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Updated Apr 29, 2022 11:20 AM

You’ve got a fast computer with a powerful digital audio workstation and a slew of top plugins. You’ve got excellent monitors and a pair of high-end headphones. You’ve even got a well-equipped MIDI controller for playing notes and tapping out rhythms. What’s missing? You won’t get very far without an audio interface. Without something to convert analog into digital and vice versa, your studio will always be incomplete. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of the best USB audio interfaces currently on the market. Whether you’re just getting started or a seasoned pro; whether you’re looking for something to take on the road or hold down the studio; or whether you’ve got a tight budget or the sky’s the limit, there’s something here for everyone.

Best overall: Focusrite Clarett+ 8Pre
Best on a budget: Presonus Audiobox Go
Premium pick: Cranborne Audio 500R8
• Best compact: Antelope Audio Zen Tour Synergy Core
Best portable: Apogee Duet
Best connectivity options: Arturia AudioFuse
Best preamp: Solid State Logic SSL 2+

How we picked the best USB audio interfaces

It used to be that USB audio interface options were fairly limited. Either you bought the one relatively affordable one or you winced in pain as you handed over your credit card for a pro-level unit. These days, thanks to affordable manufacturing and the popularity of home recording and music-making, there are plenty of high-quality and affordable interfaces on the market. Even the top players in the field like Focusrite and Solid State Logic now offer products within the reach of everyone. To narrow the many options down to this list, we looked at a number of factors, including cost, use-case scenario, connectivity options, and more. We then brought our own experience as experts in the field of music technology to bear and compared this to market response and critical consensus. With decades of collective experience writing about sound design technology and mix techniques for worldwide outlets, we feel confident that this list represents the best of what’s available.

Things to consider when shopping for the best USB audio interfaces

With such a wide variety of functionality available, it can be hard to know where to start your search for the ideal USB audio interface. Before taking the plunge, it can be helpful to make a list of your interface requirements.

How many ports do you need?

Audio interfaces generally start with two inputs and two outputs (for a stereo pair of speakers). If you plan to record multiple instruments simultaneously or monitor via more than just your speakers, you’ll need more ports. 

What do you plan to record?

Different sources require different levels of input. Line-level recording is the baseline. Microphones will require a preamp to boost the signal and some also need phantom power, an electrical signal to power the microphone. Guitars call for Hi-Z, or high impedance, inputs to bring up the signal to an acceptable level. Next, do you need MIDI ports? If your MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller or external MIDI instrument uses USB MIDI, you may not, but if you plan to work with any instruments requiring five-pin DIN MIDI ports and you don’t already own a separate MIDI interface, this will be necessary. Finally, some audio interfaces offer onboard effects processing, either digital or analog. In some cases, as with the Antelope Audio Zen Tour Synergy Core interface on this list, that’s one of its main selling points.

What are the benefits of having a USB audio interface?

The quality of your recorded audio will improve measurably when you upgrade from your computer’s built-in equipment. This is due to the DAC (digital audio converters) that interfaces use. While they vary in quality depending on the cost of the interface, even a budget model will be an improvement over the one in your computer. To be able to make the best decisions regarding the mix and tonal balance of your music, you’ll need a solid set of studio-grade monitors (and/or mixing headphones) and an interface to supply them with a clean audio signal. 

Another benefit of a USB audio interface is the headphone amp. The amp in an audio interface will be better quality and—crucially for those working with amplified instruments or drums—louder than the consumer-level one in your computer. Some interfaces even have more than one headphone amp, necessary for tracking vocals and instrument recording. 

If you’ve ever tried to record audio into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) without an interface, you may have noticed that playback and recording were off due to in-app latency. Some interfaces offer direct monitoring to correct this timing discrepancy. Lastly, many USB audio interfaces offer analog effects, digital DSP, or other kinds of tonal sweetening at the recording stage.

Do I need MIDI connectivity?

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is the language that synthesizers, drum machines, and controllers use to communicate with your DAW and each other. It’s not audio but a series of commands, a language that tells a note to play or a program or parameter to change. Traditionally, MIDI was transmitted via dedicated cables with a special five-pin DIN configuration. Nowadays, USB can also be transmitted over USB. In modern, hardware-heavy studios it’s common to have both USB and DIN MIDI devices. If your MIDI-equipped instrument or controller requires MIDI cables to work then you’ll need a MIDI interface. 

MIDI interfaces come in two forms: dedicated, separate units or as part of an audio interface. If you need to use MIDI cables and you don’t already have a MIDI interface, you’ll need an audio interface with MIDI in/out.

The best USB audio interfaces: Reviews & Recommendations

When shopping for a USB audio interface, be sure and keep your immediate needs in mind. If your goal is to record an entire band at the same time, you’re going to need a very different interface than if it’s just you and a single microphone. What’s your hardware situation like? If you plan to send audio out for processing in external hardware, you’ll need at least four outs (two for the monitors and two for the DAW’s master bus) or even a dedicated re-amping option. Finally, what’s your budget? As with anything else involving audio, budget as much as you comfortably can. It’s your music—make sure it’s the best quality it can be.

Best USB audio interface overall: Focusrite Clarette+ 8Pre

Focusrite

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Why it made the cut: With tons of connectivity and spectacular mic pres, this won’t leave you wanting.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Inputs: 18 (8 analog)
  • Outputs: 20 (10 analog)
  • MIDI: In/Out

Pros:

  • Plenty of connectivity
  • Lovely preamps
  • Analog Air circuit adds high-end sheen

Cons:

  • Mic pre gain could be louder

Focusrite has been killing it lately. The brand has released a series of low-cost USB audio interfaces (the Scarlett line) that has become so popular, people tend to forget that Focusrite was originally a high-end outfit started by Rupert Neve (yes, the Rupert Neve, mixing console designer) to make mic preamps for mega-producer George Martin. This is not some Johnny-come-lately budget brand—Focusrite has serious market clout.

That clout and know-how is brought to bear in the Clarette+ series, which is a step up from the Scarlett line and thus a step up in quality. The plus symbol in the name refers to the Cirrus Logic converters now present in the three Clarette interfaces, including the 8Pre, our choice for best USB audio interface.

As the name suggests, the 24-bit/192kHz 8Pre has eight combo line/mic analog inputs, each with a Focusrite microphone preamp. Whether built into an interface or the mic itself, a preamp is a circuit that takes a microphone’s low-level output and amplifies it to line level. This company made them for the Beatles’ producer, so that speaks to its quality. The preamps have +57dB of gain—a little limited, to be honest, but not a deal-breaker. They also include Focusrite’s famous analog Air circuit for adding sparkle and (wait for it) air at the top end.

The 1U-size rackmount unit has plenty more connectivity, including ADAT (expandable up to eight channels), S/PDIF, and MIDI in/out. There are two robust headphone outputs on the front, which is perfect for when you need to hand a pair of cans to a musician for tracking. Other pluses include an LED metering screen and the Focusrite Control app, which can be accessed from an iOS device, for getting under the hood.

Focusrite’s Clarette+ 8Pre is the perfect interface for home studios. It has tons of connectivity, a good price ($1,249.99 MSRP but cheaper on the streets), and all those pres. Your band will love you for it.

Best on a budget: PreSonus AudioBox GO

PreSonus

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Why it made the cut: PreSonus’ tiny AudioBox GO delivers the goods at an incredible price.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
  • Inputs: 2 analog
  • Outputs: 2 analog
  • MIDI: No

Pros:

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Fantastic price
  • Direct monitoring

Cons:

  • Low gain for some mics

PreSonus’ now-discontinued AuioBox USB 96 was already an incredible bargain but the company has outdone itself with the even more affordable AudioBox GO. $99.95 MSRP for a USB audio interface of this quality? It’s borderline absurd.

As with Focusrite, PreSonus offers products that run the gamut from studio-grade high-end to mass-market affordable. By borrowing some technology from the upper echelons of the product line, it can offer products that perform above their price range. The two-in/two-out GO is no exception, containing a PreSonus XMAX-L mic preamp that’s solid for this price range, although only +50dB of gain might be a turnoff for users of low-level dynamic microphones. The 24-bit/96kHz GO features a single combo mic/line port, a Hi-Z instrument jack, and two outputs.

The GO is small and lightweight, making it extremely portable. Easily move it from your desk to your bag and take it to the gig. It’s also USB bus-powered, which reduces cable clutter by nixing the need for a power cord. There’s even direct monitoring, meaning that you can hear exactly what you’re playing without any latency—essential for tracking to a DAW.

Whether it’s your first USB audio interface or a second for taking on the road, PreSonus’ AudioBox GO deserves your consideration. At this price, it’s a no-brainer.

Premium pick: Cranborne Audio 500R8

Cranborne

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Why it made the cut: This USB audio interface has extra features you never knew you needed.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Inputs: 28 (19 analog)
  • Outputs: 30 (16 analog)
  • MIDI: In/Out

Pros:

  • Tons of connectivity
  • Incredible converters
  • 500 Series chassis

Cons:

  • More machine than most will need

Cranborne Audio is a relatively new, UK-based audio company. Not content to turn out just another studio-grade USB audio interface, instead it decided to make the product that you never knew you wanted. The result is the 500R8, a top-of-the-line interface that is also a 500 Series module rack.

First things first. What’s a 500 Series rack? The 500 Series is a modular format for audio equipment developed by API in the 1970s. Think mic pres, compressors, and EQs, all 3U high (5.25 inches) with one slot equalling 1.5-inch wide. They’re not cheap but are arguably cheaper than buying full-size equivalents. Most 500 Series cases are self-contained units. Cranborne took this idea and married a 500 Series case to a USB interface. Brilliant.

The interface itself has a massive 28-in/30-out configuration capable of recording at 24-bit/192kHz, with both XLR and TRS analog module inputs and similar dual configurations for stereo output. Additional output includes S/PDIF in/out, ADAT (up to 16 ins and outs), MIDI in/out, plus a number of other studio-friendly connectivity options. 

Its AD/DA converters are ridiculously good, with a 121dB signal-to-noise ratio and clocking of less than .5 picoseconds of jitter. Clocking refers to how stable the converters are when changing an analog signal into digital 1s and 0s. Sloppy clocking will result in jitter and a lack of clarity. Not a problem with the 500R8. Other features include a discrete analog summing mixer, zero-latency artist mixer for tracking, a fully featured monitor control section, two reference-grade headphone amps, and much more.

While the 500R8 is arguably more than most users will ever need, professional studios and hobbyists with deep pockets take note. At $2,130 MSRP, it’s actually a great deal for what it does. Of course, you still have to populate it with 500 Series modules but that’s all part of the fun.

Best compact: Antelope Audio Zen Tour Synergy Core

Antelope Audio

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Why it made the cut: On-board Antelope effects help elevate this audio interface beyond the ordinary.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Inputs: 18 (8 analog)
  • Outputs: 26 (14 analog)
  • MIDI: No

Pros:

  • Onboard effects
  • Unique connectivity options
  • Antelope converters

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • No MIDI

Generally, if you want professional-grade performance from a USB audio interface, there’s probably a rackmount unit in your future (see the Cranborne and Focusrite interfaces, above, for example). However, rackmount interfaces are not always desirable. They’re not portable and may require buying a rack to house it. For the best of both worlds—compact form factor plus top sound quality—we recommend Antelope Audio’s Zen Tour Synergy Core.

A sleek and sexy box with a touchscreen and large volume knob, the 24-bit/192kHz Zen Tour Synergy Core certainly looks the business. It has a well-thought-out layout as well, with four convenient instrument/line-in jacks on the front as well as two transformer-based re-amping outs for sending signal to a guitar amp or other hardware. Two headphone amps round things out. On the back are four combo microphone/line ins, a set of 1/4” line outs for monitoring, ADAT in/out, S/PDIF in/out, and an additional eight lines out available via 25-pin D-type connector. All line-outs are DC coupled so you can use them with modular synthesizer gear. That has to be a first.

You can’t talk about Antelope without mentioning its AD/DA converters. The company boasts artifact-free recording with up to 130dB of headroom. This, combined with ultra-clear mic pres, ensures pro-level recording quality anywhere you go. And yes, we do mean anywhere, as the desktop form factor makes Zen Tour Synergy Core as portable as it is powerful.

We haven’t mentioned the onboard DSP effects yet. The Zen Tour Synergy Core is one of a few USB audio interfaces with built-in effects, meaning you can record straight through them as if you had a room full of outboard gear at your disposal. It comes bundled with 36 Antelope effects ranging from preamps to compressors and can be expanded with additional effects, both Antelope and third party.

At $2,150, Antelope Audio’s Zen Tour Synergy Core is at the higher end of the price spectrum. There’s also no MIDI. But if you’re serious about recording vocals and instruments and want a compact, desktop interface, this is one to put at the top of your Amazon Wishlist.

Best portable: Apogee Duet 3

Apogee

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Why it made the cut: Apogee’s Duet 3 reduces connectivity to the essentials for an imminently portable device.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • nputs: 4 analog
  • Outputs: 2 analog
  • MIDI: No

Pros:

  • Great recording results
  • Well-built
  • Onboard DSP

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • No MIDI

In 2007, Apogee helped redefine what a USB audio interface could be with the first Duet. Both portable and studio-ready, it was an instant hit. Dominated by a single large volume knob and with very little visible connectivity, it used minimalism to its advantage, predating Marie Kondo’s cry to jettison anything extraneous that didn’t spark joy. Now up to version 3, Apogee’s Duet still does a lot with very little—and sounds better than ever.

Connectivity is limited to the necessities. There are two 1/4-inch instrument inputs, two combination microphone/line inputs, and two balanced outputs. Looking at the unit itself, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the jacks are. They’re actually handled via breakout cables. This allows for standard connectivity while also maintaining the Apogee’s lovely minimal aesthetic. A 1/8-inch headphone jack completes the package.

Duet 3 is more than just a pretty face though. With its Apogee preamps with generous +65dB of gain and custom Apogee AD/DA converters, your audio is in good, 24-bit/192kHz hands.

With limited controls on the device itself, you’d probably think that this was handled by software, and you’d be right. Duet 3 includes the Apogee Control app for routing and setup. It also comes bundled with the Bob Clearmountain-approved Symphony ECS Channel Strip plug-in, which uses the interface’s internal DSP processor to allow for latency-free recording through EQ and compression.

The USB-bus-powered Apogee 3 isn’t cheap. At $649 it’s a price point above most interfaces with this amount of connectivity. Add the optional Dock for direct ins and outs and the price increases by $149. However, this is far and away the best-sounding option for when portability is your main concern.

Best connectivity options: Arturia AudioFuse Rev2

ARTURIA

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Why it made the cut: Arturia packs an astonishing variety of connects into an interface with such a small footprint.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Inputs: 14 (4 analog)
  • Outputs: 14 (6 analog)
  • MIDI: In/Out

Pros:

  • Variety of connectivity
  • They-thought-of-everything extras
  • Portable

Cons:

  • Chunky look

Arturia made a name for itself with VST emulations of famous synthesizers and hardware effects. It’s also gotten into the hardware market itself recently, with a number of well-received synths, drum machines, and now USB audio interfaces. AudioFuse Rev2 is the second iteration of the French company’s debut interface, and it’s a doozy of a device, packed with more connects than ants at a picnic.

Don’t let the small footprint of the desktop-style AudioFuse Rev2 fool you—there’s a whole lot going on here. Front and center, there are two combo mic/line/XLR inputs plus two separate headphone jacks in both 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch configurations, meaning you’ll never have to dig around for a misplaced adapter again. Around the back is where the party is really happening, though. Let’s check the guest list. Two 1/4-inch TRS jacks, a grounded RIAA RCA pair for your turntable, S/PDIF I/O, ADAT I/O, MIDI mini jacks to be used with breakout MIDI DIN adapters, two sets of analog line outputs, an insert pair for re-amping, and even a three-port USB hub. Arturia really has thought of everything.

Audio quality is also up to snuff. The AudioFuse Rev2 uses in-house developed DiscretePRO preamps, AKM AD/DA converters and an anti-jitter system for accurate audio conversion, and a circuit that places line and preamp signals on separate paths with no attenuator.

There’s more, including immediate controls for monitoring, a built-in talkback microphone, numerous power modes to accompany the USB bus power, and portability. Some may not love the chunky, utilitarian look but Arturia has done an admirable job of packing a lot of functionality into a very small package. If you like the options but want even more of them, level up to the AudioFuse Studio or 8Pre models.

Best preamp: Solid State Logic SSL 2+

Amazon Renewed

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Why it made the cut: Solid State Logic finally brings its audio technology to the masses.

Specs

  • Audio resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Inputs: 2 analog
  • Outputs: 4 analog
  • MIDI: In/Out

Pros:

  • Astonishing low price
  • SSL pres
  • Neutrik connects

Cons:

  • Headphone jacks in the rear

Few studio equipment manufacturers have achieved the kind of recognition that Solid State Logic enjoys. Known largely for its mixing consoles, the British company’s products have traditionally been out of reach of all except the biggest stars and professional studios. As with other top audio manufacturers, the lure of the consumer market was too strong to ignore, and SSL (as it’s often abbreviated) threw its top hat into the USB audio interface ring in 2020 with two products, the SSL and SSL+. Both have the same general circuitry but the plus model has a few extras, which is why we’re recommending it.

The SSL+ is a solid and modern-looking interface, with Solid State Logic-style knobs and easy-to-read LED meters. All connections are on the back, which is a shame, but it does add to the aesthetic appeal of the device. Taking a peek around the back, then, we’ve got two combination mic/line inputs, two 1/4-inch outputs, and—surprisingly—a set of RCA phono ins and outs. Two high-current NJM headphone amplifier outs plus MIDI I/O complete the package. (The non-plus SSL model does away with the RCAs, MIDI, and second headphone amp.)

Solid State Logic is famous for its circuitry, and here’s where the SSL+ (and SSL) shines. First, let’s talk about the mic pres. The device has class-leading preamps with +62dB of gain and an EIN (Equivalent Noise Input) of -130.5dBu, with a two-stage design with discrete low-noise transistors and ICs. It’ll handle gain-thirsty mics with aplomb. We dare you to find mic pres of this caliber at anywhere near this price point. Things only get better when you engage the Legacy 4K analog enhancement circuit. Inspired by the company’s 4000-series consoles, this adds a lovely high boost and subtle harmonic distortion to the incoming signal.

At $289 for the SSL+, it’s incredible value for the money. In fact, it’s so cheap, you could get one just for the pres and 4K button and run it in aggregate with another, more connect-blessed device. And we haven’t even mentioned the high-quality Alps Pots, Neutrik connects, and bundled codes for two free SSL plugins to extend the range of the interface. Welcome to the consumer market, Solid State Logic. 

FAQs

Q: Do USB audio interfaces improve sound quality?

It’s safe to say that your audio interface will improve the sound quality of your music. This is related to the quality of the DACs (digital audio converters) it uses at the input and output stages. DACs convert analog audio into digital information that your computer can process, and then back into analog for monitoring. How accurate that conversion is depends on the sample rate and bit depth of the converters. 

Sample rate refers to the number of samples of audio taken each second and is measured in kHz, or kilohertz. Bit depth tells us how detailed each sample is. When talking about output, you generally want the most accurate representation of your music so that you can make informed decisions about the mix. How accurate that is also depends on your monitors and headphones but good-quality DACs will give your speakers better audio to work with. At the other end, solid DACs will record audio more accurately. 

A top microphone preamplifier (also called a mic pre) will improve the sound of the microphone by coloring it and emphasizing certain frequencies. Additional DSP (digital signal processing) and analog effects like compression can also have a bearing on sound quality.

Q: What are ADAT and S/PDIF?

How can a USB audio interface, like Focusrite’s Clarette+ 8Pre above, claim to have 18 ins and 20 outs when there aren’t nearly that many jacks on the device? The answer is ADAT and S/PDIF. Connect counts for audio interfaces include both analog and digital. Analog includes ports for line-level devices like synthesizers, instruments like guitars, as well as microphones. These signals get changed into digital information by converters inside the unit. Digital connects are a little different though. The two main kinds of digital connections are ADAT and S/PDIF. ADAT stands for Alesis Digital Audio Tape, and it started in the 1990s as an eight-track recorder that used S-VHS tapes. Yes, you read that right. While the original technology has fallen out of favor, the optical Lightpipe cable that Alesis developed to connect multiple ADAT recorders has continued to be used, thanks to its ability to transmit uncompressed 24-bit digital audio. Nowadays, the name ADAT refers to the multi-channel transfer protocol for audio interface expansion. For example, you could add an additional eight mic pres to the 8Pre’s onboard ones by connecting a compatible ADAT mic pre device. S/PDIF means Sony/Philips Digital Interface, and it allows you to send uncompressed digital audio between two compatible devices, for example, two audio interfaces. S/PDIF uses either coaxial cables via RCA connections or a fiber optic cable with TOSLINK connectors.

Q: What is a mic pre?

A mic pre, or microphone preamplifier, is an amplifier that brings the gain of a microphone signal up to a level that can be used by your audio interface. Due to the nature of their construction, microphones tend to put out very low-level electrical signals. A mic pre will amplify this signal and, assuming it has enough gain, not introduce unnecessary noise or distortion. Mic pres can be transparent, preserving the signal from the microphone exactly as it is, or add “color”—small amounts of musically pleasing harmonic distortion.

A final word on selecting the best USB audio interface

As you’ve probably gleaned by now, there are many, many options available when shopping for the best USB audio interface. As long as you stick with a known name, sound quality probably won’t be an issue. What you should pay attention to, then, are the number of inputs and outputs, the presence of MIDI connectivity, and—if it’s important to you—high-quality converters and mic pres. Buying a USB audio interface might not be as sexy as a new guitar or synthesizer but a good quality interface can make a massive difference in your music.