The selection of a good audio interface can be confusing at first, but it doesn't have to be, here are a couple of factors you should consider...
What is Your Budget - The higher the price of an audio interface doesn't mean it would sound better.
If you would solely be recording one or two instruments or vocals and you want to plug in professional audio hardware, then you should go for an affordable audio interface ($150 and above), there is no need to spend on an expensive one. But if you are the type that would be recording bands, then your budget should be in the higher end ($400 and above).
Audio Interface Connectors - Your connector is nothing to worry about (the higher you go, the better the data transfer rate, and an added + to your cash).
An example of an audio interface connector is USB, it is mostly used in a home studio, and If you have the buck, you can go with Firewire (It is much faster than USB but less common nowadays), Thunderbolt is faster than either USB or Firewire.
If you opt for USB, you might spend less than say Firewire or Thunderbolt.
Input and Output Count (I/O) - Consider the amount of input and output counts you would be using before you consider buying an audio interface, are you going to be recording multiple instruments or connecting multiple mic/line-in, then you should consider going for an audio interface that has more input and output counts.
If you are solely using it for recording one or two things, then the I/O is not going to matter.
ADAT For Expansion - Do you know, you can expand your interface channels or input counts without buying an additional studio interface? Yh!
If your interface supports ADAT, you will be able to expand your input count with an optical cable, and an expansion board.
The cost of an ADAT-equipped interface is cheaper than buying an interface with various inputs on board.
Another fantastic thing about ADAT is that, it helps you minimize load, look at it this way, if you are only doing a personal recording, you won’t need to carry wider and bigger interface all around, and if you would be recording bands, then you can use the ADAT option. I
would also be recommending the ones with the ADAT option, so, look out for that below.
O.S/DAW Compatibility - This isn't an issue in most cases as major interfaces would most likely support your DAW, the issue is that, some DAWs are O.S Specific, do your checkings before you consider buying the one you prefer.
Now that you have some factors at hand, I'll be recommending some of the best audio interfaces under $500, giving you valuable information about each and every of the recommended interface, so, it is left to you to decide...
(1) Focusrite Scarlett 18i8
First on our list is the Scarlett 18i8 which features 4 mic preamps with additional switchable air settings to reproduce the signature air effects of Focusrite’s original ISA mic preamp, this gives your recordings a more natural sound.
Also, it provides two high-impedance, high-headroom instrument inputs for plugging your bass or guitar with eight balanced line input for connecting line-level or synthesizer and an additional four balanced outputs, for monitoring and effects sends.
If that isn't enough for your use case, it has a dual ADAT port for recording up to 16 channels of audio at 96kHz, this makes it easier for expandability without buying an additional audio interface.
Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 features a high-performance 24-bit/192kHz AD-DA converters which is really nice in some situations where you would want to mix or record at higher sample rates, please note that the higher the sample rate doesn’t equate to high-quality sound.
Most times, you don't need to use more than 24/44.1khz as some plugins do not support anything higher than that, if you know what you are doing, then record away.
One feature I really dig about Scarlett 18i8 is the built-in talkback function, which allows the engineer to talk directly to the performer, this makes communication easier, as if that isn't enough, you are also provided a loopback function, which allows audio from one application to be recorded into another without connecting cable.
If you are finding it difficult to install the Scarlett interface, I wrote a guide on how to install Focusrite Scarlett on Fl studio, it should also work with any other DAW.
- 18 -input/8-output
- ADAT Supported (up to 16 channels of audio at 96kHz)
- USB bus-powered
- Includes Pro Tools, Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite, 3-month Splice subscription, and many more
- Compatible with Windows 7 or higher, and Mac OS X 10.10 or higher
Check Scarlett 18i8 Price at Amazon
(2) PreSonus Studio 1810c 18x8
PreSonus 1810c is a USB-C audio interface that is designed for Electronic Music Production, or a small bands willing to record audio simultaneously from a wide range of sources, it features up to 18 simultaneous inputs; 4 microphone inputs with XMAX mic preamps, a 4 dedicated line input, 8 channels of ADAT Optical input (4 channels at 96 kHz), and S/PDIF inputs. One feature you don't want to mix is the 2 headphone outputs that support A/B switching for monitoring different mix streams.
Also, it can operate up to 192 kHz for clear recording, you must be careful when mixing and mastering with this audio interface, make sure your plugins support the sample rate before you increase them, I have seen a couple of guys get this wrong, the higher the sample rate doesn't equate to a good recording if what you are using doesn't support it.
One of my favorite features of the 1810c interface is the onboard monitor mixing together with the cue mix headphone monitoring, this is really handy.
- 18 -input/8-output
- 8 channels of ADAT Optical input (4 channels at 96 kHz)
- 24-Bit/192 kHz
- USB-C audio interface
- 2 mic/instrument/line inputs and 2 mic/line inputs with XMAX Class A mic preamps and +48V phantom power
- Studio One Artist DAW and studio Magic plug-in Suite included
Check PreSonus 18x8 Price at Amazon
(3) Steinberg Audio Interface (UR44C)
Unlike the aforementioned audio interface above, Steinberg steps up the game by featuring a 32-bit/192 kHz high audio resolution, this is an added bonus if you would be recording sounds. Let's dive in more on the features of the Steinberg UR44C audio interface...
The UR44C provides 4 D-PRE mic preamp for unmatched quality studio recording, 6 inputs & 4output channels at 32/192 kHz audio resolution, a MIDI I/O ports for connecting MIDI devices, onboard DSP processing for almost zero latency, this saves your processing power and the ability to be powered by USB-C connectivity on either Mac and Windows and even iPad Pro for faster data streams.
In case you aren't aware, Steinberg are the makers of Cubase (a DAW application), and if you are familiar with their products, you should know they provide high-quality stuff, they added something exceptional in UR44C interface - The Switchable monitor modes.
The switchable monitor modes are in two forms, the DAW mode, and DJ mode. In DAW mode (music production, mixing and mastering), you can adjust the balance of the signals coming from the DAW and from the UR44C's inputs, while in DJ mode (DJ software), you can choose to either output the mono master sound to the right side of the headphone, with the mono cue sound to the left or have both in stereo for mixing, if you get the idea of this functions, you can absolutely do the unimaginable on stage, mix away!
You might have been over-flooded with options, but I promise this is the last one - The Loopback function for streaming.
This function provides an easy way of streaming performance live to the internet, whether you do online broadcast, or you just want to use if, for fun, you can merge the incoming audio signals of the UR-C; guitar, line source, microphone, etc with the signal coming from audio playback software like FL Studio, Cubase or any DAW you might think of, to get this up and running, all you have to do is to activate the function.
- Class-a D-PRE mic preamps for unmatched quality studio recording
- USB-C audio interface
- Latency-free monitoring with DSP effects
- Compatible with all major audio software
- Cubase AI, Cubasis LE, and dspMixFX included
Check Steinberg UR44C at Amazon
(4) Universal Audio Arrow Thunderbolt
Truth be told, I am a hardcore Univeral Audio fan, and one thing I love about their product is that it just works, and blows other products out of the water.
The Arrow interface is a Thunderbolt 3 powered audio interface for both PCs and Mac desktop/computers that are designed with a world class-leading A/D and D/A conversion of up to 24-bit/192 kHz.
Additionally, It provides two Unison mic preamps for recording and features an onboard UAD-2 solo core processor, ARROW gives you the full privilege of monitoring and recording through the full library of UAD powered plug-ins at low to zero latency, this way you never have to worry about your CPU processing capability.
I would love to note that this audio interface is quite expensive ($499 as of the time of writing this review), this is due to the fact that they invest a ton in R/D, which in turns gives the user what they want.
Another exciting thing about Arrow, is the portability, compact 2x4 interface and easy to use.
Note: Universal Audio Arrow audio interface must be connected via a Thunderbolt 3 cable to a computer that has an available Thunderbolt 3 port. In case you don’t have a thunderbolt port, you can get an adapter for Thunderbolt 3. If you are confused, drop your comments below, and I’ll help you get it up and running.
- Realtime UAD Processing (Carries UAD powered plug-ins processes to an audio interface, which would result in saving CPU load)
- Desktop 2x4 Thunderbolt 3-powered audio interface
- Real-time UAD Processing allows near-zero latency tracking with classic UAD plug-in effects, regardless of software buffer setting
- 2 Unison mic preamps for recording
- Bus-powered Thunderbolt 3 connection to Mac and Windows systems
Check UA Arrow Price at Amazon
(5) Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2
The last audio interface on our list is the NI Komplete Audio 6 MK2 that provides a 2x combo-XLR / TRS line inputs with 48V phantom power, 2x TRS line inputs, 1x MIDI in and a 1x SPDIF digital stereo input. The MK2 has been well crafted to ensure pristine & clear recording, super-low latency, and easy connectivity.
Whether you are a solo musician, small band, mixing, and mastering engineer, the MK2 helps you to better connect, create and collaborate with others. I love how it gives us the option to create send and return loops with effects, and control synths and drum machines.
As an added bonus, you would get an in-class software bundle you need to record, mix and build a track from the ground up.
Note: You have to use Native instruments Native Acess app to licence both your interface and download the bundle software, as ususal, if you come across any issue, hit me up, and I will hopefully help out.
- 6 -input/6-output
- Usb 2.0 Bus-Power interface
- 24-bit/192 kHz
- 4x LED input VU meter & 1x LED output VU meter
- Bundle software for mixing, and producing tracks
- Compatible with Mac and PC (ASIO/Core Audio/DirectSound/WASAPI)
Check Komplete Audio Price at Amazon