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
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.
You’ll typically have the following types of connections on your audio interface:
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.
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.
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 are useful for making stereo digital transfers between equipment with no signal loss or additional noise.
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.
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.