An Audio interface is an essential piece of equipment for setting up your home music studio. It basically acts as a buffer between your Studio Monitors, Midi Keyboard, Guitar, microphone or any other additional device / instrument that uses up a lot of power from your computer (Mac in my case).
So with a proper USB audio interface, instead of using ALL of your little computer’s power, you are using an ‘interface’ that helps balance the load out properly. This way all parties involved (Computer, Midi keyboard, etc) are all working in harmony.
Most importantly, if you want your music to sound just as good anywhere else, as it does on your studio monitors, you need an audio interface.
If you are buying quality studio monitors, you need an audio interface bud. No ifs and buts about it. I have a MacMini and without a proper audio interface, my computer would have fried a long time ago. Best part is these days they have audio interfaces that can connect with a simple USB.
Tascam US-2×2 – Best Audio Interface For Under $200
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This is the one that I have and therefore this is the one that I recommend. It is hands down the best usb audio interface for home recording and professionals as well. It’s affordable and is a super quality interface.
Also known as the best audio interface for Logic Pro X, it works on pretty much any DAW. Most audio interfaces work with any DAW anyways. Except a handful that don’t so no worries.
Bottom line, TASCAM’s US 2×2 is all you need as it stands out in its practical design as well as its high-quality audio properties. They have some great info on their website as well.
This interface has a 2-way channel interface suited for home, work, or mobile studio tasks. It also allows you to connect a condenser microphone with no buzz or distortion (That usually occurs in a cheap quality audio interface).
This Tascam model is also one of the best audio interface for studio monitors.
If you are recording vocals and require a microphone output, this one comes with that as well. An audio interface with 2 headphone outputs is kind of unnecessary (At last for my use) so the single one you’ll find on this model is more than enough.
A special USB 2.0 connection or an alternative power adapter supplies the power of the 2-ins and 2-outs. Great way to enjoy the plug and play capabilities of this interface.
On and off MIDI is also featured to enable the attachment of synths, drum devices, and midi controllers. In addition, you also get two Digital Audio Workstations software apps to pick from like the Cakewalk Sonar X3 LE and Abelton Live Lite 9.
Both DAWs are well renowned in the electronic music production genre.
I consider the Tascam 2×2 as one of the best audio interface for under $200.
There is literally NO latency (Delay) on this one. I use it, I know. I had some latency issues with my MIDI controller and my AT2020 microphone for a bit but after making some changes on Logic, it was just fine.
Latency issues are super annoying.
Alternate: The only other one I could think of is the Native Instruments audio interface (Also known as Komplete Audio 6). Learn more about it here on Amazon as well.
M Audio M Track C Series 2×2 USB Audio Interface
- 2-in/2-out USB Audio Interface
- 24 bit/192 kHz resolution for professional recording and monitoring. Hi-Speed USB connection with USB/direct balance knob for zero-latency monitoring
- Includes both standard USB and USB-C connection cables
- XLR + 0.25 inch TRS combo input, 0.25 inch instrument input, stereo 0.25 inch main outputs, 0.25 inch headphone output with independent level control
- Included software: Pro Tools | First, Eleven Lite, AIR Creative FX Collection (20 world-class FX AU/VST plugins), Strike, Xpand!2 and Mini Grand
This is another pro audio interface. The M Audio interface is one of most popular ones out there. This audio interface will help you create tracks at 24-bit/192khZ. Which is the industry standard. Great for beginners and advanced users.
Not that it matters but you got to love the look of this audio interface. A chic professional level steel chassis with a big audio knob in the middle, and minimal noise “Crystal” pre-amps combined with pure A/D converters make this interface will help you produce seriously high quality music.
With M-Track 2X2 it’s possible to record a max. of two channels at the same time, due to its reliable XLR+ 1.4 balanced combo input and brand new revolutionary 1/4 inch instrument input with a distinct enhancement and acoustic impedance that offer the most crispy clear and accurate results when you connect your guitar to the interface.
The process of connecting your device is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is connect your P.C or Mac through a typical USB or USB-C port, using the two cables supplied. The recording function couldn’t get any easier as the advanced hi-speed USB connection together with USB/Direct balance knob allow any latency when controlling your inputs.
An all-around great device that combines ideally professional studio quality, user-friendly characteristics and its built-in software that offers everything you need to start your recordings.
As far as latency goes, this is one of the best value audio interface around.
Best Audio Interface Under $500
Akai Audio Interface
- Record and playback 24-bit, 2-channel audio via USB
- Four XLR-1/4" combo jacks with phantom power and gain control
- Two classic, high-quality VU level meters with switchable sources
- Plug-and-play operation, no driver installation required
- Three additional USB ports for connecting other devices through to a computer
Akai USB audio interface is a good one if you don’t mind spending more and like that classic look.
Falls into an audio interface under $500 category, this Akai audio interface is one of the coolest one’s ever made. That said, a lot of mac users have issues with installing this so that’s why I just look at it and enjoy it from the distance.
Man I love that classic, analog look on this interface.
Novation Audiohub 2×4 Audio Interface
- USB audio interface with 24-bit/96kHz resolution and built-in 3-port USB hub
- Makes it easy to connect external control surfaces without an additional USB hub
- Exceptional Focusrite sound quality on inputs and outputs
- Loud, clear headphone amplifier is perfect for monitoring your mix in noisy environments
- Perfect for performing electronic musicians
The Novation Audio Hub 2X4 combines both an acoustic interface and USB hub for generating electronic music paired with “Focus-rite” sound quality. Consider by many as the best mid range audio interface.
The new combined device allows the user to attach all USB ports at the same time without any latency and excessive noise being produced during the process.
It is equipped with 3 separate bus-powered USB ports for getting started, equalizer stereo port that allow a more precise and accurate sound quality and 4 RCAs that produce premium quality audio.
Additionally the device offers a strong audio interface which is the result of collaboration with Focus-right to facilitate one of the best interfaces of its kind in the industry, offering the user top-notch quality that reaches 96kHZ and 24-bit studio quality.
What does this means? Production of accurate studio quality and equalized outputs with a fully autonomous level adjustment. Headphone output is also hardly ever noisy.
Avid MBOX Mini USB Audio Interface
An innovative interface perfect for single musicians and sound producers and mixers with professional grade audio quality that results from the M-Box Mini sound interfaces, which are also mobile.
With this new interface, the user can connect multiple organs and monitors with their P.C to record and produce studio-grade sounds and music.
You can simply combine the interface with multiple music production softwares like for example Logic, Pro Tools, Fruity Loops, Cubase, Live, and more. If you get a chance to learn more about the Avid MBOX, definitely take up on it.
The end result will always be high quality regardless of your choice as the MBOx Mini was created by the same group that produced the avant-garde Pro Tools HD series interfaces which offer the best audio quality and function in sound production. This package comes with Pro Tools as well.
How To Use An Audio Interface
The audio interface is the hardware that connects your recording and listening tools to your computer, thereby allowing analog signals to be converted to digital files (otherwise unable to be processed by your computer).
While some inexperienced producers might want to skip this step, instead choosing to utilize their computer’s built-in sound-card, they would be sacrificing the over-all professional sound quality that is only offered by audio interfacing.
The added outputs are what allow for the ease of editing and the sound quality of recordings. But the reason why selecting an audio interface can be such a challenge is due to the sheer number of varieties, each specifically designed for a different standard of studio.
These can range from an interface costing as little as $200, ideal perhaps for a studio apartment, where only a single pair of outputs is needed for your monitors. But expanding from this, such as in a professional producer’s studio, the interfaces required varies, due to the various types of inputs and outputs.
The variety and requirements of these can lead to interfaces costing as much as $4000 each. This is on top of the complications with determining just what kind of interface will be needed, even for the most experienced user. And so what follows is a guide to help you select the ideal audio interface, tailored to fit your needs.
Your average audio interface is made up of a wide collection of features, so it’s no wonder the difficulty there is in deciding which are relevant. However, there are five main features to look for in selecting your audio interface, as follows:
Generally, DAW’s are versatile and can work with different interfaces. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. It’s a small gap in the group, but about 10% of DAW’s will not be compatible with the interface you choose. The issue arises in the event that you are loyal to a particular DAW that is in that ten percent.
To avoid this, one can research the range of compatibility on your DAW on the brand’s website. Unfortunately, you may have to do some deep-digging, as this information is generally not the most accessible.
Often the details concerning compatibility can be found in the FAQ section of the website, as the company cannot fully guarantee the future compatibility of their product with the acceleration of developments. If at all possible, you might benefit from using an interface produced by the same brand as that of your DAW.
In order to actually connect your audio interface to your computer, you have four options to choose from, in ascending order of value:
The USB cable is the most common connector seen on inexpensive home-studios, and it is considered one of the slowest options. Though the Firewire is considerably less commonly used these days, it has a noticeably faster data transfer rate when compared to the USB.
The Thunderbolt is popularly used with the newer mid-range interfaces, and exceeds both USB’s and Firewires in speed. And finally, the standard connection of professional interfaces, the PCIE is often preferred as the fastest connecter, with the added benefit of having additional processing abilities.
“Value” is intended to imply monetary expense, as for those with a budget, a USB can still prove to be adequate. One should remember, however, to confirm that whatever you choose it is compatible with the equipment you intend to pair it with.
Input/Output (I/O) Count
The amount of I/O’s one will need in their studio set-up depends primarily on the amount of tracks they intend to record at one time. For instance, a solo musician may only require two to four I/O counts, such as those found on a mid-range interface.
A small song-writing team would likely need up to eight. But engineers that actually record bands will be wanting something more in the sixteen count range. However, instruments as complicated as an electronic drum kit might want eight counts on their own, and so it is very important to consider your I/O count needs when selecting your interface.
Input Channel Types
Now, a final thing to consider when selecting the audio interface that best fits your recording needs are the different types of input. The fact is that when manufactures refer to input, it could describe any or some combination of the following:
Mic input refers to an input that can directly connect your microphone to your computer.
However, a line input will require that you also have an outboard mic preamp, as this is what will be used for the mic channel.
Now this brings us to the optical input . . . This particular input is a digital format, and as such requires a digital converter with an optical output, as well as the previously mentioned outboard mic preamp, in order to be used as a mic channel.
We have addressed the most significant features to keep in mind when acquiring your own audio interface. Now one should consider that in order to avoid the necessary addition of a multi -channel mic preamp, the end result may be fewer inputs than needed or anticipated. This is due to the fact that though a typical interface may have as many as sixteen inputs, only a number of these may actually be microphone inputs.
These could range anywhere between two to eight. There are also other types of inputs to consider for specific needs, such as DI inputs for guitar or bass players, or MIDI inputs for keyboardists. So it is important to understand that the number of inputs listed on the product are not necessarily the actual number that you can make use of.
Now you have the tools to go out and actually assemble your own tool kit to start you own recording studio, as long you keep in mind their interface’s compatibility with their current tools.
Below are some common frequently asked questions regarding an audio interface, how to set it up and more.
What is an audio interface and what does it do?
For me, it all started with a simple question. Do I need an audio interface to connect my MIDI controller or to record drums?
The answer I found was a resounding YES! It’s the only way to do it if you want your music to sound professional. In fact, it’s essential for recording.
An audio interface also known as a digital audio interface acts as a hub that helps you connect all the external devices to your music production laptop (Perhaps a Macbook Pro) or desktop. An audio interface also comes with it’s own built in sound card that completely takes the load away from your internal soundcard of your computer. Especially from your overall CPU.
Also it’s not like you need more than one audio interface. In fact, with just one, you can connect all the following:
- Maschine (Awesome drum pad made by Native Instruments)
- Studio Monitors
- MIDI Keyboard
- A USB mic, XLR mic, condenser microphones (Like the Blue Yeti or Rode NT1-a to record vocals) or even dynamic microphones.
- Akai MPK Mini
- DJ ddj-sb2 and other DJ Controllers.
- The list here literally goes on . . .
The main purpose or use of a USB audio interface is to dramatically lower the load from your computer and serve as an external power source.
Think about it . . . Imagine connecting super high power studio monitors, microphone, a keyboard all directly to your computer. Don’t you think that’s going to literally KILL your system?
It will not only slow everything down like a mofo but also overheat your pc, laptop or desktop or whatever you are using.
You know as a beginner what REALLY sucks about music producing? A freaking SLOW computer. It’s one of the biggest reasons why most producers quit or give up. Get the right tools from the beginning and give yourself a chance to succeed. That’s why an audio interface is essential and that’s what it’s used for.
So that’s what an audio interface is really used for. It’s not used for setting up Ableton, Fruityloops, Pro Tools or any other DAW. Though once you do connect your audio interface, most of these DAWs will pick it up as most digital audio interfaces today have the plug and play feature.
Long story short, you can’t record professional quality music without it. Get an audio interface and make real beats.
One thing I would like to clear is preamp (Basically amplifies songs) and an audio interface are two different things. Most audio interfaces come with their very own preamp. However, if you get a preamp on it’s own, the sound especially for vocals is super clear. You can do the same with an audio interface but you need to put in the extra effort like adjusting gain, adding a noise gate plugin, etc to get rid of that ‘hissing’ noise. There are ways to do it but with a preamp, it usually gets taken care of on it’s own.
What asus drivers do I need for my audio interface?
For this, it’s best to contact Asus directly as drivers are updated on a regular basis.
What cords do i need for an audio interface?
It all depends on what you are trying to connect to it. Like for Studio Monitors, you would need XLR cables. For a MIDI controller, a USB might do the trick but if you are just trying to connect an audio interface to your computer, USB is just fine. In fact, almost all audio interfaces today (The popular Presonus Firebox for example) are all USB ready. Just plug and play.
What type of audio interface do I need?
To get going, get a 2 x 2 audio interface. This kind of audio interface gives you two xlr outputs to connect your studio monitors, one input for your mic and another for your midi keyboard. Perfect to power a pair or studio monitors, a mic and a keyboard. However, just goes it says 2×2 doesn’t mean it has all these essential 4 inputs. It’s always best to look at the images of the products too.
One thing to keep in mind is to get professional industry standard sound, the output of your audio interface should be at 24-bit/192kHz. You can get something with a lower output but only if you are a super beginner and don’t have the budget to invest slightly higher. Once you do get a lot better, then invest in an audio interface with a 24-bit/192kHz output. This is a secret that a lot of newbs don’t know and therefore they stay well . . . newbs.
How to connect mixer to audio interface?
Just like with studio monitors, to connect your mixer to your audio interface, you need xlr cables.
How to make an audio interface at home?
I think it’s possible to make an audio interface at home but you need be like an expert electrical engineer or something. I can probably make the outer casing using a 3d printer of some sort but for all that circuitry, you need to know what you are doing. It would definitely be a time consuming project.
Is a mixer and audio interface the same?
Kind of . . .
An audio interface’s job is to act as an ‘interface’ between your instruments and your computer (DAW).
A mixer does the exact same thing as an audio interface but you have more control (Mixing abilities) over each sound before sending it to your computer (DAW) for editing.
So essentially they are same but if you can get the sound you want through a mixer, then you don’t have to worry about playing with it too much once it’s in your DAW. It’s really a matter of preference and getting the sound quality that you want.
A lot of people use mixers with an audio interface to make their sounds super professional and high quality. You can easily connect an audio interface and mixer together with an additional XLR cable or in some cases, through USB. Whether it’s Behringer, Mackie, Summing, Presonus or any popular audio interface that is out there, you can definitely use them with a mixer.
Bottom line is this, whether you get a mixer or not, to get that professional quality sound, you do need an audio interface.
Last update on 2018-06-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API