It doesn’t matter what your budget or production style is, you need an audio interface to build a home studio. This guide looks at the best audio interface for a home studio available in the market right now, and how to decide what’s the right pick for you.
There are few “must-haves” in a home studio. An audio interface is one of them.
It doesn’t matter what genre or style of music you produce, you will need an audio interface to produce it. Without one, your latency and sound quality will be next to unusable, regardless of the quality of your computer’s sound card (though Mac fares better than PC on this count).
Further, if you want to connect any instrument to your computer – a mic, keyboard or MIDI controller – you will need the interface to act as a conduit. Most mics also need phantom power and preamps, which, again, needs the services of an audio interface.
Not to mention that both sound quality and volume go up dramatically when you use an audio interface. Plus, most interfaces will give you quick and easy access to key controls such as volume, input gain, etc.
All of this makes an audio interface one of the few absolute “must-haves” for any studio.
The question now is: what’s the best audio interface for a home studio?
I’ll share some answers below.[toc]
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a classy looking audio interface that looks more expensive than it actually is. It comes with the complement of outputs and inputs that are found on the 2nd generation. It has a pair of Hybrid XLR ¼” TRS jack inputs on the front panel and at the rear, the audio interface has a pair of balanced monitor outputs.
The device utilizes phantom power, which is a great addition. Apart from the functionality, this offers, it also makes the audio interface useful when you face latency issues.
The 2i2 comes with onboard preamps that sound absolutely incredible. I loved the sound quality from them. They sound rich, warm, and not at all sensitive.
The 2i2 offers great performance overall, and this is further underlined by the gain control. With this feature, it is very easy to control gain levels. It has a Smart feature that notifies you whenever the gain is too high. It turns a luminous red that changes to green when the proper adjustments have been made.
Focusrite really went big with the preamps, and this is evident in the rich sounds produced. They are so good that no matter what sound system you connect them too, the sounds that emanate retain a certain class.
When using a Windows PC, you need to install a driver before enjoying the device. However, on Mac OS, you do not need to install any drivers. The 2i2 already uses Apple’s class-compliant driver.
The 2i2 is capable of recording in 24-bit resolution, and it features a sample rate of 96 kHz. I really enjoyed using this device. While playing a session from Logic, I did not notice any problems at all. No cracks, no pops, and no dropouts. The quality is crisp and pristine.
What we don’t like
It doesn’t come with MIDI I/O. While this is not a major flaw, I didn’t like the absence. What really irked me is that since the 2i2 has just 2 inputs, you cannot record from multiple audio sources at the same time.
Alternative: PreSonus Studio 24c 2×2
- Kaspersky lock slot
- +48V switch
- 192 kHz sampling rate
- Bus-powered audio interface
If for some reason, the Focusrite Scarlett isn’t for you, then you’ll love our favorite alternative: the PreSonus Studio 24c 2×2.
The PreSonus Studio 24c 2 x 2 is a compact, sturdy audio interface that comes highly recommended by many users. The design looks great, and it looks built to last. The buttons on the device are well-labeled, and it comes with a mix knob for monitoring while recording is going on.
It has a sample rate of 192 kHz, which makes it ideal for professional use.
What we don’t like
The placement of the knobs and the size make it bad for my large hands. Thus, it is easy to press a dial while aiming for that next to it.
Best Entry-Level: Behringer UMC22
- 48 kHz resolution
- +48 V phantom power
- Metal construction
- Easy to set up
If you’re on a tiny budget and need a basic audio interface that punches above its weight, then you’ll want to check out the fantastically priced Behringer UMC22.
This audio interface is a rival to the 2i2 reviewed above. It comes with its own set of microphone preamps. That is to say; it comes with preamps found in more expensive audio interface models from Behringer.
It is a small, compact audio interface that despite the sturdy and serious look is light. Thus if you are a musician that hits the road often, it will fit you as a glove. Aside from the size and weight, the audio interface is USB-powered.
On the front panel, it comes with a pair of Combo XLR inputs. This is coupled with a pair of ¼” inputs too. The rear panel has MIDI inputs and output ports. Aside from the I/O ports, the front panel features the Mono/Stereo switch. With this switch, you can easily toggle between mono and stereo while mixing.
This budget-level audio interface has good features despite the modest price. For example, the Direct Monitoring feature ensures that you have latency-free input.
The performance, considering the price, is surprisingly good. It is safe to say that this relatively cheap audio interface punches well above its weight.
The microphone preamps found on the Behringer work very well. The sound is clean and crisp.
Set up was very easy. I simply downloaded the required driver, hooked it to my PC and audio workstation, and was good to go. No hassles at all.
What we don’t like
The audio interface doesn’t work with USB power; therefore, it cannot be used as a standalone device say, for example, with a microphone. You need to plug it into a PC before it works.
Best Budget Pick: M-Audio M-Track 2×2
- 2 x 2 USB Audio interface
- 24-bit resolution and 192 kHz sampling rate
- Comes with Pro Tools software
- USB Type-C
As soon as it was out of the box, I noticed the difference in design between this audio interface and the vast majority of audio interfaces on the market. Instead of the generic look that you find on most audio interfaces, even those on this list, M-Audio decided to follow a different track. All the controls are on the top panel. This is in contrast with the other interfaces that place the controls on the front panel.
The metal casing of the M-Track C-series is attractive. On the top is the large volume knob as the most distinguished control. All the I/O ports are located on the front and the rear panel.
I like the quality of the finish. The controls do not feel cheap. Each one feels solid and durable. Just south of each gain control, there is a quartet of LED meter to show input level. The top panel also has a balance control and headphone control knob.
Right on the front panel, there is an instrument jack input, a phantom power change switch, and a headphone input. At the rear, there is a USB port that serves the dual function of a power port and data transfer connector.
The performance from this audio interface is great. Just as the other audio interfaces earlier reviewed, the microphone preamp built into this interface punches above its weight. For a budget-level audio interface, the preamp sounds incredible. It offers a transparent sound, a sound that offers impressive clarity.
It comes with pre-installed Pro Tools First DAW and other software that beginners will find very useful.
Installation is no hassle. If you are using a MacBook, you do not require any driver software; the device is good to go. As for Windows, the drivers you need are readily available.
What we don’t like
The audio interface is simply not powerful enough for microphones that need phantom power.
Best Rackmounted Interface: Tascam US-16×08
- 16 microphone and line I/O
- Mac and Windows OS support
- 8 Balanced line outputs
- 8 microphone preamps
- 2 switchable line inputs
When unboxed, this audio interface looks really well made. The buttons and all the controls look ell-finished. I did not observe any wobbly or faulty knob, button, or control on the model I tested. The device slightly leans forward because of the way the sides are screwed to the frame. It comes with a universal AC adapter.
The TASCAM comes with 16 microphone and line inputs. On the front panel of the device, you have eight balanced line outputs while 2 of these line outputs come with a level control for monitoring. It has MIDI input and output available. This improves the functionality and versatility of the audio interface.
Installation is quite easy; at least it was easy for me. Other users report installation and driver issues, especially on Windows devices. On further inspection, I discovered a major reason why. Most folks who reported issues installed the driver after turning on the USB-connected device. If you do this, chances are that the PC won’t recognize all the peripherals. Aside from this small hiccup, the installation is not a problem.
The device is a 2-channel audio interface. On each channel, you will find 4-band equalizer, a compression button, a reverb knob, and so on. All of these are to ensure that you get quality performance from the audio interface.
The audio interface has a DSP Mixer to ensure low-latency. Unlike some other audio interfaces on this list, this audio interface can be used as a standalone microphone preamp. It does not require you plugging it into a laptop before it starts working. It is compatible with Windows and Mac OS. As I pointed out earlier, installing this audio interface on a Windows device requires some tweaks.
However, with iOS devices, the audio interface doesn’t require any special drivers or tweaks. This is because the audio interface is provided with USB Audi Compliance 2.0 drivers for Apple devices.
What we don’t like
The audio interface is great considering the price; however, the repeated issues with Windows OS is a major bummer.
Best Performance Pick: NI Komplete Audio 6
- 48V phantom power for microphones
- 4 analogue inputs
- MIDI I/O for controller
- Comes with DAW and plugins
Native Instruments are known for the high quality of their products. The Komplete Audio 6 is a budget-level audio interface that proves that at times, price isn’t a determiner of quality.
This USB powered audio interface looks good right out of the box. Unlike the M-Audio M-Track 2 x 2 C- Series, this audio interface follows the traditional of having controls at the front panel of the audio interface. Nevertheless, it still has ideas of its own. Unlike its predecessors, it has moved a number of the controls, and some of the metering tools to the top of the unit, just like the M-Audio! It combines the generic look with something out of the box. This gives it an appealing design. No one familiar with audio interfaces will see this device and not look again.
It retains the strong, sturdy aluminum chassis and the overall effect is quite pleasing. The only downside with the design is the same I experienced with the M-Audio. If you are used to keeping your audio interface in a corner, or under your table, you might have to make adjustments. Since some of the controls are now on top of the audio interface, you have to use a space that will accommodate all controls. It features a quartet of analogue inputs and outputs, with 2 of the inputs with preamps, and 2 channels. The MIDI I/O and the oversized volume knob offer impressive value.
The audio interface ships with DAW and a host of plugins.
Moving on to the performance of the audio interface, the Audio 6 outstrips most of the competition at this price point. The preamps and converters on this baby sound impressive. They sound so much better than others at this price, and can even rival those on more expensive audio interfaces.
It comes at a sampling rate of 96 kHz, which might not sound like much, but believe me, you will be surprised at the quality it delivers.
The sound from this audio interface is clean, crisp, and there is low latency. Whether you are belting out tunes through a microphone, or you are using an instrument, the sound remains clean and pristine.
What we don’t like
The 2 channels on this audio interface are a bummer. I wish I could get more.
Over to You
That wraps up our roundup of the best audio interface for a home studio. While there are plenty of other options on the market, these options should be enough for nearly every use case.
For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Using Ableton? These are the best audio interfaces for Ableton right now
- For USB-only audio interfaces, check out this list
- If latency is a concern, you’ll want to see our list of the best low latency audio interfaces