The Best Thunderbolt Audio Interface for home studios and music production [2020 Guide & Reviews]
Audio interfaces are an essential part of any recording studio, whether it is for mixing sounds or recording songs. If you are a singer or a music producer, this piece of hardware has become a necessity now. However, as the technology progresses, like all other hardware, audio interfaces have also been home to advancement, especially when it comes to connections. USB connections are very much there but are a part of relatively old technology. Following the USBs, we have firewire and thunderbolt connections that are not only faster but are also allow higher bandwidth and a higher data transfer rate.
Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces have been receiving a lot of hype lately, mainly because more and more computers become compatible. Initially, their audio interfaces were only available for mac users, but the number of personal computers and operating systems that come with thunderbolt compatibility is increasing as we write.
In this article, we have reviewed the six best thunderbolt audio interfaces for a home studio. With high-resolution recordings, producers and singers need higher bandwidth and faster data sharing, that is exactly what the thunderbolt audio interfaces provide.
What is a thunderbolt connection?
A thunderbolt connection, like a USB-C connection, is a standard for data transfer. As mentioned earlier, these connections have a higher data transfer rate, higher bandwidth, and higher power. In the past, thunderbolt connections were only compatible with Mac PCs, but they have been growing popular for a while now. Check out the best computers for music production and the best laptop for music production to find some with Thunderbolt connection. PC motherboards with add-in cards for thunderbolt support have also hit the markets, making it easier for beginners to invest in Thunderbolt audio interfaces. The following technical specifications are standard in all thunderbolt connections.
What to expect in Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces: Buying Guide
There are three major factors Thunderbolt Audio interfaces are famous for, and this is precisely what you need to look for when checking for a thunderbolt audio interface as they are relatively expensive if we compare with the USB and other types of audio interfaces.
The Thunderbolt connection is a result of Apple and Intel collaboration. Since the production, the protocol and implementation of the connection have been closely monitored. However, since the technology is gaining power, third party PC motherboards have started making their way to the market. The only reason compatibility and reliability was not an issue is the fact that all protocols were monitored. Now that we have other companies and manufacturers pitching in, you need to be extra careful about this part.
Make sure your thunderbolt audio interface is compatible with your thunderbolt connector and note that mostly it is. Lack of compatibility will only cause you inconvenience and nothing else. Moreover, the connection will not be able to work according to its maximum potential.
Extremely low latency is mainly the factor that caused the sudden rise in the popularity of thunderbolt connections. Out of all the three audio interface connections, available thunderbolt is the fastest and has the lowest latency. Meaning, the users will hardly ever face lag while recording and playback. However, since the unauthorized third parties have joined the bandwagon, we cannot always say you will get the authentic latency. Thus, make sure you check the latency while buying the audio interface. With thunderbolt connections, we usually get a latency of around one millisecond.
Most beginners and newbies think that since thunderbolt connections are the fastest and most reliable, they will be super expensive. For that reason, they can be easily conned into paying more money. They are costly as compared to other audio interfaces in the market but can still be bought on a budget. Mostly thunderbolt audio interfaces, even the most famous ones, lie in the $450 to $650 price bracket. However, it depends on the number of inputs and features it offers. Thunderbolt audio interfaces have been stereotyped for a long time now, mostly because of a lack of information.
If you are looking for an audio interface with USB connection and also budget-friendly, check the best cheap audio interfaces and best professional USB audio interface.
The Top 6 Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces for home studio and music production – Reviews
Usually, top of the line companies produce Thunderbolt audio interfaces; however, like all the other products, some are better than the other. In this post, we have listed the six best thunderbolt audio interfaces for you to choose from.
1. Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo
This thunderbolt Apollo audio interface is basically a redesign of the professional desktop recording interface released for both Mac and Windows. With some tweaks here and there the Universal Audio Apollo audio interface has become one of the best thunderbolt audio interfaces in the market. This audio interface features high resolution 24 bit / 192 kHz audio conversion.
Also, combined with the uncompromising analog design, top of the line build quality and high-end components provides high–quality sound recordings and playback. Moreover, we have real-time processing of the UAD, which is specifically used for tracking through vintage compressors, preamps, and plugs.
As far as the input lines are concerned, we have two into the premium mic or line inputs, two into line outputs, input for instruments and output for headphones, two into analog monitor outputs that are digitally controlled, and eight into optically connected digital input channels. At one time, the audio interface can cater up to four Apollo interfaces, two devices over thunderbolt, and six UADs. The latency, as claimed by the company, is near to zero for the preamp emulations that are done via Neve, API, etc. This audio interface is ideal for singers and producers that want to record a large number of high-quality audios in their home studios.
Take a look at 20 sound recording and production tips to remember or learn the basics.
2. Apogee ELEMENT 46
This thunderbolt audio interface with 12 inputs and 14 outputs is perfect for a home studio especially for users that record multiple audios and mix sounds regularly. This audio interface is pretty similar to its younger and less loaded brother the apogee element 24 that we will discuss in the next section.
It is a rack-mountable audio interface unit, which features top of the line circuitry and preamps, making it ideal for long term use. Apogee is an extremely reputable company when it comes to audio interfaces. This premium-priced audio interface is one of the best available on the market. It has a sleek design and has no MIDI input and output channels.
As far as its technical specifications are concerned, it comes with 100 percent original thunderbolt connectivity, which is combined with four into XLR and TRS inputs, eight into ADAT and optical inputs/outputs. We also have a switchable phantom power with left and right main inputs. The only downside to this audio interface is that it is only compatible with Mac OS. Windows and Android users cannot use it. It is home to high-resolution sound recording and has high-end hardware parameters that include input gain, output level, and low latency.
3. Apogee ELEMENT 24
This classic and elegant audio interface looks pretty basic and simple on the outside but has an overall impressive package. Like its mixed-up brother the Apogee ELEMENT 46, it can only be used with Mac and Apple product which is the only limitations it has. Hardware-wise, the audio interface embraces top of the line components, circuitry, and preamps.
Even though the audio interface is all about making the Mac and Apple products do their best work. The minimalistic approach followed while constructing this device works pretty well. It has 10 into inputs and 12 into outputs, which is pretty tight. However, for a home-based studio, it works fine.
This rack-mountable Apple audio interface, like its siblings, comes with the original thunderbolt connection that is combined with near to zero latency and high-resolution sound. It can record up to 24 bit / 96 kHz and 1.41 ms round trip latency. The audio interface embraces element control software, which provides the users with virtual control over hardware and parameters like input gain, latency monitoring, and output gain. Anyone who wants sound quality on top of their list must get this audio interface. It belongs to the premium range of audio interfaces and has high functionality.
4. Focusrite Clarett 8Pre
After Apogee, this is another company that hardly needs any introduction mainly because of its high reputation that precedes it. However, as compared to all the other manufacturers on the market, Focusrite uses the best circuitry. The audio interface under discussion is no exception; it comprises top-notch circuitry and preamps. It is rack-mountable and can be controlled remotely via your Apple products like iPad, iPhone, or iPod. As far as the loop master samples are concerned, the audio interface has 2 GB of space and other features like Red 2 and 3, Abletonlives, Softube time, etc.
Along with original thunderbolt connectivity for Mac and Apple products, this audio interface has several input and output channels up its sleeve. It comprises of eight into XLR and TRS inputs in combination with phantom power. Out of the total 18 inputs, eight are analog, two are PDIF, and the rest are ADAT. If all the outputs are counted, we have a total of 20 outputs, 10 out of which are analog, 8 are ADAT, and the rest are PDIF. Feel free to connect as many of the best studio monitor speakers and PA speakers you want. This audio interface can turn out to be the best for band recordings. The only downside or limitation is that it is only usable by Mac and Apple users.
5. MOTU 828es 28×32 Thunderbolt USB 2.0 Audio Interface
Another brand with a long track record in audio interfaces is MOTU. Most beginners overlook the audio interfaces under the company’s wings, but these audio interfaces are usually very high-quality and are pretty reasonable as well. They have audio interfaces in all price brackets; hence, you don’t have limited options. The audio interface under discussion here is the professional-grade audio interface, which works pretty well with professional gear. This ‘es’ version is basically a design redo of the previous launch ‘MOTU 828.’ The changes made have made the overall operation even easier.
In this audio interface, we have two headphone preamps, to connect any of the best studio headphones, and a total of 28 inputs and 32 outputs. This huge channel count makes it perfect for professional use, especially for producers who have to record band music. At the front of the device, for the user’s convenience, MOTU has added two mic/line inputs and a color display. The rest of the channels and connectors are at the back. This rack-mountable audio interface can record high resolution sounds up to 24 bit / 192 kHz resolution. That quickly pumps it up to the premium class of audio interfaces.
6. PreSonus Audio Interface, 22×24-4 Mic Pres
This is one of the fastest audio interfaces in the market. Among this list of audio interfaces discussed in this article, this one has the lowest latency. The manufacturer has put in extra though while constructing it, making it extra durable and sturdy. Circuitry and preamps are the most critical part of an audio interface. This particular audio interface has the best circuity among all. With the Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, it provides maximum bandwidth among the audio interfaces mentioned in this post. The quantum thunderbolt provides the ability to achieve 80 x 80 with the help of stacking technology.
The original Thunderbolt 2 connectivity is combined with 4 XLR and TRS inputs with switchable phantom power. The sound recording resolution provides 24 bits with a sampling rate of up to 192 kHz. It has a 120-dB dynamic range. The users can take full advantage of the high-speed thunderbolt in combination with the ADAT optical input and output channels. If you are looking for something reasonable, fast, and versatile for your home studio, this audio interface is the one for you.
These were our top 8 picks for the best thunderbolt audio interfaces in 2020!
By now, you would have understood why an audio interface holds such high importance in a song recording. If you want something fast and highly reliable, a thunderbolt audio interface is your best option. It will definitely amp up your recording set up with its fast data transfer rate, high reliability, and low latency. We don’t have a lot of thunderbolt audio interface options in the market. Hence, the best ones are in this article for your ease.
Feel free to drop your comment below and let us know if you have purchased any of the above.