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The best audio interface 2019: our pick of the best audio interfaces for production and music-making

The best audio interface 2019: our pick of the best audio interfaces for production and music-making
(Image credit: Steinberg)

If you make music on a PC or Mac, an audio interface is pretty much a must have. 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.

Get an audio interface and you’ll be able to plug in microphones, guitars, synths and other instruments - maybe even MIDI equipment, too - and to hook up a pair of studio monitors and headphones.

But, as you might expect, there are lots of audio interfaces on the market, so you how do you find the best one? You read our guide, of course, which will tell you everything you need to know.

What is the best audio interface?

If you want the best audio interface on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the Audient iD4, a 2-in/2-out USB device that looks, sounds and feels great. It enables you to plug in mics and instruments, and offers great value for money.

If you need a bit more I/O, take a look at the third-generation version of Focsurite’s Scarlett 4i4, a USB-C audio interface that gives you double the number of inputs and outputs and sounds great.

At the top end, consider Universal Audio’s UAD Apollo Twin MkII, a 2-in/6-out audio interface that also enables you to use UA’s range of excellent DSP-powered plugins. 

Best audio interface: buying advice

When choosing the best audio interface for you, the first thing to work out is the number and type of inputs and outputs that you need. If you only want to plug in one microphone or instrument at a time, just one or two inputs will be enough, but if you want to record a live band, you’ll need far more. Multiple outputs can be useful if you want to set up separate headphone mixes 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. 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.

Audio interfaces typically run over USB or ThunderBolt, and you 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 in and start using them, and bus-powering is a feature to look out for, too. It’s also worth checking if your interface has iOS compatibility, if that’s important to you.

Most contemporary interfaces offer a low-latency recording option, so that 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.

Of course, in the end, your choice of audio interface will at least partly come down to price, so you’ll be pleased to know that our list of recommendations covers a broad range. Read on to find out what we consider to be the best buy audio interfaces on the market right now.

The best audio interfaces to buy today

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1. Audient iD4

The best budget audio interface

Launch price: $199/£119/€133 | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/96kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: No

Great value for money
Excellent preamp
Well thought-out
There's not much to complain about at this price

Arguably the best audio interface you can buy for less than $200, The iD4 is a simple two-input/two-output offering featuring a mic preamp - complete with phantom power for using condenser mics - as well as an instrument level DI for plugging in your guitar or bass. On top of this, there’s a main output for your speakers and dual headphone outputs. 

The whole thing is powered via USB and, with Apple’s camera connection kit, it can also work with an iPhone/iPad. However, the studio devilry is in the detail; Audient has really thought about everything with value and usability in mind, making what is a budget solution feel anything but inexpensive. The best USB audio interface we’ve seen at this price for a long time.

Read the full review: Audient iD4

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NI Komplete Audio 2

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2. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2

A super compact, slick 2x2 interface at a competitive price

Launch price: $139/£109/€129 | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: No

Super compact
Very slick and stylishly designed
Decent five-part input metering
No scaling at all on the controls

Komplete Audio 2 is a two-input, two-output design with two identical mic/line/instrument inputs. Connections are on space-saving combi XLRs with individual selector switches to select between line and instrument. 48V phantom power, meanwhile, is engaged globally via a single switch. In addition to the inputs, the front panel includes a hardware monitoring balance knob (Input/Host) and headphone output with independent control. 

The main output level is controlled from a large output level knob on the top panel. Here you’ll also find the input meters, alongside phantom and USB indicators. Round the back you’ve got the USB B connector, a pair of balanced outputs on TRS 1⁄4-inch jacks and a Kensington Security slot. The performance of the Komplete Audio 2 is as slick as its looks, and though the features are basic, it does its job admirably. And when you consider the excellent software bundle, it's great value.

Read the full review: Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2

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3. Mackie Onyx Producer 2.2

A hard-wearing 2-channel interface with high audio and build quality

Launch price: $160/£129/ | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes

Up to 24-bit/192kHz operation.
Robust build quality and compact footprint
MIDI input and output
Zero latency control affects both monitor and headphone output

With high-quality Onyx mic pres, balanced analogue connectivity and operation up to 24-bit/192kHz, the bus-powered Onyx Producer is more than capable of getting clean signals in and out of your DAW. There are two identical mic/line inputs with combination XLR/jack connectors. Each has a manual green backlit switch to select a Hi Z instrument, and there’s a global backlit switch for 48V phantom power. 

Input signals can be monitored with zero latency using the Input/DAW Mix knob, and rounding off the front panel are a large Monitor level knob and headphone output with level knob. Round the back you’ll find a pair of 1⁄4-inch jacks for the monitor output, and also a pair of MIDI connectors (In and Out), which is very handy. Throw in the robust metal case and you’ve got a compact, workhorse device that should last for years. You get a DAW - Tracktion T7 - in the box as well.

Read the full review: Mackie Onyx Producer 2.2

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Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

(Image credit: Focusrite)
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Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

(Image credit: Focusrite)
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Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

(Image credit: Focusrite)

4. Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

A great competitively-priced option with plenty of connectivity

Launch price: $230/£200 | Connectivity: USB-C | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 4 | Analogue outputs: 4 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes

New, improved preamp design
‘Air’ transformer stage emulation
MIDI I/O is useful
Some features can only be controlled in software

Focusrite’s Scarlett USB interfaces have traditionally combined excellent sonics and audio flexibility at affordable price points, and the third generation units keep up the good work.

All units in the range have received physical and technical upgrades, with improved preamps (now up to 56dB gain), balanced connectivity throughout, and the inclusion of Focusrite’s ISA transformer preamp emulation option (Air). On the bus-powered Scarlett 4i4 you get two mic/line/instrument inputs with gain, two line-level TRS inputs and four TRS outputs.

The 4i4 supports Focusrite’s Control application, which means that a number of settings can only be made in the software. The app also handles low-latency monitoring.

As we’ve come to expect from the Scarlett series, the sonics are neutral and the drivers reliable. The Air option tilts the frequency response towards high frequencies, and this can be great for taming undesirable proximity or adding high frequency lift.

With a decent software bundle included, this is a solid upgrade and a great affordable audio interface.

Read the full review: Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

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Steinberg UR22C

(Image credit: Steinberg)
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Steinberg UR22C

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Steinberg UR22C

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Steinberg UR22C

(Image credit: Steinberg)


5. Steinberg UR22C

A rugged 2-in/2-out audio interface with Yamaha preamps

Launch price: $190/£160/€189 | Connectivity: USB-C | Audio resolution: 32-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes

Built to last
Yamaha preamps
Built-in DSP processing

Steinberg has pimped-up its UR range of audio interfaces, introducing USB 3.0 models for PC, Mac and iOS. The UR22C is the most affordable of these.

Each of the interfaces offers USB Type-C connectivity (or USB 3.1 Gen 1 SuperSpeed, to give it its official title) and operates at 32-bit/192kHz audio resolution. There’s MIDI I/O, too, as well as DSP that provides zero-latency effects that can be used when monitoring. These can be accessed via the dspMixFx mixer.

Unsurprisingly, the UR22C is a 2-in/2-out audio interface. You get a couple of balanced Neutrik combo inputs, each of which sports a Yamaha D-PRE mic preamp, and two balanced line outputs.

With its rugged metal casing, the UR22C is a great option if you want something that can be slung in a backpack without fear.

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6. IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo

A portable powerhouse

Launch price: $199/£149/€199 | Connectivity: USB 2, Lightning, USB OTG | Audio resolution: 24-bit/48kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 2 | Digital connectivity: None | MIDI I/O: Yes

Completely portable
Works with mobile devices
Record two channels simultaneously
Performance issues when battery levels are low

The iRig Pro Pro Duo is IK Multimedia's best mobile audio interface yet. It's got everything you need from a two-channel audio interface - MIDI, phantom power, direct monitoring, signal metering, combi XLR/Hi-Z inputs - and can be either battery- or mains-powered. The Pro Duo also feels more robust than some of its predecessors. 

The unit comes complete with a plethora of cabling for connecting to your devices of choice, including MIDI breakout cables. One thing we did notice was that, as the batteries ran down, the unit became less stable. This is, of course, only a minor gripe, but if you're out and about, remember to bring spares.

Read the full review: IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo

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7. Arturia AudioFuse

A classy audio interface with a wealth of connectivity options

Launch price: $599/£519/€599 | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 4 | Analogue outputs: 4 | Digital connectivity: ADAT I/O and S/PDIF I/O | MIDI I/O: Yes

Great sound
Loads of connectivity
Stylish design
Other interfaces with similar levels of I/O are available for substantially less.

AudioFuse is an attractive and portable Mac, PC and iOS-compatible interface with a raft of features. Despite its compact frame, there’s plenty of connectivity on offer. Along the front edge, you’ll find combi inputs and two fully independent headphone feeds. In turn, these can accommodate both mini-jack and 1/4-inch plugs. 

At the back, there are speaker outputs for two pairs of monitors, line level connectors, MIDI In/Out ports (which, due to size restrictions, have been replaced by mini-jack connectors, which you’ll find in the box) and - for digital interfacing - both S/PDIF and ADAT In/Out. There are also inserts for inputs 1 and 2, allowing you to track through hardware compressors or channel strips. 

AudioFuse connects via USB 2, but USB connectivity goes further; Arturia has built a USB hub into it, providing three extra USB ports. AudioFuse provides a beautiful and contemporary approach to USB audio interfacing with a great design, compatibility with a huge range of possible audio sources, a great sound and a highly tactile control set.

Read the full review: Arturia AudioFuse

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8. Universal Audio UAD Apollo Twin MkII

High-quality audio and DSP-powered plugins

Launch price: From $699/£600/€699 | Connectivity: Thunderbolt | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 2 | Analogue outputs: 6 | Digital connectivity: Optical Toslink | MIDI I/O: No

Incredible audio quality
Superb UAD-2 plugins
Thunderbolt only at the moment
No MIDI

Still a desktop-format 2-in/-6-out interface with 24-bit/192kHz capabilities, the Apollo Twin MkII would be almost indistinguishable from the original were it not now black rather than silver. It connects to your Mac or PC via Thunderbolt (there’s no cable in the box), but it has to be powered from the wall. The back panel and front edge house the inputs and outputs, while the top panel centres on a satisfyingly oversized knob. 

Also a DSP box for powering UAD plugin effects (you can choose from Solo, Duo and Quad options), the Apollo Twin MkII features the same game-changing Unison preamps as its predecessor, fed by the Mic/Line and Hi-Z ins. These enable a gradually expanding subset of UA’s classic hardware emulation plugins to be inserted directly into each input path. 

This is a musically empowering hardware/software hybrid that's capable of elevating even the humblest of home and project studios to genuinely professional-quality heights, and certainly one of the best audio interfaces you can buy.

Read the full review: Universal Audio UAD Apollo Twin MkII 

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9. Antelope Audio Zen Tour

A high-end portable audio interface that guitarists will love

Launch price: $1495/£1415/€1495 | Connectivity: USB 2 and Thunderbolt | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 8 | Analogue outputs: 8 | Digital connectivity: S/PDIF, ADAT | MIDI I/O: No

Great, latency-free DSP FX
Truly portable
Incredibly flexible
Only one compressor 

Antelope doesn't tend to scrimp on the quality of its products and the Zen Tour is no exception. It’s very compact given how much functionality it offers, and feels solid. It has a small but useful touchscreen which enables you access to all the basic functions of the unit, with the likes of input gains, headphone levels and talkback directly accessible using buttons on the front panel and the large 'soft' knob. 

At the front are two headphone outs, two re-amping outs and four line/Hi Z inputs, all on 1/4-inch jacks. To the rear are four dual XLR/1/4-inch inputs, two pairs of monitor outs on 1/4-inch jacks, eight analogue outs on a DB25, two RCA sockets for S/PDIF in and out, a power connector and USB and Thunderbolt sockets. On the left-hand side are two pairs of ADAT ins and outs. 

Once you have the software installed on your computer and connected you are ready to go. There are six amplifier emulations covering vintage to modern and clean to downright filthy. They sound great and, unlike some software emulations, have a great dynamic response. You also get a great range of EQs and a single compressor. 

If you want a high-quality audio interface for studio, rehearsals and gigs you have to look at this. It sounds great and is supremely flexible. Certainly one of the best audio interfaces for guitarists you can buy.

Read the full review: Antelope Audio Zen Tour

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10. Apogee Element 46

Great sound and superb software control

Launch price: $999/£859/€895 | Connectivity: Thunderbolt | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 4 | Analogue outputs: 6 | Digital connectivity: ADAT, SMUX and S/PDIF I/O | MIDI I/O: No

Sumptuous audio quality and conversion
Highly flexible
Remote control costs extra
No MIDI I/O

One of the best audio interfaces for Mac on the market, the Element 46 prioritises function over form: it’s an extremely simple and rather plain-looking unit with not an LED or LCD in sight. Don’t let the featureless look throw you, though - the (optional) Remote Control unit might look like the more interesting piece of kit, but that plain grey box plays host to the real action. 

The real ace up Apogee’s sleeve is that the Element interfaces aren’t actually designed for physical interaction at all - instead, they’re designed to be put to one side on a surface in your studio, with their microphone connections (front-mounted for convenience) the only part you’ll get hands-on with during the recording process. 

Everything else is handled by software, with that aforementioned Remote Control or a free iOS app providing extra hands-on interaction should you wish. While nearly all of the best audio interfaces now provide software control over hardware, Element Control goes further than most, providing an essential front end to Apogee’s superb preamps and A/D conversion. 

Read the full review: Apogee Element 46

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11. Steinberg AXR4

Steinberg is offering a genuine high-end audio interface alternative

Launch price: $2,799/£2,200/€2,499 | Connectivity: Thunderbolt 2 | Audio resolution: 32-bit/384kHz | Analogue inputs: 28 | Analogue outputs: 24 | Digital connectivity: ADAT, S/PDIF, AES/EBU I/O | MIDI I/O: Yes

Great performance and loads of I/O
Software control panel makes for intuitive setup
No Thunderbolt cable included
Front panel configuration is a touch fiddly

Steinberg has entered the Thunderbolt audio race with the the AXR4, a rack-mountable interface aimed at professional producers and engineers. This 28-in/24-out box offers latency-free DSP-powered monitoring and effects, stacks of I/O and plenty of routing flexibility. Up front you’ll find four Neutrik combo inputs and two headphone outputs, while the back panel houses eight TRS line inputs, eight TRS line outputs and two sets of ADAT I/O doubling as S/PDIF. 

The second pair provides an alternative AES/EBU Sub-D connector. MIDI I/O sits alongside word clock I/O, while two Thunderbolt 2 ports enable computer connection and daisy-chaining of up to three interfaces. The four hybrid mic preamps benefit from refined transformer circuitry and Rupert Neve Designs SILK processing, while DSP effects include the VCM 276 compressor, VCM EQ601, the Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip and the REV-X reverb. 

Quality oozes from every pore; there’s a new contender in the pro audio interfacing arena.

Read the full review: Steinberg AXR4

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12. Prism Sound Atlas

A pro audio interface at a pro price

Launch price: $4,795/£3,594/€4,799 | Connectivity: USB 2 | Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz | Analogue inputs: 8 | Analogue outputs: 8 | Digital connectivity: S/PDIF, ADAT | MIDI I/O: No

Fantastic, studio-level quality
Comprehensive software control
Highly expandable
Definitely for pros only

Prism Sound has quickly developed a reputation as a go-to choice for many professional users and studios seeking exemplary audio quality at the interfacing stage. Atlas is a 2U USB interface with plenty of I/O possibilities, but the extra ace up its sleeve is an MDIO port, which provides additional, flexible interfacing capability. 

The rear panel shows the internal interfacing capabilities Atlas offers, with eight coveted Prism Sound preamps provided, which allow for either XLR or TRS connections, alongside eight dedicated balanced 1/4-inch outputs. You'll also find digital inputs, with supported formats including S/PDIF and ADAT, meaning that Atlas is capable of recording up to 18 channels at once, at up to 192kHz, though digital track count becomes lower at super-high resolution. 

In use, Atlas feels like a thoroughbred interface from the moment it's up and running. You can configure some settings from the front panel, but Prism Sound also provides a comprehensive Control application to allow you to set up Atlas's assorted I/O over software. 

Atlas is a sumptuous interface, offering unparalleled sound quality. Prism Sound's reputation is further enhanced with its arrival and, since the quality of its interfaces was already seen as excellent, that's a glowing endorsement.

Read the full review: Prism Sound Atlas