The best audio interfaces deliver clean, high-resolution analog-to-digital audio conversion directly to your computer for recording podcasts, voiceovers, music, and other professional content. While audio interfaces come in a wide range of designs set apart by number of inputs, expandability, and onboard digital signal processing, even the best budget interfaces on the market today include features like 24-bit/96 kilohertz conversion and mic preamps, so it’s than ever to record pro-quality audio in any situation.

We’ve combed the market and tested countless products to compile this list of the best audio interfaces for pro studios, home studios, beginners, and seasoned audio veterans alike. Below, we’ll go over some key features and considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best audio interface for your next project.

Best Overall: Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition
Best for Mac: Apogee Symphony Desktop
Best for Home Studio: Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
Best USB: Universal Audio Volt 2
Best Budget: PreSonus AudioBox GO

How We Selected the Best Audio Interfaces

With lots of similarly featured audio interfaces currently available, picking the best audio interface for every type of use was no simple task. Here are a few of the key specs we considered when compiling this list.

Brand: Longstanding brands with an established reputation in the pro audio market took precedence over others when building this list. Universal Audio, PreSonus, Apogee, and Focusrite have been around for decades and have a track record of producing solid and reliable audio equipment.

Connectivity: We aimed to include interfaces with a variety of connectivity options, from the most basic two-input and two-output designs to expandable units that accommodate up to 18 inputs and 20 outputs. Every interface on our list includes at least one microphone preamp and instrument input as well as stereo monitor outputs and headphone outputs for user-friendly workflow.

Price: Audio interfaces come in a vast range of prices that vary depending on their build quality, I/O, DSP capabilities, and converters. We’ve included top-of-the-line interfaces, mid-tier options, and budget units to accommodate studios and engineers of every level.

Best Audio Interfaces: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition

Easy Pro Expandability. Universal Audio

Why It Made The Cut: The Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition offers a perfect blend of easy setup, pro-level expandability, and industry-standard specs while granting access to a huge library of analog emulation plug-ins.

Specs: 

I/O: 18 inputs, 24 outputs
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Dimensions: 24 inches H x 17 inches W x 8 inches D

Pros: 

— Built-in preamps allow immediate recording without extra gear
— Includes UAD plug-in bundle for realtime analog emulation
— Low-latency Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and expandability up to 18 inputs

Cons:

— Pro-level specs and connectivity add significant cost
— Universal Audio plug-in ecosystem requires hardware to run
— Lacks Firewire or USB support; Thunderbolt 1 and 2 require adapter

The Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition is one of the best audio interfaces currently available thanks to its well-balanced combination of pro-level features and easy-to-use design. Its four mic preamps and two instrument inputs allow users to begin recording right away, but it’s also expandable to an eye-popping 18 total inputs via ADAT and S/PDIF, making it the ideal studio centerpiece to grow with your small setup or to bring an existing studio up to date. 

The Apollo x8 features high-res 24-bit/192 kilohertz analog-to-digital conversion to deliver smooth and detailed audio that meets the highest industry standards, and it connects to both Mac and Windows systems via Thunderbolt 3. It’s backward compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and 2 via a separately sold adapter, but it unfortunately lacks Firewire and USB compatibility for older systems.

In addition to its top-of-the-line technical specs, the Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition unlocks access to Universal Audio’s huge library of analog emulation plug-ins, including everything from compressors and equalizers to amp and tape simulations. These proprietary plug-ins run directly on the Apollo x8’s six-core internal chips, doubling the processing of previous generations and leaving power and memory on users’ computers free for other tasks. One catch to this setup is that Universal Audio plug-ins won’t run on your computer without the company’s hardware, so you’ll have to haul around the bulky Apollo x8 or buy a portable interface like the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Duo if you want to use UAD plug-ins on the go. This fact, coupled with the price of the hardware and plugins, makes the Universal Audio ecosystem a particularly expensive one to inhabit, but their unique combination of top-shelf hardware and exclusive plug-ins is definitely unmatched in the industry.

Best for Mac: Apogee Symphony Desktop

Convenient Conversion. Apogee

Why It Made The Cut: The Apogee Symphony Desktop features some of the best analog-to-digital conversion available on the market packed into a convenient tabletop design that’s tailored for creativity.

Specs: 

I/O: 10 inputs, 14 outputs
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Dimensions: 2.5 inches H x 8 inches W x 4.75 inches D 

Pros:

— Incredibly open and detailed high-res conversion
— Built-in mic preamp emulations and EQ for an analog touch
— Synchronizes with Apple Logic Pro X for an integrated workflow

Cons:

— Limited to two inputs and outputs without extra equipment
— DSP effects system has a slight learning curve
— Expensive among dual-preamp interfaces

Apogee’s flagship Symphony analog-to-digital conversion has appeared in studios far and wide for the better part of a decade and has a solid reputation for facilitating recordings that sound detailed, natural, and dynamic. This same flagship AD/DA conversion, once found only in bulky pieces of rack mountable equipment, is now available in the Apogee Symphony Desktop for a fraction of the cost and size of its predecessors. 

Measuring in at a tiny eight inches wide, the Symphony Desktop is a USB-C recording interface that features one of the best combinations of sound quality, portability, and expandability available on the market, making it an ideal travel companion or main studio interface for recording in small spaces without sacrificing fidelity. It’s also one of the best audio interfaces for Mac users thanks to its seamless integration with Apple Logic Pro X, through which users can control all facets of the Symphony Desktop without lifting a finger or downloading extra software.

The Apogee Symphony Desktop’s unique integrated hardware-software design offers a ton of workflow options, but it takes a bit of practice to fully reap the benefits of its versatility. On the other hand, features like its analog mic preamp emulation and included channel strip plug-in are readily accessible for sculpting and adding warmth to your digital recordings. The interface is also capable of running other Apogee plug-ins using its onboard DSP, allowing for latency-free effect monitoring. 

Most importantly, the Symphony Desktop is primarily a two-preamp interface that can only accommodate recording a maximum of two microphones or direct-input instruments, but users can connect the Symphony Desktop to any separately sold ADAT interface to add up to eight extra inputs or outputs to their setup. If you need more inputs out of the box, the Apogee Element 88 may be a better choice.

Best for Home Studio: Focusrite Scarlett 18i20

Powerful Price to Performance. Focusrite

Why It Made The Cut: Eight mic inputs, word clock compatibility, and ADAT expandability in a rack mountable chassis give the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 a price-to-performance ratio that’s hard to beat.

Specs:  

I/O: 18 inputs, 20 outputs
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Dimensions: 1.8 inches H x 19 inches W x 10.2 inches D

Pros:

— Professional-level I/O and expandability for home studios
— High-resolution 24-bit/192 kilohertz AD/DA conversion
— Clean, open-sounding preamps offer fantastic value

Cons:

— Focusrite Control software is clunky and unintuitive
— Using headphone outputs sacrifices half of the eight line outputs
— No individual-channel phantom power

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 offers impressive connectivity, expandability, and sound quality for its price range, making it one of the best audio interfaces for home studios and project studios available. Its eight built-in microphone preamps, two instrument inputs, and six line inputs make it an affordable choice for recording full drum kits, live bands, and other input-hungry projects at an industry-standard 24-bit/192 kilohertz resolution without the need for extra hardware. Other thoughtful features like a built-in talkback mic and one-touch high EQ boosting aim to add convenience and flexibility to your workflow. When it’s time to expand your studio, the Scarlett 18i20’s ADAT, S/PDIF, and word clock connectivity let you add extra inputs without the need to trade up for a more expensive interface.

Reflecting its sub-$600 price point, the 18i20 has a few design and workflow compromises that are relatively easy to work around but still important to consider. Phantom power can only be switched on in banks of four channels, requiring time and consideration to ensure that incompatible mics aren’t accidentally damaged. Focusrite’s control software also uses an outdated and somewhat opaque user interface, which can add time and frustration to setup and signal routing. The two headphone outputs on the 18i20 also “borrow” from the interface’s total line outputs, meaning that you’re limited to two spare line outputs if you’re using two pairs of headphones and a single pair of monitors. Still, if you’re setting up a home studio you’re probably already used to making compromises, and the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 super capable and flexible option for the money.

Best USB: Universal Audio Volt 2

Streamlined Portability. Universal Audio

Why It Made The Cut: The streamlined Universal Audio Volt 2 is a portable two-channel USB interface packed with sound sculpting features and industry-standard audio resolution, making it an ideal tool for portable recording.

Specs: 

I/O: Two inputs, two outputs
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Dimensions: 2 inches H x 6.9 inches W x 5.1 inches D

Pros:

— High-res conversion and analog preamp emulation in a small package
— Latency-free recording via direct monitoring
— Included software bundle featuring Ableton, Melodyne, and more

Cons:

— Streamlined non-expandable I/O suitable only for basic recording
— No monitor mute function
— Few LEDs used for gain display, making setting levels challenging

The stylish and affordable Volt 2 from Universal Audio is one of the best USB audio interfaces thanks to its convenient form factor, analog roots, and high-res recording capability. Unlike the pricey pro studio audio equipment for which the company is best known, the Volt 2 features a sleek and stripped-down two-input design that can be powered using a single USB connection, making it ideal for small spaces or traveling recording rigs. 

Each channel on the Volt 2 features individually-switchable “vintage” voicing that emulates the tone and clipping behavior of the Universal Audio 610 tube preamp to add analog character and grit to your microphones, guitars, keyboards, and other sources. Users can also record and monitor without latency, thanks to the Volt 2’s direct monitoring feature, making it easier to capture a natural performance.

The Universal Audio Volt 2 can’t be expanded to add more inputs, so unless you’ll only ever record two tracks simultaneously, it’s really more suited for supplementary roles than being a primary studio interface. Other small details that would make for a smoother workflow, like a monitor mute button and a granular gain display, have also been left out. Still, thanks to the inclusion of a basic software bundle that includes Ableton Live Lite and Melodyne Essential, the Volt 2 is a solid option for beginning recordists and very small project studios being built from the ground up. If you’re looking for a couple extra inputs, the Universal Audio Volt 476 features a similar-yet-elevated design that includes an integrated compressor.

Best Budget: PreSonus AudioBox GO

Pocket-Sized Recording Power. PreSonus

Why It Made The Cut: The PreSonus AudioBox GO is a no-brainer budget pick for mobile recording and studio expansion thanks to its bus-powered, pocket-sized design and high-quality recording resolution.

Specs:  

I/O: 2 inputs, 2 outputs
OS Compatibility: Windows, Mac
Dimensions: 1.7 inches H x 4.3 inches W x 3.3 inches D

Pros: 

— Incredibly simple and compact bus-powered design
— Includes a license for PreSonus Studio One Prime DAW software
— iOS, iPadOS, and Android compatible for mobile recording

Cons: 

— Only one mic preamp
— May introduce hum in poorly grounded configurations
— No granular level monitoring, and no expansion options

The PreSonus AudioBox GO is hands-down one of the best budget audio interfaces currently available, with an affordable price tag and high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz recording capability packed in a pocket-sized chassis. The AudioBox GO features a combo XLR/TRS input and a dedicated instrument input along with a headphone amplifier and stereo monitor outputs, but because it’s limited to a single microphone preamp, it’s best suited for single-user podcasting, multitrack overdubbing, and other basic content creation. 

The AudioBox GO also includes a license for PreSonus Studio One Prime, a basic digital audio workstation, so it’s a great kickstarter choice for beginning recordists. The interface is powered via USB, so no AC adapter is required. It’s also compatible with iOS, iPadOS, and Android ecosystems for mobile recording applications.

While some users have reported grounding issues in the AudioBox GO audio path that introduce audible hum when connected to certain microphones or computers, we didn’t experience any of these effects while testing the interface. We did find the AudioBox GO’s lack of granular onboard monitoring and its rear-facing inputs a bit cumbersome to work around, though these design choices make sense when considering the interface’s limited form factor. All in all, the AudioBox GO is an extremely good value when considering its convenient size and high recording resolution, but due to its very limited ability, it’s best used for very stripped-down mobile applications or live performance use.

Things to Consider Before Buying an Audio Interface

Inputs and Outputs

The number of inputs and outputs is probably the most important primary factor to consider before buying an audio interface due to the way it affects both cost and workflow. Generally speaking, cost increases along with the number of inputs, so dual- or single-input interfaces like the Universal Audio Volt 2 and the PreSonus AudioBox GO are often the most affordable. Some interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 come with a limited number of inputs but can be expanded via ADAT and S/PDIF connections to add many more inputs, making these designs ideal for future-proofing your studio.

Portability

In general, the more robust and feature-rich an audio interface is, the larger and less portable it will be. The best audio interfaces for mobile recording feature small form factors and will often provide limited I/O to aid in staying compact, and they’ll also feature USB bus power for added convenience. Small options like the Universal Audio Volt 2 offer a good combination of portability and sound quality, and as an added bonus, limited feature sets of portable interfaces often keep costs down.

Plug-ins

There’s a vast world of audio plug-ins, and every manufacturer offers their own unique ecosystem and compatibility. Certain companies, like Universal Audio, require users to own and use a piece of their hardware to access and use their proprietary plug-ins. Some interfaces like the Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition and Apogee Symphony Desktop also feature built-in DSP, which offers dedicated plug-in processing without using your computer’s processor. For this reason, it’s good to be aware of what specific plug-ins you’ll want to use and whether you need some extra processing power before purchasing an audio interface.

FAQs

Q: How much does an audio interface cost?

The most commonly used audio interfaces cost anywhere from below $100 up to around $6,000 for a single unit. Thanks to current technology, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find high-quality AD/DA conversion on a budget, but keep in mind that cost increases quickly as you begin to expand your input and output capability.

Q: What is the best quality audio interface?

Universal Audio, Apogee, PreSonus, and Focusrite make some of the best-quality audio interfaces on the market in a number of different tiers. PreSonus and Focusrite make fantastic budget and mid-level interfaces that offer a great balance of affordability and expandability, while Universal Audio and Apogee’s products offer pro-level connectivity and industry-leading conversion at a considerably higher cost.

Q: Are high-end audio interfaces worth it?

High-end audio interfaces are worth it in applications where number of inputs or AD/DA conversion quality matter most. Intermediate-level interfaces on the market today like the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 offer plenty of connectivity and high-resolution conversion, making them suitable for most large and small-scale recording projects. High-end converters like those found in the Apogee Symphony Desktop come at a considerable cost increase but offer a bit of extra detail, clarity, and depth, which may be desirable for professional and critical applications. The common wisdom is that if you can’t make a good-sounding recording with a modern intermediate-level interface, the problem is likely your technique or your room acoustics and not the interface itself.

Q: Do audio interfaces improve sound quality?

Most interfaces offer improved sound quality over a standalone USB microphone or other all-in-one recording device due to the extra space and circuitry that they employ. Features like dedicated stereo outputs for studio monitoring, preamps, and headphone outputs all serve to enhance your workflow and creative experience, too.

Q: What is AD/DA conversion?

AD/DA stands for analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog, referring to the process of converting an analog voltage signal into digital information and vice-versa. In the case of audio, this task is undertaken by an audio interface or sound card.

Q: What makes one audio interface better than another?

Audio interfaces are set apart from each other primarily by their connectivity, preamps, and AD/DA converters. High-end audio interfaces typically offer better quality control, more circuitry, and improved connectivity while being engineered to deliver detailed and accurate sound reproduction.

Final Thoughts

The Universal Audio Apollo x8 Heritage Edition is our pick for the best audio interface thanks to its well-rounded feature set, versatility, high-quality conversion, and built-in digital signal processing. The Apogee Symphony Desktop offers a similar yet stripped-down experience that’s best for Mac users due to its native integration with Apple Logic Pro X and its top-of-the-line converters. Home studio engineers looking for an interface with eight microphone preamps should check out the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, which can be expanded to 18 inputs down the line for growing studios. The Universal Audio Volt 2 is the best USB audio interface for hi-fi sound for small studios and mobile recording. If you’re shopping on a budget, just starting out, or need a supplementary mini interface, the PreSonus AudioBox GO is a solid and wallet-friendly option.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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