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What is the best audio interface?

Our picks for 2022‘s best audio interfaces include:

  • MOTU M2 and M4
  • Audient EVO 4
  • M-Audio Duo
  • Audient ID14
  • PreSonus Revelator io24
  • Universal Audio Volt 276
  • Arturia AudioFuse Studio
  • Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB

To make music on your computer an audio interface is going to provide you with the three basic ingredients you need for successful production: Inputs for microphones and guitar, studio-quality recording and playback, and high-performance drivers for real-time virtual instrument response. While the headphone output on your laptop can be useful a USB audio interface box is going to elevate your music-making to a whole other level.

For this round-up, we’re looking at the boxes that are going to give you the ins and outs for making music at home or on the move. These are going to have a handful of useful inputs, good hands-on controls and a quality level high enough for professional production without breaking the bank.

First, some FAQs:

Audio Interfaces Q&A

What audio interface do professionals use?

Robin Vincent

A professional would use whichever audio interface was most appropriate to the situation. In high-end studios they would be using multi-channel digital audio interfaces for recording bands and a large number of microphones. However, if all your production is inside the box then they’d be no need for such hardware and a simple, high-quality audio interface with a couple of inputs and outputs are all that’s required. All the interfaces in this list can produce professional results.

Do audio interfaces sound better?

Robin Vincent

Undoubtedly yes when compared to the built-in audio system of laptop or desktop computer. While onboard audio might be great for games and movies they are also tailored for that experience and will not have the transparent sound needed for mixing and music production. The physical connections are also poor compared to an audio interface which increases background noise and they lack the reliability of proper jack and XLR audio connectors.

Does it matter what audio interface I use?

Robin Vincent

The quality of audio interfaces these days is such that you are going to get great results with any audio interface in a similar price bracket. What you should focus on is the number and type of connections they offer and whether they have a feature set that matches your expectations. Spending more will generally result in better quality preamps and an improved physical box.

Best Audio Interfaces

The best place to start. These interfaces are all you need to kick off your home studio.

MOTU M2 and M4

Usually known for their high-end audio interface, MOTU has pulled some of the key features and their expertise across to a pair of budget audio interfaces that raise the bar on what home studios should expect from their gear.

They are a good size, made of metal with the usual ins and outs you find on a 2 in/out and 4 in/out budget interface. But there are a few added features that make all the difference.

First of all, that display is gorgeous. On most interfaces, you’re lucky to get a clip light, whereas here you can actually see the level coming in and going out and use it to properly adjust the gain. Both mic preamps have individual +48v phantom power switches which are unusual on interfaces at this level. So you can power a condenser mic on one input and use an unpowered dynamic on the other.

They also have individual monitoring buttons so you can mix and match between direct and software monitoring — direct on your voice while your guitar goes through a software amplifier.

The sound quality, headroom, and dynamic range are excellent up to 192kHz. The latency is also very low and performs brilliantly. There’s an extra feature in the driver which creates a virtual loopback function where you can record the output of your software straight back in again. This is perfect for podcasters and video streaming. And to round it all off the outputs are DC coupled so you can route CV out to modular synthesizers.

The M2 and M4 are very capable interfaces with a great feature set that beats most other interfaces on the market. Although M4 goes just slightly over our $200 budget threshold, both are highly recommended.

Street Prices:
• MOTU M2 – $189
• MOTU M4 – $249
motu.com

Audient EVO 4

The EVO 4 is an unusual looking audio interface and probably the easiest one I’ve ever used. It has a big knob with a halo of LEDs, a couple of buttons and a handful of connections. What’s brilliant about it is that you can plug it in, plug in your mic and start recording in seconds with hardly any setup or messing about.

It has 2 in and 2 out. You can plug two microphones in the back and swap out one of those for a guitar input on the front where you’ll also find the headphone output. +48v phantom power is available for both inputs via a button on the top. The big knob provides level control over the output and monitors the inputs. It’s all very straightforward.

The secret weapon of the AVO 4 is the big green button. Pressing it activates “Smartgain” which is the most useful feature ever invented on an audio interface. With Smartgain activated you sing into your mic or play your guitar and over a period of about 10 seconds it analyses the audio and sets the perfect recording level. It’s like doing a tiny sound-check. You are then ready to record confident that you are not going to be too loud to cause distortion or too soft so you can’t be heard. Smartgain gets it right every time – it really does.

The EVO 4 also comes with some really good monitoring and mixing software which gives you full control over all the levels in and out plus the ability to loopback so you can combine the playback of software with your input for live streaming or recording into something else.

It’s an impressive and remarkably priced little plastic box. If you need a few more inputs there’s the larger EVO 8 that does everything the EVO 4 does just with more connections.

Street Prices:
EVO 4 – $129
EVO 8 – $199
audient.com

M-Audio M-Track Duo

The M-Track Duo is undoubtedly the cheapest audio interface I’ve come across that’s actually good enough to hold its own in this list of “Best audio interfaces”. There’s also a Solo which is even cheaper but for this sort of money it’s worth getting the slightly bigger Duo.

The M-Track Duo has very familiar features with a pair of mic preamps on the front that can also handle guitar or line level. There’s phantom power for the mics, a headphone socket and a direct monitoring option. On the top you get level control on the inputs and outputs. The knobs are slightly sunken into the box which offers them some protection from accidental knocking.

It’s a simple, straightforward audio interface with no hidden powers or special features but it works brilliantly. Usually interfaces around this price have poor drivers and poor audio performance with software but these are great. Good low latency, low CPU, decent quality sound. Bear in mind that the recording quality is only 16-bit and up to 48kHz but that’s good enough for a home studio.

The price does bring some compromises; it’s lightweight and made of plastic, the headphone output is a little weak and it doesn’t sound quite as good as the other interfaces on this list but for the price it’s awesome. Comes with a decent bundle of software including Pro Tools First so it’s all you need to start making music.

Street Prices:
M-Track Duo – $69
M-Track Solo – $49
m-audio.com

Audient iD14 MKII

Audient’s ID range of audio interfaces are a step-up from most home studio solutions. The ID14 MKII is a bit of a sweet spot for me in that it offers pro-quality recording and features without overloading you with inputs or taking up your desk space. What you get is a perfectly balanced interface with professional quality form and function.

The 2 microphone inputs on the back are based on the preamps from Audient’s professional high-end consoles. There’s also a separate JFET guitar input that enhances the tonal qualities of your guitar when plugging directly in. Gain is provided by knobs on the top of this desktop-based interface and each channel has a separate switch for phantom powering condenser mics. On the back, you get two pairs of outputs for sending to different monitors and on the front are two headphone outputs which are awesome for when you’re collaborating. It also has an ADAT digital input if you wanted to expand into recording bands.

The big knob on the top is a very useful multi-functional device. It can control the output volume and the headphone levels separately but with the touch of a button, it can become a scroll wheel, synth controller or automation creator right within your DAW. And talking of software the ID14 comes with some excellent monitoring software where you can visually monitor all the inputs and outputs and create internal routings. The included Audio Loopback driver means that you can capture the output of one piece of software and route it into another. Perfect for podcasting or for routing the output of your DAW into live streaming software.

The Audient iD14 MKII is a class act and there’s a smaller version in the iD4 MKII if it’s just you and a guitar which is even more affordable.

Street Price: $299
audient.com

PreSonus Revelator io24

This is quite a strange-looking box but the design is a well thought out response to the fiddliness of many of the traditionally shaped audio interfaces. The front panel of the Revelator angles up to give better access to the two mic sockets, display and controls when it’s sitting on your desktop.

The Revelator io24 is designed with both studio recording and live streaming in mind and so it has some extra features that are going to make streaming a breeze. On the front, there are a pair of inputs with digitally controlled, low noise XMAX-L mic preamps that can also double as instrument inputs. On the back are a pair of outputs, a headphone output and a very useful MIDI In and Out port. The inputs are controlled and monitored on the interface using the rather nice color display and illuminated encoder.

Behind the scenes is some DSP processing that’s going to make the Revelator stand out. For each input you have StudioLive Fat Channel Processing that is going to infuse your sound with classic audio treatments including compression, expanders, limiting, EQ, high pass filtering and a noise gate. Add to that a range of vocal effects including reverb, delay, detuning, doubling, vocoder and comb filter. It comes with plenty of presets tailor-made to give great results. Some are just for fun but the Fat Channel and reverb are really going to up your game when recording, performing and live streaming.

On the streaming side, Revelator has 2 stereo loopback channels for pulling different bits of audio software into the Digital Loopback Mixer. SO you could have the output of your DAW and playback from videos running into the mixer and out to your live streaming software. But that’s not all, with a click of a button anything going through the mixer can be sent direct to your streaming software without having to worry about routing or configuration.

Revelator io24 comes with Studio One Artist for a complete professional recording package in the one box. It’ll work with macOS, Windows and iOS and can even run the PreSonus UC Surface remote control software to control it from an iPad, Android if Windows device on the same network.

Street Price: $199
PreSonus.com

Universal Audio Volt 276

Universal Audio has released a range of Volt audio interfaces to match every budget and application. The Volt 276 looks like the sweet spot to me with enough inputs for collaboration, the form factor that sits pretty on your desk and the quality that’s going to give you stunningly authentic professional sound.

With the wooden ends and stylings of the Volt 276 give it a deliciously vintage vibe and that’s definitely the intention. It has a very familiar set of connections with twin mic preamps on the front that also take instruments and a pair of monitoring outputs on the back. The MIDI In/Out ports are very welcome and so is having the headphone output on the front with its own volume control. All the important controls are on the top which is always my favourite way of doing things with a desktop audio interface. A nice big monitor control knob, individual gain knobs for the inputs and very clear input and output monitoring.

The special sauce of the Volt 276 can be found in the Vintage Mic Preamp Mode and onboard 76 Compressor. These are not software plugins, they are analog circuits built into the interface to offer a rich, full sound of high-end hardware right inside your home studio. The Vintage Mic Preamp mode uses innovative solid state electronics to emulate the tube sound of the Universal Audio 610 tube preamp. The compressor is inspired by the UA 1176 Limiting Amplifier and is perfect for keeping voices under control and adding punch to synths, guitars and drum machines.

Volt 276 comes with a large suite of software including Ableton Live Lite and some really nice plugins but with the Volt you come for the sound, not the bundle.

Street Price: $299
uaudio.com

Arturia AudioFuse Studio

If you’d like something a bit more versatile on your desktop then check out the AudioFuse Studio from Arturia. Following on from their excellent AudioFuse audio interface, this pushes the I/O further and offers more hands-on control.

It has 4 world-class microphone preamps and a phono preamp for sampling vinyl. It has Bluetooth audio streaming to your monitors or into your DAW. It’s on USB-C connectivity and also has ADAT expandability along with MIDI I/O and Wordclock to give up to 18 inputs and 20 outputs.

There are two monitor outputs and a hardware button to switch between speakers. There’s a dedicated re-amping output so you can record your guitar and then tweak the sound through your amplifier later. There’s even a USB hub built in for your dongles or MIDI controllers.

The design is hand and finger-friendly and completely intuitive. There’s also a versatile software mixer that mirrors the hardware and lets you save configurations. It comes with a great bundle of software effects and virtual instruments. At $999, it’s at the higher end of the mid-range but it’s a very versatile device for a project studio.

Street Price: $999
arturia.com

Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB

Focusrite make a lot of audio interfaces but the Clarett range brings their A-Game to the table and the 4Pre offers their best combination of connections, price, quality and expandability. Initially only available on Thunderbolt the 4Pre USB opens it up to a wider range of systems.

You’ve got 4 professional quality mic preamps right on the front with hardware gain controls, halo LED monitoring and phantom power per pair. With Focusrite’s Air technology and impedance switching your mics will sound better than they ever have with breath-taking colour and high-end detail. On the back there are a further 4 line inputs which are perfect for bringing in hardware synthesizers and keys. There’s full control on the front with the nice big monitoring knob and two independent headphone outputs for when you’re working with someone.

The Clarett 4Pre USB is also expandable via optical ADAT connection to any ADAT preamp to give it a total of 18 inputs should you ever need it. You’ve also got a useful MIDI In and MIDI Out which should never be undervalued.

It comes with some useful monitoring and mixing software and a bundle of plugins, instruments and Ableton Live Lite to get you started.

The 4Pre is a fantastic sounding interface and would look magnificent in any home studio.

Street Prices:$699
focusrite.com

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