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

The Highest Rated USB Compatible Audio Interfaces

Disclosure

We recommend all products independently of 3rd parties including advertisers. We earn advertising fees from:
• • • • •
Sweetwater
• • • • •

Amazon

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
• • • • •

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: 

$300
Solid State Logic SSL 2+ 2x4 USB Audio Interface
At publication time this was the Highest Rated USB Audio Interface: 2 Analog Inputs.

Cons

  • Plastic enclosure does not inspire confidence in its durability

Pros

  • High quality SSL preamps at an affordable price
  • Accurate metering
  • Legacy 4k mode adds subtle harmonics and smooth presence to top end

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 with its surprisingly affordable price point for the company.

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 adds subtle harmonic excitement and smooth presence to the top end, great when applied to boring, lifeless and sterile sources.

It works well to enhance the sonic characteristics of even the cheapest mics, bringing their sound to their fullest potentials.

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 is also accurate and deserves some plus points 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.

The housing is plastic with a metal top, although it feels adequately durable, I would have preferred an all metal enclosure for peace of mind when taking this interface on the road.

For those looking for that big console sound without paying big console bucks and requiring the real estate, check out the Solid State SSL 2+. It's a great companion for small studios and mobile music production setups that do not want to compromise on sound quality.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Sam Inglis 95/100
Mix Barry Rudolph 96/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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

Cons

  • Sleep mode tends to "sleep" too early making a pop sound when reactivating the interface
  • Not the best integration with Reaper - has complete functionality with other major DAWs
  • Preamp coloration at higher gain settings can be too much

Pros

  • Perfect marriage of improved workflow and sound quality
  • Open sounding XMAX preamps captures extended highs and lows
  • Motorized fader mappable to most popular DAWs
  • Although limited functionality in Reaper, integration was surprisingly quick

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 96/100
MusicRadar Computer Music 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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: 

$230
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.

Cons

  • Headphone amp still lacking when it comes to driving high impedance headphones

Pros

  • "Air" ISA preamp simulation feature found previously only in more expensive Focusrite models
  • Inclusion of MIDI ins and outs
  • Improved gain range to the already well-loved Scarlett preamps

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. This was a feature added to this 3rd generation of interfaces from Focusrite, including the 4i4.

For the 3rd gen, Focusrite improved the gain range on their preamps to drive dynamic mics better. There was already so much to love in the preamps of the previous 4i4 - their low self noise, impressive clarity and detail capture.

Still, with all these improvements I would like to have seen them give this interface more gain in the headphone amp to drive my higher impedance headphones a bit louder.

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.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Recording Magazine Paul Vnuk Jr. 90/100
MusicRadar Jon Musgrave 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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.

Cons

  • Preamp coloration at higher gain settings can be too much

Pros

  • XMAX preamps sound great when saturated
  • Intuitively bright LED gain meter
  • Bundled Studio One Artist more full featured than most free crippled DAWs

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. More than just marketing, the performance the XMAX preamps provide even with raw tracks is commendable and I even prefer them to the preamps in some of the popular "red" interfaces.

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.

I 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 do not sound brittle or harsh. While the saturation may be a plus, I found that the preamps tend to color the sound a bit too much for some situations.

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.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Eric C 70/100
YouTube TCFilms 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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: 

$499
Audient iD44 20 x 24 USB Audio Interface - 4 Analog Inputs

Cons

  • No MIDI ports

Pros

  • Pristine sounding mic preamps
  • Excellent headphone preamps that can drive high impedance headphones
  • Inclusion of send/return inserts generally not found in this price point

"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 works great specifically as an upgrade from older or cheaper audio interfaces.

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.

I dare call this 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.

Even after expanding a studio with more inputs, additional preamps and outboard gear, this can still be an integral part of your studio set up.

The lack of a MIDI port is a minor lowlight for an otherwise fully featured interface.

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 piece of gear in an upgrade path.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearspace Arthur Stone 100/100
Tape Op Alan Tubbs 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

RME Babyface Pro FS

96
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$999
RME Babyface Pro FS

Cons

  • Mixer software interface slightly clunky

Pros

  • Extremely good low latency performance
  • Versatile and expandable formfactor - switch from studio production to field work with ease
  • Stable sync and low jitter when used with outboard gear

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.

Also, the low latency performance is stunning in typical RME fashion - usable even when running multiple plugins during tracking.

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.

Long-term expandability is one of the best things about the Babyface Pro FS. With a great clock sync, as well as S/PDIF and ADAT I/O, it easily doubles up as a compact interface on the go or as a centerpiece to an expanded 12 in / 12 out I/O ecosystem.

The mixer app is a bit clunky to use though. The fact that phantom power is only controlled via the app is also a negative and increases your reliance on the high learning curve software.

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 fill both mobile and centerpiece positions in a studio.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Audio Science Review amirm 90/100
Sound On Sound Robin Vincent 96/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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.

Cons

  • Clunky routing software
  • Feature set may be too specific for common use - not as portable as some yet not as many preamps as others

Pros

  • Fits a specific niche perfectly - has MIDI I/O and S/PDIF I/O with only 2 preamps
  • Sports 3rd gen Scarlett preamps including "Air" function and improved headroom

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.

The 8i6 is a godsend for home producers with external gear that don't need a lot of inputs. Given the price and functionality, there is little need to make the jump to the next interface in the lineup for most bedroom producers.

On a lower note, the 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 preamps also prevents it from being used as an interface to record using a full drum mic kit.

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.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Ask Audio Hollin Jones 95/100
Recording Magazine Alex Hawley 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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

Cons

  • Only has ADAT in and no output

Pros

  • 4 mic preamps make it a clear step up from the 8i6 without sacrificing too much portability
  • Includes everything great about the 3rd generation of Scarlett interfaces such as the "Air" feature
  • Perfect loadout for duos featuring 2 singers and 2 guitars

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. Mobility is the name of the game this day and age and the 18i8 is specifically designed for people 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.

A sad compromise that was made possibly to fit the price bracket is it only having ADAT in but no output. Having an ADAT out would have increased the versatility of this device by allowing it to "slave" to a higher end interface that might have more premium analog to digital converters.

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.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube RebirthofSOC 97/100
YouTube Larry Ivy 88/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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.

Cons

  • Clunky routing software

Pros

  • Time-tested reliability and quality
  • Generous amount of inputs and outputs with expansion options for even more
  • Improved third generation preamps featuring "Air" ISA emulation and more headroom

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.

It has enough inputs to record a full band on its own. Additional inputs can be patched in via ADAT for 18 simultaneous inputs. The 20 outputs can be used to route to outboard gear or additional monitoring in your studio.

It also features a built-in talkback microphone.

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

The same clunky routing software included with other Scarlett interfaces is present here as well. There were some problems with the drivers on early units but those have since been resolved by updates from Focusrite.

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 winner.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube sonicstate 84/100
Prosound News Frank Verderosa 86/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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

Cons

  • No level metering

Pros

  • Premium sounding Hammerfall converters
  • Latency-free effects via the onboard TotalMix FX DSP
  • Remarkable build quality and reliability

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.

Everything from sound quality, to its solid build quality, to its reliability score high in this interface and ace my criteria as a recording engineer.

Although to describe the Fireface UCX I would use superlatives like excellent, great, superior - all of which are reflected in the RME Fireface UCX's high ratings, one thing that I find lacking is visual level metering on the interface.

All in all, 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.

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Sam Inglis 94/100
AudioFanzine Los Teignos 88/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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.

Cons

  • Only 4 XLR jacks (combo)
  • Pros

    • Latency-free effects and routing via TotalMix FX mixer
    • Premium AD/DA converters
    • Amazing clarity and overall sound quality

    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.

    I must give top praise to its clarity and overall sound quality, I'm also thrilled with its versatility and connectivity. I would describe its sound as clear and uncolored, ideal for those who want transparent recordings of instruments and vocals. It works equally well on Mac and PC.

    I wish it had some added features like, extra XLR combo inputs, while I'm not too happy with how the manual describes its operation.

    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.

    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

    Rating Source Highlights

    Website Source *Rating Value
    Sound On Sound Sam Inglis 97/100
    MusicTech Editor 80/100
    *Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

    RME Fireface UFX+

    93
    GEARANK

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

    Street Price: 

    $2999
    RME Fireface UFX+

    Cons

    • Included TotalMix software a bit clunky to use

    Pros

    • Huge number of inputs, outputs and connectivity options
    • Low latency and excellent stability via USB 3.0 / Thunderbolt connection
    • Top tier AD/DA, excellent preamps

    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.

    I would say that this is a 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 reasons why.

    The updated connectivity options guarantee future-proofing for the unit - it will enjoy relevance for many years to come.

    The TotalMix software can be a bit clunky though.

    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.

    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

    Rating Source Highlights

    Website Source *Rating Value
    Tape Op John Bologni 96/100
    Ask Audio Matt Vanacoro 98/100
    *Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

    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: 

    $359
    Tascam US-16x08

    Cons

    • Driver issues

    Pros

    • Quite affordable for the number of inputs
    • Good quality preamps
    • Easy to setup

    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 rating.

    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.

    I'm impressed with the quality of the preamps given the affordability of this interface, they provide a strong signal and low noise operation. It's also easy to set up.

    In the past there were some problems with the drivers, with reports of crashing, high CPU usage, and audio interruption. These problems have been reported less frequently since the new Version 4.00 of Settings Panel for Windows was released.

    If you're looking for 16 channels of input on a budget then this is an option to consider. I'm very pleased with the performance it offers and Tascam seems to be making strides in rectifying the driver issues, a little patience on your end might make the US-16x08 a perfect solution for you.

    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

    Rating Source Highlights

    Website Source *Rating Value
    Gearspace cojazz 90/100
    YouTube IbandUK 90/100
    *Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

    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.