For quite a while now, the Audio Interface has been an essential part of audio production. It is something that you must have. Using them allows you to record with instruments, microphones, keyboards, and a variety of other things straight into your computer. They can have a big impact on the sound you create. Therefore, finding the Best USB Audio Interfaces is important.
Digital recording is not a particularly recent innovation. Jazz and classical music began to be recorded in the 70s. Driven on by Japanese company Denon, the BBC and Decca, a UK record label. Now, of course, it is commonplace, and you can set up a mini studio in your home. But only if you have an audio interface.
If you are setting up for the first time or upgrading your interface, you will want to find the best one. So, let’s take a look at the Best USB Audio Interfaces currently available and find the perfect one for you…
Top 12 Best USB Audio Interfaces To Buy In 2021 Reviews
1 Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface
If you are new to recording at home or are setting up your first home studio, your first audio interface is very important. It needs to be easy to use, to perform well, preferably have phantom power and not be too expensive. And, that’s exactly what you get with the third generation of the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
It has a great preamp that has been upgraded over previous models as well as an excellent DI for your instruments. The DI input is a high headroom input for guitar or bass. The controls are lit with halos so you can monitor your levels. The oversized volume control makes it easy to adjust. It also has a headphone jack socket and a Direct Monitor switch.
Controls are located on the front and include a +48v phantom power option for condenser mics. There is also the jack input and XLR mic input. It has a good build quality with its aluminum chassis.
This 3rd generation Solo has increased the level of performance yet again with 24-bit/192kHz converters and a low level of latency. Built-in is Focusrite’s Air circuitry. This is a switchable system that adds a little brightness to vocals and instruments.
This generation of the Scarlett Solo is going to give you a great sound. Just plug it in, load up the software included, and away you go. The software can be downloaded after registration, including Ableton, Splice, Avis, and others. Quite a software bundle.
It is easy to use, has some excellent features, and is available at a very attractive price. All this makes it one of the Best USB Audio Interfaces for the money you will find.
- Great value at a very attractive price.
- A good sturdy build and a useful software bundle included.
- Some may want a few more built-in options.
2 Steinberg UR12 USB Audio Interface
The Steinberg U12 is a very popular audio interface, and it is certainly one of the cheapest you will find. You cannot afford to go too cheap when buying your interface; there are some bad ones out there. But this is not one of those and represents good value.
Simplicity is the name of the game with this interface. It might not be the most attractive looking, but it is going to do the job. It has a metal chassis with easy to use controls.
However, it is what you might call basic, and is laid out in a very traditional way with the switches and controls and inputs on the front. These include an XLR and standard jack socket and also a headphone output. The outputs are on the back.
Two channels, one for a microphone via the XLR and the for guitar, bass, or keyboard. The UR12 has Phantom power for condenser mics. Each channel has its own gain, and there is a master volume. Also on the front a Direct Monitor control. On the rear, you have a choice of USB or 5V Dc power options and two RCA outputs.
Built-in is a decent preamp that gives a good all-round performance. It delivers a sound quality which is more than acceptable. It is compatible with most DAW’s and also Mac and Windows computers.
If you are looking for your first audio interface, then this is well worth considering. It is simple, easy to use, and basic but does just about all you need it to when starting off.
As an added extra, it comes with a version of Cubase A1 software.
- Basic, easy to use interface at a great price.
- Good construction with some nice features and Cubase thrown in.
- Many will want a higher spec.
3 BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC202HD
Behringer is a company that we are all familiar with. They are a German organization that manufactures its products in China. They are well-known for building efficient, cost-effective pedals and other audio products. This U-Phoria is one of their audio interfaces that is well worth a look.
This is a compact two-channel interface that is compatible with Mac and Windows. It is a comfortable size and isn’t going to take up too much space measuring 6.7 by 4.9 by 2 inches.
It is laid out with an easy to use front control panel with two inputs each with their own gain control, plus there are switches for Direct Monitoring. There is +48v Phantom power for condenser mics if you need it. Also located on the front panel is the output for headphones. There are colored LED lights to indicate any clipping.
Each input has a built-in Midas preamp, which sets this interface apart from some of its competition. They have a reputation for delivering a bright and clear sound with plenty of headroom. Both channels will take mics or instruments.
On the front panel, there are also switchable input pads to handle any especially loud signals. It is quite an impressive interface given its starter status, giving you a good recording quality 24-bit/192kHz resolution.
As an added extra, Behringer provides you with 150 instrument effect plugins for you to download.
As a budget level interface, it has a lot of plus points. Easy to use with good features, it will serve its purpose as an entry-level product. Worth taking a look at if you are just setting up your home studio. A very competitive price point makes it an attractive option.
- Some good built-in features including Midas preamps.
- A good entry-level audio interface at a realistic price point.
- Some will want more features and higher specs.
4 Universal Audio Apollo Twin High-Resolution USB Interface
With the Universal Audio Apollo Twin, we move up the performance scale and also raise the price point. So far, we have looked at entry-level audio interfaces. Great for startup situations, but what if you want a little bit more? Also, this will bring a smile to the faces of Windows users as this is designed especially for you.
Powerful processors and near-zero latency while recording in real-time, this is a powerful interface. It has some impressive features built-in, including plugins from Neve, Marshall, Lexicon, and many more. Plenty of analog sounds are achievable when using vintage EQs, reverbs, and amps. It comes with an Analog Classics plugin bundle. Features like Phantom power are, of course, included.
There are two mic or line preamps and two analog line outs. Two monitor outputs that are digitally controlled. There are also up to eight possible extra channels of digital input from the built-in optical connection. You can use the UAD plugins for tracking in real-time or when it’s time to mix in the most popular DAW’s. Audio conversion is a high-level 24-bit/192kHz.
It can connect to Windows 7 and 8 but also uses the USB-3 connection for later Windows systems.
It has far more features built-in than we have space for here. Needless to say, it will create some excellent vintage sounds and allow you to edit as you wish. The controls are neatly laid out and well-labeled. However, there will be a learning curve to go through with this interface, so be ready for some homework.
A higher-level interface with some very good features.
- Some very good plugins and onboard features.
- Options to use some vintage analog sounds.
- Some will find it expensive.
5 Tascam US-2×2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface
Tascam has been in the home studio business for quite a while, going back to the days of reel-to-reel. This audio interface is a compact unit and features a number of very good features. It has an interesting design that allows it to lean backward on its stand. This is a good idea for a smaller unit, making the controls easier to see and use.
The design centers around its two channels. They each have a mic or line preamp that will give up to 57dB of gain. Added to this is a very low background noise performance and low distortion levels.
It can be powered through the USB 2.0 connection or by a power adapter, which is an optional extra. And is compatible with Mac and iOS computers, plus using a simple driver will add ASIO compatibility for Windows. There are facilities for MIDI in and out, which gives you the option of connecting up drum machines and synthesizers.
The Tascam US-2×2 includes Cubase LE9. This is an excellent added feature turning your laptop into your own music studio. It is easy to use and includes basic editing, recording, and mixing options. You can record everything from a few chords for a demo to the finished article.
This Tascam includes most things that you are going to need to produce good music, albeit at a basic level. It doesn’t carry too many bells and whistles, but it is efficient and easy to use.
Each channel has a switch to determine between instrument and microphone. They also both have peak warning lights. Plus, there are the +48v Phantom Power switch and a headphone jack socket with its own volume control.
It is a neatly designed interface with a very attractive price point, making it good value and worth considering.
- Compact and easy to use unit with some nice basic features at a very affordable price.
- Cubase production software included and supports Mac, iOS, and windows.
- Some will want more features and higher specs.
6 Steinberg UR22MKII 2-Channel USB Interface
Another audio interface from Stenberg, this model an updated version of the UR22. Steinberg is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yamaha. This gives them the opportunity to use that Japanese giant’s considerable expertise in sound production. This UR22 features high-quality components and good connections to deliver a good production platform. It is compatible with Mac and Windows.
It has two channels, both with Yamaha Class A preamps. These preamps are well-known and respected, and deliver a beautiful and detailed sound. It has latency-free monitoring, and the front control panel has a mix control. This lets you combine the output with the direct signal.
The converters give you a high-quality sampling rate of 192kHz with a 24-bit resolution. This delivers excellent audio quality performance. It is compatible with the most popular music production software, and it is possible to link this up with your iPad.
It has a tough metal build that is typical of Yamaha design standards and an easy set of controls. On the front are two XLR/TRS combo inputs, each with their own gain controls and peak warning lights. There is also a jack socket for headphones and separate control for the headphone’s volume.
There is a light to show when you are using the installed +48v Phantom Power. Line outputs and MIDI in and out are located on the rear for ease of use.
It is simply laid out and like the unit itself basic and easy to use. Plus, you have a choice of power options. There is a USB adapter, or you can use an external USB battery. There is also a 5 volt DC power port.
It has Cubase AI, and Cubasis software included, which give what amounts to a complete studio platform to work with. As an entry-level interface, it gives you all you need and a bit more. The software will take a little understanding, so be prepared to take some time. It is set at an attractive price point.
- Strong Yamaha build with high-quality preamps and features.
- Cubase included.
- An attractive price.
- Software is going to take some time to master.
7 PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2 USB Audio Interface
PreSonus was established in 1995 in Los Angeles by people who knew what musicians wanted from their audio interfaces. How could they be so sure? They are musicians themselves, and they got together to manufacture what they thought was needed. They have since grown into a respected organization.
At 1.8 by 5.5 by 5.5 inches, it is unlikely you will find an interface smaller. And also one that still delivers great performance.
It is a two-channel USB 2.0 unit for that small studio at home. It has a 24-bit resolution rate and a sampling rate of 96kHz, so you are assured of a good standard. Each channel has a Class A preamp with useful XLR/TRS combo inputs for mics and instruments.
Phantom power of +48v is provided so you can use your favorite condenser mics. Latency-free monitoring is achieved via an internal analog mixer. You can, therefore, mix together the playback with the direct input. There is no need to carry around external power supplies as it has USB power making it truly portable.
It is compatible with Mac or Windows and any DAW software you use. And includes the PreSonus DAW software, Studio One, and plenty of extra content. It also comes with the Studio Magic package, which includes some vintage studio gear emulations.
The controls are basic and simple to use and well laid out with the two inputs, each with gain control. There is a master volume and headphone socket with its own volume control. There is also the Phantom power button and Mixer control for monitoring. On the rear is a MIDI in and out.
An excellent tool for recording at entry-level and at a great price.
- Extremely portable.
- Excellent features built-in.
- Simple to use at a cost-effective price.
- At this price, nothing at all.
8 M-Audio AIR 192|6 – 2-In 2-Out USB Audio / MIDI Interface
Whilst the majority of audio interfaces can be quite similar in their design layouts, this product is something refreshingly different.
At 8 by 6 by 2.8 inches, it could still be described as compact, but it has a different look. Controls cover the top as well as the front and rear edges, but it is the top that carries the design look.
Here you will find the gain controls for the two mic/line channels. There are also some colored lights to keep you apprised of performance levels and any clipping. The console is dominated by the master volume, and there is also a dedicated headphone volume control. Other colored lights indicate whether the unit is on, using Phantom Power, and also MIDI in and out status.
Inputs for the channels are on the leading edge, and round the back MIDI in/out and XLR/TRS inputs. There are also a further two instrument inputs. All very well laid out and easy to use.
You can create quality recordings with 24-bit/192kHz resolution and sampling rate. Plus, you can record two channels at one time using the balanced inputs.
They have included enough extra software to help you get started. Ableton, Avid, First M-Audio, and Pro Tools are all included along with others. An impressive array of audio software.
It is certainly an impressive interface that is a great addition for any singer/songwriter working at home. Its design lends it itself to a very simple level of operation, but in that mode, it is a very good product. A very good price makes this a cost-effective option.
- Nice design and layout make it easy to use.
- Desktop-type application with some great extra software and features at a competitive price.
- Some may not like the design and layout.
9 PreSonus Studio 26 Audio Interface
Another interface from PreSonus, but this model a step up in features. The Studio 26 is an interface that will work well as a starter unit for a new home studio. But it is also capable of producing high-quality results for experienced users who might need a portable interface.
It has a tough build quality that will allow it to be carried around. As a unit to take with you on the road, it is built for the job. And being just 7 by 5.5 by 1.8 inches and weighing just over one and a half pounds isn’t going to take up too much room.
It has two XLR/TRS combo switchable inputs on the front that will handle mic or instruments. There is +48v Phantom power should you wait to use a condenser mic. There are LED lights that monitor the input and output levels. It has two balanced line outputs that will allow you to monitor mixing or switching speakers.
MIDI connections allow you to hook up a keyboard or sound module. XMAX-L preamps are included to add to the quality of the recording. It has 115dB of dynamic range to give you no audible distortion.
Unlike most of its competitors, the Studio 26 features two line outputs as well as the main outputs which normally go to your monitors. These additional outputs can be used to hook up additional external hardware such as a compressor or equalizer to add some cool analog sounds to your mix.
You could even hook up an external stereo delay or reverb to the two outputs and re-record that into your DAW for some fantastic wide sounding keyboard pads or stereo guitars. If you have the external hardware necessary, or even a few cheap guitar pedals, this interface can open many sonic doors unavailable with most of its competition in this price range.
It has some good features, including the Studio One DAW from PreSonus. And is compatible with nearly all Windows and Mac recording software.
As with most PreSonus recording software, it is made to be easy to use and produce good results. This Studio 26 model is a little more expensive than some of its competitors, but it is still worth considering.
- Some good built-in features including the Studio One DAW built-in.
- Easy to use with good results at a competitive price.
- It does seem to have an operating problem Windows 10, which is worth checking out first.
10 Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface
As we have already seen, Focusrite manufacture some great little audio interfaces. Especially for those setting up their first home studio. The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen), though, is a step up the ladder of features and performance, and it is probably their most versatile interface.
It can sit on a tabletop but is also a rack-mounted interface. It gives you great sound quality from its 18 inputs and its 20 outputs. Using this interface, your environment, be it small or large, becomes a full-blown recording studio. This model is certain to be considered as one of the Best USB Audio Interfaces for recording a whole band.
It has eight mic preamps that give you superior sound quality. They work especially well with vocal or acoustic instrument recordings. Giving them a clean and brighter sound. Each preamp has a pad to show the signal level and avoid clipping.
It also features an ADAT optical in and out, so you can connect up any eight channel preamp with a digital out to it for another eight channels of analog recording. Focusrite makes there own that integrates seamlessly, the Focusrite Scarlett Octopre. Then you can connect up two digital sources using the S/PDF connections to make a track count of 18, which is enough to record a full band.
It includes some nice extras like a talkback facility and the option for speaker switching. It has a good analog to digital conversion with a 24-bit/192kHz sampling rate. On the front panel are two inputs, especially for instruments giving an increased headroom. This lets you record guitars and basses without any unwanted distortion. It connects straight to your PC or Mac via a USB cable.
It is packed with extra features and tools that you may need. Ableton and Pro Tools, Softube Time and Tone, and Focusrite’s own Red plugin suite are included. You also get a free three-month subscription to Splice Sounds. This offers you millions of preset sounds and royalty-free loops and one-shots.
A very effective audio interface with as we said, just about everything you need. It comes in at quite a bit more expensive than the entry-level model, but then it would. Still, an interface you should be looking at if you are going to upgrade.
- Plenty of inputs and outputs with eight built-in quality preamps.
- Packed with features and delivers an excellent performance.
- It might be a little bit expensive for a starter interface.
11 Tascam US-16×08 Rackmount USB Audio/MIDI Interface
This audio interface from Tascam is what you might call a studio workhorse. If you are looking for a unit that offers a wide range of variety and flexibility, then this Tascam could be the answer. It certainly qualifies as one of the Best USB Audio Interfaces.
With the US-16×08, you can connect up to eight mics and still have enough room for processing and monitor mixes. It has MIDI in/out connections for controllers and synthesizers or keyboards. The built-in DSP handles the effects and processing. It also takes care of low-latency routing. It is compatible with Mac and Windows-based machines.
This integrated DSP gives the interface a high level of flexibility and being able to work within a variety of environments. It is at a level that you don’t often see at this price point. Each of the eight channels has its own compression and 4-band EQ.
It gives an acceptable 24-bit/96kHz resolution. The eight preamps give you up to 56dB of gain. Of the eight inputs, two have the option to switch for a higher headroom recording of bass and guitar. Eight line-level outputs can manage multiple processing sends and monitor mixes.
If you want to install the interface in a standard 19-inch rack, it is supplied with removable rack ears.
It is set at a reasonable price point considering the options and features included. If you are ready to take the next step in upgrading your home studio equipment, then this is definitely worth a look.
- Plenty of options built-in at a very affordable price.
- The option to connect eight mics at one time.
- There might be an issue with Windows 10 that is worth examining before purchase.
12 Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface
Back to Focusrite for a third time and another contender for one of the Best Mid Range USB Audio Interfaces. This might be considered as an interface for people that need just a little more.
It has two excellent Focusrite preamps onboard that are perfect for mics or instruments. Also, high-performance AD/DA converters giving a 24-bit/192kHz performance. It has a very low-latency level and inputs that can handle some pretty loud sounds from guitars.
The preamps for the mics have Focusrite’s Air mode. This is a switchable feature that brings a more open and brighter sound. Adding just that little bit of edge to the voice tones.
The front panel, like most Focusrite interfaces, is surprisingly uncluttered. Two XLR/TRS combo inputs are where they need to be, each with their own gain control. The gain controls feature the familiar ‘halo’ lighting on the dials to control the gain levels. These can offer high headroom for guitars and bass if required.
There is a push-button +48v Phantom power control and a headphone jack with its own volume. On the rear, there are four balanced line outputs, so as with the PreSonus Studio 26 we reviewed earlier, you can connect up some external hardware. There is also an in and out for MIDI and two balanced line inputs. All very simple to use and functional.
It comes with an incredible amount of featured extras. These include Ableton Live as well as Pro Tools First Focus. Focusrite’s own Red plugin suite and the Time and Tone Bundle from Softube. All this and quite a few other excellent inclusions.
At the price point, it is an excellent buy and one that is going to help you up to the next level.
- Easy to use with great features built-in and Focusrite reliability.
- A huge amount of extra software is included.
- Nothing at all.
You’ll Need Some Microphones
Not much point having a high-quality interface unless you’ve got a good set of mics to plug into it. So check out our reviews of the Best Kick Drum Mic, the Best Vocal Mics, the Best Microphones Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best Wireless Microphones, and the Best USB Microphones currently available to upgrade your mic locker.
So, What Are The Best USB Audio Interfaces?
You will have seen from the products we have looked at that there is no need to spend a fortune to get some real quality under your bonnet. However, your recording may well be only as good as your interface in some respects, so it is important to choose wisely. Whether you are a starter looking for an entry-level interface or upgrading, there is plenty to choose from.
Our personal favorite as a starter interface would be the…Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface.
If you’re starting you’re recording journey; it just can’t be beat for quality and functions for the price.
If you’re looking to step up from your first interface, then, if it’s an upgrade in quality and functionality you’re after, but are happy with only having two input channels, we would suggest the…Universal Audio Apollo Twin High-Resolution USB Interface.
Or if you need more channels and are thinking of, for example, recording a drumkit with a multi-mic setup or recording a whole band playing live, then we would go for the…Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools.
A great option for those wanting an interface that will perform and can be expanded as your budget and recording/mixing abilities allow.
Happy recording and mixing…