What is an audio interface used for? How to connect an audio interface to your computer? What is the best USB audio interface for home studio and professional musicians in 2020? Our list with inexpensive and high quality best USB audio interfaces will amaze you.
An Audio interface, also known as a soundcard, is by far the most important tool of any home recording studio with a computer and a DAW software. Whether you use a Windows PC, an iMac, or an iPad for making your music, you need an audio interface in any case. However, the traditional type of audio interfaces usually cost a fortune, require more space, and need special installations, which is why the world is shifting to USB audio interfaces nowadays. They are not only perfect for small home recording studios but are also pretty reasonable, which makes them ideal for beginners and newbies.
If you own a desktop or laptop by Apple, you can also look for Thunderbolt connectivity soundcards. Take a look at the best Thunderbolt audio interfaces in 2020.
Audio interfaces in most cases are loaded with features and specifications; in most cases, it is difficult to understand which ones you need to get and which ones you can easily forget. In this buying guide section, the five most important features to look for in an audio interface are discussed. More of that at the end of our list with the best professional audio interface.
Let’s dig in the best models available in the market. We took under consideration, the features, sound quality, ratings, user reviews, brand name, and of course, the price tag. Our choices below are on the range of $500 and under.
We have listed down and reviewed the best audio interfaces for you. All these interfaces are reasonable, easy to use, and powerful.
Top 7 Best USB audio interfaces in 2020 – Reviews
1. Focusrite Scarlett USB (3rd Gen) 18i20 Audio Interface with Pro Tools
This is one of the most versatile audio interfaces available on the market. With its 18 inputs and 20 outputs, this rock mountable 3rd generation audio interface features eight top of the line mic preamps. As compared to the other scarlet audio interfaces, the mic preamps that come with this one are the best ones yet. Apart from this, it comes with two high-headroom instrument inputs to plugin instruments like guitar and bass. We also have four separate monitor outputs with speaker switching and anti-thump technology. This audio interface has a high-performance converter as well. This enables the user to record and mix the music up till 192 kHz.
As far as the operation of this audio interface is concerned, it is effortless to use. The onboard talk back functionality and a front panel talkback mics that are built–in make everything easier. This device also has eight balanced line inputs that you can use for connecting drum machines, synthesizers, and added line-level sources. The pro tools that it comes with include Focusrite’s Red plug-in Suite, Softube Time and tone bundle, Ableton Live Lite, first Focusrite creative pack. It also includes your selection of one virtual instrument free XLN Addictive keys and a 3-month joint subscription. All of these are available for download once you purchase the device.
2. Roland OctaCapture USB 2.0 Audio Interface
This basic octa-capture audio interface by Roland is towards the pricey side but considering its high performance and pristine sound quality; the price bracket is justified. It comes with a compact input and out channel count, which includes eight premium mic preamps as well. The Auto-sens option makes the overall operation easier by intelligently setting optimal input levels for all preamps. This feature is not usually present in other audio interfaces.
Performance-wise, this audio interface provides top of the line specifications. It boasts extremely low latency, which is especially important during the songwriting and also has a streaming driver.
All of the above features combine with low noise and a wide range of power supply. As far as the construction and durability of the device are concerned, it is manufactured using durable aluminum and has a direct box functionality. Apart from this, the device has four software-controlled direct mixers up its sleeve as well. Thanks to these mixers, creating custom monitor mixes is easier than ever. It comes with support for all major DAW software on both mac and windows platforms along with OSX 10.6 and Windows 7, through ASIO 2.0/WDM (Windows) and Core Audio (Mac) drivers.
3. PreSonus Studio 1824c 18×20, 192 kHz, USB-C Audio Interface
This extremely versatile audio interface by PreSonus comes in a rack-mounted construction and can record up to 192 kHz /24-bit audio mixes. It comes with a USB Type-C connector, as compared to other audio interfaces with a typical MicroUSB connector. Hence, the media transfer is faster and has a higher performance rate.
The input channels include two mics, instrument or line inputs followed by 6 mic or line inputs. These 8 inputs come with XMAX Class-A mic preamps and more than 48 volts of phantom power. We also have 8 channels of ADAT input-output channels, four of them have a tuning of 96 kHz.
This audio interface is designed for demanding producers — especially those who are interested in taping full bands along with multi-channel drums. The audio interface can record up to 18 concurrent inputs. It seamlessly integrates with an audio interface that operates up to 192 kHz for high definition recording and mixing. It embraces converters of high quality on every output and input thanks to the PreSonus’ XMAX professional-grade mic preamps. They deliver high headroom, smooth highs, deep lows, and an overall rich sound.
4. PreSonus Studio 1810c 18×8 USB-C Audio/MIDI Interface
Another PreSonus audio interface that made it to the list is this PreSonus studio 1810c that is ideal for small studios. Music producers and small bands who are looking to record audios from a range of sources will be pretty happy with this device since it has the ability to record from 18 simultaneous sources which include four microphone inputs used in combination with Class A XMAX preamps, 4 dedicated ¼” TRS line inputs, and S/PDIF and ADAT inputs. This small footprint yet high capacity audio interface also features four DC coupled line outputs.
All the music producers love the flexible routing of this audio interference. This flexible routing is combined with control room integration and DSP based zero–latency monitor mixing. It helps in producing some mind-blowing music. The device comes with an included studio one artist for macOS and windows.
Along with this, it also comes with UC Surface for Windows, macOS, Android, and iPad. As far as the output channel range is concerned, the user also gets a couple of headphone outputs. It has A/B switching that can be used for monitoring stream mixing. 1810c audio interface also comes with conversion cables that you can use for USB-C to USB-A and USB-C to USB-C.
5. M-Audio M-Track 8X4M USB Audio/MIDI Interface
This 8 input and 4 output channel audio interface come with all the connections. These are a producer that needs to create high-quality, high-definition audios easily. Mostly, the audio interfaces come with a basic rough body without the manufacturer putting in any thought about the aesthetics. This is not the case here. The audio interface comes with an elegant chassis constructed using pro-grade metal. The large central monitor volume knob helps in giving it a classy look. It has a record driven arsenal of inputs and outputs along with an onboard MIDI interface. It provides high speed and zeroes latency via the USB Type-C connector.
Its crystal preamps are a source of transparent and low noise gain stage. This results in optimal sound when it comes to microphones. At the time of recording, every producer wants to capture the best possible resolution and levels. With this audio interface, you can use the large dial to gain the perfect setting every time. Also, you will not have to guess how far or near you are to your optimal setting. The best part about this audio interface is its premium software suite. The suite has everything you need to start developing professional audios. It has two powerful DAWs as well. Hence, buying this audio interface will give you several perks as well.
6. Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools
This third-generation scarlet audio interface comes with all the tools you need to record the perfect music or audio. It has a high channel count and is relatively compact. The best part is it comes with a huge selection software box. It consists of four top-notch mic preamps with switchable modes. These modes provide an overall brighter and open recording, which is ideal for beginners. We also have two headroom instrument inputs for plugging in bass or guitar. For synthesizers, the audio interface comes with eight line-inputs. You can also use these inputs for drum machines and other line-level sources.
With a resolution up to 192 kHz / 24 bit, it also comes with high-performance converters to help with high-resolution recordings. For optimal performance and easy operations, it comes with quick-start tools which make running the whole thing a lot easier. This audio interface, along with its pro tools software package is a complete system in itself. The pro tools include Focusrite’s Red plug-in Suite, Softube Time and tone bundle, Ableton Live Lite, first Focusritecreative pack. It also includes your selection of one virtual instrument free XLN Addictive keys and a 3-month joint subscription.
7. Tascam US-16×08 Rackmount USB Audio/MIDI Interface
Tascam has a long history when it comes to audio recordings and audio recording hardware. This particular audio interface does justice to Tascam’s long earned reputation. It boasts 16 mic and line inputs, which not only provide a clear sound quality but also has some advanced features to manage big sessions. Apart from this, we have eight ultra-HDDA microphone preamps as well, which help in delivering clean and quiet operation in their class with a maximum gain of 56 dB. This is not it, it also has eight balanced line inputs, out of which two come with level control on the front panel.
The device has an angled design that helps in viewing the desktop and operation comfortably, especially on a tabletop. Since this is a desktop type audio interface, it has all the controls on the front. Hence, you don’t have to crane your neck every time you need to reach the controls. Unlike most audio interfaces, the headphones and output volume controls are different, making it more convenient. For every operation, the user can easily set an optimal level. At times when you need to work on your headphones, you don’t have to switch off your monitor.
These were our choices for the best USB audio interface for professional use. In case you are looking for more affordable options, check the best audio interface under $200.
What is a USB audio interface and how it qualifies for professional use:
An audio interface is basically a piece of hardware that is used to improve and expand the sonic capabilities of a computer. You can call it as an external expansion sound card that provides input and output audio signals to and from a computer under the influence of DAW software.
Most of the audio interfaces carry +48V phantom power, a single XLR input/preamp, stereo TRS outs, and a headphone input that is 1/4″. This is the very least specification, in most cases, as the price goes up the input and output interfaces increase, so does the connectivity range. Of course, the more expensive ones are more feature-rich.
USB vs. USB-C connectivity:
The confusing between USB type-C and MicroUSB 2.0 connectivity in audio interfaces have been baffling music makers, especially the newbies, for a long time now. In general, USB type-C connectors are faster and support higher bandwidth as compared to the typical MicroUSB 2.0 connector.
The Type-C connectors can stream data in both directions while the MicroUSB 2.0 has to wait until information from one side is streamed. This way, the overall process and efficiency with Type-C connectors become faster and more functional. Apart from higher bandwidth and speed, the USB Type-C connector also carries more power.
You only need one USB cable to connect the audio interface to your computer if you are looking for more check the best computer for music production.
The most important features to look for in a USB audio interface:
We have already discussed this in the ‘USB vs. USB-C connectivity’, but apart from the two-basic type of connectors, we also have Firewire, thunderbolt, and PCI-E connectors. The main differences between these connectors are as follows:
Input and output channel count:
The input and output channel count varies according to the professionality level of the audio interface. Typical, the most basic ones have input and output count of one to two ports while the professional audio interfaces might come with more than 20 ports.
The number of ports you need in your studio depends on the number of tracks you need to record, analyze, or monitor at a time. For solo musicians, the port count can be as little as two to four songwriters who work on a small scale are safe with four to eight ports, however, when band members are recording a song or audio at least a 16-port audio interface is needed.
Input channel types:
There is a difference between input count and mic preamp count, which is why newbies and beginners usually fail to realize the fact that the total count of input channels on an audio interface is typically a reference to different audio types. Mostly, the three types of input channel types on an audio interface are:
This is just a nerdy term that refers to the size and shape of the audio interface. We have two types of interfaces, usually: desktop and rock mounted interfaces. As the name suggests, the desktop interfaces are smaller and more compact compared with the rock mount ones. The desktop interface usually sits on your table, and the rack-mounted interface is a standard size rack unit. For home studios and beginner’s desktop interfaces are ideal since they don’t require any special mounting, are easy to use, and the best part is, they are reasonable.
In most cases, audio interfaces are compatible with almost all DAW software. However, we can have a few exceptions. If you are not loyal to a specific DAW software, then you don’t have to worry about this section, but in case you have one specific software that you cannot make music without you might have to consider the compatibility of an audio interface with it.
Ninety percent of the top DAW software is compatible with all kinds of audio interfaces. In case you want to check the compatibility, you will have to search thoroughly through the company’s website. In most cases, this information is not embedded in the user manual or the notebook that comes with the hardware. You might find software compatibility information on the FAQs page.
Getting the best sounding and flexible audio interface for your studio has never been more challenging. Your power and sonic requirements might meet by a significant number of units, but the large number of choices you have makes things difficult.
There is nothing as confusing as buying an audio interface due to the dozens of choices you have in the market. Each one is designed for a certain type of compatibility with different connectivity. In this article, we have reviewed the seven best USB audio interfaces for a home recording studio, so that this daunting task becomes easier for you.
An audio interface is crucial hardware for mixing audios or even producing music in your professional or home studio. In most cases, beginners don’t understand the complexity of technicalities and end up overlooking them. This article was all about helping you find the best audio interface on a budget. That too, by understanding all the technicalities.
Before you go, you may want to look at the best music production software in 2020 and how to build a complete homes studio for under $600.
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