If you’re looking to get professional audio recordings, then you’ve probably tried all available inputs on your devices, but they just simply are not enough. Do not be mistaken, they are most certainly great for movies, phone talks or games but when it comes to mixing music or recording vocals — you will need an audio interface. Having in mind today’s trend in making tech portable, having the best USB audio interface might turn out to be exactly what you’re looking for.
The main purpose of an audio interface is to improve on the accuracy of the sounds recorded and produced and expand on possible input/output methods. Having the best USB audio interface will enable you to connect various professional hardware. Such would be a professional microphone, guitars, DJ equipment and other kinds of devices and instruments. You will also be able to output through a variety of different methods. If you need other DJ equipment — check out our review on the best monitor speakers, or our review on the best 2 channel DJ controllers.
The key feature you should be looking for in a product, that match the description of the best USB audio interface is the number and type of input and output ports. The variety and number of ports will entirely depend on what is your purpose for buying the best USB audio interface. For example, if you have recording audio in mind, you should look for a device with more microphone (XLR) inputs.
1. Focusrite Scarlett 6i6
As the first in the top five and by far the best USB audio interface that I’ve used is the Scarlett 6i6. This device is manufactured by the world industry dominator — Focusrite. Their affordability and top-shelf quality make them easily one of the best in the world.
The Scarlett 6i6 comes with two natural-sounding Scarlett microphone preamps that include plenty of even gain flexibility. You will also find two newly-designed instrument inputs, built specifically to work with high-end guitar models. The device produces a studio-grade quality sound with a conversion and sample rates up to 192 kHz / 24 bit. You can forget all fears related to latency, as the device has super-low latency. Be assured that you are using you add-ons in real time without the need for DSP. You will also find four 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs, two headphones output with their own gain control, MIDI I/O and S/PDIF In&Out.
Included professional software and other tools inside the package are First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Control, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite and 2 GB of Loopmasters samples for your next musical masterpiece. Additionally the iTunes app store, you can find a Focusrite iOS control app and start using it remotely.
2. UAudio Apollo Twin USB High-Res Audio Interface
Universal Audio was founded in 1958 by Bill Putnam Sr., an audio tech engineer. He was amongst some of the favorite engineers of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and more. Bill Putnam Sr. is a passionate innovator who is widely regarded as the father of modern recording. Many of his legendary studio and equipment designs are still in use today. One of those is the Apollo Twin, securing the second spot as the best USB audio interface.
The desktop 2×6 Apollo Twin USB audio interface is built to work best with Windows 7 and 8. It comes with a top-shelf grade quality audio conversion of 24 bit to 192 kHz. The audio interface comes with UAD Processing technology for tracking through vintage compressors, EQ’s, tape machines, mic preamps, and guitar amp plug-ins. Thanks to this innovative new technology you can experience and enjoy the highest quality sound with near-zero latency. Inside the interface, you will find built-in one of the world’s most wanted microphone preamps. They come with their impedance, gain stage, “sweet spots”, and component-level behaviors
The Apollo Twin USB audio interface runs UAD Powered Plug-Ins via VST, RTAS, and AAX 64 i8n all major DAWS. It comes with the “Realtime Analog Classics” UAD plug-in bundle included. On the device, you will find 2 premium mic/line preamps, 2 line outs, a front panel Hi-Z instrument input and headphone out, 2 digitally controlled analog monitor outs for full resolution at all listening levels and up to 8 channels of additional digital input via Optical connection.
3. PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
Maybe the Apollo Twin is a bit too expensive for you or your needs at the moment. In that case, you’re probably looking for a cheaper alternative to the best USB audio interface without compensating on quality. The perfect fit for this spot would be the AudioBox USB 96, manufactured by PreSonus.
The bus-powered USB audio interface is powered by a USB 2.0 audio cable and comes with a MIDI interface. It is compatible with pretty much all recording software for both Macs and Windows while providing a variety of audio sampling rates. The device produces 24-bit resolution audio with 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96 kHz sampling rates. Other great additions you will find useful are the 2 combo high-performance mic/instrument inputs, the low-noise, and the high-headroom microphone preamplifiers.
The AudioBox USB 96 comes in a bundle with the Studio Magic Plug-In Suite, enabling you to enjoy a variety of professional plug-ins. The frequency response range of the device is 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
4. Behringer U-PHORIA UMC204HD
Behringer is a worldwide leader of cheap, quality audio electronics. Their assortment includes professional DJ equipment, audio interfaces, and headphones, among others. One of the most sought-after interfaces takes the fourth spot as an even cheaper alternative to the best USB audio interface — the U-PHORIA UMC2024HD.
The U-PHORIA UMC2024HD comes with dual sets of 4 USB 2.0 Audio and MIDI interface inputs for recording microphones and instruments. It is built for the audiophiles in mind, producing a crystal-clear studio-grade sound with the professional resolution of 24-bit 192 kHz. The device is compatible with some of the most popular recording software, such as the Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live and Steinberg Cubase, among others.
The UMC2024HD gives you the capability of streaming content into and out of the device through 2 inputs and 4 outputs plus a MIDI I/O. The device features two state-of-the-art, MIDAS-designed microphone preamps with +48 V phantom power state. It comes with ultra-low latency while connected to your PC or laptop. It supports Mac OS X and Windows XP or higher.
5. Tascam US-2×2
The fifth spot is secured by the US-2×2 USB audio interface, manufactured by Tascam. The device combines great audio quality and a lightweight and compact design for a powerful recording performance. The device supports two input, two output, and USB 2 Audio interface ports.
The US-2×2 is equipped with two of TASCAM’s Ultra-HDDA microphone/line preamps. They are capable of providing you with up to 57dB of gain and nearly inaudible noise and distortion specifications. The design of the interface features high-performance, musical components like NE5532 op-amps for superb studio-grade sound quality without coloring the source.
Using the US-2×2 with Mac OSX and iOS devices like the iPad or Windows is made extremely easy thanks to the built-in support. MIDI inputs and outputs are also included for connecting synths, drum machines, and controller devices. Cakewalk SONAR X3 LE and Ableton Live Lite are the two included software products that you can pick from.