The Year’s Best Apple iPad Audio Interfaces
The Apple iPad harbors an enormous amount of creative power. There are recording studio apps and synthesizer apps, beat making and loop triggering apps. But how on earth do you plug-in a guitar, or a decent microphone? That is where the audio interface comes in. It’s a box with proper connections for instruments, mics, headphones, and speakers which connects to your iPad and controls the sound going in and coming out. Sure, the iPad has a microphone built in but if you’re starting to get serious about your music production then an audio interface is going to give you a far better creative experience.
Lightning-compatible or USB?
Some audio interfaces are built with the iPad in mind, others are designed to run on all sorts of systems. Apple’s audio driver technology has made it very easy for manufacturers to make their interfaces iOS compatible. iOS compatible interfaces will be labeled as “class compliant.” However, the changing nature of the lightning connector means you’ll probably need an adapter to get the USB cable from the interface into the iPad.
The interfaces designed for iOS will have the proprietary lightning cable in the box. Although if you are running an older iPad with the 30-pin connector you will have to find another $40 for a Lightning-to-30 pin adapter.
Connecting most of these adapters and cables has the annoying result of preventing you from charging your iPad. However, there are some adapters, such as the Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter that do let you plug your charger in as well (a factor worth considering if you do long recording sessions). iPads have a very limited ability to power other peripherals so only very simple interfaces will be bus powered. Most require their own power supply.
Lightning-compatible audio interfaces
For the purposes of this roundup, we’re going to be looking only at audio interfaces that come with a Lightning connector. They are designed for the iPad and are going to give you the least amount of trouble or setting up time. Many other audio interfaces are “class compliant” and will run on the iPad and for those, check out our article on the Best Audio Interfaces.
There are a number of solutions out there designed to have the iPad slide into the interface. They initially look really awesome, particularly the Alesis iOMIX with its 4-channel mixer with faders. But my concern is they may struggle with compatibility as iPads change in size and connectivity. Neither the Alesis or the Focusrite iTrack Dock can support the bigger iPad Pro and so, great as they are and worthy of mention, they can’t make it onto the “Best” list.
Apogee do a couple of different versions of ONE — one of which is tailored for the iPad. The way to spot it is that this ONE is in black. The key feature, other than being very pocket-friendly is the built-in microphone. Now I know you’re going to say “but the iPad already has a built-in microphone” — yes — but not one of this quality.
Our 2018 Picks
Focusrite iTrack Solo
Street Price: $119.99 (at time of writing)
Focusrite has a range of “iTrack” interfaces but the iTrack Solo is probably the most versatile. It looks like a regular USB audio interface box with controls and connections on the front. It’s small, light and encased in bead-blasted aluminum. On the front, you have a single microphone input, with phantom power for condenser mics and a single guitar input. Both have independent gain knobs that light up green and red to visualize the input level. A big silver knob controls the overall level for the line output on the back and the headphone output on the front. A switch turns on direct monitoring to avoid any latency delay caused by monitoring through software. That’s about it.
iTrack Solo comes with both a regular USB cable and a “Device Link” Lightning cable for connection to an iPad. For older 30-pin iPads you will need an adapter. The iTrack Solo can only take bus power when connected via USB to a regular computer. With the iPad, it will require its own power supply and does not provide power back up the chain.
The iTrack Solo is a decent box with excellent recording quality and a simple set of features. Wiring it up to some speakers is going to give you a fabulous listening experience for your music apps and much more.
Link to Website: focusrite.com
Street Price: $249.00 (at time of writing)
Apogee does a couple of different versions of ONE — one of which is tailored for the iPad. The way to spot it is that this ONE is in black. The key feature, other than being very pocket-friendly is the built-in microphone. Now I know you’re going to say “but the iPad already has a built-in microphone” — yes — but not one of this quality.
Apogee makes legendary mic preamps and converters and they’ve squeezed some of that know-how into this little interface. The built-in mic is a studio quality condenser you can use to record vocals or capture any sound perfectly. With a break-out cable, you can connect another microphone or a guitar, giving you two simultaneous channels of recording. The nice big silver knob acts as the control for both input and output level plus you get 3 segment LED metering. It even comes with a mic clip to attach it directly to a mic stand.
The Apogee ONE also requires a power supply when being used with an iPad. However, it can be battery powered, making it very portable. It’s also one of the few interfaces that will pass charge through to the iPad from its own power supply so you can leave ONE plugged in and running for as long as you want. It can also connect to a Mac via the included USB cable.
Apogee ONE is a very compact and mobile recording solution with the added benefit of not needing any other gear. It sounds great and looks the business.
Link to Website: apogeedigital.com
Presonus AudioBox iTwo
Street Price: $149.99 (at time of writing)
PreSonus make a bit of a fuss about how portable this interface is, although, of course, it’s only bus powerable from a regular computer, not an iPad. However, the AudioBox iTwo increases the versatility by offering two inputs that can be microphone, guitar or line level. Buttons with rather nice blue LEDs inside switch the inputs to instrument and the silver gain knobs range from mic to line level. The big silver monitoring knob has become a bit of a standard and is always appreciated. Another key feature is the presence of a MIDI interface on the rear of the unit. This will let you plug a MIDI keyboard, controller or synthesizer directly into your iPad for sequencing.
It’s encased in metal, a bit bigger and heavier than the iTrack Solo but still very much a portable device. Power must come from a USB power block and it doesn’t pass it through to the iPad.
You do get some software with the AudioBox iTwo. PreSonus provides a 2-track version of Capture, which will get you recording on the iPad. If you have a desktop computer then the much more fully featured Studio One Artist is an excellent DAW. With Capture, you can wirelessly transfer projects from the iPad to your desktop PC or Mac, which is very neat.
The AudioBox iTwo is a high-quality interface with some useful software and a very handy MIDI interface. There’s also an iOne version which reduces the input number to one and is slightly smaller.
Link to Website: presonus.com
IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo
Street Price: $199.99 (at time of writing)
IK makes a range of iRig interfaces for iOS devices but probably their best is the iRig Pro Duo. Like some of the other interfaces we’ve seen, it’s a two-channel affair, but it’s completely mobile because it can run on two AA batteries. It has the versatility of the combi inputs that can take mic, line or instrument levels. On the top, you get independent gain controls and some multi-function LEDs that show you the gain as well as MIDI activity. Using a smaller minijack style connector, IK has managed to squeeze a MIDI interface onto the iRig Pro Duo. There are a Direct Monitoring switch and a minijack headphone output with a roller volume control.
It’s a very compact device. They’ve packed a lot of things in, which has resulted in some compromises on connectors and controls. It’s perhaps not as good looking as the Apogee ONE but outdoes it in terms of features.
It also wins with the software bundle. You get iPad versions of Amplitube, VocaLive, iRig Recorder, SampleTank, iGrand Piano, plus a similar bundle on your Mac or PC. All of which probably makes the iRig Pro Duo the best value for money iPad audio interface on our list.
Link to Website: ikmultimedia.com
Street Price: $299.99 (at time of writing)
This is something slightly different. iConnect audio interfaces are unique in that they can be connected to an iPad at the same time, with the same interface, as a Mac or PC. This enables you to send audio and MIDI data between the iPad and your computer. The whole thing integrates in a rather amazing way. The audio output from your iPad apps arrives as tracks in your desktop DAW. MIDI from your DAW can run synthesizer apps on the iPad. All this without additional cabling or messing about.
The Audio4+ has a bit more in terms of inputs and outputs. You have 4 microphone inputs on the front, two of which can be instrument inputs, two of which can be line. On the back, you have 4 outputs for more flexible routing and a headphone output. MIDI in/out rounds off the connectivity and we have a nice big silver knob on the front with some decent metering. So all in all, this is a much more serious device.
Although it has to run on its own power supply at all times it does have the added benefit of charging the iPad. You do get some software for your Mac or PC, but nothing for the iPad but its unique inter-computer mixing of MIDI and audio make it a very interesting device. It requires a bit more thought in setup and configuration; it’s not a plug-in and go interface but could be enormously powerful in the studio. There’s also a smaller Audio2+ option.
Link to Website: iconnectivity.com
IK makes a range of iRig interfaces for iOS devices but probably their best is the iRig Pro Duo. Like some of the other interfaces we’ve seen it’s a two-channel affair, but it’s completely mobile because it can run on two AA batteries
Line 6 Sonic Port VX
Street Price: $199.95 (at time of writing)
Finally, a similar idea to the Apogee ONE is the Line 6 SonicPort VX. This oddly shaped interface has three condenser microphones built in. The single mic is ideal for vocal performances whereas the stereo mics are perfect for picking up acoustic sets and songwriting sessions. There are no additional inputs for other microphones, you have to go with what’s built in. There is, however, an excellent quality guitar input as you’d expect from Line 6. There’s also a stereo line input for recording other sources. Headphones and stereo quarter-inch outputs round off the connectivity.
The included USB power supply will also power your iPad, which is good to know. It comes with a little desktop mic stand so you can set it up at a suitable angle for recording.
On the software side, you get Mobile POD for iOS with over 10,000 presets designed by artists and guitarists using the 32 amps, 16 effects, and 16 speaker cabs. You also get Cubase LE for your PC or Mac.
It’s a wonderfully simple device where you set it up and start recording without any mess or fuss. The quality of the microphones is excellent but you are restricted to using only them unless you want to bring your own preamps along to record via the line inputs.
Link to Website: line6.com
Having something designed to do the job is always preferable. And while larger USB audio interfaces can offer more features and a greater number of inputs and outputs they start to move away from the instant and mobile nature of the iPad. The interfaces on this list are brilliant with the iPad or other iOS device and give the solo performer or songwriter enough tools and quality to get serious with their music production.
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