In our buyers guide we really go back to basics, so it should be easy to follow even if you’re buying an audio interface for the first time.
We will then also attempt to answer your most frequently asked questions. By which point you should feel confident that you can get yourself an audio interface, confident that you’re getting good value for money.
In the interest of brevity, this article concentrates on audio interfaces for solo musicians, small ensembles and full bands.
If you’re after an audio interface for electronic production, please keep an eye out on our website for a more relevant article.
IK Multimedia are hands down the brand to go for when it comes to musical accessories and apps that are compatible with Apple based hardware, from MACs to iPhones.
First of all with this interface you get full 24-bit, 96 kHz input and output for astounding sound quality.
There’s high-quality instrument input for your lead guitar or bass etc, and you can adjust the input gain to get the right level for your pickups.
The Hi-Z (more on that in our buying guide) output port for your headphone or speaker can even be used with newer iPhones that don’t have a headphone jack. The FX/THRU switch lets you choose between sending a processed or a clean signal.
One thing we love about it is its portability – you can fit it straight in your pocket! No need to pack batteries either – it’s all powered by your MAC (or other Apple devices).
The irig HD 2 comes with Amplitube 4, the latest generation of IK’s software. Basically you download Amplitube Free, but then you can unlock the full version at no cost.
Amplitube 4 is a powerful multi-effects processor which features an integrated music player, a dedicated recorder, a tuner, and more. It’s like having an entire guitar recording studio with you – inclusive of pedals, looper, drum machine and more.
Specifically designed with apple hardware in mind
24-bit, 96 kHz conversion
Unlock Amplitube 4 for your MAC
It’s designed to work specifically as a guitar interface, however you can also use a microphone with it, if you have a female 3-pin XLR to 1/4 inch TRS adapter
Here’s another great audio interface. And great value for money too.
The stand out feature of this beauty is it’s ultra-low latency. This allows it to process a very high volume of data with minimal delay.
It has two analog mono Inputs and Outputs, USB connectivity to your MAC, and an additional S/PDIF optical output. The stereo headphone output features a dedicated level control so you can listen to either the input and the output. You could even use it with a dedicated mixer.
It comes with Tracktion 4, which has one of the best user interfaces around in music production software. It gives you all the tools of an entire professional grade recording studio.
But if you did want to expand on what Tracktion 4 has to offer, this audio interface holds a single place for you to download lots of free software including the ever popular Audacity.
There’s loads of things you can do with Audacity, like convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs, edit different sound files, Cut, copy, splice or mix different sounds together, or even change the speed or pitch of a recording.
You get more than 100 virtual instruments and over 50 effects plug-ins. The possibilities are endless.
It’s a doddle to set up and there are no drivers necessary to operate it. No batteries are needed either, you can just power it through your MAC.
Two analog mono Inputs and Outputs
Additional S/PDIF optical output
Listen to either input or output
It comes with Tracktion 4
Access to free software, including Audacity
Easy to set up and operate
Some customers have complained that the free software they downloaded for it takes up too much room on their device, but with your MAC you won’t have this problem
This audio interface is a huge hit with customers and we can see why!
With this purchase, you get not just the audio interface, but also a whole digital audio workstation (DAW).
Once all downloaded and registered, you get a whole bunch of software, including First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite, and a 3-month Splice subscription.
This software is intuitive enough for beginners to use, yet at the same time advanced enough to inspire real creativity with its great sounding effects.
The Splice Sounds subscription is amazing, you get millions of high-quality, royalty-free one-shots, loops, and presets to play around with, with new releases every day.
The Scarlet 2i2 allows simultaneous recording and playback of up to two channels with independently controllable outputs.
Not to mention that you get Two of the best performing mic preamps across the whole Scarlett range. It even has a switchable air Mode which will give your recordings a brighter and more open sound.
There are also Two high impedance, high-headroom instrument inputs where you can plug in your guitar or bass, and you won’t get any clipping or unwanted distortion. And you get 2 balanced line inputs too.
And thanks to it’s high performance AD-DA converters, you can record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz.
Digital audio workstation (DAW) included in price
Splice Sounds subscription
Two of the best performing mic preamps across the range
Two high impedance, high-headroom instrument inputs
Universal Audio is a brand with a long heritage, and they know how to take a good thing and make it better, with its superior components, prime build quality and technological know how.
We love this interface. It delivers enhanced audio conversion with all the tone, feel, and flow of analog recording.
Using the Thunderbolt 3 port, you get top notch AD and DA 24-bit/192 kHz audio conversion.
In terms of inputs, you get 2 premium mic/line preamps, 2 line outputs, a front-panel Hi-Z instrument input (more on that in our buying guide). You also get 8 channels of digital input via Optical connection.
The outputs you get include a headphone output and 2 digitally controlled analog monitor outputs.
Included in the price you get Console 2.0 software which has great features like drag & drop functionality, and dynamically resizable Windows.
And if that wasn’t enough you also get access to a library of UAD plug-ins including vintage EQs, reverbs, compressors, tape machines and more.
The most striking feature of this audio interface is its affordability!
That said the price goes up depending how many channels you want. The options include 1channel, 2 channels, 4 channels, or 8. Each of them features studio grade 24-Bit/192 kHz conversion.
Whether you want to hook up microphones, guitars, keyboards or even MIDI devices, this beauty will do the trick.
There are 4 world class MIDAS-designed mic preamps, which feature +48 Volt phantom power for condenser microphones.
It features zero-latency monitoring, which means the performers can experience their performance clearly – with no delay or lag in the returning signal, making for a better recording.
Included in the price, you get powerful music production software, namely Tracktion. Tracktion is a hugely popular digital audio workstation since it features an easy to use single screen interface, which makes composing, editing, mixing and recording that much easier and fun to use.
It also lets you share your music with the world.
Available with different numbers of channels
You can hook up MIDI devices
Tracktion music production software
Some customers say it doesn’t work on Windows 10, but since you’re using a MAC that won’t be a problem for you
The first and foremost question you need to ask is how many microphones and instruments do you need to hook up to your mac.
If you’re a solo artist, this may not be too much of a problem, but for anyone else however, you don’t want to be caught out with not having enough inputs to include all your voices and instruments. As a general rule it’s better to have one input too many than to not have enough.
Most audio interfaces will come with at least 2 inputs that will work for both microphones and instruments, but there are a lot more options besides, in a range of configurations.
Using a bunch of microphones at a time will require a lot of preamp equipped inputs (more on that shortly).
If you want to plug your keyboard or guitar straight into your interface, make sure that the interface you buy has instrument level (also called “hi-Z”) inputs.
Similarly, outputs will also come in a variety of different configurations as well. You will certainly need stereo outputs, and you will need headphone outputs for each performer. IN addition to hooking up to a studio monitor you may want an output for an outboard processor.
Some high end 1 or 2 channel microphone preamplifiers come equipped with digital outputs. This lets you hook them up to your audio interface without depriving you of any line level inputs.
Preamps are usually attached to each mic and instrument input and they are used for amplifying low level microphone and guitar signals. This is particularly important for microphones, since the audio signal from them is so weak.
The quality of a preamp can have a significant effect on the sound of your recordings, but the more preamps installed on the interface, the higher its price.
If you’re going to use condenser microphones you’ll want to make sure that your interface’s preamps are also equipped with phantom power.
The software you use with your audio interface is likely to have a significant effect on your final results. Having a MAC means you can download Apple’s GarageBand app for free. Now, GarageBand is a great little recording software app, but it’s not your only option. Many audio interfaces come bundled with recording software, including all of those in our Top 5, including the ever popular Audacity.
Connecting to your MAC
Last but certainly not least, you will need to connect the audio interface to your MAC. If you’re buying an audio interface that does not come with a lead to connect it to your MAC, you’ll need to ensure that you either have one already, or alternatively buy the lead separately.
MACs these days tend to have a large number of ports, so finding the right lead really shouldn’t be a problem. The Thunderbolt is the new reference standard for connecting audio interfaces, because of its high speed. The MAC’s Firewire port on the other hand is slightly more reliable when you’re recording more channels at once.
A connectivity speed of 480 Mbps will be fast enough to record up to 64 tracks at the same time.
Answers to your most frequently asked questions
Do I need an interface for GarageBand?
If you’re just starting out as a solo singer/songwriter you might be able to get away with not having an audio interface, if you’re simply just plugging a cheap microphone into the USB port.
However, if you need to include more than one performer in your recordings, an audio interface is absolutely non-negotiable.
Can I use a mixer instead of an audio interface?
Although it is possible for a mixer to be used in place of an audio interface, this is only when it has an audio interface ready built in to it.
Do I need a sound card for music production?
Many music fans invest in an audio interface as a replacement for their PC/MAC’s sound card. This is because certain sound cards don’t output as accurate a sound as you’d get from an audio interface.
However, a sound card is useful for music production because it’s insulated against the electrical interference present inside your computer’s casing.
How do I connect an audio interface to my MAC?
Connecting your audio interface to your MAC is easy. Notably, however different models of MACs have different ports. If you take a look at Apple’s support page online, this will help you identify which ports you have and which one is which. You could use dedicated audio cables for the audio inputs and outputs, or what would be even better to hook up your audio interface with your MAC, would be to use either the Thunderbolt port and a Thunderbolt cable for its high-speed, or alternatively use a FireWire port, like the FireWire 400, or the FireWire 800, and the corresponding cable.