Today I will talk about audio interfaces.
It can be a tricky job to choose the right audio interface for your recording home studio.
Audio interfaces have a lot of features, and there are especially a few of them you should focus on that I will talk about more here, to help you make the best decision for you and your needs.
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I will start off by talking about a few things you will need to know about to be able to make a decision about which interface works for you.
I will then move on to list the best interfaces right now, with descriptions and where to find it.
Okay, lets get going. Here's a quick navigation to start out with, before we move on.
Audio interface: What to think about
Here are four important factors you need to think about before buying your new audio interface. Whether you want an audio interface for mac or are looking for the best audio interface USB, keep reading. There are a lot to think about before you buy your new audio interface to make sure it works for your needs and with your computer, so hang on.
1. Audio interface connectors
There are four options of cables that are commonly used when connecting an audio interface to computers. These are USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and PCIE.
USB: USB 2.0 is the most common connection type people use. This is due both to its price and almost universal compatibility on both Windows PCs to Macs.
Firewire: Firewire connectors transfer data at a more consistent rate than the USB. This means that it is a more reliable choice when recording more channels at once. Firewire are mostly found on Macs. Therefore it isn´t going to be possible for everybody to use like the USB ones are. Do you own a PC? You may still be able to use FireWire, if your computer supports the installation of a FireWire Card.
Thunderbolt: Thunderbolts are faster than both Firewire and USB and has lately gotten wider popularity with newer semi-pro interfaces. Its already well established on macs and are getting more into the Windows PC market.
PCIE: These ones offer additional processing power and very high fast data-transfer. Thanks to this it has long been the standard for the professional audio interface and recording studio. They have lost their popularity in recent years because of many users wanting the ability of being able to take their recording audio interface out on the road and work from many different places and countries.
Ultimately, whichever of these choices you go to are up to you, but I recommend going for a USB one if you´re on a budget. They may be the slowest out of the bunch, but they are still more than enough for most recording home studios. Always look up the compatibility of your computer to make sure you have the right connection, too, to avoid any disappointments once your package arrives.
2. Input/Output count
To be able to calculate how many input/outputs you need, ask yourself the question ‘how many instruments/voices will I record at the same time?’. On the most basic audio interface you will usually find 1-2 I/O, while a professional one may have over 20. As an example, if you´re a solo musician you may do fine with 2-4 I/O, while a smaller songwriting team probably need at least 6-7 of them. Some who record bands need over 20 I/O, so it really comes down to what YOUR needs are and what YOU plan to do.
2.1 Types of Input Channels
Please be aware that hardware companies label their products as having X amounts of inputs and Y amount of outputs. This, however, does NOT mean that you can use all the inputs/outputs to record at once. The companies don’t specify further, so when it says something along the lines of
- (Product name) 16*8 inputs/outputs
they may include for example:
- Headphone outputs
- Line inputs (that override microphone inputs)
- Hi-Z inputs (that override microphone inputs)
What you have to look for is the ‘simultaneous audio’ to find out how many inputs your audio interface can record at the same time.
So, watch out so you don´t buy an audio interface with 16+ input channels, when only 2-8 are mic-inputs. The rest of the inputs are usually either line inputs or optical inputs.
- Line inputs requires the add-on of an outboard mic preamp, to be used as a mic channel.
- Optical input, which is a digital input that needs both the addition of an outboard mic preamp, AND a digital converter with an ‘optical out’ to use as a microphone channel.
3. Form Factor / Size and shape of your interface
There are two different options when it comes to the size and shape of your interface:
- Rackmounted Interfaces
- Desktop Interfaces
Rackmounted interfaces are larger in size, and you mount them by using a standard size rack unit.
Desktop interfaces are smaller ones who sit next to your computer.
I recommend starting out with a desktop interface, since they are cheaper, easier to use and you don´t need any special mounting.
The rackmounted interfaces usually have more input channels, so this may be the choice that more advanced studios goes for.
4. DAW compatibility
Usually not an issue, since most of the top selling DAW’s are compatible with any interface you want to buy, it´s still good to check it out beforehand. The DAW compatibility can be hard to find on the box of your audio interface, so a hot tip is to check out the products website. Like I said, this is usually not an issue but it would suck if you end up getting one that isn´t working for you.
I recommend going for an USB audio interface if you’re building your home recording studio on a budget, as this will get the job done well for the bucks. There are a few models to choose from, but the ones I recommend are….
Best Audio Interfaces 2017
TASCAM US-2×2 USB Audio Interface: This 2-channel USB audio interface is faring well in terms of what you get for your money. With its audio specs, compatibility with macs w/o even having to install anything and an easy-to-read angled design, this is a great choice for your desktop and mobile studios. I/O’s are also included for connecting synths and drum machines.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface: This is one of the best selling USB audio interfaces in the whole world, thanks to its high quality and focusing on mastering 3 things; getting the best sound for you, getting the fastest speed and giving you the most effortless experience. You can record using two inputs at once and you can easily take it anywhere and ‘just’ connect it to a computer using your usb cable, plug two mics/instruments in and record studio quality audio! Easy.
Focusrite Clarett 2Pre 10-In/4-Out Thunderbolt Interface with 2 Clarett Mic Preamps: This one uses a thunderbolt connection which offers extraordinary low latency, and gives you a two pristine mic/instrument preamps perfect for singer-songwriters. It also comes with an ADAT input so that you can expand your interface to up to eight extra digital mic preamp channels. This one is ideal for the one building his home recording studio with a little higher budget.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin High-Resolution Thunderbolt Interface: This one only works with macs and require OS X 10.8 Mountain or 10.9 Mavericks. Among its feautres are the highest dynamic range and lowest noise of any desktop interface, and its desktop recording delivers legendary analog studio sound and feel. This one is ideal for the intermediate to advanced home studio who want professional quality.
Rack mounted audio interface
If you´re looking for a home recording studio setup that´s somewhere between intermediate and professional, with 10 or more I/O a rack mounted audio interface could just be the right choice for you.
Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface: This one comes with eight high quality Focusrite pre-amps that provides one of the best interfaces in its class. It is a high quality 24-bit/96kHz Firewire and Thunderbolt compatible interface that gives you really impressive audio quality. It got a total I/O count consisting of 20 inputs and 20 outputs, and users report that the headphone amplifiers are powerful and has a great sound.
MOTU 8M Thunderbolt Audio Interface: The MOTU 8M is a hybrid audio interface that has been highly recommended ever since ADAT-equipped audio interfaces became popular. This one offers one of the cleanest sounds around, and the total channel count is 24*24. It comes with both Thunderbolt and USB connectivity, which means you’ll get an exceptionally low system latency. If you got the means for this one, it´s frequently reported to be a really good one.
Antelope Audio Zen Studio: The Zen Studio is a professional and portable audio interface that´s fitting for both the modern day producer/engineer that´s always on the go, as well as for professionals who work in a location. With it´s flexibility and 12 mic pres combined with pristine sound and high quality, this is an audio interface that many are pleased with.