After the computer and DAW, the most important component of any studio is the audio interface. The best USB audio interfaces around come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Regardless of your I/O needs, you’re sure to find something that fits your studio.
Best USB Audio Interfaces: Standard Features
Among the following selections are a set of uniform features you’ll find in any audio interface. Keeping the smaller home studio in mind, at the very least, sub-$300 units carry a single XLR input/preamp, +48V phantom power, stereo TRS outs, and a 1/4″ headphone input.
In most cases, single preamp interfaces also have a dedicated 1/4″ line input technically making them 2-in/2-out devices. Some of the selected interfaces are more feature-rich than others, so do a little bit of homework and choose what best suites your studio!
Universal Audio Apollo Twin X QUAD
The UA Apollo is one of the most popular audio interfaces currently on the market. The build quality is immense, as is the sound. With two preamps and four line outs, you can get quite a bit done with this guy. You’ll also get four dedicated DSP chips to run UAD plugins. If you’re shopping for your first interface and have considered entering the UAD ecosystem, you can’t go wrong with an Apollo Twin.
Universal Audio Volt 476
UA recently launched the Volt series as a more affordable alternative to their flagship Apollo interfaces. These things are about as feature-rich as anyone could ask for, complete with real analog circuitry and some amazing, unique features. One thing you can do with a Volt is trigger on/off a 610-style analog sound for the preamp, as well as 1176-style compression with a few different application modes.
The 476 comes with two preamps and six line outputs for a variety of connections.
Focusrite Clarett+ 8Pre
If you anticipate recording larger projects, you’re going to need more I/O. The Clarett+ 8Pre by Focusrite is an incredible 18-in/20-out interface complete with eight awesome sounding Clarett preamps. It’s likely you won’t find anything with such an array of inputs and outputs at a price this competitive.
PreSonus Studio 24c
The PreSonus Studio 24c is the perfect USB audio interface for on-the-go musicians, producers, and engineers. Throw this sucker in a backpack and you’ve got yourself a mobile recording rig that’s ready for anything. The XMAX-L preamps sound more expensive than they really are, the built-in mix feature lets you dial in just the right amount of input versus playback signal.
Audient iD4 MKII
The Audient iD4 MKII is a USB-C 2-in/2-out interface with a single mic preamp and instrument input. The available inputs can be used to track vocals and a line-level instrument simultaneously, for example. Operating at 24-bit/96 kHz, the iD4 is a compact, high-quality interface at an inexpensive price point.
Audient uses the same Class-A mic preamp in their entire product range, from full-format consoles to the simple iD4. This interface is a good shout for a home studio that has minimal I/O needs, without sacrificing recording quality.
The iD4 MKII introduces upgraded converters for high quality digital recording at a beginner’s price-point.
Audient EVO 4
Whether it’s recording a podcast, making a beat, or just laying down some ideas quickly, the EVO has superior functionality. There’s even a Smartgain mode which automatically adjusts your microphone levels, so it’s super beginner-friendly. It’ll let you perfectly match both channels, or control them at the same time. An excellent feature for new recording engineers to avoid clipping their inputs!
It’s hard to say whether anyone expected SSL to jump into the USB audio interface game, but they absolutely did. One of the main selling points of the SSL 2+ is its switchable Legacy 4K modes on each preamp. This is supposed to add some analog color to what are normally pretty sterile sounding digital preamps. It essentially activates a high-end boost and some subtle harmonic distortion the 4000 series consoles are known for.
As far as USB audio interfaces go, having the SSL name and some of that magic would be a cool addition to any studio.
IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo
Ultra-portable devices like those in IK Multimedia’s iRig range are frequently overlooked as interfaces competitive with desktop counterparts. However, the iRig Pro Duo is a full-featured interface in spite of its small footprint.
The 2-in/2-out unit houses dual XLR/TRS hybrid inputs with studio-quality IK preamps, and two balanced TRS outs are onboard for monitor connections. Even though it can fit in your hand, the Pro Duo has all of the features of much larger interfaces, including +48V phantom power, MIDI I/O, and 24-bit converters.
This is obviously an ideal choice if portability is a concern, but even sat on a desk, the iRig Pro Duo performs like a much larger beast.
Steinberg UR22 mkII
Steinberg’s UR22 interface is a phenomenal choice if 192 kHz support is on the checklist. The UR22 sports two hybrid mic/line inputs with D-Pre[amps], 5-pin MIDI I/O, and two TRS line outs for monitoring. Input 2 also has a Hi-Z switch specifically designed for tracking high impedance instruments (like guitars) direct.
It all comes housed in a rugged metal chassis, so tossing it into a backpack definitely won’t hurt if you travel and record often.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
As its name suggests, the Scarlett 2i2 is one of the most popular 2-in/2-out USB audio interfaces on the market.
Focusrite touts the 2i2’s latency as being the lowest of any competitor, and its streamlined, no-nonsense design make it a solid choice for basic home set-ups. Sure, “streamlined” might be interpreted as “featureless” by some, but the device’s two hybrid mic/line inputs and TRS outs can handle typical assignments with ease. The “Air” button on the 3rd generation interfaces is very cool as well, adding a touch of analog goodness in the high-end that you don’t normally get with cheaper gear.
Best USB Audio Interfaces: Conclusion
Not intended to be a comprehensive review, this is just a glance at a handful of the best USB audio interfaces you’ll find on the market!