The improvements in computer hardware and the increased processing power and capacity over the years has led to many innovations. In music, perhaps the most important was the arrival of the Audio Interface. It changed recording forever.
Improvements in audio interfaces and associated software started a revolution in home recording. Now we are in a position where we need to look for the best low latency audio interface. And there are plenty to choose from. Some are good, some not so good, but here we are going to look at some of the best. But what is low-latency?
- Top 7 Best Low Latency Audio Interface on the Market in 2022 Reviews
- 1 Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) – Most Popular Low Latency Audio Interface
- 2 PreSonus Studio – Best Home Studio Low Latency Audio Interface
- 3 Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 – Best Budget Low Latency Audio Interface
- 4 Universal Audio Apollo Solo Thunderbolt 3 – Best Premium Low Latency Audio Interface
- 5 M-Audio AIR USB Audio/MIDI Interface – Best Sound Quality Low Latency Audio Interface
- 6 Apogee ELEMENT 88 Audio Interface – Best Rack Mount Low Latency Audio Interface
- 7 Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (3rd Gen) – Best Value for the Money Low latency Audio Interface
- Best Low Latency Audio Interface – Frequently Asked Questions
- Looking for Great Recording Gear?
- What is the Best Low Latency Audio Interface?
Let’s take a look at Latency to find out…
You may think that what you are recording is performed instantly, but that is not how it works. There are a few time lapses along the way that occur as you go along. The amount of time is infinitesimal, but it can build up. When this happens, we call it latency. Let’s highlight the causes for those lapses in time:
- Time for the analog signal to go from the mic or instrument through the interface into your computer.
- The conversion of analog signals by the interface to create a digital communication to your computer that it can understand.
- Time for the signal to travel to headphones or speakers for monitoring.
This all adds up to the time that passes between the note being made and it being recorded and being heard through phones or speakers. We call this time latency. It is measured in milliseconds, and anything around 5 milliseconds is fine.
What Can Affect Latency?
Essentially there are four major latency factors:
- CPU speed of your computer.
- Quality of the Audio Interface you are using.
- Compatibility between Audio Interface, Operating system, and your DAW.
- Buffer size.
The first three of those issues are easily explained, but the buffer size is the situation that can have a marked effect. As you record, the audio is stored for a very brief time in the buffer memory. The idea is that while it is there, your computer processes it and then delivers the audio out in a controlled stream.
Is Big Always Good?
If you have a larger buffer, the computer has more processing time. Therefore, you might think that increasing the buffer size is a good idea. Yes and no.
By increasing the buffer, you can use more plugins which is good. But increasing the buffer slows up the system, which is bad news for latency. Big isn’t always good, and in this case, it is very bad. It ends up being a balancing act between latency and the size of the buffer.
So, now that we understand latency, let’s move on by taking a look at the best low-latency audio interfaces currently on the market and find the perfect option for your needs, starting with the…
Top 7 Best Low Latency Audio Interface on the Market in 2022 Reviews
1 Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) – Most Popular Low Latency Audio Interface
Focusrite was founded in Buckinghamshire, England, by Rupert Neve in 1985. Mr. Neve designed desks and consoles for Beatles producer Sir George Martin. So, we can safely assume he knows more than most.
Focusrite has become one of the most well known low latency audio interfaces around and deliver great performance at a cost-effective price. If you have been in a pro studio in the last thirty years, Focusrite gear was likely doing something in the processing chain.
It’s a compact little machine measuring just 7.68 by 2.09 by 1.32 inches and weighing just over one pound. It has a tough little red aluminum chassis, so it can take a few knocks. As a result, it’s one of the most durable low latency audio interfaces you can buy.
However, being so small and light, it is easy for it to move around the desk when everything is connected. I suppose that is the price you pay for a compact unit that doesn’t take up much space.
On The Front
On the front panel, there are two combination inputs for XLR and Jack plugs. Each input has its own gain control with a circular halo that lights up. Depending on the level of gain you apply, the halo will go from green to red.
Each input also has two buttons; one labeled INST the other AIR. The INST switch is activated when using an instrument, like a guitar or bass. The AIR feature is a button that will give you an enhanced function that creates a big, wide, and open sound. It is a simulation of the setting found on some of the company’s super high-end preamps that are used in world-class studios across the globe.
There are two dials for volume, one for the monitor and the other for headphones, plus the headphone output socket. There are also buttons for Phantom Power if you have a condenser mic and the all-important Direct Motoring button. This DM option makes it one of the best audio interfaces for latency-free monitoring.
On The Back
Far less crowded on the rear of the unit are just the two line output monitor connections and a USB-C port. All the functions you need to use regularly are on the front.
This little interface gives an exceptional performance with latency-free monitoring. It is 24-bit, with a maximum sampling rate of 192kHz, so the quality is high. Plus, you don’t need a power supply as the USB connection to your computer provides it.
Setting up is easy, just plug it in and start recording. It comes with various software packages and plugins for free. It also comes with a USB-A to USB-C cable. All this easily adds up to one of the best low latency audio interfaces you can buy.
- A quality interface from a quality company.
- Plenty of features, free software, and Direct Monitoring.
2 PreSonus Studio – Best Home Studio Low Latency Audio Interface
In many ways, the PreSonus Studio is a similar audio interface to what we have just seen with the Focusrite. This is also made very much with the home recording market in mind.
It has a solid build, with its aluminum casing measuring 7.09 by 6.3 by 1.77 inches and weighing just one pound. Easy and compact to carry around with you if you need to. As a result, it’s one of the best portable low latency audio interfaces on the market.
On The Front Panel
All the controls and most-used connections are on the front panel for convenience. There are two combo XLR and jack plug inputs for instruments and mics and any other line-level inputs.
To the right, there are controls for levels for each of the channels, a volume for the monitors, and another for the headphone output. The fifth dial is a mixer that will enable direct monitoring. Above the mixer control is the Phantom Power button.
A Nice Touch
A nice extra design feature has been the inclusion of an LCD. This has four VU meters, two for output and two for input. Not only helpful but a nice visual.
On The Back
A limited selection of inputs and outputs. There is a MIDI In/Out, a 1.4-inch output for headphones, two 1.4-inch line outputs, and also a USB-C connection.
It is easy to set up and use and delivers a good standard of audio quality courtesy of a 24-bit/192kHz sampling rate. Furthermore, it doesn’t need a power supply as it obtains power from the computer you are connected to.
It is supplied with a USB cable and Studio One Artist software. It doesn’t have Instrument or Mic selectors on the channels. The interface applies gain internally by recognizing the type of input it is receiving. A decent little interface at a reasonable price point.
- Compact and well-built with a useful LCD screen.
- Some good features are built-in.
- No Inst/Mic selectors.
3 Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 – Best Budget Low Latency Audio Interface
Another audio interface made for the home recording market. This one, though, is what might be described as a start-up unit at a cost-effective price point.
Plain, simple, and compact, measuring 6 by 5 by 2 inches and weighing only 12 ounces. This is one of the best compact low latency audio interfaces on the market. It has an all-aluminum build in black that is very plain with an LCD on the top. Also on top, a Phantom Power indicator along with monitor output volume control.
There is one XLR input and one jack socket input, both with their own gain controls. Ok, if you are not using a mic with a jack and want to use a guitar at the same time. There is one Line/Instrument switch.
It has a 48v Phantom Power switch and an input/host mixer switch that provides direct monitoring. But only when using a DAW. Also, a headphone out and headphone volume control.
The Rear Panel
This only features one USB-B port and the two RCA connections for connecting up monitor speakers. A USB cable is provided.
The Good And The Bad
The audio quality is good at 24-bit/192kHz. And there is a decent range of free software, including Ableton Live Lite, and temporary use of facility tools that come with it.
However, on the downside, setting up is not that simple. You will need to access the Native Instruments app, which is not the easiest thing to integrate with, to download the necessary drivers. You also use this app to download everything else that comes with this audio interface.
A further consideration is that without the use of a DAW, there is a lack of options for direct monitoring. Not a bad audio interface, but won’t suit someone looking for more options. But the price is hard to beat.
- Cost-effective price point.
- Decent quality aluminum build.
- Set up is not as straightforward as other products.
4 Universal Audio Apollo Solo Thunderbolt 3 – Best Premium Low Latency Audio Interface
If you do happen to be looking for a high-end low latency audio interface for use in a home studio, then this may be of interest. Having said that, it is an interface that takes a little understanding of how these things work and might not suit a beginner.
These are spread out a bit, possibly to ensure the unit doesn’t look cluttered as some do. However, I am not sure about placing the two Combo inputs, XLR, and jack on the rear of the unit. Doesn’t make it easy to plug mics in.
Also, on the rear are left and right line outputs and a Thunderbolt cable socket. On the front, there is just a single jack socket input and a headphones output.
The top is where the majority of the control and monitoring features are located. And these are certainly easy to see if not to initially get to grips with. There are VU meters and below some button options, including hi-pass, input selection, and Phantom power. There is also a PAD control for lowering the gain, polarity reverse, and a link for stereo use and control.
On the right side, there is a large volume/gain control and buttons for preamp and monitor. Using the monitor button, you can control the volume of headphones or monitors. With the preamp, you can control the input you have selected.
It is a well-built unit measuring 8.62 by 6.46 by 4.61 inches and weighing 2.77 pounds. It has a 24-bit/192 kHz sampling rate to give you good audio quality. And the Thunderbolt connection gives you a faster data transfer rate. Disappointingly no Thunderbolt cable is provided. However, it’s still one of the fastest low latency audio interfaces out there.
You get plenty of software and a range of plugins for compressors, guitar amps, preamps, and EQ. It is an expensive audio interface, but it will suit people who require the options it provides. So, it can be said this is one of the most versatile low latency audio interfaces you can buy.
- Plenty of control possibilities.
- Good audio reproduction with plenty of software and plugins provided.
- Expensive for some.
- Inputs at the rear aren’t helpful.
5 M-Audio AIR USB Audio/MIDI Interface – Best Sound Quality Low Latency Audio Interface
M-Audio is a company that is well-known for its MIDI interfaces. This audio interface is a versatile unit that has a cost-effective price tag. And that alone could make it the best low latency audio interface.
It has a very solid look about it, measuring 6 by 7.8 by 2.76 inches. Additionally, it weighs just under 2 pounds and has been designed to look nice, and it has a certain style that is appealing. Maybe in doing so, they have created something that I personally don’t like. More on that later.
On The Front
There are two Hi-Z guitar inputs on the front with a headphones output and a phantom power switch.
On The Back
You have two combo XLR and jack socket inputs for connecting up a mic or anything that is line level. There are two 1.4-inch outputs for monitors and four RCA outputs, MIDI In/Out, and a USB-C port.
On The Top
The layout is quite expansive. This is not a big audio interface in terms of its physical size. But whilst there are plenty of controls and two displays occupying the top, it does not seem cluttered.
On the left of the interface are two gain controls that are linked to LED displays. These displays show the amount of gain being applied and have a clipping indicator. Below the gain control knobs are mic pad switches, one for each channel. These will reduce the input signal by 10dB if required.
The center stage is occupied by the oversized monitor volume dial. And above that, a selector switch for direct monitoring. To the right is a mixer control for direct monitoring, and volume control for the headphones with a selector for outputs. There are also LED indicators for MIDI and on and off.
You often find that some software is free, while some is only provided on a trial basis. That applies here, but at least you get to try out some good plugins to see if you want to spend money on them.
The package does include some cables, USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A. Plus a 3.5mm to MIDI cable. But these cables are only about 1.5 meters, so quite short.
The audio performance is quite good, and there is a sample rate of 24-bit/192kHz.
The Downside For Me?
It is a hassle for me to have to plug in mics or anything else around the back of an interface. You can’t see what you are doing and have to lean over.
I realize if they are on the front, it all becomes a bit cluttered. But on the front, to plug in a mic, you don’t even have to stand up. Just a personal thing.
- Some good features for sound control and low latency monitoring.
- Impressive Audio quality at a reasonable price point.
- Inputs around the back can be a nuisance.
6 Apogee ELEMENT 88 Audio Interface – Best Rack Mount Low Latency Audio Interface
If you prefer a rack-mounted design rather than a compact unit that sits on your desk, this is going to interest you. But it is more than just the design. It features an onboard DSP, and it has excellent audio circuits.
It has a simple design that is very minimalistic and is made to look easy to use as indeed it is. It measures 14 by 5.5 by 1.75 inches and weighs 3.5 pounds. The chassis is well-made and quite solid.
The Front Panel
On the front, there are eight inputs. Inputs 1-4 are combo XLR for Mic/Line or ¼-inch jack for instruments. Inputs 5-8 are XLR for Mic/Line. There are also two headphone sockets and a status LED. The headphone sockets have independent routing.
There are no other control buttons on the front panel. You can use the Apogee software for Mac Controls that gives you control over some settings, including gain. You can also purchase the Apogee Control Accessory if you prefer having physical controls. But that will cost you extra.
On The Rear
There are two TRS and Two XLR outputs for speaker connections. This unit also employs optical communications. There are two optical outputs and two inputs. There is also a Thunderbolt connection. More on that in a minute.
Conversion of the signal between analog and digital and back again is essential. You will want to ensure that every detail is clear and there is excellent definition. This will also help you when you come to mix your tracks.
The converters on the Element 88 are impressive, as are the Element series mic preamps. It earns points there.
The Thunderbolt Connection
This audio interface uses a Thunderbolt 2 port. However, that is not compatible with any Mac computer after 2018. The port on the Element will not take Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C. You can buy cables and adapters, but that will be an extra expense to incur and possible compatibility issues.
It will be advisable to check this out on all machines because, in the time since writing this, Apogee may have upgraded the Thunderbolt connection from two to three. The price point is more expensive than the desktop versions.
- Ideal interface for those that need rack-mounted equipment.
- Good AD/DA converters and mic preamps.
- Plenty of confusion over the Thunderbolt connections.
7 Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (3rd Gen) – Best Value for the Money Low latency Audio Interface
Let’s complete our look at the low-latency Audio Interface by going back to Focusrite. This is another small and compact unit from the boys in Buckinghamshire in the UK.
It measures only 6.28 x 9.49 x 2.4 inches and weighs 3.5 pounds, but there is plenty inside. In total, there are eight analog inputs and plenty more to get excited about.
On The Front Panel
There are four mic/line inputs. Two of those are high headroom inputs for instruments. Each input has its own gain, and there is a master monitor volume.
They feature Focusrite’s renowned preamps with the Air setting. The Air setting will reproduce the effects of the original ISA mic preamp. This will give your vocal or acoustic instrument recordings a little more brightness. Each mic preamp has a pad that allows you to control any higher-level signals and prevents any clipping.
There are two sockets for headphones, each having its own volume control. This allows both artist and the engineer the chance to monitor during the recording. Therefore, it’s one best dual monitoring low latency audio interfaces you can buy. Finally, two buttons for Phantom Power.
On The Rear
On the rear, there are four more fixed-line inputs and MIDI In/Out. If you need more than eight channels, there is an optical input that will allow you to expand up to a further eight channels.
High-performance converters give you 24-bit/192kHz results ensuring the recording and your playback are clear and defined. And, of course, a low-latency performance goes without saying.
The 18i8 gives you two line outputs more than the previous Focusrite generation. Also, for dual-monitor setups, there is speaking switching. Included with the 18i8, you get a range of recording tools.
The build is typical Focustitre, so at home or on the road, it will last the pace. An excellent audio interface at a great price point.
- Plenty of features, including preamps with a switchable Air facility at a great price point.
- Eight inputs with an option for a further eight for larger sessions.
Best Low Latency Audio Interface – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best connection to achieve low latency?
Having a good connection could make a little bit of difference to the latency levels. I would suggest you look for a connection using USB-C or Thunderbolt 3. But make sure it is Thunderbolt 3 and not 2.
Is Direct Monitoring important?
It is very important. Having this feature lets the interface bypass the computer sending the audio straight to the monitors.
What other controls are there for monitoring the performance?
Some audio interfaces have a dial control. This will give you the chance to balance the sound from the source to the computer.
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What is the Best Low Latency Audio Interface?
I think having the option on your desk would work best for me. Having some inputs on the back is a negative, but they might not be used that often.
But of all we looked at, the best performing Audio interface is the…
I think it’s safe to say that Rupert Neve knew what he was doing. And, therefore, so do Focusrite.
So, until next time, let your music play.