A model for everyone
Although you might be able to scrape by using your laptop’s built-in audio facilities, most mobile musicians find that a dedicated interface is well worth having. And whether you’re a guitarist, producer, DJ or singer/songwriter, you should be able to find a model that fits your requirements and budget. One of this lot, perhaps…
Native Instruments Guitar Rig Mobile
The LE version of Guitar Rig serves as the software component of this pocket-sized package, but it’s the cigarette packet shaped audio interface that makes it so appealing. It offers just a 1/4-inch input and a 1/4-inch output, but if you’re a guitarist who wants to record your playing on the go, that’s all that’s required.
Blue Microphones Icicle
This cylindrical solution has an XLR connector at one end and a USB port at the other. As such, it makes it a cinch to plug your standard mic into your laptop. Handy options include 48V phantom power (both dynamic and condenser mics are supported) and an analogue gain control.
Digidesign Mbox 2 Mini
The term ‘Pro Tools’ conjures up images of high-end, rack-filled studios, but thanks to the Mbox range of interfaces, you can use the system on your notebook. The Mini version offers you 2-in/2-out functionality, but if you want to go even smaller (and cheaper), there’s also the USB-key-sized Mbox 2 Micro.
What’s this – a microphone in a gallery of audio interfaces? Well, sort of, but it’s a microphone with a difference – namely, that it also features a 1/4-inch line input that you can use to record an instrument, too (and at the same time as the mic signal). This being the case, it’s a fine solution for the songwriter who works on the move.
Novation nio 2|4
If you’re looking for a box that offers more than just one or two inputs and outputs, the nio 2|4 could be it. As well as featuring enough connectivity to satisfy most mobile songwriters, producers and DJs, it also comes with a selection of built-in guitar amp and effect emulations, making it wholly unique proposition.
There are no fancy bells and whistles here: the FCA202 is simply a compact and functional 2-in/2-out 24-bit/96kHz audio FireWire audio interface for Mac and PC. Looking for more selling points? Well, the headphone out has its own level control, but more importantly, the FCA202 is made of metal rather than plastic, earning it valuable durability points.
Aimed more at the pro than the hobbyist, the FireWired UltraLite offers a total of 10 inputs and 14 outputs when its analogue and digital connectivity is factored in. It also benefits from the powerful onboard CueMix FX digital mixer, which enables you to apply DSP-powered effects. In fact, the UltraLite is so comprehensive that most would be happy to use it not just in mobile situations, but at home, too.
IK Multimedia StealthPlug
Similar in concept to NI’s Guitar Rig Mobile (though IK’s product was released first), the StealthPlug makes it easy for any guitarist to plug their instrument into a laptop. In fact, no extra leads are required at all, as this is an interface that’s built into a 14-inch-jack-to-USB cable. You even get a copy of AmpliTube 2 Live in the box.
CEntrance Axeport Pro
Another tubular interface, the AxePort Pro is yet another device that serves as a bridge between your guitar and computer. It’s a case of ‘input jack on one end – USB port on the other’, but handily you also got a couple of knobs (for input gain and the mini-jack headphone out). Audio quality is impressive, too.
M-Audio Fast Track Ultra
M-Audio’s Fast Track range contains a variety of models for the laptop musician, and the Ultra is one of the most comprehensive. It’s an 8-in/8-out interface that features four of the company’s Octane preamps, while additional benefits include a built-in mixer and FX processing. All of this comes at a very competitive price, too.
Apogee converters packed into a sleek, portable silver box y’say? We’ll take a bit of that. Duet is a 2-in/2-out affair that’s designed specifically for use with Apple’s Logic and GarageBand software, and can be plugged into any Mac laptop (or desktop, for that matter) with a FireWire 400 or 800 port. If you want to go even smaller, check out Apogee’s new One interface.