50 Best Selling USB Audio Interface Buying Guide

Hello there everyone! Back again with another detailed, helpful and focused article here for you. This time I am going to provide you with the Best Selling Ultimate USB Audio Interface Buying Guide! Note that, there are multiple types of audio interfaces out there, such as USB, Thunderbolt, Firewire, PCI/PCIe and Ethernet audio interfaces.

In this article, we will be specifically looking at USB audio interfaces.

Most of the times, when you hear the term “audio interface” or “sound card“, people usually think about USB versions.

As the name suggests, USB audio interfaces are connected to your PC/MAC computers via USB ports. Even without a fact check, I can easily claim that USB interfaces are the most popular ones among all of them.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are probably very aware of that I promote investing in a decent audio interface rather than in amps, microphones, preamps and pedals. I even released a separate article titled “The Secret Tip For Getting The Best Guitar Tone on Your Computer“.

Don’t be tempted to think that I look down on real guitar equipment when you see this title though 🙂 If you read that article carefully, you will find out that all I wanted to say and promote is the idea of not getting caught in this vicious circle of buying and selling guitar equipment.

If you consider yourself as an amateur, bedroom musician and if you live in an apartment where you can not really enjoy your long-desired guitar gears because of volume issues, it doesn’t really make sense to spend your hard-earned cash on guitar gear.

Instead, buy a decent audio interface, a pair of active reference monitors and/or a pair of decent professional-grade studio headphones and enjoy your playing!

Do you really need to buy a USB Audio Interface?

The short answer is YES! As I mentioned in my article, I have been hooked up with the idea of recording my guitar into my computer for almost 20 years!

Back in the day, it wasn’t really easy and there were not many options you could go for. Most of the times, we would get a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter for the instrument cable and plug it to our sound card and play with the possibilities.

In the early 2000s, even considering a USB or Firewire audio interface had some risks regarding unstable drivers and not being compatible with your computer. However, in the last decade, the advanced and rapid improvements in audio interfaces, computers, music software and plugins have enabled us to enjoy the guitar playing and recording at the best quality level and lowest overall costs possible!

If you want to record your instruments, vocals and make music with the help of audio software, plugins and virtual instruments, you should definitely consider buying an interface today!

What is a USB Audio Interface and Why would I need one?

USB audio interfaces are devices or “interfaces” in between your instruments (guitars, basses, keyboards), microphones and your computers. Once you get yourself one, you can directly plug your electric guitars, bass guitars and acoustic-electric guitars, then start recording!

Or if you want to mic your guitar amp or your acoustic instruments, you may as well just pick a microphone and plug it into your audio interface and start capturing sounds.

In short, if you want to make music using your computer, you have to have one!

You might also ask “But why do I need one? I can already listen to music on my laptop, meaning it has a sound card, right?

Actually yes, every computer has almost always a built-in sound card. However, these components are not made for audio production.

The first problem is that they don’t come with a suitable input for directly injecting instrument cables. If you try doing so, you will immediately notice that these connections will give you more noise than you expected!

Secondly, since they are not made for audio production, when you want to use them with music software and monitor your processed sounds, you will have a tremendous amount of latency.

This means there will be an annoying delay and tracking your guitars, for instance, will only give you headaches! Even though there are 3rd party drivers that help to lower this latency such as ASIO4All won’t really give you an enjoyable recording and playing experience.

Generally speaking, today’s audio interfaces will give you the lowest latency with the maximum signal quality!

Your computer configuration will definitely play a huge role in obtaining this, however, if you have already read my article on “How to Configure & Optimize Windows 7 for Audio Production” (published 7 years ago!), you should already know that I was able to get around a total of 5.5 ms delay while using my RME Babyface interface with an Intel Core2Duo laptop with 4GBs of RAM!

At the moment, I own an RME Babyface PRO version audio interface and using it with my laptop which features an Intel i7 4710MQ with 8GBs of RAM. With this configuration, I am able to get a total of 3.6ms.

Believe me, these numbers will definitely ensure you have the best experience and the most realistic playing while using VST plugins, amps and effects!

How should I choose my USB Audio Interface then?

With the increasing amount of audio interface manufacturers and the competition in the market, choosing your interface might be overwhelming.

However, there are a couple of technical parameters along with real-life market data that will help you to choose yours very easily!

As I always promise, I will give you the best and the most insightful bits of information in your quest to buying new gear here on this webpage. Instead of diving into unnecessary technical aspects of each card, I will provide you with the most crucial parameters of audio interfaces.

I am also going to give you multiple comparison charts at different price ranges which include sales rank information. With these market data, you will be able to easily pick up your first interface as a starter for your audio recording journey or maybe your second interface as an upgrade!

Crucial Parameters of USB Audio Interfaces

As mentioned above, there a couple of important parameters that may help you choose your interfaces such as the number of line or instrument inputs, microphone inputs, line and headphone outputs, S/PDIF, ADAT, AES/EBU, MADI connectors, word clock, MIDI port, sample rate, resolution and phantom power feature.

Don’t worry if you are already confused. I will only provide you with enough and on-point information which will make your life easier! 🙂

Number of Inputs

The number of lines and/or microphone inputs may be one of the most important parameters depending on your main goal in audio recording, yet the easiest to understand and determine! Just ask yourself this question; “What is the main purpose for me to get an audio interface?

Do you only want to record your electric guitar direct? Are you also planning to record vocals? How many channels do you need that can track audio signals simultaneously?

If you only need a single instrument input (just like me), you will always get it with the given options below so you don’t need to worry about it! However, if you want to record, let’s say, an acoustic-electric guitar directly into your interface while adding an extra condenser microphone for the room sound as well as having another microphone for your singing, you will need 1 line input and 2 microphone inputs.

There’s also another important factor in how manufacturers market their product by telling you how many recording x playback channels. This is usually show off about more inputs and outputs in total. So when you click on the items in below chart and see, for instance, recording/playback channels 12×12 means (in product descriptions) they sum up every input/output. The most important thing to look at is the number of the instrument/line input and/or microphone input depending on your purposes.

Fireface UCX XLR Combo input
This is how an XLR Combo input looks like!

Also note that, if you go and visit product pages of some of the items below and try to compare it with the provided product descriptions, you may often be misled by the parameters, so in these charts below you will only see the correct, hand-checked information! I have literally checked every product one by one and simplify the parameters so your life will become very easy! 🙂

One last thing about the type of inputs is that you may sometimes see an XLR like input but still marked as “Mic/Line” input. These are called combo inputs and actually allows you to directly plug your instrument cable (1/4″) or your microphone cable (XLR). During my service in the MI industry, we would often get asked this question just like “Hey, I bought this interface but there’s no input for my guitar! Help!

Number of Outputs (Line Outs / Headphone Outs)

When outputs on an audio interface are considered, you should think about both line outs that will allow you to connect the output of the interface to the reference monitors/speakers and headphone outputs.

Generally speaking, you will always have a pair of line outs and at least a single headphone out. This is true for more budget-friendly options as you will see in the comparison table 1. These standard outputs will allow you to use your monitors and your headphones in any case.

Phantom Power (+48V)

Next, we have Phantom Power feature. It’s called Phantom Power because of DC electric current transmitted through mic cables to power up the condenser microphones (usually preferred for vocals, acoustic instrument recordings).

Phantom Power circuits often bundled into mixing desks, microphones preamps, active direct boxes or audio interfaces. Without diving into technical details, you should have a phantom power feature if you want to use condenser microphones which need this power to operate.

And the good news is that every single audio interface in this era has phantom power feature! So in order to make things easier and simplified, I have removed this information from the tables below as every single one I have picked up for you has this feature! 🙂

You can take this as a default feature in today’s audio interface standards.

MIDI Input/Output

MIDI Ports
MIDI I/O looks like this!

If you don’t know what MIDI is, it’s basically an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. In short, it is a standard communications protocol for electronic musical instruments, computers, and related audio devices for playing, editing and recording music.

MIDI ports are only important if you have an external MIDI featured devices such as a MIDI controller keyboard or pedal and synths. In the tables below, I have left it as a feature so you can specifically focus on MIDI ports being provided with the interface. However, as you can see, most of the products below in the tables have MIDI ports.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t personally look for them in an interface as I only need MIDI controller keyboards that operate via USB already.

If you want to know more about USB MIDI keyboard controllers, I have a dedicated article here which will give you all the detailed information with the best selling products (up to 25 keys).

Sample Rate

The Sample Rate can be described as the number of audio samples captured per second. The unit for sample rate is usually defined in kHz (kiloHertz).

In the tables below, you will most likely come across numbers such as 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz. As an example, let’s say you are recording with a sample rate of 48kHz, this would mean you are capturing 48000 samples per second with your audio interface.

So if you do the math and increase the sample rate of your audio device, it will capture more samples of the audio signal you are feeding into the interface.

As a general rule of thumb, the maximum frequency which can be captured by the interface is limited by the sample rate that your interface is adjusted to.

Sample Rate / 2 = Maximum Frequency

If you take 48kHz as your sample rate, your audio interface would be able to capture frequencies up to 24kHz. Since we are capable of hearing from 20Hz to 20kHz, the sample rate around 44.1/48kHz would be more than enough to capture the frequencies we are able to hear!

Most of the musical pieces in the digital domain that we all listen to are usually released at 44.1kHz whereas audio material for movies is usually released at 48kHz.

You may wonder “So why would I need a higher sample rate if we can not hear above 20kHz?“. It’s actually a very good question, however in most cases, one would never need to adjust their interface at 192kHz sample rate for home recording purposes.

There are even forum threads all over the internet, discussing the lack of value of higher sample rates. Also, do not forget that if you increase the sample rate to the maximum value such as 192kHz, your computer won’t really enjoy it! 🙂

So unless you are working in a professional studio with really expensive instruments, microphones, computers and cables, there’s not a solid reason for you to increase the sample rate and sacrifice CPU power. In most cases, it’s not really possible to hear the difference very clearly if you max out.

Resolution or Bit Depth

Resolution or bit depth can be described as the bits captured for each sample per second.

Different bit depths can result in different dynamic ranges. Dynamic range can be defined as the lowest/highest volume of the recorded signal and the unit is dB.

When you increase the bit depth of your audio device, you extend the range of audio signal that can be recorded and heard by the software. However, we are only able to hear typically around 120dB range.

In the tables below, you will come across resolution values such as 16, 24 or 32 bits. As far as I know, most people set their audio device at 24 bit for recording purposes.

USB Powered

Even though it may sound weird at the first sight, some audio interfaces are not powered by USB ports. You may ask “But this article is about USB audio interfaces, right?“, yes, it’s true but it actually means that the audio signal’s journey happens via USB port rather than the source of the device needs.

However, generally speaking, most budget-friendly options here below will probably just need to be plugged into a USB port for their power requirements. When you check the higher segmented products, you will often see less audio interfaces rely on USB ports for power requirements. Also note that, if it’s USB powered, that means a power supply is always included in the box contents!

This is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. Since we have a limited number of USB ports on our computers that are usually used by other external USB devices (mouse, external drives, MIDI keyboards…etc), it may be wiser to depend on an external power supply so less energy consumption will be required in total out of your computer.

However, if a particular interface can only work with an external power supply, this means you can not just use it outdoors with your laptop. You will always need to plug it in! So for those who are seeking mobile solutions, you can use this feature as your filter while choosing your interface.

I will also provide extra information regarding more advanced features of higher segmented audio interfaces below. However, we won’t need them in the first comparison table which features a list of the USB audio interfaces up to €150.

Comparison Table 1 – USB Audio Interfaces Up to €150

*Visitors on mobile devices; Did you know that you are able to scroll the comparison charts horizontally? Try yourself with the below chart!

BrandNIPresonusFocusriteMackieBehringerPresonusEvo by AudientNIAudientSteinbergM-AudioPresonusFocusrite
ModelKomplete Audio 1AudioBox USB 96 25thScar­lett Solo 3rd GenOnyx Producer 2×2UMC404
HD
AudioBox iTwoEVO 4Komplete Audio 2iD4UR22 MK2AIR 192|6Studio 24cScar­lett 2i2 3rd Gen
# of Mic Inputs1212422212222
# of Line Inputs1212423222422
# of Line Outs2222622222222
Headphone Outs1111111111111
MIDI I/ONoYesNoYesYesYesNoNoNoYesYesYesNo
Max. Sample Rate (kHz)19296192192192969619296192192192192
Max. Resolution (bit)24242424242424242424242424
USB Bus PoweredYesYesYesYesNoYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Sales Rank112110212768810054482978571
Price€89€92€98€109€111€111€118€119€121€129€129€138€144

In this first table, we have clear winners! Focusrite Scar­lett 2i2 3rd Gen and Scar­lett Solo 3rd Gen share the top positions in terms number of sales while being very affordable for anyone who’s new to home recording. During my service in the MI industry, I witnessed the same insight into the popularity of Focusrite audio interfaces. So if you can only go up to €150, I would definitely pick up a Focusrite Scarlett series interface. If you only need to record your electric guitar or bass, it’s even more budget-friendly with the Solo version!

Next, we have a selection of best-selling USB audio interfaces priced between €150 up to €300!

Here in this table, we have some extra terms such as S/PDIF and ADAT Connectors. I will briefly inform you about these and then provide you with my picks!

S/PDIF Connectors

S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) can be described as a type of digital audio interconnection protocol used in audio equipment to output the signal within short distances. The audio signal is carried over either a coaxial cable with RCA connectors or a fibre optic cable featuring TOSLINK connectors.

For a big majority of USB audio interface, consumers do not really need to worry about these types of connections. However, some mid to higher segmented products feature this as well as an extra feature for wider possibilities of interconnecting audio devices.

ADAT Connectors

The ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) Lightpipe, a.k.a. ADAT (marked usually as Optical IN) is yet another standard for transferring of digital audio between gears. It was first invented by Alesis company, and nowadays it’s getting more popular in many audio interfaces.

You may understand this concept easier with an example. Let’s say you need more inputs and want to extend your current audio interfaces capabilities for broader recording scenarios.

With ADAT connections, you can actually extend your interface’s inputs by connecting additional preamps, interfaces…etc. So you should consider buying an interface with ADAT connectors if you are specifically planning to use your interface in a situation where you may need a lot more inputs than your device already has.

Even in this price range, we are able to find options featuring ADAT connectors!

Comparison Table 2 – USB Audio Interfaces From €150 to €300

*Visitors on mobile devices; Did you know that you are able to scroll the comparison charts horizontally? Try yourself with the below chart!

BrandSteinbergMotuSteinbergIK FocusriteBehringerSteinbergSSLAudientFocusritePresonusSSLSteinberg
ModelUR22CM2UR242iRig Pro Duo I/OScar­lett 4i4 3rd GenUMC1820UR24CSSL 2iD14Scar­lett 8i6 3rd GenStudio 68cSSL 2+UR44
# of Mic Inputs2222282222424
# of Line Inputs2242482226424
# of Line Outs22224104224446
Headphone Outs1111121112122
# of S/PDIF0000010012100
# of ADAT0000010010000
MIDI I/OYesYesYesYesYesYesYesNoNoYesYesYesYes
Max. Sample Rate (kHz)192192192481929619219296192192192192
Max. Resolution (bit)32242424242432242424242424
USB PoweredYesYesNoYesYesNoYesYesYesNoNoYesNo
Sales Rank40281186614131244763217726109
Price€155€189€189€195€198€199€205€209€225€235€255€269€279

In this table, again we have Focusrite Scar­lett 4i4 3rd Gen and Scar­lett 8i6 3rd Gen stand out! No surprise!

With the increasing number of features that they offer at this price range, they are still unbeatable! SSL’s SSL 2+ has also got my attention as they are a very well-established and respected pro-audio brand. It’s really nice to see them in consumer level USB audio interface league!

In addition, Behringer UMC1820 has also been doing really good in the range, especially if you need more inputs for your projects. Note that, it’s not USB powered and only work with the included power supply.

In the next table, we are upping the price range to €700! In this table, we have a new term called “Word Clock“.

Word Clock

Word clock (or sample clock) is a clock signal that is used for syncing other devices like digital audio devices, disc players via digital audio signals. The name comes from the function of clocking each audio sample which is represented in data words.

The interface that can generate the word clock is considered as a master device while the devices being synced by this master device are slave audio devices.

So if you see a word clock feature in the tables such as 1xIn and 1xOut, you would understand that this device can be a master or a slave whereas if you only see 1xOut, that would mean the device can be a master syncing device. Since this is a more advanced feature, we only start seeing some interface in table 3 and above!

Comparison Table 3 – USB Audio Interfaces From €300 to €700

*Visitors on mobile devices; Did you know that you are able to scroll the comparison charts horizontally? Try yourself with the below chart!

BrandTascamAudientFocusriteFocusritePresonusRolandAudientSteinbergZoomArturiaSPL
ModelSeries 208iiD22Scar­lett 18i8 3rd GenScar­lett 18i20 3rd GenStudio 1824cUA-1010 Octa-Cap­tureiD44UR-RT4UAC-8Audi­o­Fuse Rev2Crimson 3
# of Mic Inputs42488844822
# of Line Inputs42888866826
# of Line Outs84410108461044
Headphone Outs21222122222
# of S/PDIF00221100111
# of ADAT21121020110
Word Clock1xIn, 1xOutNoNoNo1xOutNo1xOutNo1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOutNo
MIDI I/OYesNoYesYesYesYesNoYesYesYesYes
Max. Sample Rate (kHz)192961921921929696192192192192
Max. Resolution (bit)2424242424242424242424
USB PoweredNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoYesNo
Sales Rank1269398126111737203247339211
Price€349€358€379€438€469€498€555€555€598€599€679

Here in table 3, you will notice more and more interfaces which need a power supply (all included in the package).

For this price range, we still see some Focusrite products such as Scar­lett 18i20 3rd Gen which provides a lot more inputs and outputs while being really affordable. There’s also a really strong product by Audient iD44 while featuring a word clock and dual headphones.

I was also glad to see an excellent brand Presonus Studio 1824c. If I was to choose one or two from this table, I would definitely pick Focusrite Scar­lett 18i20 3rd Gen or Audient iD44.

Next, we have the 4th table featuring very advanced USB audio interfaces price between €700 and up to €3500! 🙂

We have also some extra features that may not sound familiar with anything. Let’s quickly have a look at them and then check out the options!

AES/EBU Connectors

AES/EBU (a.k.a. AES3) is also another standard exchanging digital audio signal between pro audio devices. It can carry the signal on two channels via balanced, unbalanced or optical fibre cables.

MADI Connectors

MADI is the ultimate standard for digital audio transmitting and has a huge advantage over AES/EBU, ADAT, S/PDIF such as more channels of audio per line and also being able to use coaxial and optical fibre over 100m, up to 3000m in multi-mode and 40000m in single-mode.

As you can easily understand, these features are really advanced ones and are only important if you are buying an interface for giant audio recording scenarios.

Comparison Table 4 – USB Audio Interfaces From €700 to €3500

*Visitors on mobile devices; Did you know that you are able to scroll the comparison charts horizontally? Try yourself with the below chart!

BrandRMEFocusriteSteinbergPresonusRMEArturiaRMEUniversal AudioMotuRMERMERMEPrism
Sound
ModelBabyface Pro FSClarett 8Pre USBUR824Studio 192Fire­face UCAudi­o­Fuse StudioMADIface ProApollo Twin USB Duo8 Pre-esFire­face UFX IIFire­face UFX+Madiface XTTitan
# of Mic Inputs2888242284424
# of Line Inputs288888428121228
# of Line Outs410810662488828
Headphone Outs2222122122212
# of S/PDIF1101120020001
# of ADAT1122140122201
# of AES/EBU0000000001110
Word ClockNo1xOut1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOutNoNo1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOut1xIn, 1xOut
# of MADI0000001000130
MIDI I/OYesYesNoNoYesNoYesNoNoYesYesYesNo
Max. Sample Rate (kHz)192192192192192192192192192192192192192
Max. Resolution (bit)24242424242424242424242424
USB PoweredYesNoNoNoNoNoYesNoNoNoNoNoNo
Sales Rank254522417033721553401037127175172
Price€718€745€758€777€849€899€999€1135€1455€1890€2199€2299€3390

In this last table, we have many RME USB audio devices dominating this range which is my all-time favourite brand!

If you don’t know already, I’m a huge fan of RME and a long time user! If you want to see my RME Babyface PRO review, please have a look here!

Even though the price range is way more higher in this last table, you can easily see how much value RME can offer while still being able to dominate the USB Audio Interfaces category in the top 50!

I have been using RME Babyface, then RME Babyface PRO for the last 7 years! And I haven’t had a single problem with them.

So my opinions may be biased for some, but at least I can prove my point with RME Babyface PRO (now replaced with RME Babyface PRO FS) is one of the best options while offering you advanced features and being very affordable!

By the way, don’t think that I’m affiliated or endorsed by them, I pay for my RME audio interfaces always! Wish they endorse me! 🙂

So I would definitely recommend for anyone to go for an RME Babyface Pro FS even if you are only planning to record your stuff at home. However, I would also like to upgrade my interface with another RME Fire­face UFX+! 🙂

Even for this price, it just kills the competition and ranked at 27th position among hundreds of options! This means people have understood how great the value that RME brand offers at all times!

Also, very important point about being mobile! RME Babyface PRO and MADIface PRO are the only advanced and high quality USB audio interface while being able to get enough power to operate via a USB port.

I hope you have enjoyed this long piece of content! And I really hope it will help you to choose your USB audio interface confidently! I spent a huge amount of time for this article, so if you find it useful and insightful, please share it with the buttons below so your friends can also benefit from this!

Many thanks for your time and reading it, see you in the next piece of content here! 🙂

Osman

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