5 Best Audio Interfaces For Home Studio Recording: Buyers Guide and Review

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Best Audio Interface

5 Best Audio Interfaces For Home Studio Recording: Buyers Guide and Review | 2019

There's nothing worse than terrible sounding audio is there?

And how frustrating are recording and playback latency issues also? To avoid these common recording and monitoring nightmares is actually quite simple; add a good quality, tried and tested audio interface to your set-up. 

Who needs an Audio Interface?

  • If you want to capture audio for recording in your home studio or bedroom (example: laying down a jam track on your guitar into DAWS like GarageBand, Cubase and Protools)
  • If you want to record instruments such as guitar, synth and drums (example: recording a 5 piece band)
  • If you want to record crystal clear audio for voice over work (example: you need to produce a professional corporate VO demo for your voice-reel )
  • If you want to produce podcasts that don't sound amateur (example: you want to use an XLR lead to connect your condenser microphone to your computer )
  • If you're a music producer needing to mix and master (example: you need to playback your mixes through studio monitors to enable you to achieve first-class sounding productions)
  • If you're a Youtuber and need to mix your audio (example: you need to mix your voice with backing music and sound fx).

The fact is, whatever your audio capturing needs one thing is for sure; an audio interface is the way to go. 

What exactly is an Audio Interface?

Also sometimes referred to as an external sound card, an audio interface is a device that's used to connect microphones, instruments, monitor speakers and various other audio sources to a computer. It acts as the ultimate middle-man between your computer and audio device.

An audio interface basically works by converting analog signals into digital signals that your computer can process. 

So why do I need an Audio Interface?

Most off the shelf internal computer sound cards offer you very limited capabilities and not many input and output options either.

Using only the standard sound cards found in your PC or Mac for recording is not the way to go if you want to sound anything other than mediocre. This is because consumer grade sound cards can suffer from infuriating audio nasties such as sound delay, latency, clicks, pops and distortion.

If you're a PC user, you may have already tried software such as ASIO4ALL to try and clean up your playback and recording troubles. Whilst this hardware independent low latency ASIO driver for WDM audio devices promises to solve your latency issues, many users have found it's reliability to be inconsistent and unstable.

So even if you're only planning on recording yourself noodling about on your guitar, you'll still need a device that has XLR inputs, high-Z phone plug input, line phantom power, headphone inputs and speaker monitor ins and outs.

Pffft. 

Good job you've found this article to help you choose the right audio interface.

Advantages of an Audio Interface

Just a few of the advantages of using an external audio interface are they offer hardware features such as physical inputs and outputs (I/O), external audio mixing capabilities, and most importantly, they give your audio a superior sound.

We've put together a comprehensive list of the best audio interfaces available today. Don't spend your hard earned cash on any old audio interface before reading this next bit though...

Top 6 Audio Interface Features You Should Know Before Buying

Because your audio interface is the HQ and epi-center for all your audio equipment routing, you shouldn't just go out and buy the first one some random guy recommended on a forum.  

Here we list the top 6 key features you need to consider to help you choose the right audio interface for your recording needs and budget.

1 - How many inputs and outputs do you need?

The amount of inputs and outputs you'll need on your new interface depends on your planned recording and/or playback use. Your user needs will fall into one of three categories:

1) Solo Use: If you're planning on only recording your voice and guitar for example at any one time, it would be unwise to buy an interface with 24 input and output channels. Instead you'll need only a few I/O's so that you can connect your guitar, microphone and speakers to your computer. 

Recommended I/O's: 2-4 channels.

2) Local Bands & Production: Another scenario is if you have a medium to large studio set-up and plan on recording and monitoring a full band, or if you're part of a production team. If you think you fit into this user category, you’ll need a mix of various I/O's.

Depending on the amount of instruments and audio sources being recorded, it's best to get an audio interface that has more, rather then less inputs and outputs. This'll help to future proof your studio set-up and keep your options open.

Recommended I/O's: 6-12+ channels. 

3) Pro Producers and Engineers: Those working in professional recording studios and with pro artists use an audio interface for a multitude of different situations. From recording 5+ piece bands in studios, to capturing full orchestras, to tracking live bands on the road. These guys have the means and budget to go for high end pricey audio interfaces.

Recommended I/O's: 16+ channels. 

Another question to consider is also what type of I/O's you require, here are 3 common types of input and outputs found on audio interfaces:

XLR Connector for Audio Interface

XLR - typically balanced analogue input used for microphones. They are circular and have between 3-7 pins.

Line Jack Input and output for Audio Interface

Jack - instrument analogue input used to connect guitars, bass, keyboards, synths, monitor speakers and other devices. 

MIDI Input and output for Audio Interface

MIDI - this digital I/O is used to connect devices like synths & drum machines that control the software in your computer.

2 - Do you need phantom power?

Phantom power is a DC voltage measuring between 12-48 volts that is used to power a condenser microphone. So if you're intending on using a condenser microphone for recording vocals and/or acoustic instruments such as guitar or percussion, you’ll 100% need an audio interface with a phantom power input.

3 - Is it Mac or PC compatible?

The good news is most audio interfaces are compatible with both Mac and Windows systems. There however a few interfaces that are only supported on Mac. No need to worry though, we've got your back and clearly list each interfaces hardware compatibility in the review coming up.

4 - How are you planning on connecting to your device?

Because of the abundance of different tech devices on the market today, an audio interface isn't only plugged into a computer. Gadgets such as smartphones and tablets loaded with software apps can also be used to capture recordings.

These are the 5 most common connection types used for linking an audio interface to your device:

USB Cable for Audio Interface Connections

USB - The most widely used connection type which is found on most computers. Interfaces connected into USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports are powered from your computer or device of choice. For this reason USB interfaces offer convenience and portability.

Thunderbolt Cable for Audio Interface Connections
ThunderboltMost commonly found on newer Mac's and PCs specced with Thunderbolt options, this connection gives you high bandwidth, high quality data transfer rates and low latency performance. Thunderbolt connections are typically found on higher end audio interfaces.
Firewire Cable for Audio Interface Connections

Firewire This connection type is found mainly on pricier pro audio Mac compatible interfaces. Thanks to their high bandwidth and smooth transfer rates, Firewire units offer superior performance and stability over USB powered options.

USB-C lead connection for audio interface

USB-C This connection type is found on Mac compatible interfaces. The benefit of buying an audio interfaces using USB-C is that this connection type can deliver up to 100 watts of power for charging, or up to 15 watts to power bus-powered devices. The good news is that most interfaces with USB-C also support USB 2.0/3.0 and Thunderbolt.

PCI-e Controller Card for Audio Interface Connections

PCIe - Found mainly on professional high end audio equipment, PCIe is an internal computer connection. Because a PCIe card is plugged directly into a computers motherboard, you get amped up processing power, fast data transfer and stability. Most casual bedroom users would not require something as fancy as a PCIe connection.


5 - Is it compatible with your DAW and Software?


A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a piece of music software used to capture audio recordings. From GarageBand to Cubase, most DAWs will support the majority of audio interfaces.

There are even some audio interfaces that ship to you with a free version of popular DAWs like Protools and Ableton included. (See a number of the audio interfaces featured in our review section). You're therefore guaranteed they work flawlessly together.

Our advice is to always check before you buy if the audio interface is compatible with you current setup.

6 - Is the price, size and weight ideal for your needs?


Price: If you're making music or recording other types of audio as a hobbyist and don't plan on recording more than a few audio sources at one time, you don't want to spend a fortune on an audio interface. 

On the other hand, what if you're more serious about your intended use - say you plan on making your recordings for other peoples ears and not just your own? We then advise you opt for an interface that you won't have to replace in a couple of years because you skimped on some features just to save a few quid today.

Size and Weight: Interfaces come in two distinct different forms: desktop and rack-mounted. Desktop audio interfaces are the smaller, lighter and more portable option ideal for bedroom and small studio use.

Rack-mounted interfaces are used typically in professional recording/playback set-ups. They're larger and heavier than desktop units and are mounted in an outboard rack unit. You typically get more I/Os, numerous routing options and superior sound with these guys.

Let's Talk About Latency

Latency is a pain in the rear end. If you've recorded before, you know very well what we mean. Latency in a nutshell is a delay in a signal such as an instrument or vocal. The signal lag moves through this chain: 

Audio interface - Analog-to-digital converters - DAW - Audio Interface - Digital-to-analog converters - Out speakers/headphones

Each of the stages in the process combined result in milliseconds of delay, otherwise known as latency.

Thankfully for us all, most audio interfaces are designed to reduce latency to the point you won't be pulling your hair out every-time you hit record or play. 

If low latency is very high on your list of criteria you should be mindful that more expensive Thunderbolt, USAB-C or internal PCie options will give the best results. Some USB and Firewire models include small extra buffers to help smooth playback performance, which may result in some latency.

For many people, USB and Firewire audio interfaces are the way to go thanks to their convenience and portability.

So let's get to our list.

5 Best Audio Interfaces 

1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface - FRONT
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface - BACK

Tech Spec

Header

Compatibility:

Mac and PC

Connectivity:

USB 2.0

Analogue Inputs:

2

Analogue Outputs:

2

Audio resolution: 

24-bit/192kHz

Phantom Power

Yes

MIDI I/O:

No


The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface gives you high quality mic preamps in one small sturdy unit. Thanks to it's USB connectivity the 2i2 requires no power adapter and is the ultimate in portability.

The controls are both simple and easy to understand, making this popular audio interface the ideal choice for guitarists, podcasters and bedroom producers who only require a few inputs.

You're sure to really dig the "Gain Ring" feature which is a handy intuitive display that tells you if your input level is peaking or not. Useful! The sleek Scarlett 2i2 when purchased on Amazon even includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live 10 Lite, and many more free plugins. 

For simple recording and value for money, there is no need to buy anything else. 

Get on Amazon.co.uk  |  Get on Amazon.com

2. Steinberg UR22 MKII USB Audio Interface

Steinberg UR22 MKII USB Audio Interface - FRONT
Steinberg UR22 MKII USB Audio Interface - BACK

Tech Spec

Header

Compatibility:

Mac and PC

Connectivity:

USB 2.0

Analogue Inputs:

2

Analogue Outputs:

2

Audio resolution: 

24-bit/192kHz

Phantom Power

Yes

MIDI I/O:

Yes


Looking for a cheaper audio interface? The ultra-compact portable Steinberg UR22 MKII gives you simple and stable integration with any recording setup. With MIDI connectivity and quality D-PRE microphone preamps, the UR22 packs a powerful punch in a robust package. 

The audio interface includes Cubase AI software which is compatible with PC, Mac and iPad and features 2 inputs (hi-Z switch on input 2), 2 TRS outputs and headphone jack with independent level. You also get 24-bit/192kH sample rate for quality sounding recordings.

For simple home recording needs and a modest budget, you need look no further than this reliable entry-level interface from Steinberg.

Worth A Mention: Looking for more inputs and more flexibility? Try the UR22's big brother the Steinberg UR44

Get on Amazon.co.uk  |  Get on Amazon.com

3. Apogee Duet Audio Interface For iPad & MAC

Apogee Duet Audio Interface For iPad & MAC - FRONT
Apogee Duet Audio Interface For iPad & MAC - MAIN

Tech Spec

Header

Compatibility:

Mac and Ipad

Connectivity:

USB 2.0

Analogue Inputs:

2

Analogue Outputs:

2 x TRS, 1 x TRS 

Audio resolution: 

24-bit/192kHz

Phantom Power

Yes

MIDI I/O:

Yes - USB


With next-generation AD/DA converters and 4 outputs (Monitors and headphones separately adjustable), USB MIDI I/O and ESS Sabre32 DAC technology, the Apogee Duet is a high speed premium audio interface. 

The unit is far from the cheapest offering on our list, but once you hear the world-class quality of the mic pre-amps, you'll know why. The Apogee delivers both sparkling clarity and stunning detail to recordings and playback and is super portable which makes recording on the go easy.

If you're a musician, producer or engineer after portable and professional sounding audio on your Mac or iPad, the Apogee Duet will be your best purchase so far this year.

Worth A Mention: Love Apogee technology, want more flexibility with your I/O's and have a generous budget? The Apogee ELEMENT 88 Thunderbolt Audio Interface has it all.

​Get on Amazon.co.uk |  Get on Amazon.com

4. PreSonus Quantum 2 - 22x24 Thunderbolt Audio Interface

PreSonus Quantum 2 22x24 Thunderbolt Low-Latency Audio Interface- cropped
PreSonus Quantum 2 22x24 Thunderbolt Low-Latency Audio Interface Back Inputs

Tech Spec

Header

Compatibility:

Mac and PC

Connectivity:

Thunderbolt 2

Inputs:

22

Outputs:

24

Audio resolution: 

24-bit/192kHz

Phantom Power

Yes

MIDI I/O:

Yes


Thanks to the high-speed Thunderbolt 2 bus and ADAT Optical I/O, the PreSonus Quantum 2 audio/MIDI interface delivers up to 22 inputs and 24 outputs. With more headroom and impressively low latency, your recording and playback experience will be severely upgraded when you plugin this bad boy.

The Quantum 2's XMAX pre-amps are excellent offering plenty of gain whilst the digital controls on the unit make recalling settings a breeze.

You get 24-bit, 192 kHz converters with 120 dB of dynamic range, two combo mic/instrument inputs and two combo mic/line inputs, each with the aforementioned  XMAX preamps and individual +48V phantom power. Oddles of software control options round off the whole package.

You can't go wrong with this Presonus 22 x 24 channel thunderbolt audio interface - it can handle a multitude of tracks plus plugins galore without clipping or overloading your audio. Making music just became that bit easier.

Get on Amazon.co.uk  |  Get on Amazon.com

5. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen Audio Interface

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Generation USB-C Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Generation USB-C Audio Interface Back Inputs and Outputs Back

Tech Spec

Header

Compatibility:

Mac and PC

Connectivity:

USB-C

Analogue Inputs:

10

Analogue Outputs:

12

Digital Inputs:

MIDI, S/PDIF, 2 x ADAT

Digital Outputs:

MIDI, S/PDIF, 2 x ADAT

Audio resolution: 

24-bit/192kHz

Phantom Power

Yes

MIDI I/O:

No


Yes. Another legendary Focusrite audio interface has made its way into our Top 5. This is why:

If you're after flexibility in your production facilities whether you have a project studio or professional set-up, the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 features USB-C connectivity, world class Scarlett preamps with high headroom inputs/converters, Air mode that adds exquisite breathy detail to higher frequencies,  and much more.

With 8 quality sounding mic preamps the Scarlett 18i20's strikingly-low latency lets you monitor with native plug-in effects in real time. Recording and monitoring any live band will be a doddle with this intuitive interface.

The Scarlett 18i20 ships with an awesome software bundle including Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First Focusrite Creative Pack and access to the Focusrite Plug-in Collective.

Worth a Mention: Check out the predecessor Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (2nd Gen) and get a load of those glowing reviews whilst you're there...

Get on Amazon.co.uk  |  Get on Amazon.com

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