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The best USB audio interfaces of 2024

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Are you looking for a USB audio interface? The audio interface is a piece of equipment that plays a very important role in a studio (whether it is a professional studio or a home studio). So, we have selected for you the best USB audio interfaces of 2023. You can also discover in this article: what an audio interface is, its usefulness in a studio, as well as different types of audio interfaces. You can also discover in this guide the criteria to take into account in order to help you choose the audio interface that meets your expectations.

Best USB Audio Interfaces

🎤 by Kevin Jung

Summary of the article 👇

Do you want to equip your home studio with a USB audio interface ? Through this article, discover what criteria you should use to choose a model that perfectly meets your needs. To make things easier for you, we have also put together a selection of the 5 best USB audio interfaces on the market for you.

Audio interface: what is it?

An audio interface (also called an external sound card ) plays a key role in a home studio or professional recording studio. This is a device that allows you to connect musical instruments , microphones, monitor speakers and headphones to your computer.

Please note that your computer already has an integrated sound card . This is capable of converting a digital signal into an audio signal, which also allows you to listen to music. However, an internal sound card can only handle one track at a time. In addition, your computer certainly does not have the connectivity required to connect all your recording equipment.

You will have understood : If you plan to produce music, your computer's sound card would not be enough for you. You need an external audio interface. Equipped with several analog inputs , this box allows you, for example, to record the sound of your guitar and that of another instrument simultaneously. It can also provide you with phantom power for your condenser mic.

Note : If you want to record your voice with a microphone without going through the audio interface box, you must use a USB microphone such as the Rode NT USB or the Blue Yeti.

What is an audio interface?
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What is the use of an audio interface?

The function of an audio interface is to convert the analog signal (your voice or your guitar for example) into a digital signal . The latter can then be used by your computer and processed via DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software.

Note that this device can also perform this process in reverse. In particular, it can transform the digital signal into an analog signal . The latter will then be routed to a sound reproduction system (monitoring speakers for example).

The best USB audio interfaces can all accommodate analog inputs. This could be, for example, an RCA, an XLR or even a mini jack. These inputs allow you to connect musical instruments and a microphone preamp whose role is to amplify your microphone .

Note that the ability to connect multiple devices simultaneously is not the only advantage of using an audio interface. Indeed, it also allows you to considerably increase the quality of your audio recording . Additionally, brands usually ship their product with audio software that allows you to control the quality of your recordings.

What are the different types of audio interfaces?

Audio interfaces connect directly to your computer's ports via its ports. We can thus classify them into several categories according to their types of connectors:

  • USB audio interfaces : these are the most common models on the market. Their connectors offer a fairly slow transfer speed. However, these devices have the advantage of being the most economical on the market.
  • Thunderbolt audio interfaces : these are recent models that have the fastest transfer speed. This type of connector is generally found in high-end models sold at prices often not accessible to the general public.
  • Firewire audio interfaces : These are the oldest models. These are faster than USB interfaces. However, there are fewer and fewer of them on the current market.
different types of audio interfaces
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Why choose a USB audio interface?

In terms of data transfer speed , USB interfaces are less interesting compared to Thunderbolt models. However, you have to spend a fortune to afford these. In addition, these are very recent technologies. As such, not all computers necessarily support this type of connector.

By opting for the best USB audio interfaces, you will definitely not face any incompatibility problem. In addition, for use in a home studio, this type of external sound card is more than sufficient.

In short, if your budget is limited, investing in an audio interface can only be a good deal.

How to choose the best USB audio interface?

In order to find an audio interface that meets your expectations, you must take several criteria into account. To make your task easier, ask yourself the following questions:

What devices can be connected to the USB audio interface?

First of all, you need to check what types of devices you can plug into the external sound card . Does it support microphones? Can you connect a bass guitar and a synthesizer at the same time? What about analog outputs? Can you use its ports to connect monitoring speakers and stereo headphones?

So many questions to which you absolutely should find answers in order to obtain the right USB audio interface.

Here are the main analog inputs that you can find on this type of device:

  • Microphone input ( XLR ) to accommodate microphones
  • Instrument input ( 6.35 mm jack ) for connecting instruments such as guitars and basses
  • Line input (or line input) for connecting other instruments such as guitar amps, synthesizers or CD players
  • MIDI input to receive MIDI controllers (a master keyboard for example)
The Best USB Audio Interfaces to Choose
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Note that the best USB audio interfaces or the most advanced USB sound cards generally have an ADAT digital input for recording up to 8 digital audio channels . Some brands offer models that support other digital data transfer formats such as S/PDIF and AES/EBU .

You can also find the MADI format on higher-end models. The latter makes it possible to transmit up to 64 data channels.

To avoid unpleasant surprises, make sure that the number of analog inputs allows you to successfully complete your project. Indeed, this criterion defines the number of tracks that you can record simultaneously.

For example, if you plan to record just your voice and guitar , a USB audio interface equipped with a mic input and an instrument input should be enough for you. On the other hand, you will need a device with more inputs if you plan to record a group of musicians.

Regarding analog outputs , here is what can be found on USB audio interfaces:

  • Headphone output
  • Monitoring output for connecting monitoring speakers
  • MIDI output for connecting the sound card to a synthesizer or expander
  • Line output for connecting the device to a recorder or mixer

Does the USB audio interface provide phantom power?

To operate condenser microphones , be aware that you will need an external power supply. These notably require 48 V phantom power . So, if you intend to use this type of microphone, make sure your USB audio interface offers this option.

What is its latency time?

Latency is the time it takes for sound to enter your PC, be used by your audio software and transmitted to your external sound card. This setting is expressed in milliseconds, but has a direct impact on your listening experience. If the offset is too high, it will definitely interfere with your singing or playing an instrument.

The rule is therefore simple: the lower this latency time, the better. To eliminate this small, often disturbing delay, consider favoring USB audio interface models offering the Direct monitoring function . Thanks to this technology, the latency time is practically zero.

latency of an audio interface
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What about the resolution and sampling rate of the device?

On the descriptions of the best USB audio interfaces, you can usually read 24-bit/192kHz . Please note that these numbers indicate the recording resolution and sample rate respectively.

Regarding sampling resolution , it is best to use a 24-bit sound card rather than a 16-bit one. Indeed, from a technological point of view, the latter is obsolete.

As for the sampling frequency , this parameter corresponds to the number of samples of the audio signal recorded per second. The higher this value, the better the conversion of the analog signal into an electrical signal will be. Recent models can generally go up to 192 KHz .

Note that you also need to consider the end use of your recording. For example, the maximum sampling rate of an audio CD is limited to 44.1 kHz . This means that there will be information loss even if you record in high resolution.

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The 5 Best USB Audio Interfaces

Now that you know almost everything about sound cards, it's time to choose the model. To guide you, discover in the following lines our selection of the best USB audio interfaces of the moment.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is quite simply the most popular external sound card in the world. It should also be said that this is the cheapest model on our list of the best USB audio interfaces.

Please note that Focusrite is an English brand that has dominated the audio equipment market for over 35 years.

As its name suggests, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen belongs to the 3rd generation brand's Scarlett 2i2 series These models are characterized by the presence of 2 analog inputs and 2 analog outputs. They also benefit from exceptional manufacturing quality . Its metal casing which provides good solidity.

In terms of features, Focusrite delights us with this model. Among other things, this provides 48 V phantom power , which allows you to use your condenser microphone. Its sampling frequency is 192 kHz/24 bits .

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
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Like all models in the Scarlett series, this model also features “ Air ” mode. This technology makes it possible to accentuate the high frequencies of your recordings. It is in fact an emulation of Focusrite ISA 110, a microphone preamp from the brand.

As for the audio software delivered with the Scarlett 2i2 3 rd Gen, again Focusrite impresses us. By purchasing this model, you will indeed be entitled to Ableton Live Lite . Added to this is a pack of plugins including the Focusrite Plug-in Collective .

Note, however, that the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3d Gen does not have a MIDI connector. As such, you cannot use it to connect a synthesizer for example.

However, this model, sold at an affordable price, already offers all the features necessary for recording sounds in a home studio.

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Audient iD14 MkII

Audient is also among the most reliable USB audio interface brands. It stands out in particular with its iD series composed of models marketed at prices accessible to all audiophiles. In this range, we find in particular the iD14 MkII .

The Audient iD14 audio interface benefits from a rather modern look and good design quality with its metal casing. The brand includes a USB-C cable in the box. This being a little short (1 meter), consider purchasing another longer cable if you plan to place the sound card far from your computer. This model will certainly appeal to nomadic users since it weighs only 1.25 kg.

This USB audio interface from Audient has 2 combined XLR/6.3 mm jack inputs as well as 2 class A microphone preamps . On its front panel, it has an instrument input. Its real asset lies in its combined ADAT-S/PDIF input .

Just like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, this one also offers 48 V phantom power. As for its sampling frequency, this can be adjusted up to 96 kHz .

This device delivers impressive sound quality . It has the advantage of reproducing basses and electric guitars with great detail. It's also handy for amplifying a microphone that needs a boost in gain. Among other things, it is effective in boosting the gain of dynamic microphones such as the Shure SM7B or the AKG D5.

And the icing on the cake : Audient accompanies the iD14 with audio software to facilitate recording control in particular.

Audient iD14 MkII
Picture from Woodbrass.com

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Universal Audio Apollo Twin USB Duo Heritage

Universal Audio is a brand whose reputation for high-end audio interfaces is well established. Let's see what the Apollo Twin USB Duo Heritage .

As its name suggests, this audio interface from Universal Audio is powered via a USB cable. It notably offers a USB 3.0 connection , which allows you to record a larger number of channels compared to a USB 2.0 device.

Its major advantage lies in the fact that it is capable of recording sounds with virtually no latency . Enough to optimize the listener's listening experience. In addition, its maximum resolution is 24 bits/192 kHz .

Other strong points of this product: Its attenuation pad and its low-cut filter . These are two features that are really useful for removing noise that could affect sound quality.

It has 2 combined XLR/jack inputs to accommodate a microphone and a musical instrument. Added to this are 1 Hi-Z instrument input and a digital input (ADAT and S/PIDF formats). In terms of outputs, it has 4 types of line level and 1 headphone output (6.3mm jack).

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Sound Devices MixPre-6 II

Let's continue our list of the best USB audio interfaces with the Sound Devices MixPre-6 II . This is a model whose sampling frequency can increase to 192 kHz/32 bits .

Its elegant housing houses 6 line inputs , 4 microphone inputs , 4 line outputs and 1 headphone output . This model allows you to connect a condenser microphone since it provides 48V phantom power.

In terms of sound quality, this device delivers a remarkable performance . In particular, it provides natural sound. It also offers an interesting gain margin ( 76 dB ), which is perfectly suited to the use of dynamic microphones such as the Beyerdynamic M160 and the M88 TG.

This USB audio interface comes easy-to-use audio software

Sound Devices MixPre-6 II
Picture from Sharegrid.com

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Antelope Orion 32+ Gen 3

Let's finish our selection of the best USB audio interfaces with the Antelope Orion 32+ Gen 3 , a high-end model aimed at professional producers.

The Antelope Orion 32+ Gen 3 is a slightly different model from those listed above. In fact, it offers two connectivity choices . Among other things, you can connect it to your computer both via its USB 2.0 port and its Thunderbolt port.

In terms of analog inputs and outputs, this model sets the bar very high. In fact, it has 32 line inputs and 32 analog line inputs and outputs . To these are added 2 ADAT connections , 1 MADI connection and 1 S/PIDF connection .

And that's not all ! This audio interface has a Word Clock (BNC) input to accommodate a synchronization signal generated by an external clock.

Unsurprisingly, a sophisticated device like this costs a fortune.

that is capable of performing all home studio tasks correctly, we recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen.

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