7 Best Audio Interfaces For Home Studio Reviewed [2020]

Best Audio Interfaces for home studio

Choosing an audio interface for your home studio and music production can be a real challenge. With so many devices on the market, it can difficult to know what to look for and which one to choose.

Fortunately, we’ve gone out and done all the hard work for you.

In this article, we will review the 7 best audio interfaces that will get the job done for most people, from the cheapest to the more premium picks.

Ready? Let’s get started…

7 Best Audio Interfaces For Home Studio & Music Production Reviewed

1. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen – The Best Audio Interface For Most People

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen features 8 mic preamps with Focusrite’s “Air” technology. When activated the preamps emulate the sound of Focusrite’s classic high-end pre-amps which sound amazing on anything you put through them.

These are combo inputs, meaning that you can input 8 line-level instruments into the audio interface. The two front inputs also accept instrument/Hi-Z level, so you can input your guitars directly without needing a DI box.

If that wasn’t enough the interface also features dual ADAT I/O plus BNC word clock and comes with a bunch of free software including Pro Tools First and Ableton Live lite. 

Considering the features, this audio interface offers excellent value. That, along with the quality of Focusrite’s pre-amps and the overall circuitry, is why we recommend Focusrite Scarlett for most people. 

Whether you’re new to producing music, or have been doing it for a while, this interface will satisfy your needs for years to come.

Pros:

  • Exceptional I/O options
  • Quality pre-amps

Cons:

  • Not portable, mains IEC power required.
  • Phantom power is 4 mic-pre’s at a time (1-4, 5-8)

Specs:

  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/Hi-Z), 6 x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/line). 1 x S/PDIF, 2 x ADAT
  • Outputs: 10 x 1/4″ (line out). 1 x S/PDIF, 2 x ADAT
  • Headphones: 2 x 1/4″
  • MIDI I/O: Yes
  • Clock I/O: BNC word clock
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.12 or later, Windows 7 SP1 or later, Windows 10 v1809 or later (Pro Tools First)
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0 (type C)
  • Power Supply: Standard IEC AC cable
  • Includes: Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite, a 3-month Splice subscription, and one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument
Sonic LAB: Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen 18i20 USB Audio i/f

2. Antelope Audio Discrete 4 Synergy Core – Premium Pick

Antelope Audio Discrete 4 Synergy Core Audio Interface

Antelope Audio are well known for their master clocks and mastering-grade digital converters.

Their high-end approach is present with Antelope Audio Discrete 4 Synergy Core that comes with exceptionally high-end AD-DA conversion and excellent build quality.

Although not unique to this interface, it features on-board DSP chips for the processing of your inputs. This can really help in freeing up internal processing power and in reducing the latency.

This premium audio interface comes with a software mixing console that allows flexible routing and setting up different headphone mixes.

It has both USB and Thunderbolt connectivity, which is unusual, but gives you more flexibility.

There are similar interfaces out there in terms of I/O. But the added DSP, conversion quality and excellent sounding mic-pre’s justify the premium cost of this device for us.

 Pros:

  • Digital conversion
  • On-board DSP 

 Cons:

  • Expensive
  • To use Antelope FX in your DAW requires a separate purchase

Specs:

  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/Hi-Z), 2 x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/line). 1 x S/PDIF, 2 x ADAT
  • Outputs: 4 x 1/4″ (line out), 2 1/4″ Monitor outputs 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT. 
  • Headphones:   4 x 1/4″
  • MIDI I/O: Yes
  • Clock I/O: 2 x BNC word clock outs
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.12 or later, Windows 10 x64
  • Connectivity: Thunderbolt and USB 2.0 (type B)
  • Power Supply: 15W external power supply (included)
  • Includes: USB Cable, 36 Synergy Core effects plug-ins
Discrete 4 Synergy Core Product Overview | Marcel James | Antelope Audio

3. MOTU UltraLite-mk4 – Best Small & Cheap Audio Interface

MOTU UltraLite-mk4 Audio Interface

The UltraLite-mk4 features a rugged design that is perfect for both studio and live performances.

For such a small form factor, it really packs in the I/O features, almost comparable to Focusrite’s Scarlett 18i20. But because of its smaller size, you only get 2 mic preamps with the UltraLite-mk4.

Like Antelope, you have your on-board DSP processing that sounds great and has advanced mix routing via its software mixer. There is also the option to control all this via an App on your Android or iOS devices.

Given all these features, MOTU UltraLite-mk4 is an affordable option for those who like Antelope’s interface, but don’t want to spend too much money.

 Pros:

  • Excellent cost to feature ratio
  • Rugged construction

 Cons:

  • Single knob for main/headphone volume control (push feature)
  • Wall wart power supply

Specs:

  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4″ combo, 6 x 1/4″ TRS (line in). 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT/SMUX
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ (main out), 8 x 1/4″ (line out). 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT/SMUX 
  • Headphones: 1 x 1/4″
  • MIDI I/O: Yes
  • Clock I/O: No
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.8 or later, Windows 7 or later
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0 (type B)
  • Power Supply: 15V DC power supply included (included)
  • Includes: Discovery App for Mac, PC & iOS, Pro Audio Control web app, Audio Tools (FFT, oscilloscope, X-Y plot, phase analyzer), AudioDesk 4.0 for Mac & PC (separate download)
#91 - MOTU UltraLite mk4 Audio Interface First Look & Overview

4. Universal Audio Apollo x8

Universal Audio Apollo x8 Thunderbolt Audio Interface

If you need a powerhouse audio interface solution for your studio and you have the budget, then the Apollo x8 could be the right pick for you.

It does not have the 8 mic-pre’s that the Focusrite comes with, but the 4 digitally controlled Unison-enabled mic/line pre-amps give you authentic pre-amp emulations from Neve, API, Manley, SSL, and more.

As well as being renowned for hardware, Universal Audio are also known for their excellent software emulation plug-ins of legendary hardware. The interface features on-board DSP from 6 SHARC DSP chips that will take full advantage of the included software without stressing your computer too much.

With its ultra-fast Thunderbolt connectivity, pristine AD/DA conversion, tons of I/O, on-board DSP, and very low latency, the Apollo x8 justifies its premium price tag.

 Pros: 

  • Pro-level audio interface
  • Powerful on-board DSP

 Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Knobs don’t feel “pro”

Specs:

  • Inputs: 4 x XLR (mic/line), 2 x 1/4″ (Hi-Z), 8 x 1/4″ (line). 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT/SMUX/Toslink
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ (main out), 8 x 1/4″ (line out). 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT/SMUX/Toslink 
  • Headphones: 2 x 1/4″
  • MIDI I/O: No
  • Clock I/O: BNC Word Clock input and output
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.12 or later, Windows 10 x64 or later
  • Connectivity: 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (Type USB-C). Thunderbolt 3 cable (not included)
  • Power Supply: 12V DC power supply (included)
  • Includes: Realtime Analog Classics plug-in bundle 
Universal Audio Apollo x8 | Thunderbolt Audio Interface | Vintage King

5. Behringer U-phoria UMC202HD: Top Budget Pick

BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC202HD, 2-Channel

Unlike some manufacturers discussed here, Behringer are not especially known for their world-class mic pre-amps.

But in this device, the mic pre-amps are designed by Midas, who are an industry leader in pro audio gear. And hey -- you need to have good pre-amps if you are looking for capture vocals or acoustic instruments and make them shine.

The pre-amps feature Pad switches, which are not always included on devices in this price range. These are useful so you don’t distort your input when recording from loud audio sources, such as guitar amps.

The combo inputs also allow you to connect your line-level/Hi-Z equipment.

You might have heard some bad reports about Behringer tech before. But if you take a closer look at specs of this device you will see they stack up quite well, compared to similar audio interfaces.

 Pros:

  • Quality pre-amps
  • Pad switches

 Cons:

  • No Power button
  • Single Phantom power-switch

Specs:

  • Inputs: 2 x combo-XLR (mic) / 1/4” jack (line/Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.10 or later, Windows 7 SP1 or later
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0 (type B)
  • Power Supply: Bus Powered
  • Includes: Tracktion music production software
Behringer UMC202HD review (with noise measurement)

6. RME Fireface UCX

RME Fireface UCX 36 Channel 24 Bit 192kHz High-End USB and FireWire Audio Interface

About the same size as MOTU’s Ultralite, RME Fireface UCX is another small but mighty interface. The interface offers up to 18 simultaneous inputs and outputs. It’s also the only soundcard listed here that is iPad class compliant.

The circuitry within this unit is all very high-end, offering excellent AD-DA conversion resulting in pristine audio. The 2 mic-amp’s sound excellent and the latency, whether connected using either USB or Firewire, is ultra-low.

The interface comes with DSP-based TotalMix FX software that allows for complex routing setups and for processing your inputs with EQ, dynamics, reverb, and delay. You can also route audio from your DAW through Totalmix for further mixing.

All these features make this another interface that is very useful beyond the studio as you can do complex I/O settings for live and performance applications.

 Pros:

  • Excellent Build Quality
  • I/O connectivity
  • USB and Firewire

 Cons:

  • Learning curve with Totalmix
  • Minimal front panel controls

Specs:

  • Inputs: 2 x XLR Combo (mic/Hi-Z), 6 x 1/4″ (line). 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT
  • Outputs: 6 x 1/4″ (line). 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x ADAT 
  • Headphones: 1 x 1/4″
  • MIDI I/O: Yes (MIDI breakout cable included)
  • Clock I/O: BNC Word Clock input and output
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 192kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.9 or later, Windows 7 or later, Class compliant Apple iPad/iPad2
  • Connectivity: FireWire 400, USB 2.0/USB 3.0 (Type-B)
  • Power Supply: Power supply (included), can run bus-powered on Firewire.
  • Includes: TotalMix FX (with UFX effects engine)

7. Audient iD14

Audient iD14 High Performance USB Audio Interface

The Audient iD14 is small in size and has less features compared to other audio interfaces. But it makes up for that with its solid construction and quality circuitry on the inside.

Audient are a well known manufacturer of studio consoles, and the mic-pre’s in this unit are top-notch.

The overall sound quality is pristine due to very high-quality converters designed by Burr-Brown -- leaders in the field.

An on-board DSP mixer provides ultra-low latency and allows the configuration of a basic headphone mix and talkback setup.

Although this audio interface has limited I/O, the ADAT in allows for expansion by adding a mic-pre unit that features ADAT out.

If your I/O needs are limited, but you still need the quality sound boasted by other interfaces here the Audient iD14 could be a solution.

Pros:

  • High-quality components
  • Small form-factor

Cons:

  • Limited I/O
  • Phantom power requires the power supply

Specs:

  • Inputs: 2 x XLR/TRS Combo, 1 x 1/4″ (inst/Hi-Z). 1 x ADAT and S/PDIF digital input (Toslink) 
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ (line) 
  • Headphones: 1 x 1/4″
  • MIDI I/O: No
  • Clock I/O: No
  • Sample/Bit resolution: Up to 96kHz/24-bit
  • OS Requirements: macOS 10.7.5 or later, Windows 7 or later
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0 (Type-B)
  • Power Supply: Bus Power + power adapter (included)
  • Includes: N/A
Audient iD14 Review

Best Audio Interfaces Buyer’s Guide

What to look for when choosing an audio interface for your studio recording setup.

Besides your computer, your audio interface is the single most important part of your studio. It determines the quality of the audio that goes in and comes out of your setup. And here are the most important things that you need to know when choosing one.

Audio Connections

You’ll typically have the following types of connections on your audio interface:

Combo inputs

These allow you to connect a microphone (XLR), or a 1/4″ input, which can be from a synth, effects unit or a guitar (if the input also accepts instrument/Hi-Z level).

The upside of this connection is that it saves space and the unit costs less requiring fewer components. 

The downside is that you’ll have a hard time recording multiple sources simultaneously, or using your interface as a mixer. Having lots of things plugged into your audio interface can be a juggling act with combo inputs.

1/4″ inputs

An ideal situation is to have a mix of combo inputs and dedicated 1/4″ inputs. 1/4″ inputs are useful not only for connecting instruments, but also effects and any other analog outboard gear you have. 

ADAT I/O

These are optical connections that can send 8 channels in each direction. As such, connecting your gear with ADAT connections is easy and smooth. ADAT connections can also be used for sending/receiving Toslink and SMUX signals.

S/PDIF

S/PDIF are useful for making stereo digital transfers between equipment with no signal loss or additional noise.

MIDI I/O

MIDI I/O is not as essential as it used to be, given that most MIDI controllers these days communicate through USB. But, if you don’t work completely in-the-box and have additional MIDI gear, it’s a handy feature to have.

Computer Connectivity: USB vs. Firewire vs. Thunderbolt

Your options for plugging into the computer are USB, Firewire, and Thunderbolt. When it comes to performance, Thunderbolt is your best option, as it will give you no latency issues.

But consider that the more I/O an interface has, the more data it will be transferring. So if your interface only has 4 inputs and outputs, latency/speed is less of an issue, and any type of connection will get the job done. On the other hand, if you need to transfer more data, you might consider going for Thunderbolt or Firewire.  

Size & Portability

Consider the size of your interface if you have limited space in your studio, or you need to carry it around with you.

Having quick access to your interface can be handy for making quick adjustments, and if it fits on your desk that’s a bonus.

But if you have the space, and lots of other gear, having a rackmount unit is goint to be less of an issue.

If you work outside your studio often or do live performances and touring, having something that takes up less space is something to consider.

Other Factors

When a unit comes with some free software that’s always nice! If an interface has on-board DSP that is a major bonus.

You can never have enough processing power and depending how flexible the on-board DSP is it can have a big impact on your productions.

Conclusion & Takeaway

If I was to choose one audio interface to recommend to most people it would be Focusrite’s Scarlett 18i20. Regardless of the type of music or productions you do, it has enough features and flexibility to suit your needs. It’s a great value at the price that it retails at.

If form factor is an issue, or if you’re into live performances – take a look at the smaller MOTU.

If budget is not an issue for you, Universal Audio’s Apollo x8 is a clear winner. Sure, it’s expensive, but when you look at what you get -- first-class mic pre-amps, AD-DA conversion, and the power of the on-board DSP. Considering all these, it’s well worth its money.  

Finally, if your budget is super-tight I recommend going for Behringer’s U-phoria UMC202HD. The mic-pre’s are more than adequate for most applications and there is enough I/O if you’re a bedroom producer, podcaster, or a singer-songwriter.

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