The Best USB Audio Interfaces: 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 12 / 16 Channels & More

The Highest Rated USB Compatible Audio Interfaces

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There are so many audio interfaces on the market today that finding one that suits your studio requirements AND budget can often be frustrating. I spend a lot of time looking for the perfect piece of gear to add to my studio. Whether it was my first of the sort or what to upgrade to next, it is always a time consuming and oftentimes confusing process of selecting the best one for my needs.

This is why we at Gearank collected and analyzed the data of over 49,000 review and rating sources as well as digging deep into expert reviews and forum discussions to better understand the general sentiment towards different audio interfaces on the market today. We picked the best of the bunch to narrow down your search as well as provide useful insight into what each product we selected is like.

For this March 2022 Edition, a dedicated Author's Pick section is included where I go in depth with an audio interface that I use personally and provide my experiences with it.

NB: We have separate guides devoted to 2 Channel & Budget and iPad audio interfaces.

The Best USB Audio Interfaces

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

2 Channel - 2 Inputs

The following 2 channel interface is great for people who want a compact option with a sound usually reserved for large format consoles. The small format allows it to be integrated into mobile music production workflows easily.

Solid State Logic SSL 2+

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 950+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$350
Solid State Logic SSL 2+ 2x4 USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 2 Analog Inputs.

The SSL 2+ has been the subject of a lot of hype in the audio engineering world, particularly because it's the first compact audio interface designed by SSL.

Naturally, The interface is designed to bring the famed "SSL console preamp" sound to the hands of home and project studios everywhere. Thanks to its surprisingly affordable price point, many audio engineers have their hands on this unit. This has led to an increase of available data for us to analyze.

At first glance, it shares several aesthetic qualities with other SSL gear, particularly the color scheme and the unique knobs.

What makes the SSL 2+ stand out the most is its "4k" mode which makes the preamp engage circuitry akin to the 4000 series console preamps. This is a major selling point for the unit and there are several reviews centered around this feature alone.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 2 x 4
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS (L/R), 2 x Dual RCA Stereo (2 x paired out/1-4), 2 x 1/4" Headphones
  • Computer Connectivity: 1 x USB-C (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Power Supply: USB Bus Powered
  • Bundled Software: SSL Production Pack, 3rd Party Bundled Software

Supporting Information

Pros

The most commonly praised feature of the SSL 2+ is its Legacy 4k feature for its preamp. Many users found that it worked well to enhance the sonic characteristics of even the cheapest mics, bringing out their sound to their fullest potential. As preamps are often the most overlooked part of the signal chain, this is a great benefit to those who want to kick their mic's sound up a notch without investing into more expensive external preamps. The metering was also praised as some interfaces at this price point do not accurately show the amount of gain going into the channel. Gain staging is a very important step towards great sounding recordings and including a dB meter was a great design choice by Solid State Logic.

Cons

Some negative reviews report some part failure after less than a year, particularly the buttons and knobs.

Overall

For those looking for big console sound without paying big console bucks and real estate, the Solid State SSL 2+ is a great companion for small studios and mobile music production setups without compromising sound quality.

2 Channel Author's Pick

In this section, I talk in-depth about an interface that I use in my studio.

PreSonus ioSTATION 24c

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$320
PreSonus ioSTATION 24c - 2x2 Audio Interface and Production Controller - 2 Analog Inputs

Hybrid products have always been a part of audio engineering gear since the development of the mixing console. Channel strips that combined multiple pieces of gear in a modular fashion was one of the earliest innovations in the field. Most gear these days remain unchanged since their inception with the exception of the rise of audio interfaces, MIDI controllers and DAW controllers.

I've been looking at a new interface ever since I felt that the preamps on my Focusrite 18i20 were not doing my new microphones justice. Not that they're bad preamps but I felt that I've hit the ceiling of the kind of sound I could get with the gear I had. I've also been interested in exploring hardware DAW controllers in the past and got interested in items like the Presonus Faderport.

PreSonus ioSTATION 24c

Because of my current workflow of using analog summing emulator plugins like Waves NLS and Brainworx BX_Console, I've been wanting a more "hands-on" approach to my mixing. At first I considered getting analog summing mixers but found they would be limiting. I was completely satisfied with the plugin emulations. So I decided to shop for a new interface and a DAW controller.

This is why I was surprised to find that a product like the PreSonus ioSTATION 24c existed. It is a combination of a 2 preamp audio interface and the company's own Faderport. Once I read about it more and found that the XMAX preamps were getting a lot of praise from users, I knew I had to get it.

The layout is similar to the Faderport with the addition of two gain knobs, a line button, phantom power button, a direct monitor mix, headphone volume, main volume and a mute button for the main out for quick swaps to headphone monitoring.

The Faderport side has a motorized fader, individual buttons for solo, mute, arm, a multi function knob and more. A transport control cluster rounds out the front face of the ioSTATION 24c.

The I/O section is placed in the rear with two combo XLR/TRS inputs for the XMAX preamps, Main L/R outs, Headphone Out, Power Button and USB connection.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 2 x 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (L/R), 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (footswitch)
  • Computer Connectivity: 1 x USB Type C (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: none
  • Preamps: 2 x XMAX mic preamps
  • Power: 12V DC power supply (included)
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Studio One Artist, Studio Magic Plug-in Suite

Supporting Information

Comparing PreSonus ioSTATION 24c to Focusrite 18i20 on Electric Guitar

Orange Amplifier with a Laney Cab, mic'ed up with an Aston Origin condenser microphone

I recorded 2 sets of sound samples using the two interfaces. Each sound sample consists of an Orange Amplifier with a Laney Cab, miked up with an Aston Origin condenser microphone at the same position and settings.

For the miked samples, clean channel and drive channel tracks were recorded.

For the D.I. tracks, only direct clean tones were recorded.

I chose to record guitar because it offers a better sense of how the frequency response differs between the two interfaces as well as providing a point of comparison for line level signals.

Listen to the recordings and see my opinion of them in the Extended Review.

Pros

One of my favorite things about the ioSTATION 24c is how fast it integrated with my DAW of choice: Reaper. While it has preset mapping for major DAWs like Studio One, Cubase, Ableton Live and ProTools, I was worried that it might not support Reaper fully. While most of the features like marker skipping are unavailable for Reaper, the motorized fader, transport, solo, mute and arm are all I needed to experience a faster workflow .

The XMAX preamps did not disappoint. Compared to my old Focusrite, the XMAX preamps have a more "open" sound out with better high and low frequency extension. With higher gain settings and running the mic preamps hot, some subtle saturation and compression comes in that just adds a bit of harmonics without it sounding distorted. The Focusrite tends to impart a "boxy" midrange on some voices and D.I. sources. While characterful, I prefer a preamp like the XMAX with subtler coloration. It has great clean headroom and adds a subtle sheen on vocals.

The transport controls were responsive to my DAW and punching in recordings felt faster. At this point, any marginal improvement to my workflow is a major improvement to my overall production so the ioSTATION 24c wins my vote in that regard.

Cons

One con that I noticed immediately was how the interface would go on a sort of "sleep mode" when no sound from my computer is playing. When a sound is played, there is a delay followed by a "pop" which feels like the interface "wakes up" from standby. I have yet to see how to resolve this and if someone could point me to solutions, feel free to write in the comments below.

Another con that I chose to overlook is the limited functionality of the unit with the DAW I use (Reaper). Other Major DAWs can make better use of the ioSTATION 24c's functionality.

Overall

The ioSTATION 24c felt like a definite upgrade in terms of sound, workflow and overall production value for me. It helped me get that last marginal improvements and optimizations in my workflow by allowing me to get hands on with my music production. I can close my eyes and rely on my ears and touch riding a fader to balance tracks; something that was near impossible to do with just a mouse and keyboard. I highly recommend this for project studios looking to get into the more tactile side of audio engineering.

4 Channel - 4 Inputs

4-input audio interfaces offer portability while having more input and output options than 2-channel interfaces. These are great for beginners and are also affordable options for those who want to expand their home recording without spending too much.

Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 2900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$250
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 4 Analog Inputs along with the PreSonus Studio 68c.

Focusrite has an interface for every need from the minimal Focusrite Solo to the Scarlett 18i20.

The 4i4 sits in a comfy middle ground with 2 combo input preamps, 2 1/4" inputs and 4 outputs.

Each preamp has an additional "Air" setting that brings in an upper midrange lift similar to their famed ISA series preamps.

For the 3rd gen, Focusrite improved the gain range on their preamps to drive dynamic mics better.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 4 x 4
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/Hi-Z), 2 x 1/4" (line)
  • Outputs: 4 x 1/4" (line out)
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0 (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Power Supply: USB Bus Powered
  • Bundled Software: Focusrite Control, Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite, 3-month Avid Pro Tools Subscription

Supporting Information

Pros

Many of the reviewers were first-time purchasers of recording interfaces and they loved the preamps on the 4i4. The Air button engages a high frequency lift based on the Focusrite ISA series preamps. This was a feature added to this 3rd generation of interfaces from Focusrite, including the 4i4. Many users appreciated the inclusion of this feature (previously seen on their more expensive Clarett series interfaces) on the Scarlett 4i4.

Cons

Some experienced intermittent connection and dropouts. Comments in response speculate it might be because of buffer sizes and computer spec limitations.

Overall

The Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 is a mid-entry powerhouse with features carried over from their upper tier Clarett line. Get it if you need a compact, USB powered interface with enough inputs for multiple performers including MIDI.

PreSonus Studio 68c

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$330
PreSonus Studio 68c USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 4 Analog Inputs along with the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4.

The Presonus Studio 68c Features 4 XMAX preamps which are designed for saturation without clipping.

Unlike other interfaces at this tier, the XMAX preamps were designed to be pushed for more richness and depth.

A bright LED meter ensures you set your gain at the optimum levels for any instrument or vocal to help you tread the line between sweet saturation and harsh clipping.

It also features an S/PDIF out so you can hook up your old-school MIDI or new-school digital rackmount rig to the Studio 68c.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz /li>
  • Simultaneous I/O: 6 x 6
  • Inputs: 4 x XLR/TRS Combo, 4 x 1/4" Inserts, DB-9 (S/PDIF)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (main out), 2 x 1/4" (line), DB-9 (S/PDIF), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • Computer Connectivity: 1 x USB Type C (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: DB-9 (In/Out)
  • Preamps: 4 x XMAX mic preamps
  • Power: 12V DC power supply (included)
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Studio One Artist

Supporting Information

Pros

More than just marketing, users are quick to notice the difference the XMAX preamps provide even with their raw tracks. Many noticed a level or richness at higher gain settings that are similar to how analog consoles tend to drive. Cymbals and other instruments with high-frequency content did not sound brittle or harsh.

Cons

While the saturation may be a plus for some, others found that the preamps tend to color the sound a bit too much for their taste.

Overall

If you want a compact audio interface that adds just a little bit of large studio vibe and mojo to your tracks, then the Presonus Studio 68c is a great pick.

4 Inputs + Extended Channels

This type of interface offers 4 built-in channels plus the capability of increasing inputs with an additional preamp unit.

Audient iD44

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$699
Audient iD44 20 x 24 USB Audio Interface - 4 Analog Inputs

"For the Creatives". That's Audient's tagline for the iD44.

With a layout inspired by mixing consoles, the iD44 sits neatly on a typical home/project studio desktop. Form factor aside, the iD44 often pops up in forum recommendations specifically as an upgrade suggestion by experienced audio engineers.

Several expansion options are also available via Optical I/O. The iD44 was designed to grow with your studio, with additional inputs available should you choose to bring in more input options like a dedicated 8 channel preamp such as the Focusrite Octopre and other similar units.

2 Channels also have dedicated sends and returns for connecting outboard gear.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 20 x 24
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic), 2 x 1/4" (Hi-Z), 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 2 x Optical Toslink (ADAT), 2 x channel inserts
  • Outputs: 4 x 1/4", 2 x 1/4" (headphones), 2 x Optical Toslink (ADAT)
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0 (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: none
  • Preamps: 4 x mic, 2 x instrument
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Audient iD Mixer

Supporting Information

Pros

Many satisfied users call it a "Game Changer" with its multitude of features that are more often seen in large format consoles. The presence of send/return inserts on 2 channels is generally unseen in most audio interfaces of this size in the market. It also drives bigger headphones easily with no separate headphone amp needed to push higher impedance models like the Audio-Technica ATH-R70x. On newer reviews from users that have had the unit for a while say that it is still an integral part of their studio set up even after expanding for more inputs with additional preamps and outboard gear.

Cons

The lack of a MIDI port was a dealbreaker for several users.

Overall

The Audient iD44 packs some serious features for those accustomed to big studio workflow and controls but want something similar in a compact and uncompromising package; if you can live without MIDI I/O. Cons aside, It was designed with your progress as an engineer in mind, making it more of a long term investment rather than just another gear in an upgrade path.

RME Babyface Pro FS

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$999
RME Babyface Pro FS
At publication time this was the Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 4 Analog Inputs With Extended Channels.

RME's follow up to their popular Babyface Pro interface features upgraded components over its predecessor. This includes better clocking for syncing up with additional external preamps and sources. What this means is hassle-free outboard gear integrations down the line.

Integrating their "Steadyclock FS" tech from the ADI-2 Pro AD/DA converter, this Babyface ensures stable sync and low jitter across different outboard gear.

The headphone amplification was also improved to drive higher impedance headphones with lower noise and distortion. Gain hungry headphones like the Sennheiser HD600 can be more easily driven without the need for an external headphone amplifier.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 4 x 4 (analog), 8 x 8 (digital)
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR (mic), 2 x 1/4" (Hi-Z/line), 1 x Optical Toslink (ADAT, S/PDIF)
  • Outputs: 2 x XLR (+4dBu/+19dBu), 1 x Optical Toslink (ADAT, S/PDIF), ,1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
  • Computer Connectivity: 1 x FireWire 400, 1 x FireWire 800, 1 x USB Type B (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: In/Out via Breakout Cable
  • Preamps: 2 x mic, 2 x instrument
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: ME TotalMix FX, Total Mix Remote (iOS, Mac, PC), Brainworx Plug-ins, Scuffham S-Gear Amp Collection

Supporting Information

Pros

Long-term expandability was one of the most commonly repeated plus of the Babyface Pro FS. With a great clock sync, as well as S/PDIF and ADAT I/O, it was easy for users to use it as a compact interface on the go or as a centerpiece to an expanded 12 in / 12 out I/O ecosystem. Users that often alternate between music production in the studio and on the go were very happy with the form factor and portability of the Babyface Pro FS.

Cons

The mixer app felt clunky to use for a few owners. The fact that phantom power is controlled only via the app was also seen as a negative.

Overall

The RME Babyface Pro FS builds on its predecessor in bringing a compact but expandable interface to the table. In an already crowded market of compact interfaces, the RME Babyface Pro FS stands out as one that can do both mobile and centerpiece positions in a studio.

6 Channel

6 Channels is the middle ground between portability and inputs. Most interfaces in this range still have compact enclosures and USB Bus power.

Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 6 Analog Inputs.

The Scarlett 8i6 is an "in-betweener" interface, bridging the gap between the 4i4 which has no S/PDIF capabilities, and the 18i8 with additional I/O options at a price jump.

The 8i6 has 2 preamps, 4 line inputs, MIDI I/O, and S/PDIF I/O for 8 maximum simultaneous inputs. Perfect for recording multiple instruments like drum machines and synthesizers.

The 3rd Gen 8i6 features the new "Air" switch and revamped preamps with more headroom.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 8 x 6
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/Hi-Z), 4 x 1/4" (line), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF)
  • Outputs: 4 x 1/4" (line out), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF), 2 x 1/4" (headphones)
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Preamps: 2 x 3rd-generation Scarlett mic preamps
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First Creative Pack, Red Plug-in Suite, Focusrite Collective access

Supporting Information

Pros

Reviewers that use the 8i6 are home producers with external gear that doesn't need a lot of inputs. Several positive reviews note that given the price and functionality, there is no need to make the jump to the next interface in the lineup.

Cons

Routing software is clunky. The 8i6 also is the most niche product in the lineup since it barely adds anything to the 4i4 but loses to the 18i8 in terms of features. The middle ground isn't always the best compromise. Having only 2 preamp ins also prevents it from being used as an interface to record using a full drum mic kit.

Overall

The 8i6 caters to a very specific crowd: One that prefers to use S/PDIF but doesn't want to be bothered by additional inputs they aren't likely to use or are on a limited budget. Get it if this is you. If not, it only takes a bit more to get the 18i8.

8 Inputs + Some With Extended Channels

When you're planning on recording over four sound sources simultaneously, like when miking an acoustic drum kit, a singing group, or a band - you'll need a capable audio interface with more inputs.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 3rd Gen

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$420
Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface

The 18i8 represents the first real jump in terms of inputs for the Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen range.

With 4 mic preamps, 4 line inputs, S/PDIF, MIDI I/O, and an ADAT In, it carries the potential to provide 18 total inputs when you connect an 8 channel preamp like the Focusrite Scarlett Octopre (or the cheaper Behringer ADA8200) into the 18i8.

This makes it perfect for having a mobile interface that you can connect at home to maximize the full input range or on the road if you want to take your recording ability anywhere.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 18 x 8
  • Inputs: 4 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/Hi-Z), 4 x 1/4" (line), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF), 1 x Optical
  • Outputs: 4 x 1/4" (line out), 2 x 1/4" Headphones, 1 x Coax (S/PDIF)
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0 (Class Compliant)
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Preamps: 4 x mic preamps
  • Power Source: 12V DC power supply (included)
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First Creative Pack, Red Plug-in Suite, Focusrite Collective access

Supporting Information

Pros

Mobility is the name of the game for some and the 18i8 has a dedicated fanbase of users that prefer the best of both worlds: Being able to travel with a compact interface and being able to expand the inputs at home or in the studio.

Cons

Some compromises have to be made to fit the price bracket such as only having ADAT in but no output.

Overall

The 18i8 is in a more broad segment in the Focusrite range. It has the expandability of a full audio interface while remaining as compact as possible for road use. It doesn't have all the inputs of the 18i20 but is a definite step up from the 8i6.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 1000+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$550
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 8 Analog Inputs.

The 18i20 is the flagship of the Scarlett range. It features 8 mic preamps, 1 S/PDIF in, 2 ADAT ins, and MIDI I/O.

Additional inputs can be patched in via ADAT for 18 simultaneous inputs.

The 20 outputs can be used to rout to outboard gear or additional monitoring in your studio.

It has enough inputs to record a full band on its own.

It also features a built-in talkback microphone.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 18 x 20
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/Hi-Z), 6 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF), 2 x Optical (ADAT)
  • Outputs: 10 x 1/4" (line out), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF), 2 x Optical (ADAT), 2 x 1/4"
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • 8 x mic preamps
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Low latency monitoring
  • Bundled Software: Tracktion 4

Supporting Information

Pros

The 18i20 is the centerpiece of many users' recording studios. They chose this interface for the number of mic preamps available on the unit itself and when combined with additional preamps like the Focusrite Scarlett Octopre, has more than enough to record a full band and more. Many users say this is their first "serious" audio interface with good reason: the 18i20 makes sure you're ready to handle bigger sessions.

Cons

Clunky routing software. Some problems with the drivers on early units that are resolved by updating.

Overall

The 3rd Gen 18i20 brings a lot to the table. Sure, other interfaces offer the same amount of preamps but what sets the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 apart is time-tested reliability and quality. With the new generation having better gain handling and the new "Air" feature trickled down from Focusrite's ISA series preamps, the 3rd Gen 18i20 is a sure winner.

RME Fireface UCX

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1599
RME Fireface UCX 36-Channel USB Audio Interface

The RME Fireface UCX is a feature-packed audio interface that's meant for professional use in both mobile and studio recordings.

It has 8 analog inputs, including two combo XLRs, while also providing more than a handful of output options. This opens up your options in terms of digital connectivity, because it can work with USB 2, USB 3, and Firewire 400.

But it's not just about connectivity, because this unit comes with RME's Hammerfall converters, known for their premium sound quality.

And it features TotalMix FX, a dual DSP system that allows for latency-free effects, processing and monitoring.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 8 x 6
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR Combo, 6 x TRS
  • Outputs: 6 x TRS, 1 x Headphones
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0, USB 3, Firewire 400
  • MIDI: I/O
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Zero-Latency: Monitoring, Effects and Processing

Supporting Information

Pros

Reviews are flooded with superlatives like excellent, great, superior - all of which are reflected in the RME Fireface UCX's high ratings. Everything from sound quality, to its solid build, to its reliability got a lot of positive mentions from recording engineers. One user even reported having no problems and not a single instance of software crashing with his almost two years of use. Interestingly, value for money came up several times, from users who feel that the RME Fireface UCX is a great buy. Even Sam Inglis of Sound on Sound is convinced of its performance, saying "the main reasons for buying a Fireface UCX remain its excellent sound and performance".

Cons

There are a few who noted that the interface has some room for improvement, other than that, everyone seems thrilled with their expensive interface.

Overall

If budget is not an issue, and you're looking for a powerful and versatile audio interface, then the RME Fireface UCX is highly recommended.

12 to 16 Channel

16 channels is usually the limit of simultaneous audio inputs for a stand-alone USB interface unless you're hooking multiple devices together via connections like MADI or ADAT. Nevertheless, it is often a good idea to invest in an interface with multiple inputs early on if you plan on recording several sources at once even before you upgrade.

With this Edition, we didn't find a 16 channel interface that we wanted to recommend based on highest ratings - the one the market rates as second best, we rate as being much more worthy. So if it's 16 analog inputs that you want, check out the 16 Channel Budget Option.

RME Fireface 802

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1999
RME Fireface 802 USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 12 to 16 Analog Inputs.

The Fireface 802 packs RME's premium build and sound quality into an audio interface with 12 analog inputs.

It features four mic preamps that are based on their popular OctaMic II hardware, all of which are paired with RME's brand of premium AD/DA converters.

Other features include DSP-driven TotalMix FX mixer for latency-free effects and routing, and compatibility with USB 2.0, Firewire 400, and Firewire 800 protocols.

It also comes with Optical and XLR digital I/O support that allows for up to 18 channels of audio.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 12 x 8
  • Inputs: 8 x 1/4" TRS, 4 x XLR-1/4" combo
  • Outputs: 8 x 1/4" TRS
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0 - has a Class Compliant mode, FireWire 400, FireWire 800
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Preamps: 4 x OctaMic II Preamps
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Zero Latency: monitoring

Supporting Information

  • User's Guide
  • RME User Forum
  • Warranty - 6 Months Minimum + Additional warranty periods that differ by country. Sweetwater offers their own free 2 year warranty for US customers.

Pros

Users applaud the Fireface 802, calling it "fantastic" and "wonderful". Clarity and overall sound quality receive the most praise, while others are thrilled with its versatility and connectivity. Many of the users report that it works well on Macs, but there are also Windows users who are just as impressed. One user described the sound as clear and uncolored, ideal for those who want transparent recordings of instruments and vocals.

Cons

There were a few who wish for added features like, extra XLR combo inputs, while some were not too happy with how the manual describes its operation.

Overall

The RME Fireface 802 is a worthy investment for those who want a versatile and powerful audio interface in their studio.

If you need to expand to more inputs then take a look at the RME Fireface UFX II which can be expanded to 30 channels of Input and 30 channels of output.

RME Fireface UFX+

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$2999
RME Fireface UFX+

If the RME Fireface UFX+ was to be described in one word compared to the UFX II, it would be "more".

The UFX+ has more inputs and outputs (94 x 94 vs the 30 x 30 of the UFX II) and more connectivity options including ADAT, S/MUX, S/PDIF and MADI.

A USB 3.0 / Thunderbolt connection enables faster round trip times, lower latency and excellent stability.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 94 x 94
  • Inputs: 4 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 8 x 1/4" (line in), 1 x XLR (AES/EBU), 2 x Optical Toslink (ADAT, S/MUX, S/PDIF - ADAT2), 1 x BNC (MADI), 1 x SC Duplex connector (MADI)
  • Outputs: 2 x XLR, 8 x 1/4", 1 x XLR (AES/EBU), 2 x Optical Toslink (ADAT, S/MUX, S/PDIF - ADAT2), 1 x BNC (MADI), 1 x SC Duplex connector (MADI)
  • Computer Connectivity: 1 x USB Type B 3.0 (has a Class Compliant mode), 2 x Type A (memory/remote)
  • MIDI: 2 x In, 2 x Out
  • Phantom Power: +48V

Supporting Information

  • User's Guide
  • RME User Forum
  • Warranty - 6 Months Minimum + Additional warranty periods that differ by country. Sweetwater offers their own free 2 year warranty for US customers.

Pros

Multiple engineers have said this is the top of the line interface for any studio, bar none. Top tier AD/DA, excellent preamps, more inputs and outputs than many have use for are some of the things mentioned about the interface in reviews. The updated connectivity options guarantee future-proofing for the unit - it will enjoy relevance for many years to come.

Cons

Some complain about shortcomings with the TotalMix software saying it's a bit clunky to navigate.

Overall

This is it, the UFX+ is here to stop and tell you "there's more". Whether you're a rookie audio engineer with big plans, or a seasoned veteran who wants to build a dream studio, the RME Fireface UFX+ is everything you need and more.

16 Channel Budget Option

This one wouldn't have made it into the list based on some user experiences with earlier versions of its software and drivers, however these issues have been reducing over time if not completely removed.

Tascam US-16x08

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$370
Tascam US-16x08

In the US-16x08 Tascam has produced a superb piece of hardware at a great price but it has been hampered by issues with drivers and this is reflected in its relatively mediocre Gearank score.

However, if you are prepared to do your research and take the chance that you'll end up troubleshooting driver issues then you'll stand a good chance of ending up with a bargain.

Since we originally recommended this, Tascam have released Version 4.00 of their Settings Panel for Windows software that improves driver stability.

This unit offers a full 16 channels of inputs, 8 of which are Ultra-HDDA microphone preamps plus 8 line-level inputs.

It is USB Class compliant so you will be able to use the basic IO features with no need for Tascam's drivers and this also provides compatibility with 'driverless' devices such as the iPad.

Tech Specs

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
  • Simultaneous I/O: 16 x 8
  • Inputs: 8 x XLR, 8 x 1/4" Balanced (2 switchable to Hi-Z instrument)
  • Outputs: 8 x 1/4" Balanced. 1/4" Stereo Headphones
  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0 - Class Compliant
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Preamps: 8 x Ultra-HDDA microphone preamps
  • Phantom Power: +48V switchable for channel 1-4, 5-8
  • Extra Functionality: Works as an 8-channel microphone preamp when not connected to USB
  • Onboard DSP: Mixer with 4-band EQ and compression on each input channel

Supporting Information

Pros

Most users are impressed with the quality of the preamps, complimenting them for their strong signal and low noise operation. As expected, being affordable and easy to set up came up several times in user reviews.

Cons

A significant minority of reviewers say they have experienced consistent problems with the drivers, with reports of crashing, high CPU usage, and audio interruption. The problems seem to be more prevalent with Windows, while Mac users have generally fared better. That said, most users haven't experienced these problems and a fair few have found them fairly easy to resolve. Some report that they can bypass the problems with the Tascam drivers by using Class Compliant drivers instead. These problems have been reported less frequently since the new Version 4.00 of Settings Panel for Windows was released.

Overall

If you're looking for 16 channels of input on a budget then this is an option to consider. Most users who buy this are very pleased with the performance it offers and unless you strike driver problems, it's likely you will be too.

Things to Consider When Buying an Audio Interface

Number of Inputs vs Channel Count

This is the number of analog inputs that can be transferred through to separate tracks on your computer; which sounds simple. However, we think some manufacturers fudge the number a little bit to give a higher channel count. Many of them include digital input channels to their devices such as SP/DIF or ADAT in the channel count, even though these would require another piece of hardware acting as an audio interface (EG some mixers and mic preamps also provide A/D conversion) to allow them to be used. So an "18 channel" interface might only handle 8 analog inputs by itself. Therefore we've classified the interfaces in our guide by the number of analog channels that can be input and be sent as separate channels via USB. Not that these extra digital input channels are a handy option when you want to expand but they won't help you if you don't have another compatible audio interface.

Mic Level, Instrument Level, and Line Level Inputs

In addition to knowing the number of inputs, you also have to know the type of inputs available be it line level (low impedance) or instrument level (high impedance) inputs. Instrument level ports are for electric guitars and basses without active pickups/preamps, while you can plug keyboards, amps, and other electronic instruments into the line-level input. XLR inputs are usually accompanied by a preamp to handle microphones. Combo XLR/TRS inputs usually have preamps embedded, so they are mic ready. Some units have versatile line level and instrument level switching for specific ports.

Preamp and Phantom Power

Built-in preamps allow you to connect microphones and they also can provide phantom power to condenser mics when needed. But they're not just for connectivity, because they can also affect the character of the sound and are responsible for keeping noise at bay. Thankfully, manufacturers rarely skimp on the quality of their preamps, often equipping their entire range of audio interfaces with the same preamp found on their flagship model. Note that not all inputs will have a preamp, so it is important to consider the actual number of preamps available, particularly for recording with condenser microphones.

Power Options

As the channels increase, so does the complexity of the electronics and its power requirements. So you can expect most of the units listed here to require wall power adapters to keep them running. Still, there are a few that can be bus-powered via USB from a computer. Note that none of them can be powered via the USB from an iOS device - in this case you need a mains power wall adapter or a Powered USB Hub.

Analog to Digital Bit Rate and Sample Rate

These specifications describes the resolution of your converted digital audio, and the general idea is that the higher the sample rate, the more details are captured. The Bit Depth determines the maximum dynamic range (difference between loudest and softest) and the Sampling Rate determines the highest frequencies that can be recorded. The current highest standard is 24-bit/192kHz, but there is a lot of debate about sampling rates so if you'd like to know more see: The Science of Sample Rates (When Higher Is Better — And When It Isn’t). The main thing to know is that a sampling rate of 44.1kHz will capture all of the frequencies that most people can hear. Also, note that the preamp usually plays a bigger role in recording quality.

Operating Systems, Connectivity, and Drivers

Most audio interfaces come with specific custom low latency drivers for Windows and Mac that allow you to use the audio channels in your recording software and often control inbuilt hardware features such as effects/DSPs. However, we've consistently found that most of the serious user complaints about audio interfaces come from a small number of owners who can't get these drivers to work properly. Often these can be attributed to people not setting things up properly but there are some cases where it appears there are genuine problems with the drivers on some systems. Furthermore, many users find that the manufacturer's support in the event of driver problems is lacking and some of them are slow to release fixes for these issues. By and large, we've recommended the interfaces that have the least problems but few are immune to some degree of complaint. To reduce the chances of encountering these problems you should check to ensure that there are drivers available for your operating system version and check to see whether other owners have had a problem with systems like yours.
 

One way to avoid manufacturer driver issues is to use a USB Class Compliant interface (audio and possibly MIDI) which means it can use standard drivers that are usually already available in your system. This will also 'future proof' your device if the manufacturer stops releasing drivers for newer operating system versions. The drawback is that using these drivers may result in you not being able to access some of the extra features of the hardware, but the basic audio/midi channels will work.

If you're looking for compatibility with iOS devices such as the iPad (via the Apple USB adapter) then the device will need to be USB Class Compliant anyway. It's still best to make sure the manufacturer specifically mentions compatibility though. You can check out our iPad Audio Interface Guide if you're looking for dedicated iPad audio interfaces.

Bundled Software

Most audio interfaces come with bundled software, some of which include "lite" versions of popular DAW software like Cubase, Ableton Live, and more. Others even come with extras like virtual instruments, samples, in-depth software control over the interface, and more. All of these should be enough to get novice users started.

Best USB Audio Interface Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2016 and the current edition was published on March 31, 2022.

Our selection criteria was for Audio Interfaces that can use USB to connect with computers (additional connectivity protocols were also allowed), and are available from major USA based retailers.

We then compiled a short-list of 52 audio interfaces for further analysis - you can see most of them in our Music Gear Database. We then analyzed over 49,600 rating and review sources comprised of user ratings, reviews, feedback, and forum discussions. This is more than twice the data compared to the previous edition of this guide. The data was then processed using the Gearank Algorithm to produce rating scores out of 100 which we used to select the highest rated options in each of the above input/channel categories. We also used those sources to report on the pros and cons of each interface we've recommended. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Some of the recording gear I use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic and MXL V67G.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Product research.
Daniel Barnett: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Audient iD44, PreSonus Studio 68c, Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 and RME Fireface 802.

The individual product images were sourced from their respective manufacturers' websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation.

Comments

Hello,

Hello,
we have a requirement of audio interface with minimum of 4 channel and compatible with linux os, please suggest the products names which are suitable of our requirement. i have gone through many websites and some of them saying some interfaces are compatible with linux os but in their product data sheet they didn't mentioned anything abou linux os comparability, so please suggest the linux os compatible audio interface with minimum of 4 channel.Thanks in advance

Best Regards
V.rajkumar

Hello V. Rajkumar,

Hello V. Rajkumar,

As of 2022, I've found information that many class-compliant audio interfaces work with Linux. I have seen communities confirming that MOTU, Focusrite and RME interfaces work so those are your best bets.

-Raphael

I look forward to an update

I look forward to an update that includes Solid State interfaces and how they compare. Thanks!

The Solid State Logic SSL 2

The Solid State Logic SSL 2 and SSL 2+ didn't qualify for this guide because they only have 2 analog inputs, however based on your question and interest from others we will consider changing this requirement for future updates.

In the meantime, I've published our ratings for both of them here.

I need to build a 16 mono

I need to build a 16 mono channels orchestral composition platform with a USB interface. I do NOT need inputs, only outputs with sufficient voltage to excite an analog 16 channel (could be 8 stereo channels, of course) amplifier. I will use a DAW that has simultaneous hardware outputs, such as Reason or Linux Ardour. In your article you mention Apple compatible interfaces (well, most of them are anyway). Since Apple OS is UNIX, can you recommend an interface that will do for me using, say, UBUNTU Studio 21.04?

Thanks, John.

Hi John,

Hi John,

Ideally, any Class Compliant USB audio interface would be capable of operating with Linux. The only problem is, interfaces like the ones made by Focusrite need to be controlled by their software (i.e. Focusrite Control) and to my knowledge, Focusrite has not made any statement regarding Linux compatibility.

I have done some short research into your question and found linux users Favoring interfaces made by MOTU. Others have had success using interfaces like the Behringer U-Phoria series. Both manufacturers make interfaces with multiple outputs so I suggest you start your search there.

While on the topic of DAWs, I suggest you give Reaper a try if you have your own software synths/plugins.

-Raphael

Support for Focusrite is now

Support for Focusrite is now in Linux kernel. Alsa audio system have interface for internal fader.

Hi,

Hi,

I am about to start recording a podcast. We will be two people, two co-hosts, and we are trying to set up a good price-value gear to start with.

We are aiming for two dynamic XLR mics. potentially Samson Q2U or Rode Podcaster and an interface. I would really thank if you could advise of an interface below £100 that allows for two stereo output channels. I have read that some interfaces although allow for two output channels, those are really mono channels, which does not look ideal.

We are happy also to receive any piece of advice or recommendation about mics that you could recommend from your store.

Looking forward to reading your comments.

You should really look at the

You should really look at the Yamaha A606, This is specifically geared for podcasters, with Audio loopback functionality. It can be used as a standard Audio interface also, and it even includes basic effects and software. Brand new £145.

Any interface that is USB

Any interface that is USB Class Compliant will work on Linux however additional features such as effects won't be available without additional software which the manufacturers generally only make available for Windows and Mac OS.

Hello,

Hello,
Which USB interface among these would you recommend for a basic home theater use (analog 5.1 surround sound) from a pc and a video player like VLC ?

As a result of our January

As a result of our January 2019 update, the following interface came off our recommended list above, but you can still read our analysis of it:

I was thinking of buying the

I was thinking of buying the Tascam 16x08 to use it as well as in the studio at home, even in live shows with stand-alone digital mixer connected to my mac book pro: do you think you can do it? With its internal mixer you can work without weighing the PC too much and thus avoiding possible crashes in the live? Finally, using it in stand-alone mode it works only as a preamp or can you use the 4-band equalization of its mixer? Thank you

Is it possible to connect

Is it possible to connect sampler/synth output channels to the xlr inputs on the front? will it work normally? or the mic inputs ar specific for microphones only and will worsen the quality of signal? Can`t seem to find general information on this, seems like quite an important problem. (at the same time mine Focusrite scarlett 6i6 can easily take any instrument or line output in to its front xlr combo port)

Is it possible to link two

Is it possible to link two Tascam 1608’s together to get 16 channels of micrphine preamps available. Or will they work simultaneously and will the software recognize two units? separately? If the answer is no, do you have or recommend an interface that will do this?

Thanks,
Rossi

Try newest Focusrite Clarett

Try newest Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB - standalone mixing console with ultimate ISA mod preamps and 120dB dynamic and/or 8in USB class compliant interface, great with Cubasis or Auria for iPad user-friendly recordings, but with very high prof studio sound quality. Better specs than RME fireface UCX - the same user interface and use, for a half of price...

Regarding the 8 output Tascam

Regarding the 8 output Tascam, will it interface with qlabs on a MacBook pro running version 10.12.6

It looks like no one running

It looks like no one running the exact same setup as you has answered your question, so even though I haven't used that specific combination myself I can let you know that it will function with your computer in it's basic mode without advanced features because it is Class Compliant - the standard USB drivers will take care of that for you. As to the features requiring the Tascam drivers, I don't know.

hi i have a question about

Hi I have a question about the Tascam. to use it with my daw (studio one) would i need to use it's drivers anyways?

Hi nils, You shouldn't need

Hi nils, You shouldn't need to to use drivers to use the core interface capabilities as it can operate as a USB Audio Class Compliant Device. Without drivers however you won't be able to use the DSP functions or Tascam's special software but these are more add-on features. There are people who use the Tascam in class compliant mode on Windows but there's a chance that some fiddling could be required to stop it from wanting to use the drivers.