Best Audio interfaces – Guide

 

Audio Interface for Music Production

Choosing the right equipment to set up your first home recording studio and taking your first few baby steps into home music production can be daunting. This is true when considering how much there is to know about DAWs, plug ins, software instruments, among other things. One tool that might muddle things further is the audio interface. Choosing the right one is not as simple as emulating your dream recording studio’s approach and nabbing a high-end model that will set you back a few thousand dollars.

 

First, you’ll want to understand the basics of what an audio interface is and how it works (which we’ll briefly cover in this article). Then, you’ll want to know which audio interface really matches your music production skill level at the time of purchase. Also, you’ll need to determine which model suits the needs of your current home studio setup.

 

Microphone for Audio Interface

Audio interfaces are different from sound cards. And, different models offer different connectivity options, while varying in compatibility. Are you simply looking for a device to connect a couple of studio monitors? Or do you need something with several INs and OUTs. Are you using a Mac or a Windows-based PC? All of these (and more) will impact your choice. There’s no doubt that dedicating some time to consolidating your knowledge about many audio interfaces pays off and can save you your hard-earned cash, while giving you a model that will do your skills and setup justice.

 

Consumer-Influenced Market Trends

 

Audio Interface Consumer Music Producer

It helps to be aware of a certain market trend that’s becoming ever more so prevalent. The number of tech consumers who produce music has grown exponentially over the last few years. This has impacted music tech-producing companies to put more mid-tier models with reasonable to slightly above average price tags. The demand for tech – such as best selling audio interfaces – that meet the needs of music-makers who are more than just weekenders but not quite pro level yet is increasing.

 

What is an Audio Interface?

 

Audio Interface How does it Look

Long story short, an audio interface is a physical device, serving as a gateway that takes an analog sound signal – produced by a musical instrument, for instance – and converts it into a digital sound signal your computer can recognize. It allows you to get sound in and out of your computer.

 

It performs this feat by using something referred to as ADC (Analog to Digital Converter). And, as you might have guessed, it can reverse this process by converting a digital signal to an analog one. Together, this process is known as AD DA conversion.

 

Image of Audio Objects

Apart from taking the sound of your external instruments and transferring it inwards to the DAW on your computer, it can also do the reverse. It can take a sound signal from your computer and transfer it to external studio monitors, which will make the sound audible for you.

 

You’re probably thinking that a soundcard can do the same, and you’d be right for thinking so. However, soundcards are built mainly for personal use and not well-suited for handling heavy-duty music production quality. A soundcard would erode the track’s sound quality due to its inferior in-built converter’s bit-rate.

 

Key Features to Look for in an Audio Interface

Here, we’ll get under the cover with many best selling audio interfaces to see what are the features you’ll want to know about and consider before purchasing your next model

 

Audio Interface Compatibility Between DAW and Audio Interface

 

Audio Interface Daw

Most DAWs are compatible with most interfaces. But things aren’t always that simple. Unfortunately, it can be hard spotting the ones that are not fully compatible as some of the companies that produce audio interfaces provide scant compatibility information about their models on their websites. The reason for this is that with most types of software being in an eternally furious update race, devices that are compatibly today might no longer be so tomorrow, and vice-versa.

 

What’s more, some audio interface developers may have an agreement in place with specific computer developers. This is the case with Mac and some audio interface brands. While this doesn’t mean that the latter is not compatible with Windows OS, it means that whenever Mac updates its OS (very often), the audio interface companies with agreements will instantly get updates for their systems, while others might be left out in the cold for months. And since this section talks about DAW, we know that Mac’s baby is Logic Pro. So, if you’re thinking of going down the Mac path, or you’re already used to Logic Pro, you’ll want to identify which audio interfaces are not only currently compatible, but will always receive updates first.

 

Audio Interface Laptop PC ports

One fool-proof plan to dodge any compatibility issues before they arise is to buy a DAW-audio interface bundle by a company that develops both. One of the drawbacks here is that there aren’t that many companies that do so, so you’d be narrowing your options considerably.

 

A little more on bundles. It’s not uncommon to find audio interface packages that come bundled with free software such as a lite version of a DAW, and sometimes the full version. Whether the full or a trial version of the software is included, your best bet is to pick this bundle off the shelf only if the software included is the one you were already considering. Otherwise, you’re bound to end up with a bloated system and a slew of plug ins left to gather metaphorical dust.

 

Inputs and Outputs

 

Audio Interface Outputs Microphone

The magnitude of your planned musical projects will determine how many inputs you need in your audio interface. Let’s say you’re a singer songwriter and you want to record a set including only vocals and an acoustic guitar. Two inputs – perhaps, a maximum of four – will definitely suffice. Keep in mind that you’ll probably be adding more texture to your tracks with overdubbing and multitrack recording sessions.

 

Now, if you’re working with a team of songwriters you might even need eight inputs. And if you’ve already positioned yourself as a sound engineer recording bands, you could be working with anywhere up of sixteen inputs. Remember that certain multi-part instruments such as drums require its individual parts to be mic’d. This could mean that the drummer alone will take up at least eight inputs.

 

The number of inputs an audio interface maker lists on the box may refer to different types of inputs. Mic inputs will take XLR cables for mics. But for guitars and basses, you’ll be using Hi-Z line inputs. For the same instruments, it’s worth checking out DI inputs too. And in the case of keyboards and/or MIDI controllers, line-level inputs or MIDI inputs. And finally, a condenser mic requires a 48v phantom power.

 

Audio Interface Mic Outputs

Line inputs generally require something called an outboard microphone preamp, which connects with the mic channel. There’s also an optical input. This requires both an outboard microphone preamp and a digital converter with optical out to serve as a mic channel.

 

This means that unless you’re willing to spend more for the add-ons just mentioned, the actual number of inputs available to you will probably be more limited. One way to patch this is by adding an ADAT, which expands your interface’s number of both INs and OUTs to as many as an extra eight channels.

 

With outputs, things are a little more straightforward. The main purpose for these is to connect external speakers or headphones. In the case of speakers, you’re better off choosing studio monitors over normal speakers. This is because of their flat rate which does not colour the sound during playback. Also, worth mentioning about headphones that if you’re collaborating with someone else – especially a singer – you’ll probably need to connect more than one headphone set.

 

outputs audio interface mic headphones

There’s one more type of OUT worth mentioning – the MIDI OUT. This is only a factor worth considering for you if you have an external device such as a keyboard or synth, and you want to use the MIDI in your DAW to control that device.

 

Connectivity

 

Connectivity Audio Interface

The four types of cables that are used across the board to connect audio interfaces to computers are USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, and PCIE.

 

An USB audio interface is generally the slowest and most inexpensive option. That being said, it’s generally fast enough to get just about any home studio job done. Note that lately, USB-C has gained a lot of ground, and this makes older systems that have traditional USB connectivity redundant.

 

USB Audio Interface

Firewire has been somewhat of a dwindling choice of late. That said, it still remains a faster data transfer option than USB.

 

Thunderbolt is faster than both Firewire and USB, and has become a more popular choice with semi-pro devices that are dominating the market. The only drawback in this case is that you can only find Thunderbolt on Mac and Intel PCs. So, if AMD is your computer of choice, you’ll have to rule out this option.

 

PCIE is the ultimate and most high-end connection providing the maximum potential data transfer speed. It’s the connectivity method of choice of most professional studio-level audio interfaces.

 

Mic Preamp

 

Audio Interface Preamp

This functionality takes a low-output signal of some types of mics and other instruments and boosts it. It follows that the quality of this preamp will impact the sound quality of the final recording. While top-notch microphone preamps are usually built into ultra-expensive in audio interfaces, nowadays, there are many more affordable options that provide adequately great performance anyway.

 

Another note on microphone preamps. As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to consider something called a 48-volt signal if you’ll be working with a condenser mic. While this is not an issue if you’re only using dynamic mics, you’ll need your mic preamp to come built with a 48v phantom power switch if you’re using a condenser mic as well.

 

Audio Conversion

 

Audio Interface Conversion

We’ve already touched upon this briefly when introducing the basic functionality of audio interfaces. But it bears repeating that this refers to the device’s ability to convert an audio signal from analog to digital for your computer to recognize and process, as well as the inverse – the ability to convert a digital signal to analog for playback through headphones or studio monitors.

 

Two factors that come into play here are sample rate and bit depth. A device with a higher sample rate and bit depth will produce a crisper quality, while also resulting in larger audio files. Technological progress in this field has resulted in sample rates and bit depths rising up to 24bit/192kHz. This is far more than you’ll require with a home setup, where 48kHz will be enough to do the trick.

 

Latency

 

Latency Audio Interface Image

Latency is the time – or delay – an audio signal takes to travel its entire journey. Consider that an audio signal may start at your analog musical instrument, pass through your audio interface and be converted from audio to digital, fed into your computer and into the DAW, saturated with effects, then back out the computer and into the audio interface, before finally reaching the studio monitors. That’s quite a hefty journey and it’s done in a fraction of a second.

 

If the signal’s travelling time takes long enough for a delay to cause a discrepancy between the original signal and the one played back, it becomes a source of frustration for music producers as well as musicians playing and hearing themselves with a delayed feedback.

 

Music Producer on Desk Audio interface

One approach to tackling this is to reduce buffer size in the DAW. This results in a shorter processing time for the DAW. The drawback is that this can strain your computer’s CPU, creating unwanted sounds or silences, and sometimes going as far as causing software failure.

 

Some audio interfaces feature direct monitoring – also known as zero latency monitoring – which reduces latency without impacting PC performance. This works by sending part of your (pre-computer) raw audio signal to the output source. Some audio interfaces come loaded with a function that allows you to choose the percentage of raw audio sound you want to send as opposed to the processed post-computer sound.

 

Raw Sound Audio Interface

When testing for latency, it’s good to do test runs with several functionalities engaged, such as plug in effects, to understand how negligible – or noticeable – latency is.

 

Drivers

 

Drivers are software that also allow you to handle latency. They lay the ground for your audio interface to connect seamlessly with your computer and the rest of your setup.

 

Plug Ins

 

plugins for audio interface

Plug ins are a very modern digital replacement for analog gear you’d usually hook up to your audio interface. Read carefully the specifications of an audio interface if you have a plug in (or more) in mind to ensure full compatibility.

 

Monitoring Capabilities

 

Monitoring Audio Interface

Typically, two knobs – one for volume and one for mixing – allow you to monitor performance in real time. The volume knob does as the name implies – it gives you control over the audio signal output coming out of your headphones or studio monitors. Meanwhile, the mix one balances input with output. This allows you to find a balance between two or more different instruments in your track.

 

Insert Effects Capability

 

Insert Effects Capability

Some audio interfaces allow you to add insert effects that can help optimize your audio even before reaching the DAW, such as adding some compression to your signal.

 

Meter

 

Meter Audio Interfaces

Intermediate audio interfaces and up give you the functionality of monitoring the signal directly on the device by way of a meter. The ones on the far economical end of the spectrum don’t typically offer this.

 

Monitoring may range from simply having an LED signal around the volume know to a fully-fledged meter displaying a range of levels.

 

You’ll need to determine whether having the meter functionality is something you consider a necessity or not.

 

Form Factor

 

Form Factor

Form factor is easily rephrase-able as shape and size. Most entry to lower-intermediate level audio interfaces are designed as smaller and more ergonomic desktop-style interfaces. These types plug-and-go and require no additional devices mounting.

 

On a higher level, rack-mounted interfaces tend to be bulkier, have more features, and require a rack mount or unit to host it.

 

Price

 

Price Tag Audio Interface

If you’re just starting off, there are a few reasons why it might not be wise to drop too much cash on your first audio interface. As a novice, you have a steep learning curve ahead of you, and this doesn’t only apply to learning the ins and outs of this particular device; you’ll have several tools to get your hands dirty with, and apart from understanding how they function individually, you’ll also need to learn how they work in conjunction with one another. If you’re coming to an audio interface for the first time, having an overly intricate one will just bog you down even more.

 

Once you’ve spent some time learning the ropes as a music production and you’re ready to upgrade to tools with more features, you’ll be able to get one at a more reasonable price than you can now. The bottom line is, there’s no harm in being conservative when kicking off.

 

Choosing an Audio Interface That Matches Your Level

Right Audio Interface for you

Here’s some basic advice on what steps you might want to take with buying new equipment based on your current music production level.

 

Beginner Level

 

beginner level start

Whether you’re literally starting producing now or you’ve been doing it for a couple of years, but you’re realizing that you need to swap out your basic computer speakers for entry level studio monitors, you’re somewhere in the beginner level spectrum.

 

In this case, start small. An audio interface with two (to maximum four) inputs, two outputs for studio monitors, and with USB connectivity, is enough to keep you going for quite a while.

 

Don’t scratch your head too much about preamps, phantom power, and other advanced features just yet. Yes, we’ve covered them in this article, but only so that you have a solid foundational understanding and you start to understand the jargon.

 

Intermediate

Intermediate Graph audio interface

Let’s say you’ve owned entry level equipment such as an audio interface and studio monitors for a while. You’ve got a solid foundational knowledge of how to use your DAW of choice. But you’re starting to feel that you’re ready to break through into the next level, and to do so, you need tools that won’t place limits on your progress. Then, you’re probably an intermediate-level music producer.

 

A good way to decide what audio interface to get next is by looking in retrospective at your recent productions and asking yourself if your current model was posing limitations. Did you start to feel that you didn’t have enough inputs? Would you have been able to produce audio in higher quality with a better sample rate and bit depth? Are you starting to feel that latency was becoming an issue with your current setup?

 

Now is the time to start looking into preamp quality as well as DSP potential for plugins you know you’re going to need. One more thing to look at is build quality since you’re probably going to have this model for longer than your beginner-level one.

 

While this might seem self-evident, as an intermediate producer, you might want to look at an intermediate-level interface.

 

Advanced

Advanced Audio Interfaces

Are you someone who’s been in the business for a while now? You have a portfolio of professionally-recorded pieces, and you’ve probably started making money from some or most of your work. You understand the fine details and nuances of different microphones and other equipment. You also know how to manipulate the room’s dynamics in your favour.

 

If you’ve been around long enough to work with a few different levels of audio interfaces, among other equipment, it might be time to invest in something high-grade – especially if this is your job or is contributing somehow to your livelihood. You’ll be looking to buy something that is bound to last you quite a few years, so you know you don’t need to cut costs. You need something that eases your workflow at a high level – not hinders it.

 

From a technical point, if as a producer you’re recording several instruments or managing several musicians in the studio, having as many inputs as possible will save you the pain of having to swap connections.

 

Recording Instruments

DSP capabilities are also worth careful consideration because, by now, you’re surely working with several plugins, and may be looking to adopt more.

 

At an advanced level, very few people can really guide you as to the best choice for your next audio interface. Your work ethic and procedures have become so much your own that you will know better than anyone else what’s going to give you that extra boost in the studio.

 

The Best Audio Interfaces for Every Budget and Level

Now that we’ve got the basics of audio interfaces out of the way, let’s look at our favorite models. For ease of reference, we’re splitting them into three categories – beginner, intermediate, and advanced – with equivalent price ranges.

 

Audio Interfaces for Beginners

 

Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Preamps: 2

Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4” (mic/line/Hi-Z)

Outputs: 2 x ¼” TRS

Connection Type: USB-C

Compatibility: Mac/PC/iPad Pro

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Desktop

 

Summary

 

One of Focusrite’s models that is still a favourite with beginners is now in its 3rd iteration, apart from its smaller brother – focusrite scarlett 2i2 3rd gen. And there’s a reason for that. Despite being considered as a beginner’s model, it packs a punch above its weight by delivering reliable sonic quality and audio recording flexibility, while providing enough guidance and not too many overwhelming features for the novice.

 

This bus-powered model comes with two inputs with gain for mics and/or instruments, two line-level TRS inputs and four TRS outputs.

 

Preamps have been upgraded with this model, now allowing up to 56dB gain. There’s also a nifty little feature – ISA transformer preamp emulation – controlled by an ‘Air’ button. This gives your recording a brighter and more airy quality to it by emphasizing high frequencies.

 

A stand-out feature is its Control application. Among other things, this allows you to handle low-latency monitoring, even when native effects are added.

 

There’s a Direct Monitor function that, with the flick of a switch, allows you to listen to your audio in a raw state. And, the headphones and monitor volume levels are operated separately.

 

One particular feature designed with the novice in mind are the Gain Halos. Each volume control has a color-coded light reference that indicates if your sound is verging too closely to clipping. Green signal means that you’re in the clear, while Orange indicates that you might need to dial things back a little.

 

If you consider value for money, the Scarlett 4i4 – or the focusrite scarlett 2i2 3rd gen for a more affordable option – is a real steal. The software bundle is equally solid. It’s easy and intuitive for beginners, and it’s a tool that will have you covered for quite a while.

 

Audient iD4 MKII

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz

Preamps: yes

Inputs: 1 x XLR-1/4” instrument (JFET) + 1 x XLR-1/4” combo (mic/line)

Outputs: 2 x 1/4″, 2 x headphones (1 x 1/4″, 1x 1/8″)

Connection Type: USB-C (3.0)

Compatibility: Mac/PC/iOS

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Desktop

 

Summary

 

The only reason we can explain Audient iD4 MKII’s inexpensive price tag is that it only has one instrument output, no MIDI connectors, and a maximum resolution of 96kHz. Apart from this, the iD4 has so much under the cover, beginners will be in great hands.

 

The bus-powered iD4 with USB-C connection employs a two-input, two-output design, with mic preamp and phantom power useful for your condenser mic.

 

While it can only take one auxiliary instrument – such as guitar or bass – at a time through its instrument level DI, the dedicated JFET input in the interface is modelled after classic valve amps.

 

Something truly impressive about this model is a noise floor 30k times quieter than the incoming signal, allowing for recording with a negligible noise level.

 

The smart scrolling wheel instantly puts you in control of your recording software and plugins – a handy substitute for your computer’s mouse.

 

Apart from a main output for your studio monitors, there are two headphone outputs, making collaboration with others in the same room easy.

 

It can be used in conjunction with your iPad or iPhone and comes with a connection kit for the Apple camera.

 

Audient’s iD4 pays granular attention to detail while keeping things simple for up-and-coming producers. All of these features packed within such a compact desktop box at a reasonable price warrants the iD4 some serious consideration as your first audio interface model.

 

 SSL 2+ Audio Interface

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Preamps: yes (62 dB gain range, 130.5 dBu ON)

Inputs: 2 Mic/Line/Instrument inputs: combo XLR/6.3 mm

Outputs: 2 x 6.3 mm jack + 2 x RCA Line outputs

Connection Type: USB-C

Compatibility: Mac/PC

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Desktop

 

Summary

 

SSL 2+ is the more affordable bus-powered flagship of an otherwise prestigious brand – Solid State Logic – whose high-end models are mainstays at top-notch studios. The brand has played its part in the production of uncountable world-class records. And now, they bring a taste of that prestige to your home in a more affordable and stripped-down yet remarkable iteration.

 

Among its features, it adds two more outputs to the two-in, two-out setup of its younger brother – the SSL 2 model.

 

This interface, that connects with a USB-C, has both a MIDI in/out and an extra headphone output jack.

 

The two Hi-Z line audio input jacks allow for quick switching between guitar and bass. There’s also a MIDI in/out and a 48V phantom power for connectivity for condenser mics.

 

The monitoring mix control is intuitive and an analog color enhancement that stays true to its more prominent big brothers.

 

A feature that shines through is the Legacy 4k button. Pressing this boosts presence and high-EQ, breathing more life into your audio. This one takes a page out of the high-end SSL 4000 model and makes it more compact and affordable.

 

The Best Audio Interfaces for Intermediate Users

 

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Preamps: yes (Realtime Analog Classics bundle of 9)

Inputs: 2 Unison mic/line preamps; 2 line outputs; Hi-Z instrument input and headphone output

Outputs: 2

Connection Type: Thunderbolt

Compatibility: Mac/PC

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Desktop

 

Summary

 

The Apollo Twin MKII – an entry-level model from the Universal Audio volt – uses Thunderbolt connectivity to your Mac or PC to bring you a powerful desktop audio interface with two ins, 6 outs and the power of 24-bit/192kHz, giving crystal clear yet warm recording value.

 

In terms of audio inputs, you have a Hi-Z guitar input, which replaces Mic/Line 1 when engaged. There are also two XLR/TRS inputs as well as a headphones jack. All of these are Unison-enabled. There are two analog outputs. An optical input allows for an expansion of up to an extra eight inputs.

 

This model’s powered through a 12V DC power port, meaning that you’ll need to plug it separately into a socket.

 

This solidly-built audio box comes with oversized knob controlling preamp and monitor parameters, which are determined by buttons set to the left and right of it.

 

The preamps on board remain unchanged from this model’s predecessor. The mic interacts with the preamp thanks to Unison technology, resulting in a more authentic approximation to interaction with true external hardware.

 

You’re given the choice between Solo, Duo and Quad for a DSP box that powers UAD plugin effects. The plugins included in the Heritage Edition alone justify the price. This is a good thing, considering the power of UA’s classic hardware emulation plugins. You’ll have nine of UA’s award-winning ones out of the box.

 

The price range for the variations on this model sits somewhere on the higher end of intermediate. But if you’re willing to go that extra mile, the Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII will take your home studio production and elevate closer to professional heights.

 

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20

 

Specifications

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Preamps: yes (8 in all)

Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/Hi-Z), 6 x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/line), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF), 2 x Optical (ADAT)

Outputs: 10 x 1/4″ (line out), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF), 2 x Optical (ADAT)

Connection Type: USB C

Compatibility: Mac/PC

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Rackmount

Summary

 

The Scarlett is the first-rack mounted entry in our list. It connects to your PC or Mac through USB C connection. In a nutshell, it has A-D and D-A conversion maxing out at 24-bit/192kHz, eight mic preamps, and an astonishing 2 inputs and 10 outputs. Add to this, speaker switching and talkback functionalities.

 

The Scarlett, now in its third iteration, packs eight powerful preamps. Its nifty Air functionality allows you to tap into the power of its ISA mic preamp with just the press of a button. This instantly gives your audio recordings a brighter and more spacious quality.

 

The pad on each mic preamp reduces unwanted noise and the risk of clipping when recording analog instruments by accommodating high-level signals.

 

The speaker-switching technology adds to your recording strategy by allowing you to switch between different studio monitors, giving you a different aural angle on your recording.

 

The talkback mic facilitates instant communication with artists or other team members in real-time.

 

The Scarlett comes bundled with a list of top-notch software.

 

The Scarlett is undoubtedly a serious consideration for intermediate producers and beyond.

 

Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core 14×10

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Preamps: yes (2 ultra-linear)

Inputs: 2 × Hi-Z/line instrument inputs over TRS, digitally expandable over ADAT IN (8 channels)

Outputs: 2 × DC-coupled line outputs over TRS, digitally expandable over S/PDIF I/O

Connection Type: USB C or Thunderbolt

Compatibility: Mac/PC

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Desktop

 

Summary

 

Antelope’s Audio Zen Q Synergy Core is a desktop interface created with serious home-music makers and mobile music makers in mind (due to a lack of power supply tethering). It’s a bus-powered interface that gives you the choice between USB C and Thunderbolt connectivity. It delivers production quality up to 24-bit/192kHz and comes equipped with two ins and two outs.

 

Antelope’s model packs the same A-D/D-A chips and ultra-linear mic preamps this brand’s more high-end models offer. You can hook up an ADAT-compatible preamp to expand the number of channels by an additional eight.

 

It also comes with the same 64-bit AFC (Acoustically Focused Clocking) as well as Simplified I/O routing with pre-configured settings, making recording and playback instantaneous.

 

Latency is not an issue with this model’s unique combination of FPGA and DSP chips, without any undue stress placed on your computer’s CPU.

 

Antelope’s system comes with 37 Synergy Core effects right out of the box, expandable by an additional 50 if you wish.

 

Everything including headphone outputs, preamps and instrument inputs are paired, allowing for collaborative work.

 

While being one of Antelope’s more modest creations, Audio Zen Q Synergy Core is a real powerhouse for home-producers ready to up their game.

 

The Best Audio Interfaces for Advanced Producers

 

 

RME Fireface 802

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Preamps: 4

Inputs: 4

Outputs: 8

Connection: USB C and Firewire

Compatibility: Mac/PC

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Rack mount

Incl. DSP mixer

 

Summary

 

RME’s own Fireface 802 is the first in our list for advanced producers. It’s a 24-bit/192kHz rack-mounted unit with 60 I/O channels for low-latency, crisp-clear mic preamps, the signature TotalMix FX mixer powered by DSP, and the option to connect through Firewire or USB C.

 

It comes equipped with eight balanced TRS inputs and outputs as well as four XLR/DI combo preamps. This last feature is powered by OctaMic II – used on location by pros to record full orchestras and other demanding scenarios.

 

A-D/D-A conversion happens thanks to 192kHz of resolution with jitter suppression functionality and a dynamic range of 118dBA.

 

The twelve by twelve analog I/O can be upgraded with the addition of another eighteen channels.

 

The TotalMix FX DSP mixer is a powerful signal routing tool that reduces latency to a negligible minimum. Then, DSP-processing includes EQ and a slew of fine-tuned effects perfect for monitoring and tracking.

 

The Fireface 802 comes as a bundle with top-notch plugins, and you can upgrade to get the Advanced Remote Control, which gives you customizable control.

 

SSL Fusion

 

Specifications

 

6 circuits for signal processing (Vintage Drive, Violet EQ, HF Compressor, Stereo Image, Transformer, Listen Mic Compressor)

Input and Output level controls

Switchable high-pass filter (3 frequencies)

2 XRL ins

2 XLR outs

Bypass switch

Level meter

Selectable M-S insert mode

 

Summary

 

SSL Sound has produced many sought-after audio interfaces, one of which is Fusion. Fusion takes its name from its combination of six high-grade coloration tools. It’s a 2U fully-analog unit bringing together powerful and time-tested mic preamps, Channel EQ and Dynamics, the Stereo Bus Compressor, Listen Mic Compressor, and SSL’s summing bus. It’s the tool of choice for many hybrid studios, enhancing production with refined audio quality, and analog circuits that make your mix punchy and full of presence.

 

More features include +/- 12dB input and output trim controls, high-pass filter with three selectable cut-off frequency modes, peak hold metering, XLR connections that accommodate both stereo insert for stereo mix bus processing or mid-side compressors and EQ.

 

The coloration tools featured include: Vintage Drive – a non-linear harmonic enhancement circuit.

 

Violet EQ – an all-new minimum phase shift, two-band shelving EQ developed on the shoulders of 25 years of legacy.

 

HF Compressor that delivers distinctive sound of high-frequency rounding in the analogue domain.

 

Stereo Image enhancer providing analog mid-side circuit that manipulates the side signal, allowing for widening of spatial manipulation of the stereo field.

 

SSL Fusion Transformer achieves thick low-end and sparkling high-end thanks to subtle low-frequency saturation and high-frequency phase shift.

 

Listen Mic Compressor – the latest addition – switches over from HF Compressor to full-band LMC mode, with the X-over knob turning into a wet/dry control.

 

Universal Audio Apollo X4 Heritage Edition

 

Specifications

 

Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz

Processor: UAD-2 Quad core

Preamps: 4 (Unison mic preamps)

Inputs: 4 x XLR/6.3mm jack Mic/Line combo inputs, 2 x Hi-Z instrument inputs, 1 x ADAT input

Outputs: 4 x line 6.3 mm jack, 2 x monitor outputs 6.3 mm jack, 1 x SPDIF output

Connection: Thunderbolt

Compatibility: Mac/PC

Phantom Power: Yes

Form Factor: Desktop

 

Summary

 

UA’s Apollo X4 is a streamlined and high-end audio interface, that has cut down on 5.1 surround monitoring and +24dB to make it more affordable but equally competitive as the higher-end models by the same brand. Powered by a QUAD Core processor, four Unison preamps, top-notch A-D/D-A conversion capability, Thunderbolt connectivity, and a latency-reduction even lower than 2ms.

 

QUAD Core processing extends your computer’s CPU’s power by shouldering the brunt of all the plug-ins you might be running during a session and track in real-time.

 

UA combines its unit’s 24-bit/192kHz converter potential with powerful analog circuitry to give you 127dB of dynamic signal range for top-notch A-D/D-A performance.

 

The Apollo X4’s Unison preamp works alongside Unison-optimized plug-ins to faithfully recreate this brand’s signature 610 tube preamp, bringing it extremely close to the sound of renowned analog processors.

 

UA’s Apollo X4 Heritage Edition comes packed with 10 of its award-winning plug-ins.