Best Audio Interface 2019
Which audio interface is right for you? There are loads of them with varying collections of inputs, outputs, and other features. How do you pick the right one for you? It’s easier than you think. Narrow the list down by asking yourself what it is you want to do. If you are recording bands then you need enough inputs to cover all the instruments, the vocals and several microphones on the drums. If you’re a studio wanting massive versatility, then high-end interfaces with digital multi-inputs are probably going to be your thing. But if you’re on your own or writing music with a partner then a couple of inputs is really all you need. Typically, an audio interface worth looking at is going to start at $99 — so then your budget becomes another factor.
If you want to know more about them, then check out this article covering what an audio interface is.
To make it even easier I’ve put together a list of what I think are some of the best audio interfaces on the market in 2019. I’ll try to cover everything from budget end to project studio; you should find what you need right here with the most up-to-date products and latest technology.
Here are our picks for the best audio interfaces available in 2019:
- Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 and Audio 2
- Focusrite Scarlett2i4
- Audient Sono
- IK Multimedia AXE I/O
- PreSonus Studio Series USB Interfaces
- Arturia AudioFuse Studio
- Steinberg AXR4
- RME Audio Fireface UFX II
Best Audio Interfaces of 2019
1. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 and Audio 2
*At time of writing
Kicking us off are two fabulously simple audio interfaces from Native Instruments. They are two channel USB boxes that will fit easily in your laptop bag and do the job of providing you with high-quality audio in and out.
Audio 1 is ideal for the solo singer-songwriter. It has a single microphone input and a second input for guitar or the output of a keyboard or synthesizer. The outputs on the back are on RCA phono connectors which are great for plugging into your hi-fi or speakers.
Audio 2 makes the inputs more versatile by offering two channels that can both be microphones, guitars or line level for synths and keyboards. The outputs are upgraded to 1/4″ jack outputs.
Both boxes have a single headphone output with volume control, gain control over the inputs, 5 segment LED monitoring and that sweet big volume dial on the top. There’s a knob on the front to let you mix between playback from your computer and the direct input signal which lets you do some direct monitoring. They also come with an impressive bundle of virtual instruments, sounds, effects and recording software Ableton Live Lite and the Maschine groovebox sequencer.
Priced at $99 and $119 respectively the Audio 2 is just a bit more expensive but worth it for the input versatility because even when making music on your own you never know when you might need two microphones.
There are emulations of classic cabs from Marshall, Fender, Ampeg and many more, all accessible through the onscreen control software. Once you’ve designed your guitar sound you can save up to 3 presets into Sono itself so you can take the sound out to a gig without needing to take the computer.
2. Focusrite Scarlett2i4
*At time of writing
The Focusrite Scarlett is a range of audio interfaces that cover pretty much every scenario. But in the budget end the 2i4 gives a decent step up from the Native Instruments Audio 2. The Scarlett 2i4, as with the Audio 2, has two pre-amped microphone inputs that can also support guitars or line level. There’s a direct monitoring switch, a nice big volume knob, headphones and on the back, you get jack outputs and RCA phonos for different output options. You have pad switches on the inputs for some instant gain reduction, a balancing knob for the monitoring and a headphone output where you can choose which outputs you are listening to. The LED monitoring is shown as a ring around the gain knobs which is quite nice, although less precise than the 5 segments on the Audio 2. The MIDI In/Out ports are very useful if you have external MIDI gear.
It comes in a rugged red box with all the controls on the front rather than having some on the top like the Audio 2. You get a neat bundle of software including some exclusive Focusrite plugins, Ableton Live Lite, and Pro Tools First.
The Scarlett 2i4 can be found for around $199. So it’s a chunk more money for a similar interface to the Native Instrument ones but with arguably better quality circuitry and more features.
Guitar Oriented Interfaces
A slightly more niche audio interface has started to emerge that pays particular attention to the needs of the guitarist.
3. Audient Sono
*At time of writing
The Sono is a 2 input, 4 output audio interface with award-winning Audient console preamp technology and a 12AX7 tube built right into the input stage. Inside the box is some DSP hardware that runs speaker cabinet simulations from Two Notes. This is combined with a 3-band tone control right there on the front panel, making the Sono essentially a tube drive amp and speaker combo for your guitar.
The tube is going to give your guitar a classic analog tone shaped by the analog EQ before routing through the Two Note technology which lets you emulate the sound of miking a guitar or bass cabinet in a professional recording studio. There are emulations of classic cabs from Marshall, Fender, Ampeg and many more, all accessible through the onscreen control software. Once you’ve designed your guitar sound you can save up to 3 presets into Sono itself so you can take the sound out to a gig without needing to take the computer.
Meanwhile, it does all the mic recording and monitoring, has headphone outputs and a 5 segment LED monitor and all the controls arranged nicely on this desktop style audio interface. And if you need more inputs for when the band turns up then it has an ADAT digital input so you could add an 8-channel mic-preamp box.
Along with the Two Note software you also get recording software from Steinberg, plugins from Waldorf and a load of loops.
The Audient Sono is priced at $449.
4. IK Multimedia AXE I/O
*At time of writing
IK Multimedia has one of the most well-regarded software guitar amp systems available in AmpliTube. They have decided to combine that software technology with a new premium audio interface packed full of guitarist-friendly features. It’s called the AXE I/O — well, of course, it is!
AXE I/O is a 2 input, 5 output audio interface in a ruggedized rack style box. On the input, there’s a “Z-Tone” impedance adapting circuit that matches up to your pickups and is switchable between passive and active. The fully discrete input circuit has a choice of Pure or Class A JFET and takes you from transparent to tube-like at the throw of a switch. The unexpected 5th output is an “Amp Out” designed to go straight to a guitar amplifier so that you can process your recordings through external gear rather than committing them to your project.
All the guitar amp and cabinet modeling are done in the included AmpliTube 4 Deluxe, with over 140 ultra-accurate models of guitar and bass amps, cabs, pedals, mics and more. You can dial in what you need via the front preset knob. On the back are two pedal inputs for expressive control that can be mapped directly to the software. They’ve even integrated a guitar tuner directly on the front panel.
And, like the Sono, it will do all the microphone recording and monitoring, as well — but the AXE I/O also has a handy MIDI In and Out port for connecting keyboards or floorboard controllers.
Along with the full-blown version of AmpliTube 4 you also get Ableton Live Lite to get you started with recording. Priced at $349 it’s a super package for the recording guitarist.
From the makers of Cubase comes a premium sound quality audio interface that uses the Thunderbolt interface found on Apple computers and high-end PCs, but is for MacOS only. The AXR4 (Audio Xcellence Redefined) is designed for serious studio use and aims to set a new standard in quality.
5. PreSonus Studio Series USB Interfaces
*At time of writing
Like with the Focusrite, the PreSonus Studio series is a range of USB audio interfaces. They have one which sits nicely in the middle that is perfect for project studios or when you have friends round to play. The Studio “C” range is newly designed for 2019 with USB C connectors for forward-looking connectivity, although it will work with regular USB via an adapter or hub.
For the mid-range studio, check out the Studio 1810c. It has 4 microphone preamps on the front, 2 of which can be used for guitar. There are another 4 line level inputs on the back for your synthesizers. If you need more inputs, it has an ADAT optical input (like the Sono) to let you add a further 8 inputs with an ADAT preamp box. There are 6 outputs on the back split in stereo main and 2 lots of monitoring outputs. But the cool thing about these outputs is that they are also DC coupled, meaning that they can control voltages for Eurorack and modular gear. You’ve also got 2 stereo headphone outputs, MIDI in/out and S/PDIF digital.
It’s an awesome interface for electronic musicians and you can just about record a band with it. Comes with the excellent Studio One Artist DAW so you are all good to go. It’s well priced, too, at $399.
6. Arturia AudioFuse Studio
Arturia AudioFuse Studio Series – Coming Soon – View on Website
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. Like the PreSonus, 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.
7. Steinberg AXR4
*At time of writing
From the makers of Cubase comes a premium sound quality audio interface that uses the Thunderbolt interface found on Apple computers and high-end PCs but is for MacOS only. The AXR4 (Audio Xcellence Redefined) is designed for serious studio use and aims to set a new standard in quality.
The Thunderbolt connection ensures super-low latency and high performance for all 28 inputs and 24 outputs. Recording and playback can be done at 32-bit integer and up to 384kHz. The four mic preamps on the front feature “Rupert Neve Designs Silk” technology, giving them a natural sound and unparalleled versatility. These can also be line and Hi-Z guitar inputs. The Silk Texture control introduces lush analog textures to the sound, using Neve-approved Red or Blue console emulations. There’s jitter reduction technology, a full matrix mixer for routing and a powerful DSP mixer with a custom Yamaha DSP chip running some vintage compression and studio effects. And it has a useful OLED display on the front for metering.
It’s a phenomenal interface that will provide pristine quality and characterful recordings in any kind of studio. It does come with Cubase AI in the box but honestly, you’re going to be running a full version of Cubase or another DAW. However, Cubase 10 does have some deeper integration with the AXR4 that’s worth considering. Oh, and you can chain 3 together for loads more inputs and outputs. The Steinberg AXR4 costs $2,799.
8. RME Audio Fireface UFX II
*At time of writing
This is not a new interface for 2019 but it’s one of the most reliable and fully featured interfaces on the market and runs on good old USB — so that there’s no trouble running it on Windows or MacOS. It’s quite striking how Steinberg has reflected the look of the UFX II in the AXR4.
The Fireface UFX II has 30 ins and 30 outs with 4 digitally controlled mic preamps on the front, another 8 analog on the back and the rest in ADAT, AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital. The latency and performance of RME’s USB technology are second to none and supports audio resolutions up to 192kHz. Along with the excellent monitoring screen, MIDI I/O and wordclock features, you can also plug in a USB stick in the front and record directly to it. Imagine taking an instant mix from a recording session or live show. The internal TotalMix FX software gives full routing access and hardware mixing with DSP effects.
It’s a professional audio interface for $2,299.
Photo courtesy of Audient.
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