Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Best Audio Interfaces

As you start your journey as a music producer, you’ll soon find out the process of recording music in a home studio requires a bit of a budget. In this article, we’ll cover the ins and outs of best audio interfaces as well as its importance in the recording process. When choosing an audio interface, you must not make your decision entirely based on budget (or implied budgetary constraints). You should put great thought into what you end up purchasing – research every possible option, look at specs and features. Unfortunately, this process requires a significant amount of time that many individuals can’t or do not wish to spend. However, you don’t have to because here at PsyRox we will not only breakdown everything that you need to know about an audio interface, we’ll suggest a list of the best ones on the market for your studio as well.

 

What is an Audio Interface?

An audio interface is the connecting point between your laptop and microphone. It is important because it’s able to convert the signal that is transferred to the microphone into something that is able to be read and interpreted by your computer. If you’ve ever seen an XLR cable, you’ll notice that there is no structure on a computer that exists for an XLR cable to be plugged directly into the laptop. This is where the audio interface comes in. In short you would plug in the other end of your XLR cable that is connected to your microphone into the audio interface. You would then connect the audio interface into your computer via it’s USB adaptor port. The cord between the audio interface and the computer is actually the exact same cable as the one used for printers.

In short, consider your audio interface to be like the ‘middle man’ between your computer and the audio that you record in your microphone. Without it, you simply won’t be able to access your recordings.

The audio interface is also used as a connection for your studio monitors as well.

Why Do I Need an Audio Interface?

As mentioned above, it is the connecting point between your computer and the microphone itself where you’re recording.

However, the audio interface is useful in many more ways:

  • Your computer is most likely not designed with the necessary sound card to handle your microphone’s audio signal in a clear way. While your computer may have a great sound card, it is just simply not built for the purpose of deciphering microphone signals. However, this is the entire purpose of an audio interface. It basically acts as an external sound card and does all of the ‘heavy lifting’ for your computer and then transmits the signal. Here’s a good way to visualize this. Imagine you’re in a foreign country and you don’t know the language. You would be considered the computer and the natives there would be like the microphone. The interpreter between you two would be considered the audio interface.Without the interpreter, you may be able to understand a little bit of what the natives are trying to say to you but the interpreter will allow you to fully understand everything being communicated. The ‘language’ being spoken by the microphone is called digital audio. Your audio interface ‘translates’ it into analog for your computer to ‘understand’. Obviously, the better the interface, the better the ‘translation’.
  • Your computer probably doesn’t have the power to allow some microphones to operate. Another great benefit that comes with an audio interface is the ‘phantom power’. If you’ve already reviewed our article for best microphones, you’ll notice that many of them on that list require some sort of power source. Your laptop is not built in with enough power to sustain the microphone. However, an audio interface can do this directly.
  • You can EQ the raw signal with an audio interface. With some of the better audio interfaces out there, you’re able to EQ the raw signal before it even gets to your computer. This is a huge benefit that you just could never duplicate or mimic in any other way with your computer.
  • Audio interfaces allow direct monitoring. This is a concept that we talk about greatly in our best studio monitors and best microphones article. The ability of an audio interface to allow for direct monitoring is a necessity for almost all music producers and recording artists. Essentially, direct monitoring is the ability to listen to input into a microphone as it is being recorded in real-time. This is helpful for recording artists to hear themselves in the microphones as well as the audio engineer so that they can pre-edit and level the vocals ahead of time.

So how do I know what makes a better audio interface than the others?

Great question. There are a few factors that make the difference in which audio interfaces are better than others. Below, we’ll explain which ones you should look for and breakdown what each does in the simplest way possible:

Outlets – The more slots there are for including microphone cables, USBs and the like, the more youcan do with the interface itself. If you’re just using your interface for personal recording, then this isn’t a very big deal. However, if you need to record a band or several different individuals at once, then it is imperative that you look at this facet of the audio interface.

-Bit Conversion – This is a particularly important spec to pay attention to. Bit-depth, in a nutshell, erfers to the sample rate. Without going into too much detail, this all refers to how many times a piece of audio (one second) is sampled per second. If you’re having trouble understanding, then imagine this. Suppose you someone tells you about their day and your responsibility is to write down what that person said. Now let’s say, you’re only given 50 words to explain that person’s day. You probably can’t be too detailed about it, right? However, what if you were given 100 words to explain? You could go into a little more depth than you would in 50 words. Bit rate sampling works in a very similar way. The higher the bit-rate, the more ‘room’ there is to capture the additional details and nuances of the audio.

You’ll probably see a number here when you look at it on the specs. All you need to really know is that 44.1KHz represents CD quality, and 96KHz is the next jump in quality (DVD level). From there it goes all the way up to 192KHz, which tells the naked truth of audio recordings.

Frequency Response – We’ve covered this term in our microphones article and it’s one that should definitely be considered. Frequency response refers to what range the audio interface can accurately capture. On most interfaces, this will be -20KHz to 20KHz, which is pretty standard. However, a higher range is always better in most cases.

Output Impedance – We’ve discussed this aspect before in other articles as well, particularly our microphone guide article and it is just as important to account for this in audio interfaces. For a short review, output impedance is measured in ‘ohms’ and generally the lower the total of ohms the better. For those wondering what in the world output impedance is, it’s basically the measure of how much ‘resistance’ or push back there is when audio information is transferred from the interface to the computer. As such, obviously the less electrical interference the better and ohms is a measure of how  much of this electrical interference one can anticipate. Therefore, the fewer ohms of impedance, the better. On our list of best audio interfaces, we’ve curated the devices that have the lowest total impedance for you.

Signal to noise ratio – In the simplest terms, this refers to how loud your recorded audio will be than the other ‘noise’ and ‘garbage’ that enters your recording. As such, the higher the number, the better.

Equivalent Input Noise – How much ‘noise’ does the audio interface add to your recording? The number is calculated in decibels, and better interfaces have lower numbers.

Gain Range – This is pretty important as it refers to the loudest volumes that one can amplify their microphone signal to without distortion. You definitely want the clarity and loudness of your microphone signal to be evident. Low signal is as good as no signal!

 

Now that you understand the fundamentals of why an audio interface is important and how to navigate the waters to determine which ones are the perfect fit for you, we will present the list of our best audio interfaces for studio recording.

In creating our list of the Best Audio Interfaces for Studio Recording, we used a few criteria to establish our rankings. We graded each device on the basis of its aesthetics, hardware, pricing, and overall rating. Each category was given a score between 0 to 100, with 100 representing the best of the best and 0 being the opposite. Below, we have an explanation of the criteria for each category:

Aesthetics – Aesthetics are graded simply on how aesthetically pleasing the device is. We examine if the design of the device makes sense, if it would look ‘cool’ in your studio, and if at the basics if it’s something nice to actually look at.

Hardware – In this section, we evaluate all of the specifications that we discussed in great depth above and dissect this for you so that you don’t have to worry about it.

Pricing – In this section, we discuss whether the current going rate at the time of writing this article is a fair price or if it’s outrageous. One of the factors that qualifies an interface or any other product in this world as ‘good’ or not is if it is priced in a fair and equitable way. We would never advocate for anyone to pay in excess of what they reasonably need to in order to receive top-tier quality.

Overall – This category is a measure of all the ones preceding it as well as some other intangible factors that will be discussed in the rankings. This category is most important because not all three categories are weighted equally and as such, this provides a more reasonable view of how everything is proceeding.

 Best Audio Interfaces for Studio Recording

 

#5 – Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface

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Coming in at #5 on our list of Best Audio Interfaces on the market is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. This may be the most common audio interface that you’ll find on the market today, but it lives up to its billing as a sturdy, reliable, and high-quality device that any music recording professional can rely on.

Aesthetics – In terms of aesthetics, the device is fairly appealing. It is not the craziest looking thing that you could obtain, but it has a nice red color scheme to match its name, ‘Scarlett’. The various nobs on the device are all black and silver, which complement the overall scheme well. One of the best aspects of the color scheme of this device is that it is not too obtrusive, so you aren’t under the impression that it is too ‘confusing’ to understand or that you would need to do too much in particular to grasp it’s functionality.

Hardware – In terms of hardware, this is a very solid device for anyone to own. Just to go over the basics, the bit rate offered with the device is very legitimate at 96 KHz, which is pretty high. It contains the standard 48V switch that you’d seek out of any audio interface. The frequency response is in the normal range that we stated above and the gain range goes up fairly high to 46 decibels, which is desirable.

Pricing – The pricing of the device is very cheap at the time of writing and that’s one of the main reasons for the popularity of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. If you’re looking for an audio interface that’s high-quality and also extremely cheap, then this may be the perfect device for you!

 

To view additional information about this product, read reviews from customers who have used it, and purchase it directly today – click here.

 

#4 – M-Audio M-Track 2x2 C-Series

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Coming in at #4 on our list of best audio interfaces is the M-Audio M-Track 2x2 C-Series. This device is definitely a great option for any individual wishing to get top of the line quality for the cheapest of the cheap and we’d recommend any aspiring music professional look heavily into this interface before pursuing other options.

Aesthetics – Aesthetically, the device looks very nice and adds a nice touch to any studio atmosphere. It is designed unlike most audio interfaces that have all of their controls on the sides of the box by places theirs on the top instead. The buttons also look markedly ‘cleaner’ than those on the #5 audio interface on our list of best audio interfaces. The stainless steel nobs add a very nice touch. The other buttons are also push buttons that do not protrude from the device, giving it a very sleek feel. The all black color-pattern is extremely nice as well.

Hardware – In terms of hardware, this is a great audio interface for several reasons. It provies a bit rate of 24-bit/192kHz, which is extremely high. It also has an option for two different types of USB connection cables. In addition, the audio interface itself comes with a host of plug-ins and an accompanying software, which is always useful. It is a lighter device than most with a very high dynamic range and a normal frequency range. There is a low level of noise interference and a very high gain range on it (55 db). The output impedance on this device is extremely low as well at just 10 ohms.

Pricing – The current going price for this audio interface is absolutely phenomenal, all things considered. For this device to be offered at the price that it goes for is nearly a steal and we’d recommend anyone with the resources to purchase this item that has not already done so, do it immediately unless you are truly in the market to get our #1 interface on our list of best audio interfaces. Not only is significantly cheaper than our #5 best audio interface (which is also a steal), but the specs on this device are far superior to it as well. There’s no reason why anyone should hesitate on grabbing this item if you’re looking for a cheap interface that gives you surprisingly high quality. Out of all the hardware that we cover, there may not be a better value than this with the exception of one or two items.

 

To view additional information about this product, read reviews from customers who have used it, and purchase it directly today – click here.

 

#3 –  Zoom TAC-2R Audio Interface

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The Zoom TAC-2 Thunderbolt Audio Interface comes in as a strong #3 on our list of best audio interfaces. This audio interface specializes in simplicity whilst simultaneously delivering stellar quality.

Aesthetics – This device looks very aesthetically pleasing. It has an all silver plating with just one nob on the side of the device. The simplicity and sophistication of the design is something that is profoundly different than most audio interfaces than what you would usually find. This is definitely one of the strongest points of this interface.

Hardware – There’s a lot remarkable about the interface in terms of its hardware capability. It’s resolution specs are very impressive standing at 24-bit depth resolution with 192 kHz, which are the highest processing resolutions available. The phantom power is of appropriate levels and the frequency response and maximum gains are very appropriate.

Pricing – The pricing on this item is very fair given the value that is bestowed to the consumer.

 

To view additional information about this product, read reviews from customers who have used it, and purchase it directly today – click here.

 

#2 – Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

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Coming in at #2 on our list is the Komplete Audio 6. Once again, Native Instruments has decided to bless us with another gem and this interface, like most of their other products, upholds the Native Instruments’ brand reputation very well.

 

Aesthetics – Aesthetically, this device is very beautiful. With a silver and black color theme, it has a very sleek and modern, sophisticated look to it. The presence of nobs and modules on both the top and front of the box is a nice aesthetic touch as well. In addition, the digital icons on the top of the box that light up according to which setting is selected is a beautiful touch as well. Overall, this audio interface is a thing of beauty.

 

Hardware – The hardware on this device is one of its very strong points and what Native Instruments typically excels at. To begin with, this audio interface manages to be the same size as most other interfaces with only two plug-ins, yet this model has a whopping six. It comes equipped with a very high level of resolution at 96KHz, as well as a preamp built into the model, which is a huge plus for us. The frequency range of the device is in the normal range as well (-20KHz to 20Khz). The maximum gain, as you probably guessed from the mention of a pre-amp being built into the interface is amazing as well. That fact alone makes this interface something that one would definitely benefit greatly from in a studio setup.

 

Pricing – The pricing of this audio interface at the time of writing is spectacular. We would definitely recommend that you go out to purchase this item if it is within your budget. It’s an excellent interface and truthfully does not cost much money at all at its current listed price.

 

 

To view additional information about this product, read reviews from customers who have used it, and purchase it directly today – click here.

 

 

 

 

#1 – RME Fireface

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Coming in at #1 on our list of best audio interfaces, we pretend to you, simply, the best in audio interfaces.

Aesthetics – Aesthetically, it doesn’t exactly scream ‘beautiful’ or super powerful, expensive device at you, but it also does not underwhelm either. In short, the interface looks like a complex and advanced piece of musical equipment. It doesn’t contain the cute little light up buttons or nobs that were present on a few of our other selections for the best audio interfaces list. However, this fact is one of its hidden charms. It’s the ultimate in professionalism and that’s something that we are great fans of.

Hardware – From a hardware perspective, this device is absolutely unrivaled in most aspects. To start with, 192 KHz processing is a phenomenal sample rate ensuring maximum clarity in all recordings. The other benefits are not so much in the hardware specs of this device, however, but in the technology instituted within the device itself. This is what is response for the super low rates of impedance (great thing), high quality of the pre amps within the device, and superiority of the general sample rate equates up to one potent device.

Pricing – The price for this audio interface is extremely high, albeit fair for its value. If money isn’t an object, you should purchase this interface. If money is a constraint, then you should select the 2nd ranked interface on our list of Best Audio Interfaces.

 

To view additional information about this product, read reviews from customers who have used it, and purchase it directly today – click here.