Best Audio Interface of 2021 : USB, Thunderbolt & Firewire

Dave Mostert
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“So what is the best way to record professional audio with my computer?” is going to be a very popular question come next year. The way that people record music and audio has completely changed over the last few years. With the advancement in technology, a lot of people have turned to the convenience and freedom that digital recording offers.

If you are looking at buying an audio interface for computer recording then you probably already have your eye on a few. The quality of the preamps, the number of outputs, the external and internal format support, MIDI, etc.

These all come together to provide a great recording tool. Here are the best audio interfaces for your home or home studio.

NameCategoryProduct
Focusrite Itrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio InterfaceBest OverallFocusrite Itrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2Budget PickFocusrite Scarlett 2i2
Focusrite Clarett 8PreUpgrade PickFocusrite Clarett 8Pre

1. Focusrite Itrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface

Our rating: 9 / 10

Focusrite Itrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface

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Pros:

  • Comes with top-notch Focusrite audio quality
  • 2 Mic preamps with phantom power
  • Advanced stereo ISRC with a universal signature
  • iPad compatible
  • Two Class-A XMAX mic preamps with super-low noise performance & crystal clear audio
  • Eight DSP effects with perfect back-panel layout
  • Heavy duty metal chassis with textured side panel for increased impact protection
  • High definition 192kHz 24-bit audio interface featuring exceptional audio routing
  • Up to fourteen simultaneous iTrack Solo models can be networked into a single DAW in Fairlight's AVA Networked Surround Suite

Cons:

  • The post-sales service is quite bad compared to the company’s claims
  • The quality of the product received was not as per the advertisement

Solo is a pro-audio interface that provides a lightning, USB or FireWire connection. The iTrack Solo provides automatic low latency monitoring and supports numerous DAWs like GarageBand, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Reaper, Cubase, and more.

2. Tascam US-2×2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface

Our rating: 8 / 10

Tascam US-2x2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface

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Pros:

  • Comes with a low-latency FireWire-800 connection
  • Features two microphone preamps
  • Affordable

Tascam is a reputable brand in the audio industry and is mostly known for its exceptional microphones, mixers, and audio recorders. Tascam continues this streak of excellence with the US-2×2, an affordable USB audio interface that comes with two microphone preamps.

You’ll also be able to have easy access to pro-grade audio editing software with Tascam US-2×2. This interface supports Avid’s Pro Tools M-Powered and comes with two discreet inputs and outputs.

3. ESI Gigaport HD+ 24 Bit 8 Output Audio Interface

Our rating: 8 / 10

ESI Gigaport HD+ 24 Bit 8 Output Audio Interface

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Pros:

  • Clean sound as well as plenty of headroom
  • Includes microphone, headphone jack, and instrument inputs
  • Fiber optic internet connections for fast audio streaming
  • Easy to set up and use

Cons:

  • 24 bit option has issues
  • Top-half 5.5mm combo jacks break easily

For those looking for a reliable audio solution for home recording, look no further than the ESI Gigaport HD+. This audio interface will provide everything you need to get started with recording, both live and in the studio.

The ESI Gigaport HD+ comes in a compact case that measures just 5.5 inches wide, 13.75 inches long, and 3.5 inches deep. It has integrated iLok dongle for key input, an 8 channel ADAT input, 8 channels of SPDIF, 4 combo jacks for audio input, 4 headphone outputs, and 4 independent headphone outputs. Plus a fiber optic internet port for streaming your sound up to 192 kHz without any latency.

It also comes with 8 preamps of superior quality, and the drivers will work on both Mac and Windows platforms. The interface supports up to 24 bit 96 kHz for Mac, and 24 bit 192 kHz for Windows. In addition, it also comes with a generous 120dB of dynamic range to assist you in capturing the most accurate sound.

4. Focusrite Scarlett 18i8

Our rating: 7 / 10

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8

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Pros:

  • 2 microphone preamps
  • 2 line / instrument inputs
  • 2 headphone outputs
  • 2 S/PDIF connections
  • Studio One Artist recording software included
  • DSP-based Focusrite Control software included
  • Complete system for recording and playback, including the mic and instrument inputs, monitor mix control, headphone mixing, and more
  • 18 high-headroom instrument inputs, as well as four vocals inputs
  • 24 channels of simultaneous recording, as well as an additional stereo track, which can work with two input sources, including either the 2 preamps, the instrument, or the mic/line inputs
  • 64-bit audio interface driver for optimum performance

5. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Our rating: 7 / 10

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

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Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Plenty of inputs for instruments and microphones
  • Compact size makes it easy to transport
  • Solid unit despite the lightweight
  • Well-thought out

Cons:

  • Not the most attractive interface
  • Firewire is a bit of a hassle to deal with if you plan to use it
  • Unit is plastic made so while it might be tons lighter it is more susceptible to cracking from dropping it

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (1ST GENERATION) USB Recording Audio Interface is an amazing interface, with 4 input channels, 2 preamps , and crystalline converter quality. This unit is exceptionally handy to take on the road, and lets you record directly to your lap-top. The quality of the preamps and converters make it an obvious choice for many professionals. The inclusion of both USB 2.0 and Firewire, makes it the best interface under 100 for those who might want to use multiple recording platforms.

Additionally, it has a solid punch of inputs and when coupled with the two high-caliber preamps, it is an awesome all-around product that is hard to beat.

The first thing that catches your eye is the sleek black appearance. Aesthetics aside, this is a sturdy device, with a proper channel balance knob. Set up is easy and the interface has a gain dial on the front and a monitor knob on the back.

6. Focusrite Scarlett Solo

Our rating: 7 / 10

Focusrite Scarlett Solo

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Pros:

  • Simple and good-looking interface
  • Quality microphone preamp
  • Easy to carry around
  • It features a great build quality
  • Solid, stable, and fast drivers
  • Reasonably priced

Cons:

  • It requires a greater number of configuration steps to set this up with a Mac
  • The inclusion of Pro Tools doesn’t make this an ideal entry-level audio interface

If you are looking for a high-quality interface that is reasonably priced, you should consider investing in the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen).

It is a simple, good-looking interface with a quality microphone preamp that’s easy to use with your recording software. It features a great build quality and it’s relatively easy to carry around as it sits on top of your laptop.

It features a great build quality, solid, stable, and fast drivers, and is reasonably priced.

7. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Our rating: 6 / 10

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

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Pros:

  • Recording and mixing capabilities
  • Great price point
  • Two microphone preamps
  • High-quality 24-bit/192 kHz
  • Five monitor mixes
  • USB and FireWire for connecting to DAW
  • Works on both Windows and Mac

Cons:

  • No bundled editing software
  • The default gain structure is not ideal for your average vocalist
  • The unit itself has a slight humming noise even when powered off

If you are looking for one of the best cheap audio interfaces in the market, you cannot go wrong with Focusrite’s 2nd generation Scarlett 2i2 Interface. You may want to check other Focusrite interfaces on this list as well.

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a USB/FireWire audio interface that allows you to record, monitor and mix your audio projects on your computer. The unit offers two mic preamps with the Focusrite’s legendary gain structure. It also allows you to create your own monitor mixes. You can connect it to your Mac or Windows computer with the help of a simple USB cable or the Thunderbolt port.

8. Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface

Our rating: 6 / 10

Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface

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Pros:

  • Focusrite mic preamps
  • High quality ADC/DACs
  • Protective metal casing
  • Use 8 channels for recording simultaneously
  • Use optical or electrical I/O

Cons:

  • No multi-track software included
  • The firewire input and output ports don’t have switchable sample rates
  • Older models does not have a built-in Thunderbolt port

For the small budget, you will get the best interface for beginners. I don’t like spending too much money, and this interface is really for the small budget. Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 is one of the USB 2.0 audio interface for the computer. It has the amazing sound quality with the focusrite mic preamps. It is compatible with Mac and PC as well. It has the high resolution of 24 bit and 96 kHz.

It is very compact with a metal casing that is built in a beautiful design. It has the perfect input output of 8 channels with two mic preamps and two line input. Other than the USB 2.0 it has multiple connection types like coaxial and Toslink optical. It’s biggest feature is the combination of Line-in with the headphone jack in the interface.

9. Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

Our rating: 6 / 10

Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

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Pros:

  • Reasonable price
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Dual Thunderbolt and Firewire ports
  • Easy-to-use, tight software integration
  • Multiple input and output options
  • Technical support readily available
  • Value

Cons:

  • Slightly heavier than USB-only models
  • Confusing setup procedures
  • Lack of dedicate volume knob

This Focusrite Clarett 8Pre is an excellent audio interface for computer music production on both Windows and Mac systems. It features Focusrite’s Clarett microphone preamps. Additionally, there is an inside-out Thunderbolt (supporting 20 µs signal propagation) and FireWire generation 2 (400 mA) connection system.

10. Apogee ELEMENT 46

Our rating: 5 / 10

Apogee ELEMENT 46

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Pros:

  • Excellent audio quality
  • Easy plugin, fast setup
  • Accurate metering
  • 4 great mic preamps
  • Comes with a complimentary bundle of plugins

Cons:

  • 2 Thunderbolt ports
  • Expensive, but well worth it

This is easily one of the best audio interfaces of 2020, made by Apogee, a company known world-wide for making great-sounding audio equipment that can stand up against the toughest conditions. When it comes to audio interfaces, their equipment has always been considered the top of the line.

This particular interface features 4 ultra-low-noise and high headroom Apogee mic preamps. It has a pristine, pristine transparent analog to digital converter with over 108 dB of dynamic range to capture even the most subtle level changes.

It supports a wide variety of studio and live music production applications that include recording, mixing, mastering, editing, overdubbing, and podcasting. Plus, the Element comes with a great BONUS of some of the best plugins for mixing and mastering right out of the box.

11. Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface

Our rating: 5 / 10

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Professional 20 In/20 Out Firewire Audio Interface

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Pros:

  • The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 is a high-end Firewire interface that promises awesome performance
  • This is a professional-grade audio interface that can mix up to 20 inputs simultaneously and let you get the job done without any fuss
  • The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 comes with eight pre-amps, which will make your job easier
  • The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 lets you organize everything better with the help of the 32-bit, 96 kHz
  • The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 lets you hook up 8 in/8 out, so it works well with almost any application
  • This Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 also features ADAT optical I/O which many recording interfaces lack
  • The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 is equipped with features that make the recording process easier, resulting in great sounding tracks

Cons:

  • The interface isn’t Thunderbolt compatible, which is disappointing
  • If you’re looking for a Firewire solution, make sure that it will work with your computer as well
  • The Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 comes at a slightly high price; however, considering the great features, this isn’t surprising

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What audio interface has the best preamps?

The mixing console is the heart of a home or studio recording system. Most audio interfaces these days use the same core components to get the job done: A computer, an audio interface, and microphones and other devices to record with.

When choosing an audio interface, it's important to prioritize the features you need the most. On the market today, there are three main kinds of audio interfaces: USB, Firewire, and Thunderbolt. Each of these technologies has its benefits and drawbacks. Using a USB or Firewire audio interface is essential if you intend to record with onboard sound, as there's no way to get sound into the computer from anything besides the audio interface.

What audio interface works best with logic?

When opening up Logic, you may get a jolt of fear from all the different audio and MIDI options displayed. However, we can reassure you that it doesn't have to be complex, and you don't need to be an audio engineer to get good results. The truth is, Logic is one of the fastest and easiest DAWs on the market to get up and running. Like any piece of software, it makes sense to read the manuals and tutorials to understand how things work, but you don't need to be a pro.

What is the best Thunderbolt audio interface?

Thunderbolt is another fast and powerful connection that is currently gaining traction.

At the time of writing, the big difference between Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 is the 10 Gbps bandwidth for Thunderbolt, compared to USB 3.0ʼs 5 Gbps. However, development of Thunderbolt technology is headed up by Intel, while USB 3.0 is being pushed by USB-IF, an organization that is not the same as USB 3.0.

This means, as technology and computer hardware advances, we could see more support for Thunderbolt, while USB 3.0 support might fall behind. Also note that Thunderbolt is primarily aimed at the commercial market, rather than the consumer market.

What is the best sounding audio interface?

For the best possible audio, you'll want to go USB. A lot of other producers are using firewire for their interfaces, and you might wonder why that's important, especially if you're looking at Thunderbolt interfaces.

The short answer is that USB beats them all. Firewire is basically the same as USB, but more expensive. Firewire still transfers audio fast, but there are some issues with it that could cause you some problems down the road. Firewire is popular because it's been around longer than Thunderbolt, but it doesn't have the advantages of USB.

Conclusion

Audio interfaces are external devices that connect to your computer and enable you to record high quality audio recordings, as well as feed the sound to your PC or Mac via headphones. There are three main types of audio interface— USB, Firewire and Thunderbolt. Here’s a good overview of how these devices compare and which one is right for you.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
Focusrite Itrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio InterfaceBest OverallFocusrite Itrack Solo Lightning & USB Compatible Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2Budget PickFocusrite Scarlett 2i2
Focusrite Clarett 8PreUpgrade PickFocusrite Clarett 8Pre