The 6 finest audio interfaces for music production and creation in 2021: suggested audio interfaces
We look at the finest PC/Mac Thunderbolt and USB audio interfaces for music producers, composers, and more in our guide to the best audio interfaces.
If you spend any time producing music on a PC or Mac, an audio interface is a must-have piece of equipment for your studio setup. To recap, the finest audio interfaces allow you to get high-quality audio into and out of your computer, as well as connect other important studio gear and instruments during your recording sessions.
You’ll be able to connect everything from microphones and electric guitars to synths and other instruments – possibly even MIDI equipment – and you’ll have no trouble hooking up a pair of studio monitors or plugging in your studio headphones once you’ve chosen the right audio interface for your needs.
There are a plethora of audio interfaces on the market right now, each with its own set of characteristics to entice you. So, how do you decide which audio interface is ideal for you and your studio? Of course, you begin with this tutorial! We’ll teach you all you need to know about audio interfaces and propose some of the best audio interfaces on the market right now, with options ranging from multi-input Thunderbolt solutions to excellent entry-level USB audio interfaces.
Continue scrolling if you want to go right to our top selections.
The Audient iD4 MkII, a 2-in/2-out USB device that looks, sounds, and feels fantastic, is a wonderful option if you want a superb audio interface but have a restricted budget. It allows you to connect microphones and instruments and is extremely cost-effective. Although it is inexpensive, the quality is superb.
If you need additional I/O, check out Focusrite’s Scarlett 4i4, a USB-C audio interface with double the amount of inputs and outputs and excellent quality.
Consider the SSL 2+, a new 2-in/4-out audio interface that, for a surprisingly modest price, offers you at least a taste of that magical ‘SSL sound.’
Consider the UAD Apollo Twin MkII from Universal Audio, a 2-in/6-out audio interface that also lets you use UA’s DSP-powered plugins.
1. Audient iD4 MkII (Audient iD4 MkII)
The best audio interface for smaller budgets
Price: $199/£119/€133 | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/96kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: No
The iD4 MkII is a basic two-input/two-output audio interface with a mic preamp — replete with phantom power for utilizing condenser mics — as well as an instrument-level DI for plugging in your guitar or bass, as well as a clever scroll wheel for tweaking settings in your program. There’s also a primary output for your speakers as well as two headphone outputs.
The whole device is powered by USB-C, and it can also be used with an iPhone or iPad if you have Apple’s camera connection kit. The studio devilry, on the other hand, is in the details: Audient has truly thought about everything in terms of value and usability, making what is a cheap solution feel anything but. Simply put, the Audient iD4 MkII is the greatest USB audio interface we’ve seen at this pricing point in a long time.
2. SSL 2+ audio interface
Compact interfaces with pro features and connectivity, the SSL2+ promises an affordable version of “the SSL sound,” bringing the feel of a gazillion recordings made in seven-figure recording studios within reach of everyone.
The primary difference between the 2+ and the normal SSL2 is that the 2+ adds two outputs to the 2’s two-in, two-out arrangement, MIDI In/Out and an extra independent headphone out (with both being able to monitor different mixes). There’s also a 4k option, which gives you a little more presence and high-end zing (and, more significantly, makes you feel a little more ‘pro’).
Two combi mic/line inputs with Hi-Z (impedance) settings let you switch between guitar and bass signals, as well as synth and drum machine feeds. Both condenser and dynamic microphones can be used with the +48v option.
The SSL 2+ comes highly recommended for its excellent monitoring and recording quality as well as its versatile I/O setup.
3. Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen
A fantastic value for money choice with plenty of connectivity.
Focusrite’s Scarlett USB interfaces have long been known for delivering outstanding sonics and audio versatility at a reasonable price, and the third generation devices continue this legacy.
Improved preamps (up to 56dB gain), balanced connection throughout, and the addition of Focusrite’s ISA transformer preamp emulation option have all been added to the range’s physical and technological enhancements (Air). Two mic/line/instrument inputs with gain, two line-level TRS inputs, and four TRS outputs are available on the bus-powered Scarlett 4i4.
Focusrite’s Control program is supported by the 4i4, which means that a lot of settings can only be changed in the software. Low-latency monitoring is also supported by the app.
The sonics are neutral, and the drivers are dependable, as we’ve come to expect from the Scarlett series. The Air option shifts the frequency response towards higher frequencies, which is useful for reducing unwanted closeness or providing a high-frequency lift.
This is a respectable improvement and a nice inexpensive audio interface, with a reasonable software bundle, included.
4. Universal Audio UAD Apollo Twin MkII
DSP-powered plugins and high-quality audio
The Apollo Twin MkII is still a desktop-format 2-in/6-out interface with 24-bit/192kHz capability, and it would be nearly indistinguishable from the original if it wasn’t now black instead of silver. It uses Thunderbolt to connect to your Mac or PC (no cable included), however, it must be charged from the wall. The inputs and outputs are housed on the rear panel and front border, while the top panel is centered around a satisfyingly large knob.
The Apollo Twin MkII has the same game-changing Unison preamps as its predecessor, fed by the Mic/Line and Hi-Z ins, as well as a DSP box for powering UAD plugin effects (you may select from Solo, Duo, or Quad choices). These allow a subset of UA’s traditional hardware emulation plugins to be placed directly into each input route, which is gradually growing.
This is a musically empowering hardware/software combination capable of raising even the most basic home and project studios to really professional-quality levels, and unquestionably one of the greatest audio interfaces available.
5. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
At a reasonable price, a small, sleek 2×2 audio interface is available.
With two identical mic/line/instrument inputs, Komplete Audio 2 is a two-input, two-output architecture. Individual selector switches separate the line and instrument connections on space-saving combi XLRs. Meanwhile, a single switch engages 48V phantom power globally.
A hardware monitoring balance knob (Input/Host) and a headphone output with separate control are also included on the front panel, in addition to the inputs.
A big output level knob on the top panel controls the primary output level. The input meters, as well as phantom and USB indicators, are all located here. The USB B connector is located on the rear, along with a pair of balanced outputs on TRS 14-inch jacks and a Kensington Security slot.
The Komplete Audio 2 makes our best audio interface list because its performance is as sleek as its appearance, and even if the features are simple, it accomplishes its job brilliantly. It’s also a terrific deal when you consider the superb software bundle.
6. Audient Evo 4
One of the best compact audio interfaces around
The small Evo line was introduced to considerable praise during the NAMM Show 2020.
Two combo mic/line inputs are located on the rear of EVO 4, and one instrument-level input is located on the front of the unit for attaching a guitar or bass (which then overrides the first input around the back).
The connections are completed by two speaker outs, and a central main dial controls the level of that output as well as the number of other levels determined largely by which buttons on the top of the panel you press: 1 and 2 (for input levels), output (bottom right), and a final button that adjusts the mix between the input and DAW. When using the headphone jack, the main dial controls the volume.
EVO is a smart, small desktop solution that sounds excellent thanks to the one-dial solution, which is wonderfully executed and designed.