We round up the best audio interfaces for 2017 – from budget models aimed at beginners through to full-featured professional choices – to bring you our audio interface buying guide.

If you have more than a passing interest in recording or producing then you’re going to need an audio interface. Put simply, audio interfaces enable you to get sound in and out of your computer. Many a beginner has tried (and failed) to record audio using the standard inputs on an everyday PC, but if you want to make a great quality recording then you’ll want to invest in something designed for the task. While interfaces for internal installation are still available (and often referred to as ‘sound cards’), most consumers today opt for an external model. Typically these external models connect by USB or Firewire and are designed to be easy to install and simple to use. With home recording now more viable than ever before the popularity of audio interfaces has rocketed, and so too has the choice available on the market. To help narrow down the selection, we’ve put together our picks for the best audio interfaces at a range of price points.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo

61PLO4AXbaL._SL1200_Recent years have seen the release of plenty of viable interfaces offered at the cheaper end of the audio interface market. For around $100 it’s now possible to get a reasonable quality interface that’ll suit for basic recording and playback. Beginning our roundup is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, a compact USB unit from one of the most recognized and respected brands in audio. Scarlett in name and appearance, this is a basic but well designed interface with one mic preamp and one line input. The preamp is the same great sounding, clean and transparent one found in Focusrite’s more premium offerings and the unit is able to capture at sample rates of up to 96 kHz with a dynamic range of over 105 dB. Further features include direct monitoring, +48V phantom power for maximum microphone compatibility, and that rugged aluminum chassis. You won’t find MIDI I/O, outputs are unbalanced, and inputs are somewhat limited but the Solo sounds great and it’s more than enough to get you started with recording instruments and vocals. Focusrite even throw in some of their software plug-ins to experiment with.

For the price you’ll not find better.
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Steinberg UR22

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Increasing the budget a little will net you Steinberg’s UR22 and with the increase in outlay comes an increase inversatility. The UR22 features two inputs, each accepting XLR or TRS 1/4 inch connections by way of combo input jacks. You also get MIDI I/O for connecting synth modules and digital pianos, balanced 1/4 inch outputs, and +48V phantom power for use of condenser microphones. Additionalnice-to-have features include convenient separate headphone and monitor volume controls and the ability to record at an impressive 24-bit/192 kHz. Steinberg’s drivers tend to be exceptional so you can expect low latency, minimal noise and solid performance overall. Construction of the UR22 is rock-solid and the size and weight have been kept manageable so it’s easy to throw in a bag and go.

The UR22 is a decent entry-level USB interface that’ll suit those with modest requirements or the beginner with room to grow.
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Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

 

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It’s not the newest interface available but NI’s offering has remained hugely competitive in an ever-expanding market. Moving up a level from the more basic interfaces, the Audio 6 gives us more connectivity options with four analog inputs (two XLR combo, two balanced line) and four balanced outputs. Also provided is MIDI I/O, digital audio I/O (S/PDIF / RCA), +48V phantom power, direct monitoring, and all encased in an attractive and rugged outer casing.
In use we appreciated the flexibility of the Audio 6’s routing options and would expect DJs to find value in the headphone source selection switch and ability to have main outs with a separate controllable monitor mix. We also absolutely loved the oversized volume dial placed right on top of the unit.

The Komplete Audio 6 is an excellent USB audio interface for those who want pro-level recordings at an affordable price. If you need further convincing then check out our full review.
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Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 USB Audio Interface

The Scarlett 2i4 trades blows with the Komplete Audio 6 and can be found for around the same price. Brand and user preference comes into play here with features being largely comparable between the two. You get more analog inputs with the Komplete Audio 6 (4 vs 2) but we tend to think the Scarlett 2i4 has a slight edge when it comes to sound quality with some fantastic Focusrite preamps on board. You’ll find all the standard features you can expect at this price point – MIDI I/O, +48V phantom power, and direct monitoring controls all make an appearance. Thankfully, the 2i4 also includes a pad switch for each input, reducing input gain by 10 dB and minimizing chances of clipping when recording higher output guitars. Focusrite’s smaller Scarlett 2i2 narrowly missed out on our list due to the omission of pad switches and some clipping issues experienced as a result.

A solid choice, we found it hard to find fault with the Scarlett 2i4 when reviewed.
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Audient iD14 High Performance USB Audio Interface

81HV46BH-DL._SL1500_Known mostly for their large studio consoles, Audient’s foray into desktop interfaces has produced some extremely high quality kit, with the iD14 being no exception. A highly compact unit, the iD14’s robust all-metal enclosure houses a pair of Class-A Audient console mic preamps (as found in their flagship ASP8024 console) and high performance Burr Brown AD/DA converters. Sound quality is exceptional, remaining crystal clean at high levels and possessing a clarity that’s rarely found in devices at this price point.
Along with the two combo XLR/TRS inputs and a discrete JFET instrument input designed to replicate the input stage of a classic valve amplifier, the iD14 also provides for expandability by way of an ADAT input, allowing external mic pres to be connected for a maximum of ten inputs. Again, ADAT connectivity is rare to see in this price range and is fantastic to see on the iD14.

Further features include +48V phantom power and Scroll Control, Audient’s method of allowing you to change levels and alter settings on your compatible DAW by hovering your mouse over certain UI controls and adjusting the large silver knob on your iD14. Known DAWs supporting scroll-wheel functionality number around ten and include the likes of Logic, ProTools and Cubase.

Audient don’t have the name recognition of some of the other manufacturers listed here, but in the iD14 they’ve given us a well-featured, classy looking interface with super clear preamps that rival those of much more expensive options.  See our review for more.
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TASCAM UH-7000 High Resolution USB Interface and Stand Alone Microphone Preamp

81qrSudxClL._SL1500_Tascam’s UH-7000 is both a 2-channel microphone preamp and four-input, four-output USB audio interface, bringing us pro-level recording at a low to mid range price. Designed for minimal noise and high audio quality the UH-7000 impresses at first glance with a heavy premium-built exterior and solid feeling controls that remind us of some classic hardware from decades past. We appreciate that Tascam have been able to keep a rather elegant look for the UH-7000 by cleverly implementing many of the interface’s controls in software rather than as knobs and buttons on the device itself. Aiming for audiophile-level performance, the UH-7000 contains a pair of stellar preamps that sound fantastically clean and clear and with an impressive amount of headroom to allow for microphones to sound their best. Similarly, the headphone amp is one of the finest (and loudest) that we’ve heard in recent years and will drive higher resistance cans with ease.

Further features include the Burr Brown AD/DA converters for faithful sound reproduction, an internal power supply (avoiding an awkward adapter brick), +48V phantom power, 24-bit/192 kHz recording capability, onboard DSP effects, and a range of settings available via the supplied software.

The UH-7000 has recently seen some generous discounts on its already competitive price, making it a steal for anyone looking for an interface that is a significant step up from the usual fare.
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RME Babyface Pro

41yNtWdwq4LIn late 2010 the original RME Babyface released to critical acclaim and is still considered to be among the top tier of USB audio interfaces. And so it was to much anticipation that RME launched its successor, the Babyface Pro, in 2015. Our patience was rewarded as the Babyface Pro has been entirely redesigned from the ground up and improves upon the original in a number of key areas.

This interface impresses with a chassis beautifully machined from a single piece of aluminum, four analog inputs, most I/O now directly on the device (included breakout cable is for MIDI only), ADAT connectivity, class-leading driver, super-low latency AD/DA converters, 24-bit/192 kHz sample rate, and two headphone outs to provide for both high and low impedance headphones. With support for 12 analog inputs and 12 outputs using the ADAT I/O the Babyface Pro is well suited to complex live and studio applications and it’s in these situations where this interface shines. Switching the unit into Class Compliant mode will even allow it to connect to an iPad, and used together with RME’s iOS app provides for an incredibly compact and powerful solution for mobile producers and musicians.

The Babyface Pro caters for the professional end of the market and is priced accordingly, but the quality and versatility on display doesn’t come cheap. We’re pleased to put it on our list as the top audio interface of its class and consider it a worthy successor to the original Babyface. Highly recommended.
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InterfaceConnectionBus PoweredMax In/OutMax SampleMax Bit Depth
Focusrite Scarlett SoloUSBY2x296kHz24
Steinberg UR22USBY2x2192Hz24
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6USBY4x496kHz24
Focusrite Scarlett 2i4USBY2x496kHz24
Audient iD14USBY (Phantom power only available on 12VDC)10x496kHz24
TASCAM UH-7000USBN4x4192Hz24
RME Babyface ProUSB/iOSY12x12192Hz24