The top 7 best audio interfaces 2020: top audio interfaces for music-making and production, based on sales and affordability
In this guide to the best audio interfaces, we explore top PC/Mac Thunderbolt and USB audio interfaces for music producers, songwriters and more.
If you make music on a PC or Mac, an audio interface is pretty much an essential piece of kit for your production setup. In a nutshell, the best audio interfaces enable you to get high-quality audio in and out of your computer, and to connect some essential studio gear during your sessions.
Once you've got your hands on an audio interface you’ll be able to plug in everything from microphones and guitars, to synths and other instruments – perhaps even MIDI equipment, too – and you'll have no problem hooking up a pair of studio monitors and studio headphones.
But, as you know, there are so many different types of audio interfaces on the market, all offering different features to grab your attention. So, how do you choose the best audio interface for you and your studio?
Best audio interfaces: everything you need to know
Inputs and outputs
When choosing the best audio interface for your home studio, the first thing to work out is the number and type of inputs and outputs you need. If you only want to plug in one microphone or instrument at a time – which, if you're a solo producer who generates most of their sounds inside the computer, you probably will do – just one or two inputs will be enough, but if you want to record a live band, you’ll need far more than that.
Multiple outputs can be useful if you want to set up separate headphone mixes (if you're a DJ, for example) or send audio elsewhere for further processing.
You’ll typically find both XLR and 1/4-inch inputs on an audio interface, often combined into combo connectors so that you can plug mics, guitars, synths and the like into the same input. Many interfaces have a phantom power option, too, which is required to use certain microphones.
Some audio interfaces have MIDI I/O on them, which could save you from having to buy a separate interface for external gear. If you only intend to use a MIDI keyboard, though, remember that this could plug into one of your computer's other USB ports, so MIDI I/O might not be an essential requirement.
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- Audio interfaces typically run over USB or ThunderBolt, and you first need to make sure that the one you choose will plug into your computer. We’re now starting to see interfaces with USB-C connectors, but these can still plug into older USB ports with the right cable or adapter.
Many are class-compliant, which means you can just plug them in and start using them, and bus-powering is a feature to look out for, too, as it means you don't have to plug a mains power supply into your audio interface. It’s also worth checking to see if your interface has iOS compatibility, if that’s important to you.
Low latency recording
Most contemporary audio interfaces offer a low-latency recording option, which means you can stay in time with your project when you’re adding more tracks. Some interfaces also promise latency levels that are low enough to use effect plugins in ‘realtime’ on the input as you record, while others have have their own DSP processing built into them.
In the end, the best audio interface for you will at least partly come down to price, so you’ll be pleased to know that our list of recommendations below covers a broad range.
1. Audient iD4
Launch price: $199 | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/96kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: No
2. SSL 2+ Audio Interface
Launch price: $279 | Connectivity: USB-C | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 4 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes
3. Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Generation
Launch price: $109 | Inputs: 1x mic, 1x line/inst | Outputs: balanced TRS stereo pair, headphone | Compatibility: PC, Mac | Max sample rate: 192 kHz | Max resolution: 24 bit
4. Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Generation
Launch price: $229 | Connectivity: USB-C | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 4 | Analogue outputs: 4 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes
5. PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 - 25th Anniversary Edition
Launch price: $99 | Inputs: 2x combo | Outputs: balanced TRS stereo pair, headphone | Compatibility: PC, Mac | Max sample rate: 96 kHz | Max resolution: 24-bit | Bundled software: Presonus Studio One Artist Software, Studio Magic Plugin Suite (Mäag Audio EQ2, Eventide H910, Eventide Stereo Room, Brainworx bx-opto, SPL Attacker Freeware, Lexicon MPX-i Reverb and Arturia Analog Lab Lite)
6. Universal Audio Apollo Solo USB-C or TB3*
Launch price: From $499 | Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Number of preamps: 2 x mic, 1 x instrument | Software: Realtime Analog Classics Plug-in Bundle (VST, AU, AAX 64)
*The Apollo Solo USB-C and TB3 Audio Interfaces have been discontinued by Universal Audio in November 2020, and has been upgraded to the Heritage Edition models, to include extra plugins. The price has increased from $499 to $699*
7. Steinberg UR22C Audio Interface
Launch price: $189 | Connectivity: USB-C | Audio resolution: 32-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes