The best usb sound cards

The best usb sound cards

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Whether you call it sound card or interface, if you want to make music with your PC, Mac, iPad or even iPhone, you can’t help but have one of these boxes full of inputs and outputs . Don’t you know how to choose among the many offers on the market? On the other hand, everyone has their own needs and what is good for one person will not necessarily be good for everyone else.

First, you need to understand of how many entrances and how many exits you need. If you are going to register several instruments at the same time, as in a musical group for example, it will be useful to have multiple inputs. But if you are planning to hook up microphone and guitar one at a time , then a device with 2 inputs will suffice.

If you are a DJ you will prefer an interface that allows you to listen to the tracks with headphones as your mixer work explodes from the speakers.

Think also about the MIDI connectivity : Are you going to connect the MIDI controller directly to your computer’s USB port, or do you think it will be more useful than the MIDI ports on the interface?

Then there is the question of how to connect the interface to the computer. Most interfaces work with USB 2.0 , but you will also find interfaces Thunderbolt that promise better performance at a slightly higher cost. Audio interfaces are also starting to spread on the market USB-C . Either way, whatever your choice, make sure it is compatible with your iOS / Mac / PC device and with the DAW of your choice, before you buy it.

You will also have to decide if you want the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) in your audio interface, which will allow you to use dedicated plug-ins that won’t overload your computer. Universal Audio dominates the market with its UAD products, but there are many options available.

The factor should not be underestimated format : Is the interface you want to buy intended for the studio or are you planning to take it on the road with you? There are audio interfaces of all shapes and sizes , some are designed to slide into a shelf or rest on your desk, others fit comfortably in your laptop bag for easy transport.

Finally, the fundamental aspect to be taken into account is the price range . You can have a good audio interface even if you stay below the 200 euro threshold (read  our ranking of the best budget audio interfaces ), but as your budget increases, so does your chances of having a product more performing , higher quality or with improved functions.

So, once you’ve established your budget and the features you think are essential, it will be easier to choose the audio interface that suits you best. Read on to find out our ranking of the best audio interfaces of 2019.

  1. Audient ID4 – See price or buy

Introductory price: 133 €

Connectivity: USB 2

Resolution: 24-bit / 96kHz

Analog inputs: 2

Analog outputs: 2

Digital Connectivity: No

MIDI I / O: No

Pros:

  • excellent value for money

  • excellent quality of the preamps

  • optimally designed

Versus:

  • there is nothing to complain about, considering the price

Designed for the low price range , ID4 is a pretty basic interface 2-in / 2-out , equipped with a phantom-powered microphone preamp to allow the use of condenser microphones, and Instrument Level to connect the guitar or bass. On the top we find a speaker output and two headphone outputs. All the appliance is powered by USB and, with the help of a Apple CCK cable , also works with iPhone and iPad. Audient’s engineers have really thought of everything, but always staying focused on value and functionality , creating the best audio interface under 200 euros ever seen.

  1. Native Instrument Komplete Audio 2  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 129

Connectivity: USB 2

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 2

Analog outputs: 2

Digital Connectivity: No

MIDI I / O: No

Pros:

  • elegant and efficient design

  • super compact

  • VU-meter LED

Versus:

  • VU-meter and knob are not graduated

The Komplete Audio 2 is a ‘ 2-in / 2-out audio interface with two mic / line / instrument inputs. Each of the two individual XLR / jack combo inputs has its own dedicated switch to select between microphone and instrument. 48V phantom power is turned on with a single switch. In addition to the inputs, the front panel includes the zero latency monitoring from the headphone jack and its dedicated level control. The large knob at the top allows you to adjust the output level, but it has a minimalist design so much so that there are no graduation marks. Next to it we find the VU-meter to comfortably adjust the levels. On the back is the USB B connector , two balanced outputs with 1/4 ”TRS connector and a Kensington Security slot. While its functionality is basic, the Audio 2’s performance is admirable. And considering that it is sold with the Ableton Live 10 Lite software included , it is the real deal.

  1. Mackie Onyx Producer 2.2  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 160

Connectivity: USB 2

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 2

Analog outputs: 2

Digital Connectivity: No

MIDI I / O: Yes

Pros:

  • 24-bit / 192kHz resolution

  • compact but sturdy and solid

  • MIDI I / O

Versus:

  • the zero latency control affects both the monitor and the headphone output

With i Onyx mic preamps With high quality, balanced analog connectivity and 24-bit / 192kHz resolution, the Onyx Producer 2.2 allows you to capture every sound with incredible accuracy in and out while working with your favorite DAW. USB bus powered, it features two XLR / TRS combo inputs for microphone and instruments, both with Hi-Z backlit green switch , and has another backlit switch for 48V phantom power. Allows the direct monitoring with zero latency via Input / DAW Mix knob, and on the front panel we find a large knob to adjust the input level and control the level of the headphone output. On the back are two 1/4 ”monitor output jacks and two MIDI I / O connectors , a predisposition that makes the device really practical. It is sold with the DAW Traktion T7 included . Once closed in its sturdy metal case, the Onyx Producer 2.2 becomes a compact object that will last for years to come.

  1. Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 600

Connectivity: USB 2 (Thunderbolt also available)

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 8

Analog outputs: 4

Digital connectivity: ADAT I / O and S / PDIF I / O

MIDI I / O: Yes

Pros:

  • High quality Clarett mic preamps

  • excellent zero-latency performance

  • MIDI I / O

Versus:

  • there are no DSP effects

A few years ago Focusrite started mounting top-level microphone preamps on Clarett audio interfaces, to equip them with Air effect that shapes the sound of original ISA preamps with transformer, with incredibly low latency, and at a fair price. Initially only in Thunderbolt version, which was the delight of Mac owners, now these audio interfaces are USB also available , to make Windows users happy. Like its Thunderbolt sisters, the new Clarett 4Pre USB version is an interface 18 in / 8 out with MIDI I / O . As for the inputs, the Clarett 4Pre is equipped with 2 combo microphone / line / instrument inputs, 2 combo microphone / line inputs, 4 line level inputs, stereo S / PDIF and ADAT optical digital input that allows the addition of 8 additional digital inputs . The 8 outputs instead include 4 line outputs and 4 headphone outputs. Overall, it is an excellent device which, with the addition of the USB connection, is now able to adapt to the needs of an even wider consumer market.

  1. IK Multimedia iRig Pro Duo  – See price or buy

Introductory price: 199 €

Connectivity: USB 2, Lightning, USB OTG

Resolution: 24-bit / 48kHz

Analog inputs: 2

Analog outputs: 2

Digital Connectivity: No

MIDI I / O: Yes

Pros:

  • absolute portability

  • works with mobile appliances

  • durable enough

  • record two channels simultaneously

Versus:

  • poor performance when the battery level is low

The iRig Pro Duo is the best portable interface designed so far by IK Multimedia. It has everything you can expect from a two-channel interface: MIDI, phantom power, direct monitoring, signal metering, XLR / Hi-Z combo inputs. It can also be powered by both battery and mains power. The iRig Pro Duo also gives a feeling of greater robustness than previous versions, and is sold complete with a set of cables to connect it to any device, including a MIDI cable. One thing we have noticed is that, as the batteries begin to run out, the iRig Pro Duo becomes less stable. But that’s a minimal hassle, and if you take it with you on a trip , remember to put some spare batteries in your backpack.

  1. Arturia Audio Fuse  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 599

Connectivity: USB 2

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 4

Analog outputs: 4

Digital connectivity: ADAT I / O and S / PDIF I / O

MIDI I / O: Yes

Pros:

  • excellent sound quality

  • high level of connectivity

  • elegant design

Versus:

  • other interfaces with similar I / O functions cost significantly less

AudioFuse is a portable interface aesthetically appealing and compatible with Mac, PC and iOS, equipped with numerous functions. Despite the compact structure, it offers a high level of connectivity : on the front panel there are combo inputs and two independent headphone outputs, which in turn can accommodate both mini-jack cables and 1/4 ”cables. At the rear we find the 1/4 ”balanced speaker outputs for one Easy A / B monitor switching , MIDI I / O ports to which MIDI equipment can be connected via the supplied cable adapters, S / PDIF and ADAT I / O. The AudioFuse is also equipped with inserts for inputs 1 and 2 to add external line level devices such as compressors before digital conversion. This audio interface connects via USB 2, but Arturia has given this device an added bonus: it has a USB hub integrated in the interface , thus providing three extra USB ports. AudioFuse represents a completely new way to experience musical creation on the go, thanks to the stunning design , compatibility with a wide range of audio sources, excellent sound performance and a very satisfying touch control experience.

  1. Universal Audio UAD Apollo Twin MK2  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 699

Connectivity: Thunderbolt

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 2

Analog outputs: 6

Digital connectivity: Optical Toslink

MIDI I / O: No

Pros:

  • incredible audio quality

  • real-time monitoring via Unison plugin

  • excellent UAD-2 plugins

Versus:

  • currently only available in Thunderbolt version

  • there is no MIDI

This compact 2-in / 6-out desktop interface it has 24-bit / 192kHz resolution and is almost indistinguishable from the previous Apollo Twin USB were it not for color. Connects to Mac or PC via Thunderbolt (note that the cable is not included in the package) but must be powered with a wall socket. The rear panel and front panel edge house the inputs and outputs, while the top is dominated by a huge knob. Like the previous version, the Apollo Twin MKII is equipped with preamps compatible with Unison technology that allow you to monitor the emulations of preamp, amp and pedals, and Mic / Line and Hi-Z inputs, but with the difference that it is available in SOLO, DUO AND QUAD versions (i.e. with 1, 2 and 4 SHARC processors integrated) and allows you to take advantage of all UAD plugins at almost zero latency. This technology allows you to connect up to 4 boards and up to 6 UAD units together , via the Thunderbolt port, thus creating a subset of cards. This appliance represents perfect hardware-software integration which can take the humblest of home studios to a near-professional level of audio production, and is certainly one of the best audio interfaces you can buy.

  1. Antelope Audio Zen Tour  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 1495

Connectivity: USB 2 and Thunderbolt

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 8

Analog outputs: 8

Digital connectivity: S / PDIF, ADAT

MIDI I / O: No

Pros:

  • amazing zero latency DSP effects

  • extremely portable

  • versatile

Versus:

  • only one compressor

The Antelope house has never skimped on the quality of its products and the Audio Zen Tour is no exception. IS surprisingly compact considering the versatility of functions that it is able to offer and gives a feeling of great solidity to the touch. On the top there is a small but very useful one LCD touch screen with intuitive controls that allows you to access all the main functions, including gain control and headphone level, the button to activate the Talkback microphone function and a large knob for line outputs, monitor outputs and headphone volume control. On the front panel are two headphone outputs, two re-amp outputs and four line / Hi-Z inputs, all for 1/4 ”cables. In the rear area there are four 1/4 “dual XLR inputs, two pairs of 1/4” monitor outputs, eight analog outputs via DB25 connector , two RCA sockets for S / PDIF I / O, connection for power supply and USB and Thunderbolt ports . On the left side, finally, we find two pairs of ADAT I / O. Once the software has been installed on your computer, the machine is ready to work. The FPGA effects hardware-based include bass and guitar amp simulations, EQ and compressor emulator, as well as reverb AuraVerb . The Audio Zen Tour is one of the best audio interfaces for guitarists , works great for both home studio, gig and rehearsal, ensuring supreme versatility and always delivering the highest sound quality.

  1. Apogee Element 46  – See price or buy

Introductory price: € 895

Connectivity: Thunderbolt

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 4

Analog outputs: 6

Digital connectivity: ADAT, SMUX and S / PDIF I / O

MIDI I / O: No

Pros:

  • excellent audio quality and conversion

  • control via Element software

  • very versatile

Versus:

  • expensive

  • the Remote Control has an extra cost

  • missing MIDI I / O

With the Element 46, one of the best interfaces for Mac on the market, the Apogee house has put functionality first over form and aesthetics. This audio interface is extremely simple, with a flat and minimal look, with no LED or LCD in sight, but don’t let the looks fool you. Even if the remote control it might seem the most interesting option, in reality the best is all inside this anonymous gray box. In fact, the Element interfaces they are not designed for physical interaction at all Indeed, they are designed to be placed on a shelf or on the desk in your home studio, with the connections for the microphone, positioned at the front for greater convenience, as the only point to be accessed manually during the recording process. All other manual functions and interactions with the appliance come managed via software , through Remote Control that we have mentioned before, or through free application for iOS . While almost all the best audio interfaces offer hardware control via software, Element Control goes a step further and offers a highly performing product , with excellent preamps and excellent A / D conversion.

  1. Steinberg AXR4 

Introductory price: € 2499

Connectivity: Thunderbolt 2

Resolution: 32-bit / 384kHz

Analog inputs: 28

Analog outputs: 24

Digital connectivity: ADAT, S / PDIF, AES / EBU I / O

MIDI I / O: Yes

Pros:

  • excellent performance and abundance of I / O

  • intuitive software control panel

Versus:

  • Thunderbolt cable not included in the package

  • the front panel configuration is impractical

Steinberg also landed on the world of Thunderbolt audio interfaces with the AXR4, a rack-mountable appliance designed for technicians and professional producers. This interface offers a extreme versatility thanks to the 28 inputs and 24 outputs . On the front we find four Neutrik combo inputs and two headphone outputs, while the rear panel houses eight TRS line inputs, eight TRS line outputs, two ADAT or S / PDIF optical I / Os, SUBD25 for 8 AES / EBU channels, MIDI I / O, wordclock I / O e two Thunderbolt ports to connect to the computer and daisy chain up to three interfaces. The four hybrid mic preamps with Rupert Neve Designs SILK emulation add exceptional tonal control, while SSPLL ensures extremely low jitter. Thanks to integrated DSPx chip and to the latest generation technology dspMixFX offers zero latency monitoring with DSP powered effects, including VCM 276 compressor, VCM EQ601, Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip and REV-X reverb. In short, the AXR4 oozes quality from all pores, and is rightfully earning a place among the big names in professional audio interfaces.

  1. Prism Sound Atlas 

Introductory price: 4799 €

Connectivity: USB 2

Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

Analog inputs: 8

Analog outputs: 8

Digital connectivity: S / PDIF, ADAT

MIDI I / O: No

Pros:

  • high-level audio quality

  • very detailed software control

  • expandable

Versus:

  • absolutely only for the professional range

Prism Sound has quickly built an excellent reputation, classifying its products as an essential choice for all those technicians and professionals looking for a exemplary audio quality in audio interfaces. The Atlas is a ‘ USB Audio Class 2 interface with several I / O options, whose trump card lies in its extreme flexibility, thanks to the MDIO expansion slot which allows you to host other optional digital interfaces such as Pro Tools | HDX and the AES3 multi-channel options. The rear panel accommodates eight Prism Sound preamps with XLR or TRS connections, plus eight dedicated 1/4 ”balanced outputs. Once configured with a computer, Atlas can work in stand-alone mode using the ADAT and S / PDIF digital inputs, with the ability to record up to 18 channels simultaneously with a resolution of up to 192kHz. Some settings can be configured directly from the panel but Prism Sound also provides avery neat application for software control which allows you to optimally set all inputs and outputs. Atlas is a luxury interface that offers one unmatched audio quality , and which adds to Prism Sound’s already strong reputation.

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