Apple’s iPad has revolutionized the way people produce musical content. With just a tablet, an audio interface, and a few optional accessories, a performer, DJ, or recording engineer can assemble a professional-quality system.
But, what’s the best iPad audio interface for mobile music-making?
Virtually any interface with a USB port can be made to work with an iPad or iPhone, including large rack-mount models designed for studio use. But in this review, we’ll focus on several more portable models with small footprints and minimal power requirements that are better suited for producing music anywhere.
Before we look at specific models, a quick overview of Apple’s phenomenally successful product is helpful…
iPad: A Brief History
The iPad line of tablet computers was designed and developed by Apple Inc. The first model was introduced in 2010 with a 9.7-inch touchscreen, and the second generation iPad soon followed in 2011. The iPad Mini, with its smaller 7.9-inch screen, came out in 2012, and the thinner Air model in 2013.
In 2015, Apple released the iPad Pro with a larger 12.9-inch screen and beefed-up hardware. Since then, new generations of all models have continued to be released regularly, including the latest 4th generation iPod Air in late 2020. The iPad is the world’s most popular tablet computer by sales, with over 500 million sold by the end of 2020.
What makes the iPad so popular?
For one, it has a comfortable user interface designed around a multi-touch screen, including a virtual keyboard. All iPads include built-in WiFi capability, and some can function like a normal cell phone. Users can play music, shoot photos and video, send emails and browse the web.
And it’s supported by a huge software library. Apple’s App store has well over a million apps for iPad, including many professional music apps.
Connecting an Audio Interface to Your iPad
- Beginning in 2018, iPad Pro models included a USB-C port. Audio interfaces without a USB-C connector will require the purchase of a USB-C to USB Adapter if one isn’t included.
- Other iPad models, specifically 4th-generation and newer, iPad Air and older iPad Pro models, have a Lightning port. For these, you’ll need an Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter if one isn’t supplied with the interface. You may also be able to connect wirelessly using AirDrop, AirPlay, AirPrint, or Bluetooth.
With that out of the way, let’s look at specific hardware!
iPad Audio Interfaces Reviewed
For these reviews, we looked for compact units that can rest comfortably next to your iPad without taking up too much space. Ideally, they can be powered from the USB port or with batteries when necessary. And we’ve limited our comparison to models with just one or two microphone and instrument preamps.
However, many of these brands also offer larger units with more channels and features, which we’ve noted where applicable.
So here’s our selection of eight great iPad audio interfaces, presented in order of increasing cost…
Top 8 Best iPad Audio Interfaces to Purchase in 2021 Reviews
1 MeloAudio TS MINI Compact Instrument/Microphone Audio Interface – Best Budget iPad Audio Interface
If cost is a primary concern, but you don’t want to sacrifice features, the MeloAudio Tone Shifter Mini might be what you’ve been looking for. It features an instrument input suitable for a guitar or synth, an XLR dynamic or condenser microphone input with phantom power and up to 47 dB gain, MIDI In, and a balanced/unbalanced stereo Line output.
The stylishly curved case is just 5.7 x 2.6 x 1.6 inches and weighs 10.6 ounces. On the top are volume up and down buttons, a monitor switch so you can hear either the inputs directly or the output, and a phantom power switch. It can sample as high as 192 kHz.
TS Mini is compatible with iPhone 5 and later, iPad 4th generation, Pro, Air 2, Mini 3, Air and Mini 2/3/4, and iPod Touch 5th generation. It also works with Android, Windows (with an ASIO driver installed), and Macintosh OS.
Why is it so inexpensive?
The TS Mini case is heavy-duty molded plastic. It looks great and feels strong, but it’s not metal. Melo Audio also manages to reduce the cost by not providing a USB to Lightning cable, which you’ll need to buy separately. Also, there’s no included software bundle, so you’ll have to source that on your own.
- Attractive design and small footprint.
- Compatible with multiple operating systems.
- 192 kHz sampling.
- MIDI In connector.
- Plastic case.
- No Lightning cable or software included.
- No software included.
2 Shure MVi Digital Audio Interface + USB & Lightning Cable – Best Affordable iPad Audio Interface
If you’re looking for an audio interface for home recording or podcasting that’s compact, simple to use, and won’t require a big investment, the Shure MVi is worth serious consideration. It’s compatible with iOS 7.0 and higher, MacOSX 10.7 or higher, Windows 7 or later, and Android.
A combination of XLR and 1/4-inch jack lets you connect a guitar, keyboard, or microphone. The Class A JFET buffered preamplifier has excellent clarity and includes phantom power, 48 volts via USB or 12 volts with Lightning.
Let’s get connected…
Cables are included to connect the onboard Micro-B port to either USB or Lightning devices. A mini headphone jack is also provided. There’s no MIDI connection.
A touch panel on the front lets you control gain, muting, and headphone volume. You can also adjust audio settings using the ShurePlus MOTIV mobile recording app with iOS devices and the Lightning Connector. The headphone output offers plenty of power, but unfortunately, only seven discrete volume levels.
Need a helping hand?
The MVi features five DSP preset modes that automatically adjust EQ, compression, limiting, gain control, mute, and volume. These are named Flat, Speech, Singing, Acoustic Instrument, and Loud. It can handle up to a 48kHz, 24-bit sample rate.
The solid metal case measures 2.8 x 4.6 x 3.6 inches and weighs 11.3 ounces. It has a solid build quality that customers have come to expect from Shure products for many decades.
- Very compact mobile recording and podcasting solution.
- Solidly built.
- Built-in DSP with presets.
- Limited volume levels.
- Maximum 48 kHz sampling rate.
- No MIDI connection.
3 IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 Digital Guitar Interface – Best iPad Audio Interface for Guitarists
iRig HD 2 is designed with a few special features guitar players will appreciate, although it also works just fine as a general-purpose audio interface.
This is an upgraded version of their original iRig HD. By far the most compact audio interface reviewed here at just 3.9 x 0.83 x 1.54 inches and 1.8 ounces, it fits easily into a pocket. Lightning and USB cables are provided, so no adaptors are needed.
It has a single High impedance input for a guitar, bass, or another instrument, including a single input level LED. Up to 96 kHz, 24-bit sampling is supported. Outputs include a mini USB port to connect to your iPad or computer, a mini headphone jack, and a balanced mono TRS jack to connect a guitar amp or monitor.
A recessed thumbwheel on one side of the case controls volume.
Extra goodies for guitarists!
On the side is a Thru switch that routes the input signal directly to the amp output. Also, iRig HD 2 comes with a full version of Amplitude 4 software, a multi-effects processor with an integrated music player and recorder, tuner, and digital models of many iconic amplifiers and stompbox effects.
IK Multimedia also makes the iRig HD Pro, which adds microphone support, MIDI In and Out, and a large volume knob.
- Very compact and lightweight.
- Thru switch to amp output.
- Amplitude software bundle included.
- No microphone input.
- Plastic case.
4 M-Audio AIR 192|4 – 2-In/2-Out USB Audio Interface with Recording Software – Most Versatile iPad Audio Interface
M-Audio has a well-deserved reputation for delivering products that work well without being expensive, and AIR 192|4 is no exception. This versatile 2-in, 2-out audio interface has a rugged metal case and LED VU meters. Although the M-Audio website claims it’s compatible only with Windows and Macintosh, it actually works fine with iPad.
The AIR 192|4 is ideal for either live performance or in a DJ booth. It’s larger and heavier than most of the interfaces reviewed here, at 8.04 x 6 x 2.76 inches and weighing 1.76 pounds.
It has one 1/4-inch TRS instrument input and one TRS/XLR input for a microphone or second instrument. Each has its own preamp and volume control, so they can be mixed. Sampling audio up to 192 kHz is possible.
The level of the main output, a pair of 1/4-inch balanced outputs, is controlled with a large volume knob on the top of the box. The 1/4-inch headphone output has a separate volume control, plus another knob to blend continuously the input and output for monitoring.
Everything you need…
AIR 192|4 comes with an extensive software starter bundle that features Pro Tools: First and a large suite of plug-ins, including Eleven Lite, Creative FX Collection, Xpand, Mini Grand, Vacuum, and Boom, and Avid FX Collection and Touch loops content.
Ableton Live Lite is also provided. USB and USB-C connection cables are included, but no Lightning Camera adapter.
Or, if you need more channels…
- Two independent inputs.
- Easy-to-read LED level meters.
- Versatile headphone monitoring.
- Extensive software bundle.
- No Lightning cable.
- Bulkier than other models.
5 Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface – Best Dedicated iPad Audio Interface
Focusrite enjoys an excellent reputation for high-quality preamplifiers and audio interfaces, and the iTrack Solo doesn’t disappoint. Designed specifically for use with your iPad, this 2-in, 2-out interface is also compatible with Mac OS and Windows, with both Lightning and USB 2.0 connectors provided.
Plenty of headroom…
On the front panel is an XLR microphone input with 48-volt phantom power and a 1/4-inch high-impedance instrument input. Each has its own level control with a signal halo to indicate level and clipping. The mic preamp provides up to 50 dB of gain. There’s also a 1/4-inch headphone jack with a large volume knob and a Direct Monitor switch.
Left and right Line level outputs are provided on the back as RCA connectors. Audio conversion rates up to 96 kHz, 24 bits are available.
Let’s use some samples…
In addition to USB and Lightning cables, iTrack Solo comes with licenses for an attractive software bundle comprising Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite’s Scarlett Plug-in Suite, the Novation Bass Station plug-in, and 2 GB of Loopmasters samples. All of these are downloaded from the Focusrite website.
iTrack Solo has a solid aluminum case that’s 1.77 x 6 x 4 inches and weighs 1.1 pounds. As with all their products, Focusrite offers a three-year warranty.
- Separate mic and instrument inputs.
- Excellent preamps.
- Attractive software bundle.
- Three-year warranty.
- Records mono tracks only.
- iPad cable is short.
6 Audient iD4 USB 2-in/2-out High Performance Audio Interface – Best Mid Range iPad Audio Interface
The Audient iD4 is a USB 2.0 interface that’s compatible with all iOS devices. It offers performance similar to the Focusrite iTrack Solo, but with a few extra features. The square, low-profile metal case has its controls on the top, making it more convenient for desktop use.
The mic input uses a combination 1/4-inch/XLR connector that provides 48-volt phantom power. Many users report that the iD4 mic preamp is exceptionally quiet, with a maximum gain of 58 dB and a dynamic range exceeding 120 dB. The instrument input uses a JFET to replicate the input stage of a classic tube amp, perfect for guitar or bass.
Separate level controls are provided for the mic and direct inputs, plus a blend control and a master volume. There are no level indicators for the inputs, but a series of five LEDs per channel indicate output levels. A button switches the master output knob into a scroll wheel for your favorite DAW.
Just what you need…
Outputs include stereo line outputs, plus two headphone jacks. Also provided is a speaker mute button. Sample rates of up to 24-bit 96 kHz are supported.
- Very quiet mic preamp.
- Dual headphone jacks.
- Input blend control.
- USB 2.0 only.
- No MIDI.
7 Zoom UAC-2 USB 3.0 Audio Interface, 2 In/2 Out Audio Interface, MIDI I/O – Best iPad Audio Interface with MIDI
Zoom’s UAC-2 interface packs a ton of features into a small but solid package that weighs 2 pounds. It features two independent TRS/XLR preamps for either high impedance instruments or microphones, including phantom power. These have clipping LEDs but no level meters.
It also provides traditional MIDI In and Out connectors, a pair of balanced outputs, and a headphone output. There’s a large master volume knob on the front panel. A switch enables direct monitoring in mono or stereo.
UAC-2 works with iPad (iOS 7 – 14), Windows 8 or greater, and Macintosh 10.14 and later. It connects to your device via a USB 3.0 connector, which enables data to be sent ten times faster than USB 2.0. Sample rates up to 192 kHz, 24 bits are possible.
Add some effects…
Included is Zoom’s MixEfx, a Macintosh and Windows (but not iOS) application designed especially for the UAC-2. It lets you set the mix parameters and add effects, including reverb and echo, high-pass filter, phase reverse, and auto gain control for each input. Three memory slots let you save and recall your settings.
- USB 3.0 interface.
- Mono/stereo direct monitoring.
- MIDI In and Out.
- Two preamps for mics or instruments.
- Clip indicators but no meters.
- MixEfx software is not available for iOS.
- Relatively expensive.
8 Apogee One – Audio Interface with Built In Studio Quality Condenser Microphone – Best Premium iPad Audio Interface
The Apogee ONE offers an interesting twist on a portable audio interface, as it includes a built-in omnidirectional condenser microphone. The all-in-one package provides all the hardware you need to produce professional-quality audio anywhere with an iOS (version 6 or greater), Macintosh 10.6.8 or greater) or Windows 10 device.
Simple, elegant design…
The Apogee ONE has a very compact oblong design, not much larger than a smartphone, making it very convenient to place next to your iPad on the desktop. Also included is a mic clip to mount it on a stand.
There’s a single large multifunction controller knob on top with a stereo three-segment LED input/output level meter. At one end is a stereo 1/8-inch speaker or headphone output jack. At the other end are jacks for the included breakout cable equipped with XLR microphone and 1/4-inch instrument connectors, USB connector, and DC power.
The package includes both Mac USB and iOS Lightning cables, as well as a power supply. Alternately, ONE can be powered by two AA batteries.
Microphone at the ready…
The built-in microphone preamp provides up to 62 dB of gain, and the Hi-Z instrument input 45 dB. Sample rates up to 96 kHz/24 bits are supported. Unfortunately, there’s no MIDI connection available. The package also includes the Apogee Maestro control panel software.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for ONE is that it’s made by Apogee, a name synonymous with the highest quality audio interfaces used in many professional studios. Another is that all Apogee products are designed and manufactured in the United States, which means they can better communicate with manufacturing partners and react to technological advancements.
On the downside…
The only software that’s included is Apogee Maestro. It provides access to all control functions and settings in a single window.
If the ONE is a little beyond your budget, or if you don’t need the built-in microphone, you should take a look at the Apogee Jam Plus.
- Built-in microphone.
- Compact, ergonomic design.
- Can be battery powered.
- Typical Apogee design and build quality.
- Made in the USA with a three-year warranty.
- Relatively expensive.
- Minimal included software.
Looking for even more superb Audio Interface Options?
Then check out our comprehensive reviews of the Best USB Audio Interfaces or the Best Audio Interface. You may also want to upgrade from the preamps in your interface; if so, check out our reviews of the Best Microphone Preamps on the market in 2021.
For more recording essentials, take a look at our reviews of the Best Vocal Mics, the Best Kick Drum Mic, the Best Microphones Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Wireless Microphones, the Best Dynamic Microphones, or the Best USB Microphones you can buy.
But which one is the Best iPad Audio Interface?
Competition is very tough in the audio interface market. And from the ones we’ve reviewed, there’s not a bad product in the bunch. But, to a great extent, your idea of the best one for iPad will depend on exactly how you plan to use it.
So with that disclaimer out of the way, here are our choices for the Best Audio Interface for iPad…
For general use, it has to be the…
A built-in condenser mic with a world-famous preamp brand is a tough combination to beat. And it’s ergonomically designed to sit comfortably and out of the way on a desktop.
Best Value for the Money iPad Audio Interface
…has it all: two preamps with level controls and LED meters, versatile headphone monitoring, MIDI, and a ton of included software.
Best Low Cost iPad Audio Interface
…is undeniably a great deal. Even though it’s the least expensive model reviewed, it’s one of few that can sample at 192 kHz and support Android devices.
Honorable Mention: Best Guitar iPad Audio Interface
IK Multimedia’s iRig HD 2 is a great choice for a guitarist because of its pocket size, an excellent software bundle, and the Thru switch to route the guitar directly to an amp.
Ultimately, the best audio interface for your iPad will depend on how you plan to use it. At least one of the models reviewed here is sure to be perfect for your application. And none of them will break your pocketbook!