Audio interfaces are the backbone of any music production setup, whether recording at home, setting up your own project studio or entering a high-end facility. But with so many options available, finding the best audio interface for your specific needs can be a slightly trickier task than some may initially anticipate, especially if you're just starting out.
While some interfaces are Thunderbolt/USB compatible and some are better suited for Mac or PC, it is not always easy to work out the best choice for you. To help you work out the best audio interface for your music production needs, Headliner rounds up eight of the best audio interfaces on the market that won't cost you the earth.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
Another outstanding offering for those looking for maximum bang for their proverbial buck.
Komplete Audio 2 delivers a basic package at a very high standard. It has a two-input, two-output design with two identical mic/line/instrument inputs. Connections are on combi XLRs with individual selector switches to select between line and instrument. It also comes with 48V phantom power.
Its front panel boasts a hardware monitoring balance knob and headphone output with independent control. Meanwhile, the main output level is controlled via a large output knob on the top panel. Input meters, phantom and USB indicators are also located on the top panbel, while the USB B connector, two balanced outputs on TRS 1⁄4-inch jacks and a Kensington Security slot can be found on the back.
Price: $139/£111 | Connectivity: USB | Resolution: 24-bit/192 kHz | Ins/Outs: 2x2 | Midi: No
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
This is Focusrite's best-selling audio interface, with millions of musicians the world over using the 2i2 to write and record music every day. Featuring natural-sounding, third-generation mic preamps, the 2i2 has been engineered to help musicians get the most from their microphones.
The 2i2's 24-bit/192kHz converters ensure clarity and detail in your recordings, while Air mode breathes life into vocals, adding optimal high-end detail. Scarlett 2i2 is also officially supported in use with USB-C iPad Pros. All-in-all, it's a great all-rounder, especially for those on a budget.
Price: $170/£150 | Connectivity: USB-C | Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Ins/Outs: 2x2 | Midi: No
The UR22C from Steinberg is built to deliver high-end sound quality in a compact, rugged and versatile package, and as such is especially well-suited for those composing and recording on the go. Featuring inputs for microphones and instruments (including onboard phantom power), MIDI inputs and outputs, latency-free monitoring with DSP effects and connectivity to computers or iOS devices, it makes for a highly versatile audio interface. Boasting two high-quality mic preamps, 32-bit/192 kHz recording quality and high-quality components throughout, the UR22C records with clarity and detail, and is an ideal solution for those working on location or enjoy the freedom of moving their recording essentials between studios. It also comes with Cubase AI software, rendering it an attractive package for those just starting out on their music production journey.
Price: $195/£140 | Connectivity: USB-C | Resolution: 32-bit/192 kHz | Ins/Outs: 2x2 | Midi: Yes
Audient iD4 MKII
For producers and music creators on a budget, the iD4 MkII is one of the best audio interfaces on the market. It comes with a standard two-input/two-output offering, a mic preamp with phantom power for condenser mics, and DI for plugging in your instrument. A main output for speakers and dual headphone outputs is also incorporated.
Powered via USB-C it is quick and easy to get up and running at home, in the studio or on the go. It may not pack some of the more elaborate features and functionality seen elsewhere on this list, but if you want the basics and you want them done very well, this is the audio interface for you.
Price: $199/£119 | Connectivity: USB-C | Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz | Ins/Outs: 2x2 | Midi: No
Presonus Studio 24c
Studio 24c from Presonus is an excellent place to start for those making their first foray into audio recording and music production. From music to podcasts, its XMAX-L mic preamps are built for recording vocals with best in class clarity, while its high-headroom instrument preamps mean you can connect your guitar or bass directly to the interface.
It's also incredibly rugged and compact, making it both highly portable and versatile. In addition, the Studio 24c audio interface comes with a complimentary license for PreSonus' award-winning Studio One Artist music production software, meaning you can start recording straight out of the box.
Price: $165/£118 | Connectivity: USB-C, USB | Resolution: 24-bit/192 kHz | Ins/Outs: 2x2 | Midi: Yes
Motu M4 4X4
Featuring the same ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC Technology that can be found in audio interfaces that can dent your bank balance to the tune of four figures, the Motu M4 delivers an impressive 120 dB Dynamic Range on its main outputs. ESS converters also drive the headphone output, which, Motu boasts, are fit to rival dedicated headphone amplifiers worth hundreds of pounds. Its ultra-clean preamp circuits provide -129 dBu EIN on the mic inputs.
The M4 is not just powerful it's also rapid, providing best-in-class speed for monitoring live inputs (mic, guitar or keyboard) through your computer, due to Motu's USB drivers, which deliver ultra-low 2.5 ms Round Trip Latency (at 96 kHz with a 32 sample buffer). Whether recording music, podcasts or capturing sound in the field, this is a high quality, premium interface that caters for virtually every need.
Price: $240/£229 | Connectivity: USB-C | Resolution: 24-bit/192 kHz | Ins/Outs: 4x4 | Midi: Yes
A small package brimming with top of the range features, the SSL2+ is designed to bring the sound of SSL to those without a head-spinning studio budget at their disposal. In essence, it is an extension of the standard SSL2, with the addition of two outputs, a MIDI In/Out and a headphone out.
Also new is the 4K button. This has been incorporated to add further presence and top-end to your sound.
Meanwhile, two combi mic/line inputs with Hi-Z options for switching between guitar and bass signals, and an A +48v option facilitates the connection of condenser and dynamic mics.
Versatile, dynamic and consistently high-end throughout, you can't really go wrong with the SSL2+.
Price: $230/£205 | Connectivity: USB-C | Resolution: 24-bit/192 kHz | Ins/Outs: 2x4 | Midi: Yes
Arturia AudioFuse 8Pre
The Arturia AudioFuse 8Pre is a dual-mode interface and ADAT expander which boasts eight channels of premium analogue audio, solid sync, USB-C, and optical connectivity. As a standalone interface and a reliable ADAT preamp expander, it is an ideal fit for studios and productions of all kinds. Housed in a 1U chassis (19" rack format), it provides eight first-class analogue audio channels, reliable synchronization, a USB-C interface for data transfer and low latency, and thanks to optical input, the option of adding another eight channels.
Also featured is the extensive Audio Fuse Creative Suite, which brings together an array of software effects and instruments worth hundreds of pounds.
In addition to its eight discrete analogue ins and line outs, the Audio Fuse 8Pre offers monitor and headphone outputs, while balanced inserts can be used on channels one and two. In short, this is a high-quality audio interface that will meet the needs of most music production applications, whatever your level of experience.
Price: $800/£590 | Connectivity: USB-C | Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz | Ins/Outs: 16x20 | Midi: No
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII is a ground-up redesign of the world's most popular professional desktop recording interface for Mac and Windows, delivering enhanced audio conversion with the tone, feel, and flow of analogue recording.
Built upon UA's 60-year heritage of audio craftsmanship, Apollo Twin MkII starts with two Unison-enabled mic preamps and next-generation A/D and D/A conversion derived from UA's flagship Apollo 8, 8p, and 16. What's more, it comes with a bundle of UAD analogue emulation plugins, which you can track through in real time with UAD-2 DUO Core processing. It also provides access to the LUNA Recording System.
Merging Technologies Anubis
Anubis has two variants: MERGING+ANUBIS and MERGING+ANUBIS SPS. SPS offers an additional network connection for either redundancy or to eliminate an external switch, while Anubis offers an EtherCon connector for extra connectivity reliability. It also offers touch control of all your I/O connection and mixer functions, along with the ability to feed individual cue mixes to band members, as well as numerous other innovative features for those seeking premium grade results.
Your choice of model depends on your usage profile. As with other Merging products, both versions are offered in Pro or Premium. If 192kHz is the limit for you, go for Pro. If you are into true Hi-Res Audio and work in DXD/384kHz or in DSD, you will need Premium.
Whichever version you opt for, Anubis and its stellar array of features is a truly premium solution that may find favour amongst the more experienced artists, engineers and producers in the market.
What audio interface is best for you?
In many ways, as the quality on show in this list demonstrates, the challenge is really in working out what audio interface best fits your specific needs, as opposed to finding a high-quality product. With the home recording market now more competitive than ever, virtually every manufacturer in the business has had to up their game, whether that's improving existing products, adding new ones or both. While it may provide a selection headache, it's ultimately a good thing for buyers, as the selection on offer has never been better.
For those embarking on their first foray into audio recording, be it music or podcasts etc. you will most likely benefit from one of the more basic packages, such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Audient iD4 MKII, Presonus Studio 24c or Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2. While no-frills in nature, they do all the things required for those on a budget with maximum quality and efficiency.
For those who may be a little more au fait with the market, there is also a huge range of excellent products to choose from. The Merging Anubis is an incredibly sophisticated piece of kit that may fly ever so slightly above the head of absolute beginners but is an audio treasure chest for the more experienced buyer.
Meanwhile, the UA Apollo Twin MkII, Steinberg UR22C, Arturia AudioFuse 8Pre, SSL2+ and Motu M4 provide outstanding performance for every tier of audio practitioner, whether new to the game or well-versed in the art of mixing and recording.
Whatever your level, there will be something here to fit your needs.
If you haven't already checked out our guide on the best computers for music production, be sure to check that out too.