As the central and integral component of every music production setup, the audio interface (aside from your computer, of course) is the penultimate bridge between your ears, outboard equipment, and DAW.
Without it, your ability to use your DAW to its fullest capability is rendered impossible or painstakingly difficult at best.
That being said, how do audio interfaces work and why do we need them if we’re looking to record and produce music?
At a minimum, all audio interfaces provide the following features:
- Two inputs (which are often hybrid ports for both XLR and quarter-inch cables)
- Two outputs
- A headphone output
- Rotary knobs or faders that allow for level adjustments and signal path alterations
The Best Audio Interface’s for All Budgets
A great example of an excellent audio interface that provides the aforementioned specifications is the PreSonus Audiobox USB, which is an outstanding choice for engineers on a budget who are looking for something that, while seemingly simplistic, is a remarkably effective and high-caliber starter choice.
More advanced (as well as more expensive) option would include Black Lion’s FM192 Mod, which while being far pricier than something like the PreSonus Audiobox, has an outstanding array of features and undeniably pristine analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion.
Of course, for other far less expensive audio interface choices that come with plenty of useful features plus some extra goodies, I’ve compiled a quick-and-dirty list that’ll help you decide which option will be most ideal for your particular setup:
1. PreSonus AudioBox
Having mentioned this device earlier in the article, I believe it’s certainly worth another mention, given that its innards are outfitted with a Class A amplifier design that results in more linear and musical-sounding recordings.
Additionally, it also comes with a copy of PreSonus’s flagship DAW, Studio One. Tack on zero-latency monitoring and a sturdy chassis that’s built to withstand incredible amounts of damage while on the road, and you’ve got a great package at a jaw-droppingly awesome price!
2. Focusrite Scarlett 6i6
For users looking for additional inputs and outputs and nifty features as well as excellent durability, you need not look further than the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6. Features include two headphone ports, up to 6 inputs and 6 outputs, two MIDI ports, and a bundle of Focusrite’s proprietary plugins as well as a copy of Ableton Live Lite.
3. Steinberg UR22
With the combined efforts of both Steinberg and Yamaha, the Steinberg UR22 interface packs a wallop with a custom Class-A “D-Pre” design that uses inverted Darlington circuits, resulting in audio performance that’s clean, powerful, and silky smooth.
Other notable features include a hi-Z switch for running basses and guitars in direct as well as a introductory copy of Steinberg’s acclaimed DAW, Cubase.
4. MOTU UltraLite-mk3 Hybrid
With two XLR inputs, 6 ¼” line-level inputs, 10 TRS outputs, two S/PDIF outputs, and two MIDI ports, the Ultralite-mk3 is an absolute must-have for engineers and producers needing a more advanced solution at a minimal cost.
Also included is an outstandingly accurate, built-in model of the LA-2A compressor, which has been well-renowned in the audio industry for its ability to deftly tame wildly dynamic vocal and instrumental while delivering a subtle, transcendent mix of warmth and punch that defies mere descriptions.
At such a competitive price, it’s unlikely you’ll find another interface that can give you so much bang for your buck.
5. Apogee Duet
While this audio interface may not seem as indomitable or feature-packed as some of the other offerings I’ve mentioned in this article, it certainly makes up for its supposed shortcomings with the incredible sound quality that this device has to offer. In the words of one user, “The quality is second to none!”