’t a fan of Steinberg placing the 48V phantom power switch on the rear panel instead of the front.
The audio interface is very compact and perfect for traveling music producers and even light live performing. I also recommend it for home studios where you don’t need too many inputs or outputs.
10. PreSonus Studio 1824c (Budget-Friendly Commercial Studio Interface)
PreSonus has developed a variety of audio interfaces and mixers dedicated to recording one humble input to an entire band simultaneously.
The brand’s decades of experience have helped make the Studio series of audio interfaces ensure a model of audio interface suitable for everyone’s needs. Hence, the rack-mounted Studio 1824c focuses on commercial studios that record small bands with multiple mics. Almost all of the connectivity is on the rear panel, whereas the front panel sports the input gains, output volumes, headphone outputs, and a gorgeous set of inputs and output meters.
- Inputs & Preamps
Running on a USB 2.0 connection, PreSonus Studio 1824c features eighteen inputs in total. However, only eight of them feature an XMAX Class A mic preamp. Among these, the two inputs on the front panel feature a mic, instrument, and line input options. Conversely, the remaining six inputs on the back feature mic and line input options. All of these feature a 48V phantom power supply.
Similarly, you’ll find an ADAT optical connection for eight more inputs. However, the ADAT input connections drop to four if you use a 96 kHz sample rate. Likewise, you’ll find two more inputs in the S/PDIF digital connection. Furthermore, a 192 kHz sample rate reduces the total input count to eight.
- Twenty Outputs
Of the twenty total outputs on this audio interface, you’ll find eight line outputs and two main outputs on the rear panel via balanced ¼” TRS ports. Next, there are eight output channels of the ADAT Optical connection and two more outputs via the S/PDIF connection. Furthermore, the sample rate limitations I mentioned in the previous section still apply here.
PreSonus Studio 1824c provides two headphone outputs on the front panel. Each provides a dedicated volume knob. Furthermore, the built-in headphone amps support all kinds of studio headphones (32 to 600Ω) and are loud enough for any type of use. So, the audio interface is excellent to provide an extra pair of headphones while recording. Although, you’ll likely use the line outputs for the numerous band members when recording.
The audio interface provides ten 8-LED level meters on the front panel that shows the peaks of the eight mic inputs and the main stereo outputs. They allow you to intuitively set the input gains for your mic preamps without switching between the interface and your DAW.
- Monitoring Mixes
The audio interface allows you to create up to four monitoring mixes with DSP effects. Each monitoring mix allows you to monitor various input channels blended with your DAW’s output. Furthermore, you can route each mix into separate output channels. This feature is excellent for recording multiple performers, where you want each performer to listen to a custom mix so that they can focus on what’s important.
- MIDI I/O
The audio interface provides 5-pin MIDI input and output ports on the rear panel. They are essential for working with legacy MIDI hardware. And they couple well with the line output’s DC coupling to provide control voltage to external analog equipment. You can use this feature with any outboard gear like synths or effect racks.
Character & Sound:
I’ve always found PreSonus’ audio interfaces and mixers remarkably transparent and noise-free. And the Studio 1820c model is no different. The high-voltage XMAX preamps ensure a respectable dynamic range of 110dBA and an excellent -128 dBA EIN. Furthermore, the headphone outputs are very powerful and can easily drive professional headphones like the DT990 Pro. So, the audio interface is more than well-equipped to take care of your basic sonic needs.
PreSonus Studio 1824c provides eighteen inputs and twenty outputs in total, although you’ll only find eight analog ins and outs. Still, for most general studios, there are plenty of mic preamps and outputs to ensure smooth operation. And these preamps are rather impressive, and so are the built-in headphone amps. And finally, the interface provides MIDI connectivity. All of these features come at a very reasonable price.
A bonus is the PreSonus Studio One Artist license, which allows you to record audio in unlimited tracks and use the built-in and purchased PreSonus virtual instruments (no VST support).
For its price, the audio interface provides plenty of value. However, you could have a few specific needs that are better covered in other similar interfaces. For example, PreSonus Studio 1824c doesn’t allow you to switch between two pairs of monitor speakers as easily as, say, the Focusrite 18i20. Similarly, a few PC users have run into clicks and pops while using the interface. However, I find that the latest Windows 10/11 and the latest drivers work very well. Still, even if you run into issues, both Sweetwater and Thomann (links above) provide support to help you out!
PreSonus Studio 1824c is excellent for medium-sized studios and home studios, where you have to record multiple performers at once. You could also use it to record instruments like drums and percussions with multiple mics. However, it may be overkill if you are a solo artist or a small studio that doesn’t require multiple inputs and outputs.
11. RME Fireface UFX+ (Recommended High-End Interface)
With the experience of having built many audio interfaces of stellar quality for decades, RME showcases an achievement.
Fireface UFX+ is RME’s flagship audio interface with an extensive level of connectivity. Furthermore, the ultra-fast USB 3 and Thunderbolt connections allow the interface to reach incredibly low latency levels while still maintaining 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. Likewise, the all-metal body showcases all of the controls on the front panel, with most of the connectivity on the rear. And you’ll find an LED display showing detailed, albeit slightly congested, meters for the inputs and outputs.
Fireface UFX+ offers extensive connectivity with the following supported formats: USB 2/3, Thunderbolt, ADAT, MADI, AES, S/PDIF, and analog. And with twelve analog inputs, sixteen ADAT, two AES, and sixty-four MADI, you’ll find a total of ninety-four inputs on this audio interface! However, only four of these offer XLR + ¼” TRS ports with a preamp each.
Likewise, the audio interface provides two XLR outputs, six TRS lineouts, and four headphone outputs. Of course, the ADAT, AES, and MADI outputs add the total output count to ninety-four.
- TotalMix FX
The TotalMix FX software allows you to create complete mixes using the DSP effects built into this audio interface. You can create an unlimited number of routings and mixes. And you can add EQ, Dynamics, Reverb, and Delay plugins for any output. So, it could work as a virtual mixer, ideal for both music production and live performance.
DURec is a digital recorder for all inputs and outputs of the Fireface UFX+ that records on either USB flash drives or hard drives with up to two TB capacity. And as it’s a standalone feature that doesn’t require a computer, it becomes a powerful tool for live performances, rehearsals, jamming, and composing music live.
- MIDI Connection
As you’d expect from an audio interface at this price level, Fireface UFX+ provides two sets of 5-pin MIDI input and output ports. So, you could connect up to two legacy MIDI instruments or controllers simultaneously to this audio interface, assuming you use up both the input and output of each MIDI port.
Character & Sound:
With high-grade mic preamps offering 75dB of gain and noise-free operation, Fireface UFX+ provides an extraordinary level of audio recording quality and convenience. Hence, it’s a favored choice among many industry professionals and studios. Furthermore, the built-in DSP chip allows you to create multiple mixes for direct monitoring.
Fireface UFX+ challenges even the most ambitious audio interface in every aspect. It provides an exceedingly stable operation and low latency with outstanding audio quality and dynamic range. Furthermore, the DURec recorder is a one-of-a-kind feature adding to the handy TotalMix FX mixing system. Furthermore, the extensive level of connectivity ensures you can extend the capacity of this audio interface as much as you need.
A glaring but perhaps easily mitigated issue is that you aren’t provided with a button to switch between at least two monitor speakers. Similarly, while the features are comprehensive, the TotalMix FX mixer may feel overwhelming to use. Finally, I feel RME could’ve provided at least eight preamps as that’s a much more usable number of preamps, especially after considering the audio interface’s steep price.
I highly recommend Fireface UFX+ for professional recording studios demanding many extremely high-quality audio connections. It’s suitable for recording orchestras or large bands using many microphones. However, it’s undoubtedly too much for small or medium-scale recording studios.
12. Audient iD22 (Best Analog Sound)
Audient gained fame from their recording console, and so they provide the same preamp designs from their consoles in their modern audio interfaces.
Audient iD22’s preamps feature the same circuit design from the ASP8024-HE consoles, which deliver noise-and-distortion-free recording. However, they still retain a touch of analog warmth from the original gear. The audio interface features a gorgeous build design with a slanted top panel showcasing the controls, while all of the connectivity is placed on the rear panel. A metal volume control makes controlling the level feel solid. Likewise, it sports classic toggle switches instead of flimsy buttons.
- Plenty To Connect
Audient iD22 features ten inputs and fourteen outputs. It features two combo XLR + ¼” TRS input ports, one JFET ¼” TRS instrument input, and the rest are ADAT connections, all of them on the rear panel. You can enable the 48V power supply for each channel. Similarly, each input channel offers a -10dB padding, phase inversion, and a low-cut switch.
The audio interface provides four ¼” TRS outputs, two ¼” TRS send (and return) outputs, and eight more via the ADAT connection. Similarly, you’ll find a headphone output with a dedicated volume knob. The built-in headphone amp ensures enough loudness for even high-impedance headphones.
- Monitor & Function Keys
The audio interface allows you to listen to your input with zero latency mixed with your DAW’s signal via direct monitoring. However, you can do so much more thanks to the iD control software. You can switch to the second pair of monitor speakers, temporarily reduce the volume (DIM), cut/mute, sum to mono, reverse polarity, and enable talkback. Furthermore, you can assign all of these features to the three ‘F’ function keys on the top panel of the interface.
I’ve mentioned the send/return ports on the interface. However, let’s talk about how you could use these. The most obvious is using the interface’s preamps, sending the audio to outboard gear, returning the audio into the interface, and recording the result in your DAW. Similarly, you could just use the return inputs as line-level inputs.
Character & Sound:
The audio interface provides the preamp of the famous Audient ASP8024-HE console. So, the preamps sound quite transparent, although they do have a hint of an analog trait. If you’re keen on using analog gear in your recordings, the iD22 is an affordable way to go about it.
Many people swear by Audient interfaces for their excellent preamps, and iD22 demonstrates why. The sound quality is excellent for its price. Furthermore, it provides a pair of dedicated send-and-return ports, a feature I’ve never seen in most audio interfaces. Similarly, the ADAT connectivity allows you to expand the number of ports if you require.
While the sound and build quality are both excellent, I found the positioning of the headphone output quite annoying. Instead of putting it on the front panel, they’ve put it on the back, which makes no sense for a desktop-format interface.
The audio interface is excellent for home studio and traveling musicians who are after high-quality sounds. Furthermore, it allows you to expand via the ADAT connection, making it a slightly long-term purchase. However, note that it doesn’t feature MIDI ports.
Finding an audio interface for the first time can feel overwhelming. However, understanding what makes an audio interface suitable for you and what to look out for can make the task much easier. Hence, I’ve written a separate guide about audio interfaces. I suggest giving it a read if you aren’t familiar with making comparisons between interfaces.
Similarly, while my list mentions specific products, you should keep in mind that each of these models and brands offers other varieties of these audio interfaces too. They could have more or fewer inputs and outputs and be more suitable for you. So, if you find a model that fits your sonic/esthetic taste but not your input count needs, you can always search for other models in the same range. With that, I bid you adieu and hope I’ve helped you find some new interfaces worth looking into.
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K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.