Hi, I’m Mitch Gallagher from Sweetwater.
Today, let’s take a look at how to choose the best USB audio interface for your needs.
There are many, many different USB audio interfaces available.
And there’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to choose the best one for what you’re doing.
In this video, we’ll be talking about the features that are important things you need to consider as you’re making your selection.
And we’ll also take a look at some great examples of USB audio interfaces that have a wide range of prices that offer a wide range of features as well.
So let’s begin by talking about how to choose an audio interface.
The big question that you want to ask yourself right up front is what am I doing?
How will I be using this audio interface? Is just me recording an acoustic guitar at home?
Am I trying to record a complete band?
Do I need to be able to take the audio interface out on location when I’m recording?
So you need to look at your applications and how you’ll be using the interface to even get an idea of where to start.
Now, once you know your applications for the audio interface, then you can start narrowing your choices down.
The first place to start is with the IO, the inputs and the outputs.
You want to look at how many inputs and outputs you need, the types of inputs and outputs, and so on.
You’ll also want to consider all the different features that audio interfaces offer.
This could range from everything from special types of connections to onboard DSP, and other features as well.
If you are going to be working in a mobile situation, you want to consider the size and weight.
And it’s also important to consider the physical format of your audio interface.
Will it sit on your desktop in front of you?
Or will it mount in a rack off to the side?
And, of course, a very important consideration is price.
We have audio interfaces that range from below $100 to up to several $1,000.
And you’ll want to understand the differences and how those can help you out in your studio when you’re making your choice.
A couple of other things to think about before we get into more specifics on the features.
First of all, how important are specs? Do they really matter?
And we can compare these audio interfaces.
And you’ll find that, for example, maybe the distortion levels are within a couple of 1000s of percent. Is that really Audible? I’d encourage you to take all those specs into consideration, but not to place a ton of weight on them.
What’s more important is that you have the proper IO, the proper features, the proper format, and that it’s coming in at a price that works for you.
Another topic that always comes up when you’re talking about audio interfaces is latency.
And latency is the time that it takes for a signal to enter the audio interface to go through the computer, come back to the audio interface and then be sent out to the monitors or to your headphones.
If there’s too much latency or even an audible delay when you’re listening to your signals, it’ll make it difficult to overdub tracks.
Now with all the audio interfaces we’re looking at today, there are different systems in place to help you minimize latency or to remove it entirely.
Some of these are DSP based, some of them are hardware monitoring, some of them are analog, some of them are digital. That really doesn’t matter, the function is the same.
The idea is to get that latency down to where it’s really not noticeable as a performer.
And all these interfaces do that very well.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of the features you’ll want to consider as you’re looking at choosing an audio interface.
The first of these that I like to look at is compatibility.
What platforms does the interface support?
We have Macintosh PC, Windows, iOS, Android, and you’ll want to ensure that the interface you choose supports your chosen platform.
Now, many of these interfaces support more than one platform.
You might have Mac and PC and say iOS compatibility with one interface, but just make sure you’re getting one that works with your computer or device.
Next up, ensure that you have the proper connection format.
There are actually several types of USB and used today: USB two USB three USB C, and many interfaces will support more than one of those will be backward compatible with different versions of USB, but just make sure that the interface you choose will again work with your platform.
Once you have compatibility and conductivity with your platform sorted, you want to take a look at some of the physical characteristics of the audio interface.
Let’s begin by talking about the number of inputs you need.
In many cases, you might need only one input if you’re just recording a single voice or an acoustic guitar that’s plugged directly in or something like that. One input may cover what you need.
But in most cases, you’ll need at least two, so you could record a guitar and a voice at the same time or a stereo instrument if you like.
If you’re working with a band, or more than one instrument at the same time, you want to have enough inputs to cover all of those sources simultaneously.
These interfaces range from two inputs up to eight inputs, and there are interfaces that offer even more inputs than that.
Once you have the number of inputs figured out, you want to look at the types of inputs you need.
There are three analog types that you’ll want to consider.
The first are instrument level inputs, which would support direct connection of a guitar or a bass.
Second, we have mic level connections.
And these, of course, are used for microphones, whether it’s dynamic microphones or condenser microphones. You want to ensure you have 48 volt phantom power if you’re using condenser microphones.
And finally, we have line level inputs.
Often these are balanced connections and they can be used for connecting keyboards and external audio hardware.
You’ll also want to look at the number of outputs that you need.
In some cases, you may just need a stereo pair of outputs to drive your monitors.
But if you want to incorporate external hardware, you may need additional line level outputs.
You’ll also want to consider headphone outputs.
Begin by looking at the number of monitor outputs.
These may be dedicated or there may be simply line level outputs that are being used for monitors.
In any case, you’ll want to have a volume control that allows you to set the level of those monitors. You want at least one stereo pair.
And if you’re switching between two different sets of monitors, you’ll need four outputs.
You’ll also want to look at headphone outputs when you’re monitoring.
There are several different aspects to this.
As an engineer, you want to be able to connect a set of headphones so you can really have a detailed listen to what’s happening.
But you’ll also want to have headphone outputs that you can feed your musicians.
And the question then becomes does the audio interface offer a separate independent mix that you could route to the musicians that’s different than what you’re hearing as the engineer?
If you’re not doing a lot of work with other musicians, then additional headphone outputs may not be an issue for you, maybe plenty.
But if you are working with other musicians, you’ll definitely want to look at the number of headphone outputs, as well as the number of separate headphone mixes you can have.
The final type of output to consider is line level outputs.
And again, these are used for incorporating external hardware, whether you’re feeding an external mixer, whether you’re routing signal out of the interface into say a hardware compressor and then bringing it back in during mix down.
Whatever you might be doing, it’s useful to have separate line outputs from your monitor outputs.
Some audio interfaces also offer built in MIDI i O, MIDI input and output and this is used for connecting an external keyboard or other MIDI gear.
If you’re working with that type of gear,
Having that built into the interface is very useful.
We talked earlier about analog input and output on your audio interface and this is, of course, going to be primary for connecting your instruments and microphones and so on.
But it’s also useful to have digital i o on your audio interface.
This can be used for bringing in additional microphone preamps. It can be used for connecting external gear to an external digital mixer. Whatever it might be, having a digital connection, whether an input and output or both, can allow you to easily expand your audio interface later.
There are two primary formats to consider with audio interfaces.
The first is a data, which is an optical format that carries eight channels of information simultaneously.
The second is spit of this is a two channel stereo format that’s carried either over an optical cable or a coaxial cable with an RCA connector.
You may also encounter the AAS format, which uses XLR type connectors for two channels.
If you are using a lot of digital connections in your system, where you have more than one piece of digital gear that you’re connecting simultaneously, a word clock input and output can allow making those connections easier, and also ensure that you have a stable clock throughout your system.
Finally, you want to look at special features that might be important for what you’re doing in your particular applications.
One example is a reamp output that allows you to send a guitar level signal back out.
So you can either run the signal into a guitar amplifier or routed into guitar pedals and then bring that back in when you’re mixing.
There are other special features as well.
And you’ll see those as we’re looking at some of these different audio interfaces.
Some audio interfaces also offer onboard DSP or digital signal processing chips.
These chips allow for latency free monitoring using a built-in mixer.
And they can also allow you to run proprietary plugins and special processing effects inside the audio interface without loading down your computer.
If you’re working mobile, you want to look for an audio interface that can be bus powered, which means that it is powered using the USB cable. You don’t need a separate power supply, which is much more convenient when you’re on the go.
I also recommend you look at the bundled software that comes with the audio interface when you’re making your choice.
This could include things like an entry level door to get you started recording and might include plugins for processing signals, loops, samples, and so on.
Some of these come with very large bundles of software that can be very useful.
And typically, you’re also going to pair this with a door that you use every day along with it.
But having software that comes with the interface will get you started right out of the box.
Now that we’ve talked about some of the factors and considerations when you’re choosing an audio interface, let’s look at some specific examples of popular audio interfaces.
I’ve got 13 different audio interfaces for us to consider today.
And I found to put together a selection of interfaces that are both very popular and that offer a wide range of different features and that come in a wide range of prices.
We’ll look at these in order of ascending price.
So we’ll begin with our most affordably priced audio interface, the PreSonus audio box USB 96. This is a Mac and PC compatible audio interface.
It’s a desktop format, so it’ll sit right in front of you on the desktop bus powered. You don’t need a power supply.
It offers two simultaneous inputs and two simultaneous outputs.
It has two preamps and it also has MIDI io the audience evil four offers Mac and PC compatibility.
It’s a desktop format audio interface that can be bus powered, offers two simultaneous inputs to outputs to preamps.
It has a very cool smart gain automatic level setting feature.
It also offers a loopback function.
That’s great for podcasting and live streaming.
Next up we have the third generation of the Focusrite Scarlett two itu.
This is a Mac and PC compatible audio interface and desktop format with bus power.
It offers two inputs and two outputs and has two Focusrite preamps with switchable air mode.
The Air mode allows you to emulate the sound of the high end Transformers in eisah microphone preamps One of the newer audio interfaces on our list today is the Motu m four. It’s compatible with Mac PC and iOS.
It’s a desk top format audio interface bus powered and offers four inputs and four outputs with two preamps.
It has built-in MIDI i O, and offers a loopback function for podcasting and live streaming.
The solid state logic SSL two plus was one of the big hits at the recent winter NAB show in Anaheim, California.
It offers Mac and PC compatibility and a desktop format with bus power.
We have two inputs and four outputs.
And there are two preamps with switchable 4k legacy mode.
This allows you to emulate the sound of the very expensive high end 4k mixing consoles from SSL.
It also has a built-in MIDI i O.
One of the great features of the Steinberg You are our T two audio interface is that it has Rupert Neve designed Transformers that you can switch in and out of the signal path.
This allows you to add that very desirable Neve coloration to your signals.
It’s a Mac PC and iOS compatible audio interface with four inputs to outputs and has Steinberg’s D pre preamps.
It offers MIDI i O, as well as a loopback function for podcasting and live streaming.
Moving to rackmount on USB audio interfaces, we have the Focusrite Scarlett 18 i 20.
And this is also a third generation audio interface from Focusrite.
Mac and PC compatible, we have 18 simultaneous inputs and 20 simultaneous outputs.
There are eight preamps and each of those has a switchable air mode that emulates eisah transformers.
There’s built-in MIDI IO as well as a dat and spiff digital IO for expansion.
We have a Word Clock output for synchronizing clocks with external gear.
There’s a built-in onboard talkback mic for when you’re operating a session with additional musicians.
This interface also includes a virtual loopback function for podcasting and live streaming. PreSonus Studio 1824 C is compatible with Mac PC, iOS and Android.
It has 18 inputs and 18 outputs with eight PreSonus x max preamps.
We have MIDI IO as well as a dat and spit digital IO a Word Clock output.
And this interface offers DSP mixing with control room integration. The Tascam us 20 by 20 is compatible with Mac PC and iOS.
It offers 20 inputs and 20 outputs with aid preamps.
This interface features MIDI IO, as well as a dat instead of digital IO.
It has word clock input and output for synchronization.
And onboard DSP that includes EQ, compression and reverb.
It can also function as a standalone mixer for live use with a digital patchbay.
And you can also recall scenes and make it very easy to set this up for particular gigs.
The Apogee Duet makes a great portable audio interface.
It’s compatible with Mac, PC and iOS and has a desktop format.
We have two inputs and four outputs with two preamps.
There are also configurable touchpads on the front panel.
The Apollo twin duo USB from Universal Audio is compatible with PC.
It’s a desktop format USB audio interface that offers 10 inputs and six outputs.
One of the great features is the two unison mic preamps.
These allow you to load in emulations of vintage and classic microphone preamps and apply their sound to your incoming signals.
We also have a digital input that can switch between a dat and spit F and this allows you to add additional microphone preamps if you choose.
One of the important features here is the onboard DSP that allows you to run real time you add audio plugins and it does include a bundle of you add plugins to get you started.
For its compact size, the RME Babyface Pro Fs offers a ton of features.
Its Mac PC and iOS compatible in a desktop format with bus power.
We have 12 simultaneous inputs, 12 simultaneous outputs and two onboard preamps.
This interface also includes MIDI IO, as well as a dat or spit if digital IO for premium audio quality. The Babyface Pro Fs includes RMS proprietary steady clock Fs, which is an ultra stable digital clock.
It also has an onboard DSP that provides EQ, reverb, Echo and latency free mixing.
Last but certainly not least, I want you to check out this cranborne ca 500 rs eight.
This actually starts out as an eight slot 500 series rack. You can load whatever modules you want into this, whether those are preamps EQs, or different types of processors.
You have a lot of flexibility here.
But it also serves as a 28 input and 30 output USB audio interface with MIDI i o and a dat and spit digital IO.
We have wordclock io as well as a ton of routing flexibility.
Because it’s a 500 series rack and because it’s modular in nature, it doesn’t include preamps of its own.
You choose a particular 500 series preamp that you want from the incredible range that are available, and then mount those into the rack to get the flavors that you need when you’re recording your tracks.
The CEA 500 r eight also includes analog summing, which allows you to mix your signals in the analog domain.
It has a dedicated talkback mic input, a full-featured monitor section for controlling your monitors and headphones.
And it has a unique analog artist mixer function that allows you to create a separate mix for your artists when they’re recording or overdubbing.
If you need more inputs and more conductivity, multiple units can be cascaded together.
And finally, we have cast ports on this that allow you to connect breakout boxes using cat five cables to make it very easy.
Get rough signals around your studio, or if you’re recording a live gig.
As you can see, we have many, many options when we’re considering an audio interface.
We’ve looked at just 13 interfaces today, and this barely scratches the surface of the number that are available on the market.
But even this selection of 13 interfaces covers a very broad range of prices and features.
Which one is going to be appropriate for you depends on your applications, the number of inputs and outputs you need, and so on.
Make a careful list of what you need from an audio interface compared against the ones that are available in your price range, and you’ll be able to easily make your selection.
If you have questions about these or any other audio interfaces or about anything we’ve talked about in this video, contact your Sweetwater sales engineer or start at Sweetwater comm Thanks for watching and be sure to like, comment, and subscribe.