The Buyer’s Guide To Interfaces
There are so many interfaces out there that we could fill a book, so over the next three pages, we’ve put a selection of the best ones that we’ve reviewed in MusicTech over the last few years. Make sure to check out our part 1 and part 2 of our beginner’s guide to audio interfaces. […]
There are so many interfaces out there that we could fill a book, so over the next three pages, we’ve put a selection of the best ones that we’ve reviewed in MusicTech over the last few years. Make sure to check out our part 1 and part 2 of our beginner’s guide to audio interfaces.
Allen & Heath Qu- range
Price £849 (QU-SB) to £2,500 (QU-32)
Type USB and mixer
When is an interface not an interface? When it’s a mixer… and interface. Many interfaces now feature complete mixers – we cover a few here – and Allen & Heath’s are some of the best spec’d around, ranging from the SB (for live bands and studios), to the 32-channel QU-32.
We say: “These are great desks and interfaces with a wealth of useful features that will fit into any scenario, from live to studio.”
Allen & Heath Zed-10FX
Type USB and mixer
Another interface that doubles as a mixer, the Zed-10FX is more within the budget of those seeking a more cost-effective solution – although the added mixer does give it great flexibility.
We say: “It operates in a very straightforward way, as a simple but well-featured interface for both iOS and computer. As such, it allows DAW owners into an outside world full of wonder and exotic boxes, butit can also act as a recording mixer for bands, especially with those onboard effects.”
Apogee Jam 96k
Type USB and iOS
This is a simple, problem-solving interface to plug your guitar into your Windows or Mac computer, or iOS device.The interface itself is little bigger than a cigarette lighter, making it about as portable a solution as you could possibly desire, with a 1/4-inch jack input at one end and a Hirose L connector on the other.
We say: “Using the JAM 96k is incredibly simple and this is a fantastic device. It doesn’t do all that much, but what it does, it does in style.”
Apogee Element 24
At the other end of the Apogee scale, we have the Element 24 10/12 Thunderbolt interface. But it has pretty much the same number of controls as its much smaller brother, ie none! Everything is done in software and the quality is pristine and neutral.
We say: “The Element 24 is an intriguing take on interfacing. Placing everything in your computer means you can spend more time at the screen and less time toying with the hardware.”
Type USB and mobile
Audient’s iD4 is small, portable and cheap, so is one of the best choices if you’re just starting out. It’s pretty simple, but Audient has managed to pack a fair amount into it. There’s a single mic preamp, a DI, stereo outputs and twin headphone outputs – all fitting in the palm of your hand.
We say: “The iD4 is a simple and useful tool, which could make an ideal second interface for portable work, or as a quality interface for electronic in-the-box musicians.”
This interface is one of the company’s entry-level models, but features the same ASP8024 Class A microphone preamp circuit as used in Audient’s consoles, which means it sounds as clean, transparent, classy and noise-free as interfaces which cost a lot more.
We say “The iD14 isn’t lacking anything essential. Audient has concentrated on audio quality rather than gimmicks and the result is attractive, sonically impressive and fiendishly useful. This is a classy interface, featuring all the quality you’d expect from Audient at a very affordable price.”
The iD22 is both an interface and monitor controller. As with other Audient interfaces, you get pristine converters and excellent-sounding preamps. The iD22 features two mic/line preamps, which are identical to the ones found in Audient’s consoles and standalone preamps.
We say “A very high-quality two-channel mic pre, audio interface and monitor controller with plenty of features and few compromises.”
Price £2,395 (street)
This 2U interface is undoubtedly more expensive than some of the others we’re covering here, but as an Ethernet unit, it can connect to multiple DAWs. It also features high-quality Waves software and a host of pro features, eight outputs, plus two headphone outputs – as well as AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital, Word Clock and MIDI I/O.
We say: “IOS is designed cleverly, to appeal both to the small home-studio user and professional studio owners. It’s a very exciting interface, offering a powerful DSP engine alongside an impressive I/O selection.”
Focusrite iTrack range
Price £119 to £169
Type USB and iOS
The iTrack range is designed to be your ‘go to’ range if you’re into iOS recording. We’ve looked at the Dock (which allows you to plug youriPad into your studio) and the One Pre, which is a great solution for recording with quality microphones.
We say: “We could insert an ‘Is that an iTrack One Pre in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’ joke here, or just say ‘damn good iOS interface!’.”
Focusrite Clarett 8Pre
This was our Gear Of The Year winner of Best Interface a couple of years back. It has 18 audio inputs and 20 outs, with eight analogue ins and 10 outs, plus eight ADAT I/Os and stereo S/PDIF I/O.
We say: “Clarett does everything it sets out to do, and very well. It has great mic pres, offering superb recording, and the routing software offers the ultimate in recording flexibility. 8Pre performed admirably well, with zero latency, and it will give multi-recordists their speed.”
Focusrite Red 8Pre
Type Thunderbolt, Dante and DigiLink
The Red 8Pre is twice a 4Pre (also on our ‘To Buy’ list) and has a total analogue I/O count, which is up from 8 x10 to a more substantial 16×18. At £3,200, it is somewhat pricey, but really does represent something of a pinnacle of interfacing for Focusrite, the masters of the area.
We say: “It has everything you’d need to centre your studio around. With integration all built-in, it’s perfectly positioned for any studio upgrade. An absolutely incredible interface, which ensures connection possibilities for almost all conceivable studio needs.”
Focusrite Saffire Pro 26
A Firewire interface with six ins and outs, plus a couple of ’phone outs and an additional 8 inputs, by way of an ADAT optical interface.
We say: “Versatile, compact and reliable, Saffire PRO 26 feels like a trustworthy old friend coming round, sitting down with you, cup of tea in hand, ready to solve any studio-interfacing problems you have.”
IK iRig series
Price £99 and 179
Type USB and iOS
Like the iTrack range from Focusrite, the iRig series from IK concentrates on mobile interfacing. We’ve recently looked at the Pro Duo, which is a USB powered two-in, two-out interface and the 2HD, which is an updated interface specifically for guitarists – and a simple and elegant solution.
We say: “The Duo is a great, compact interface with a much bigger set of features and connectivity than you might expect to find, given both the price and size.”
The plugKEY lets you to plug any MIDI-based keyboard into an iOS device (iOS 8 or later) and play it – hence the name. Essentially, it turns your iPad or iPhone into a standalone sound module by disabling the audio, which then routes through its own output.
We say: “Easy-to-use, simple concept, no delays, and great audio. plugKEY really is a great way to welcome your iOS device to your studio world.”
Price £269 (street)
Type USB and iOS
It might not have a name that rolls off the tongue, but it is a great interface for marrying the worlds of iOS and your desktop studio. It allows audio and MIDI to be sent directly between your iOS device and the Mac or PC, over USB.
We say: “A must-have for any musician or engineer who wants to integrate their iPad – and a great first interface to link all your studio gear. An excellent innovation.”
M-Audio M-Track Eight
The M-Track is an eight-in, 10-out box, if you count the control-room monitor outputs, and gives you eight XLR combo inputs, with individual metering per channel and eight balanced ¼-inch outputs.
We say: “A great interface for anyone needing more simultaneous I/O than smaller boxes can provide. Well engineered and a very solid performer.”
A hub to manage a bunch of USB gear – and it’s also one that provides a good-quality audio interface, too.
We say: “A little thought and a lot of USB make the Audiohub everyone’s friend…”
Presonus Studio 192
For the midrange money, it also comes with a top-end set of connections, including 26 ins and 32 outs with eight mic and line ins, eight line outs, plus main outs, and ADAT and coaxial.
We say: “In terms of ease of setup and use, Studio 192 delivers a good audio performance and bags of extras. It is quite rightly called a Studio Command Centre, as what you get for your buck is lots of connectivity and a great spec.”
Type USB plus 2 S/PDIF and MDIO
It might be big money, but Prism is all about the high-quality converters and all about the components, so you get really top-notch audio quality here and a rock-solid interface.
We say: “It’ll still seem like a hike for those baulking at three figures for an interface, let alone four, but the hike in quality has to be heard. If so, you might be amazed at where you suddenly find the extra cash.”
RME Babyface Pro
Type USB and mobile
The Babyface Pro is out-and-out aimed at the mobile community. It can be used with or without a computer and iPad connectivity extends its practical use even further.
We say: “The Babyface Pro is a fine unit. It’s not the cheapest interface around, but it screams quality and you just feel you can trust it to go pretty much anywhere with you.”
RME Fireface UFX+
Type USB and Firewire
RME’s Fireface UFX+ is packed full of connectivity, with a total number of 188 inputs and outputs. In terms of specs and capabilities, it’s one of the fullest-featured interfaces in this roundup and will probably do everything you will ever need.
We say: “This is a perfect hub for a pro, futureproof studio, and delivers a sublime workflow and crystal audio quality.”
Soundcraft Signature 12/12 MTK
Price £269 & £329
An analogue mixer for the 21st century, meaning that onboard effects are standard, as is USB interfacing being part of the package. So, if you like your interfaces to be more hands-on, in a mix sense, they don’t come much more feature-packed than this.
We say: “Great mixers. Great USB interfaces. A solid range of mixers that can help bring all of your studio worlds together with ease, and very affordable to boot.”
A 6×4 USB 2.0 interface, which sports a good selection of ports to make it suitable for a range of applications. The UR44 is equally impressive on the inside, with four Class A D-PRE preamps and top-flight converters operating at up to 192kHz/24-bit.
We say: “If mobility isn’t your thing, the UR44 will make a great studio interface. The preamps are crystal clear and the build quality excellent. If your I/O needs are modest, but you still want pro-level features like direct monitoring and DSP-powered effects, the UR44 is an excellent choice.”
UA Apollo Twin Mk II
Price £600 (street)
A desktop 2×6 Thunderbolt Audio Interface with Realtime UAD-2 SOLO Core Processing for Mac and Windows. The Twin comes with a bundle of incredible UAD effects, too (which won’t run on anything else).
We say “Exquisitely made audio interface that also happens to expand your computer’s processing abilities and opens the door to the world of UAD plug-ins. For anyone serious about audio fidelity, it definitely punches above its weight. Excellent recording and monitoring capabilities, as well as access to UAD’s plug-in universe.”
Yamaha AG series
Price £105 and £130
Type USB and mixer
Two small-format mixers that double as interfaces. Both offer similar specs, with the 03 offering mono inputs for guitar and mix, and a pair of stereos for a keyboard. The 06 adds an extra mono channel, as well as a couple of phono ins for mp3 players and the like.
We say: “The Yamaha AG Series might look simple, but both units in it pack quite a punch in terms of features – especially the 06. They represent a great route into audio for a variety of tasks and users.”