Is Amazon Prime membership worth it?

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4

USB Digital Audio Interface

Buy from Amazon $175.25 Buy from Guitar Center $199.99

We receive a small kickback from our partners when you click through and purchase the great gear we recommend. Details

Best USB Digital Audio Interfaces

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4


There are a ton of digital audio interfaces out there, and a lot of "top ten" lists around the web of pretty great models from various manufacturers. But there is one interface on every single list - the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4. There's a reason for that. It's extremely durable, works on PC and Mac, zero latency, and two award-winning, onboard preamps. For almost any home recording situation, the 2i4 is the one to get.


Recommending audio interfaces can be a tricky proposition. There’s a plethora of options, and depending on your needs our picks might not be right for you.

However, for the majority of people these interfaces will handle about any situation you throw at it.

Do You Need A Digital Audio Interface?

Yes, you do.

If you are recording onto your computer, the audio interface is not an optional accessory. Most of us, when learning to record, probably tried to get a good recording for a hot minute by using the audio jack on our computer. It doesn’t take long to realize (a) that doesn’t work well, and (b) the importance of a good reliable audio interface.

On the Guitar Center website, they explain the basics of an interface:

When you come right down to it, an audio interface is anything that lets you get audio signals in and out of your computer. The challenge in picking one is that there are so many ways of getting it done, and it will all depend on how you like to work and what you’re trying to do. A very basic interface would be simply a box that converted analog audio to digital audio that the recording software in your computer can understand, and convert it back to analog audio when you want to hear it. Such converters are referred to as AD/DA (analog to digital/digital to analog) converters. Better quality converters have what’s called “jitter correction” to compensate for small timing variations.

It used to be audio interfaces were quite expensive. For many years you couldn’t really get a decent two-in, two out, interface for under $500 that didn’t lag or have some other known issues.

Not anymore. These days you can get a reliable interface for under $50, and a superb one for under $250. In fact, our main pick, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, which will work for most people, is only $150.

Don’t believe me? Read on:

How To Choose An Audio Interface
Our non-negotiable criteria for a great interface.

Here’s a little secret; with few exceptions, most of the generally available audio interfaces from major manufacturers and retailers are all pretty darn good. What matters most is what you are going to do with your recording setup.

With that in mind, here’s a few non-negotiable features we’ll be looking for:

  • Phantom power: We’ll need 48V phantom power, which allows us to use condenser mics and such, which are often essential for vocal and some instrument mics.
  • Low to no latency: Latency is when you, for instance, strum a chord and it takes a few (noticeable) milliseconds to hear it through your headphones or studio monitors. We generally don’t want that. It can make it hard to track instruments, and you’ll have to do a lot of nudging of audio in your DAW to get it to line up with the rest of your tracks. More on latency here.
  • Low line noise: Obviously we don’t want any noticeable buzzing, nor do we want any of the knobs on our device to be scratchy when we turn them.
  • Microphone (XLR) and instrument (1/4″ mono) connectors:  We want the flexibility of plugging in an electric guitar (instrument cable) or a microphone (XLR cable) without having to resort to silly adapters.
  • Good reviews and firsthand experience: For the interfaces which made the cut, we’ve linked out to some great in-depth reviews if you need more convincing. 🙂
  • Minimum 44.1kHz Sampling Rate: What is sampling rate? According to DiscMakers: “A sample rate is a measurement of samples taken from an audio signal over time. Humans can hear up to 20 kHz. To properly represent an analog signal in a digital domain, the sample rate must be at a minimum of double the range of the human hearing. This is why 44.1 kHz is the standard sample rate for any hardware interface. Some audio interfaces support sample rates up to 96 kHz or even 192 kHz. These sample rates produce higher resolution audio.”

As you can see the main criteria is mainly reliability and usability, so you can not worry about tweaking and fiddling with things. We just want to get you recording!

If you are unfamiliar with how an audio interface fits in with your computer and recording setup, don’t worry!

There are plenty of resources online and on this site to help you get your recording rig up and running in no time at all.

And the biggest criteria, of course, is how you intend to use it.

What Is YOUR Recording Setup?

Your personal configuration may differ slightly, but here’s a few common scenarios where you will need to think about the kind of audio recording you will be doing with a computer and digital audio interface.

Podcasting: If you are a solo or duo podcast, your needs are often much more simple than live recording musical instruments. You can get a really great setup for around $50.
Click to view our recommendations below.

Your Home Studio: In this scenario you will most likely be recording by yourself, maybe with a friend or two in certain situation.
Click to view our favorites below.

Full Band/Rehearsal Recording: Let’s say you have a few band members, maybe 3-5 people and you want to
Click to view our favorites below.

Full-fledged Home or Professional Studio: In these situations you will probably be looking for a customized or very specific solution. You’ll likely be moving away from clicking and typing with a keyboard and mouse – instead using something like a control surface in tandem with your (probably much beefier than our recommendations) interface. Sound on Sound magazine has a really great page to help you get started in that regard, and Guitar Center has a wide selection of control surface options.

We’ll address these non-home studio needs in a future guide.

Don’t see your scenario listed here? Just ask us.

With those scenarios in mind let’s look at some possibilities:

Best Budget Audio Interfaces

For recording one microphone or instrument at a time, an interface with one mic preamp is all you need.

If price is your ultimate concern, there’s some options:

I needed a secondary interface for my daughter to take back and forth with her, as she splits time between my house and her mother’s house. Price was an option, so I bought her a Behringer Xenyx 302USB, and we were very surprised at how great it was.

User reviews at Gearslutz tend to agree:

A good quality and VERY inexpensive way to get audio into your computer. […] Connection via USB to the Mac Pro in my studio functioned perfectly. The unit showed up as “USB audio CODEC”, and worked fine with both Logic and Pro Tools 9. […] At this price point, and with plenty of flexibility for mini-mixer chores, this unit gets a 10 for “bang for the buck”.

There is no noise, and the various connectors make the device flexible enough to work in almost any configuration. The Xenyx 302USB is popular with DJs for this very reason – flexibility.

Audio Interfaces with 2 Mic Preamps
The Best Digital Audio Interface For Most People

Over at Zzounds they explain it well:

Interfaces with 2 mic preamps give you the flexibility to record two mic channels simultaneously — like a mic on guitar and vocal, or a stereo pair of mics in front of a group. Many 2-channel interfaces are designed as “desktop” interfaces, and feature a large ergonomic knob for controlling volume and other settings.

Our Pick

Audio Interfaces with 4 Mic Preamps


If you’re planning on recording multiple musicians, it’s nice to have 4 mic preamp channels at your disposal. These larger interfaces typically also give you more output channels — useful for incorporating outboard gear into your setup, or for setting up multiple headphone sends. However, unlike smaller interfaces, they are typically not able to be bus-powered via USB or FireWire.

If you have a MacBook or other Apple computer with a Thunderbolt connection (faster than USB3), you can take advantage of low latency tracking by upgrading to one of our picks for best Thunderbolt digital audio interfaces.

iPad and iPhone Audio Interface Options

Want to record to your iPad? The Apogee One comes with a 30-pin Apple dock cable, and the IK Multimedia iRig Pro includes both Lightning and 30-pin connectors. It has a built-in mic that also works surprisingly well, according to Sound on Sound magazine:

I was very impressed with the built‑in mic. I’m used to the built‑in microphones in laptops, which are dubious at best, so I guess I set my expectations pretty low for the One’s internal mic. I was assuming that it would be good enough for recording voice‑overs (for podcasts and the like) and for perhaps capturing a quick acoustic guitar recording when inspiration strikes, but it is actually far more capable than that.

If this sort of simplicity appeals to you for mobile and/or impromptu recording, you may be interested in another solution:

USB Microphones

best usb mic ipad iphone

With the Apogee Mic 96k, you can plug directly into your Apple device and start recording.

The Mix 96k is powered by your iPad/iPhone, and has 96k sampling rate (FYI 96k is good, as the standard sampling rate is 44.1k).

Several other USB microphones work well with Apple devices. For more, check out our guide for the best usb mics.

Conclusion

Our main pick will give you years of great recording. Move up or down our list of picks based on what you need to get your music recorded. Maybe you need more inputs. Maybe you are completely solo and only need one input. Maybe price is a bigger factor than you’d like; if so, grab one of our budget options and you’ll be able to get recording for well under $50.

Did we miss anything? If so, let us know in the comments below.

While you’re at it, ensure you get the most out of your new interface and grab our picks for best instrument cables and best microphone cables. Go with our recommendations and you’ll never have a bad connector.


Tell Me If There's A Deal For This

We'll send you an email when there is an eligible deal, promo code, or special on the gear we recommend.
FYI: We hate spam! Privacy Policy

indicates required



Best USB Digital Audio Interfaces

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4

Best USB Digital Audio Interfaces

Important Specs

Inputs XLR/TRS (Two)
Digital Conversion 24-bit, 96kHz
Power Bus powered
Dimensions (WxHxD): 7 x 1 3/4 x 4"
Weight 1.3 lbs
Sample Rates 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz
Frequency Response 20 Hz - 20 kHz +/-0.1 dB
Bit Depth 24
more specs

Synopsis:

There are a ton of digital audio interfaces out there, and a lot of "top ten" lists around the web of pretty great models from various manufacturers. But there is one interface on every single list - the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4. There's a reason for that. It's extremely durable, works on PC and Mac, zero latency, and two award-winning, onboard preamps. For almost any home recording situation, the 2i4 is the one to get.

Behringer Xenyx 302USB

Quite a Bit for Fifty Bucks

Behringer Xenyx 302USB

My daughter uses this with much success as a portable digital audio interface for writing and recording music. It has surprisingly great preamp, has no line noise, and can be powered by the included AC adapter or by USB bus power. If you are strictly looking for an interface for podcasting, this is what you want.

Behringer U-Control UCA222

Dirt Cheap. Solid Sound.

Behringer U-Control UCA222

For $30 you can get audio into and our of your computer, and that's about it. I've had mine for over 5 years, and keep it in my bag when I work with clients that need good audio in a pinch. They have a consistent 4-star rating on Amazon, with users often surprised at its combination of simplicity, reliability, and sound quality.

- M

Sources

  1. Ben Rogerson, Music Radar, 20140210
    12 of the best budget USB audio interfaces
    “It almost goes without saying that if you want to achieve the best possible computer recording and playback quality, you're going to have to spend a significant amount of money on your audio interface. However, it's equally true to say that you can also get pretty good results without shelling out anywhere near as much: a reasonable quality interface can now be yours for well under $250. [...] For this kind of money you can expect at least a couple of inputs and outputs (perhaps even more) and 24-bit quality. MIDI I/O is another feature to look for if you're planning on hooking up a controller or external synth. Before you buy an interface, make sure that it has the input and output types that you require. ”
  2. Staff, Zzounds, 20140101
    USB Audio Interface Buying Guide
    “For recording a full band playing live -- or a fully miked-up drum kit -- you'll probably need at least 8 mic preamps. These audio interfaces are a cost-effective way to get 8 (or more) microphone channels into your computer. Plus, these large interfaces typically offer a full complement of digital inputs and outputs. zZounds customers love these models because they offer serious flexibility and bang-for-the-buck. ”
  3. Dan Gonzalez, DiscMakers, 20140815
    Choosing The Right Audio Interface For Your Computer
    “A sample rate is a measurement of samples taken from an audio signal over time. Humans can hear up to 20 kHz. To properly represent an analog signal in a digital domain, the sample rate must be at a minimum of double the range of the human hearing. This is why 44.1 kHz is the standard sample rate for any hardware interface. Some audio interfaces support sample rates up to 96 kHz or even 192 kHz. These sample rates produce higher resolution audio.”
  4. Staff, Guitar Center, 20150126
    Audio Interfaces
    “When you come right down to it, an audio interface is anything that lets you get audio signals in and out of your computer. The challenge in picking one is that there are so many ways of getting it done, and it will all depend on how you like to work and what you're trying to do. A very basic interface would be simply a box that converted analog audio to digital audio that the recording software in your computer can understand, and convert it back to analog audio when you want to hear it. Such converters are referred to as AD/DA (analog to digital/digital to analog) converters. Better quality converters have what's called "jitter correction" to compensate for small timing variations. Most interfaces are far more than just converter boxes. They include mic preamps, multiple I/O (Input/Output) connections—balanced, unbalanced and digital—and even internal DSP (Digital Signal Processing) for effects, EQ and basic monitor or sub-mixing user. Some units can even act as a simple, stand-alone mixer without a computer attached for use as a basic live sound mixer.”
  5. JoeDoc, Gearslutz, 20120415
    Review: Behringer Xenyx 302USB
    “At this price point, and with plenty of flexibility for mini-mixer chores, this unit gets a 10 for "bang for the buck".”
  6. Simon Langford, Sound On Sound, 20100401
    Apogee One: USB Audio Interface For Mac
    “I was very impressed with the built‑in mic. I'm used to the built‑in microphones in laptops, which are dubious at best, so I guess I set my expectations pretty low for the One's internal mic. I was assuming that it would be good enough for recording voice‑overs (for podcasts and the like) and for perhaps capturing a quick acoustic guitar recording when inspiration strikes, but it is actually far more capable than that. [...] For a mobile rig, this unit is a godsend, as it can provide not only a great playback interface but also a very good preamp/line‑input section, as well as that built‑in mic for capturing quick ideas. I'm not suggesting that the One will replace your combination of favourite vintage preamp and condenser mic, but it will certainly give many people a shock when they hear what is possible from such a small unit!”
Originally published: January 28th, 2015

Important Specs

Inputs XLR/TRS (Two)
Digital Conversion 24-bit, 96kHz
Power Bus powered
Dimensions (WxHxD): 7 x 1 3/4 x 4"
Weight 1.3 lbs
Sample Rates 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz
Frequency Response 20 Hz - 20 kHz +/-0.1 dB
Bit Depth 24
more specs



Follow MSCGR

We send one email at the end of each week, never more than that. Also, we hate spammers and will treat your email with utmost respect.



Talk To Us

Did we miss a recommendation? Is there something you'd like to see us review? Typos? Mistakes? If so, drop us a line.


More Categories