Best iPhone or iPad Audio Interface - May 2023
Best iPad Audio Interfaces - Lightning Compatible
Can I use audio interface with iPad? Yes, and you can get one with convenient lightning cable connectivity. Below are the top rated iPad audio interfaces that allow for convenient out-of-the-box use, forgoing the need to purchase USB to lightning adapters separately.
IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 Guitar Audio Interface
- One trick pony - only for guitar
- Easy to set up and use - no external power required
- More convenient for guitar than a regular interface
- Turns your iPad into a headphone amp with lots of effects for practicing
When the original iRig hit the scene, it revolutionized guitar tone possibilities. It enabled guitar players to use their mobile devices as music production platforms, effects units, and even as live performance tools.
The iRig HD 2 is the successor to this legacy with an upgraded 96kHz sampling rate and a 1/4" output jack for connecting your virtual rig to a real amp or P.A. system.
When you want to use your iPad just to practice guitar, the iRig is a lot more convenient than setting up a regular interface. But it's not limited only to practice duties, it has a pretty good sound recording to the iPad as well.
Even though it only comes with the cut-down version of AmpliTube, you can still spend hours enjoying different effects through your headphones. As a bonus, it also works as a plugin for your DAW.
The combination of the iRig with AmpliTube means you can use your iPad as a versatile guitar headphone amp with more sounds than you typically get from regular ones.
Although I haven't tried this myself, I've even heard good reports about using it live with the iPad acting as an effects unit.
If I had a complaint it would be that it's a one-trick pony, you can use it for guitar but nothing else so it's a piece of gear that's more of a guitar accessory than an iPad device.
The IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 is a great audio interface for guitar-specific uses. With AmpliTube bundled in, the combination gives a lot of freedom for tonal exploration for the tone-chasing guitar player.
- A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
- Connectors: 1 x USB Micro-B (also includes lightning cable)
- Simultaneous Channels: 1 x 1
- Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (instrument)
- Outputs: 1 x 1/4" (amp processed/amp thru)
- Features: High-quality, instrument-level 1/4" Hi-Z input jack, Adjustable input gain, 24-bit A/D conversion.
- Power: Bus Powered
- Phantom Power: None
- Bundled Software: AmpliTube SE
Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning
- Needs a separate USB power adapter for use with the iPad - not included
- Gain adjustments are tricky
- Great for mobile recording - particularly for speech
- Solidly built - it's safe to carry on your travels (reasonable care assumed)
- Perfect for your first 'serious' interface
The Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning is a versatile iPad audio interface that comes in a mini-rack form factor.
As the label implies, this version comes bundled with a lightning cable. This connects it with the latest iPads and modern iOS devices out-of-the-box.
Note that the lightning cable doesn't provide power so you need a separate USB power adapter and this also will not charge the iPad while in use. You don't however need the adapter when running it off your laptop or PC.
The iTrack Solo Lightning is meant for the entry-level market. It's great for recording speech in addition to music demos, which makes it a good piece of podcast equipment to have.
If you're going to record songs to release commercially, then I recommend going for the Scarlett Solo instead. That is, if you don't need the Lighting connection. I prefer the preamps on that model, they also provide more gain.
One thing you'll notice is that gain adjustments can be a bit tricky at first, but that's a non-issue once you've got the settings dialed in just right.
If you're accustomed to the sound of Focusrite preamps and want something portable, the iTrack Solo is a good pick. Even if it's your first or only interface, Focusrite's preamps have a reputation in the industry as being one of the best. If good raw tracks are what you need, get it.
- A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
- Connectors: Lightning, USB
- Simultaneous Channels: 2
- Inputs:1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" Instrument input
- Outputs: 1 x RCA Monitor Outs, 1 x 1/4" Headphones
- Power: USB
- Can charge IOS unit: No
- Phantom Power: Yes
- Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Novation's Bass Station, Focusrite Scarlett Plug-in Suite, 1GB Loopmasters Samples.
Best iPad Compatible USB Audio Interfaces
These are top-rated USB Audio interfaces that can work with the iPad via Apple's Lightning to USB adapter, or Camera Connection Kit. These interfaces work with the iPad because they are USB audio Class Compliant which means they don't need proprietary drivers.
The standard USB adaptors won't be able to charge your iOS device and generally won't supply enough power to these interfaces so they will need a dedicated power supply.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen
- Relatively weak headphone amp
- Air feature raises noise floor and sounds brittle on some mics
- Headphone and speaker outs share volume control
- Lots of gain on tap
- Includes "Air" feature found on higher end models
- Highly popular and proven benchmark compact interface
- Well-designed transparent preamps - will work well with most mics
The Scarlett Solo sports a basic set of outputs: a pair of L/R 1/4" outputs for studio monitors and a 1/4" stereo headphone out. While this setup wins points for simplicity, an important thing to note is that the volume for headphones and speakers are shared.
This means that you have to turn off your speakers when you want to mix on headphones. An independent headphone volume should have been an easy addition to the Solo without taking a hit at the manufacturing cost.
I speculate that this is because Focusrite sees the Solo as a USB Audio interface for the traveling / portable focused producer. One that mixes on headphones then occasionally on speakers when available but never at the same time.
Another caveat I found is that it had trouble driving my 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro There were some occasions where I wanted to monitor a bit louder but I can hear the headphone amplifier starting to get crunchy and saturated.
I would recommend headphones of up to 150 Ohms if you want to be able to efficiently drive them with the solo without distortion.
With condenser mics, the Solo shines with delicate-sounding vocals. It has the right amount of high-end crispness to help a solo vocal stand out from a piano or acoustic guitar instrumental.
For denser mixes, the lower midrange dip made by the high-frequency lift might have vocals easily buried. I found additional EQ to soften the high end to be beneficial for dense rock mixes.
For line-in sources and instruments, the DI tracks are slightly underwhelming. At least, compared to the preamp's performance with vocals. It's not bad but not quite on par with the dynamics and clarity of other instrument/DI inputs from other interfaces.
One thing that I have mixed opinions towards was the Solo's "Air" feature. Focusrite describes Air as an emulation of their ISA preamp tonality. To my ears, it adds upper midrange and high-frequency harmonics on top of your signal. This is great if you're using warmer-sounding microphones and dynamic mics.
It does have a trade-off of raising the noise floor a bit and making some mics sound brittle on the high-frequencies. Some mics end up being harder to mix into a full instrumental because the end result sounds more "polished". This presents a problem with certain genres that favor more warm sounding vocal tonalities. In these cases, I turn the Air feature off.
All in all, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen is a great iPad interface for the price.
- A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
- Preamp: 1
- Channels: 2
- Inputs: 1 x XLR combo (mic), 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z)
- Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS
- MIDI: None
- Power: USB bus powered
- Phantom Power: +48V
- Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First Focusrite Creative Pack, Focusrite Red plugin suite, several more
Universal Audio Volt 2
- Access to the interface control software requires account and login
- Vintage mode may be too strident with bright mics
- Vintage preamp mode adds life to darker sounding voices, mics and instruments
- Excellent build quality at this price point
- Versatile monitoring options
- Top tier software suite included
The Volt series is UA's way of kicking the notch up in quality for interfaces at this price point. It features a preamp section based on their 610 tube preamp/consoles. This circuit is famous for records like "Harvest" by Neil Young, "LA Woman" by The Doors and quite a few mention "Van Halen 1" by Van Halen was recorded on one. With this catalog of hits, it's impossible not to have high expectations.
The UA Volt 2 impressed me from the unboxing; an inconsequential thing for most but the presentation felt like it was a lot more expensive. The chassis is a combination of a powder coated black lower half and a textured, matte silver upper bout. This combo adds to the premium feel of the unit.
The knobs felt smooth and had the right resistance for finer adjustments. The buttons for phantom power, monitoring and engaging the vintage mode of the preamps are clear buttons with a raised plastic surround. The buttons themselves illuminate when activated and have a very high quality, tactile feel that inspires confidence in the long term durability of the unit.
The XLR combo plugs are made by Amphenol and are also of high quality. The knobs are accompanied by 2 LED lights each to indicate signal and clipping.
While the monitor host/direct switch has an indicator for which routing is activated. At the back, the two monitor out jacks are secured with a nut and washer.
Compared to Focusrite, this feels more solid and again, it inspires confidence in the long term durability of the interface. The Midi I/O jacks are standard fare.
I want to note the use of a big power switch on the back for such a small interface. All these high quality parts come together to a whole that I reiterate to be a solidly built interface.
One odd thing that struck me is that to connect the interface, Universal Audio supplies you with two USB cables. One for the data going into your PC or mobile device, and another for power from another USB port. I usually get a power supply that plugs into a wall socket along with a USB cable. My guess is that the preamp circuitry needs additional power to operate at a higher current.
It might be a bit early to address a personal con that would be a non-issue for most. In order to access the software controller for the interface, you need to make an account and log into it. Other interfaces are plug and play and the drivers don't require the input of any personal information. Again, this is more of a personal thing but it did get in the way of my excitement to try the interface.
But how does it sound? As is, without the vintage mode on, the interface sounded very neutral. It's comparable to the XMAX Preamps on my Presonus ioStation 24c ith a little bit more extended high-frequencies. It's subtle but I can definitely hear it while recording. Down the line this makes a good starting point for raw tracks that are going to be processed heavily.
With the vintage mode on however, additional harmonics are added at the upper mid and high-frequencies. It's not an EQ by the way. Additional harmonics are a byproduct of circuit design and adds a bit more density/smoothness compared to just boosting it with EQ.
So having the option of engaging upper frequency harmonics is a great option. Especially for warmer sounding microphones like theRode NT1.
I found that the Vintage Mode paired with a bright mic like the Lewitt LCT 440 Pure to be a bit too strident on the high frequencies. But this is an error of redundancy. It's a good thing that Universal Audio made the vintage mode a toggle because the Lewitt sounded better with it off. Having it only have the vintage mode on all the would have been a dealbreaker.
Latency was a bit slower than my Presonus ioStation 24c. But that is an unfair comparison given that my interface and DAW (Studio One) were designed around and optimized for each other. It's still fast compared to cheaper interfaces out there in terms of round trip time. I had no problem monitoring myself with a few plugins in the chain. 1 to 2 milliseconds of difference is negligible for monitoring.
The headphone output had no problems driving my headphones. I use 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros and DT 990 Pros in my studio. I was able to get them up to a good level with minimal distortion from the headphone amp. One thing to note is that it has a direct monitor switch, that allows for stereo or mono (the button can be pressed multiple times).
Compared to the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Independent speaker and headphone controls are a welcome addition.
One thing to note is the bundled software. It has a great amount of plugins from developers like Brainworx, Celemony (yes, it's bundled with Melodyne Essential!) and more. With Melodyne becoming more and more a requirement for any mix engineer, seeing it bundled with the interface along with virtual instruments and carefully curated plugins brings the value up a few notches.
The Universal Audio Volt 2 is a great entry into a market that's already crowded. It's a great audio interface for iPad thanks to the compatibility. While it does so without adding too much novelty into the mix, the build quality, bundled software and the preamp design makes it a great value. The richness that the preamp provides adds a lot of tonal nuance to those that know what to look for. Get it if you're looking to get that 610 preamp magic into your mixes without breaking the bank.
|Production Expert||Luke Goddard||95/100|
Things to Consider When Buying an Audio Interface for the iPad
- While many USB audio interfaces can work with the iPad via Class Compliant mode, they need certain accessories to work. They tend to be a bit complicated to setup. There are interfaces built to work connecting with the iPad. They sometimes incluide Apple's proprietary Lightning Connectors. They are the best choice if you want to avoid the complications of having to buy adapters, which can help reduce your music equipment clutter . Note that older iPads use older 30-pin connectors, so be sure to check whether the interface you're buying support these.
These are audio interfaces that utilize industry-standard USB drivers to work. They work seamlessly with multiple operating systems, including iOS. While being able to switch between your iPad and your computer is a good thing, they will need you to buy an Apple USB Camera Adapter to connect to the lightning interface on your iPad.
The main accessory people use is Apple's Lightning to USB Camera Adapter or the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit (for older 30 pin devices). More recently the Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter has become available. Although it's a bit pricier it does allow you to charge you're iPad while connected to USB which isn't possible with the other two. Note that USB interfaces generally won't be able to draw enough power via these USB adapters to operate. See the following section on power consumption.
The iPad is designed to limit the amount of power supplied to external devices. While this can preserve iPad battery life it also presents challenges for said external devices. This is the reason why most audio interfaces made specifically for the iPad need dedicated power though a few are capable of charging your iPad.
This makes them ideal for long recording sessions. Those interfaces that are 'bus-powered' have to contend with the iPad's limited power. They tend to be small one channel interfaces and features like phantom power are scaled-down, if not turned off. That said, they are the most convenient and portable options you find.
When it comes to compatible USB interfaces connected through a lightning adapter, you will need another supply of power. Interfaces that are USB bus-powered will usually not get enough 'bus power' via the lightning adapter to function. This is where interfaces that can use a dedicated power supply can come in handy.
The solution for interfaces that can only be USB 'bus-powered' is to use a powered USB hub. Although this works it does add another box and cable to your setup which can reduce the portability and convenience of the setup. Check out the video below on how to connect bus-powered interfaces with the iPad:
The USB audio interface is an integral studio equipment for home and mobile recording. If you're planning to record vocals and other instruments, you'll want one that comes with both 1/4" and XLR inputs. Note that electric guitars, basses, and other instruments need a higher impedance than line-level inputs. Even though they use the same 1/4" connection. So look out for connections or switches labeled 'Instrument' or 'Hi-Z' to see if an interface can handle these properly.
A workaround for this is to use a DI Box before going into the audio interface. Another important consideration is 48V phantom power capability. This is the standard when you're planning to use condenser microphones. Some interfaces also provide ADAT connections to allow you to add up to 8 extra tracks via a separate ADAT audio interface.
- Many of today's affordable audio interfaces come with the same mic preamps as their expensive counterparts. This means that even in the entry-level market, you are getting good sound quality with low Equivalent Input Noise (EIN). You can also expand your inputs and preamp options by using a Mixing Console.
Lightning Compatible Audio Interfaces
Class Compliant USB Audio Interfaces
Mic Preamp Quality
Best iPad Audio Interface Selection Methodology
The first edition was published in 2016. The current edition was published on May 1, 2023.
We changed our eligibility criteria and selection methods for this edition with only interfaces priced under $200 being considered. We selected the 2 highest rated interfaces compatible with Apple's Lightning cable and the 2 highest rated iPad compatible USB audio interfaces - while technically any USB class compliant interface can be used with the iPad, we made our own determination as to which non-lightning ones were eligible.
We collected rating and review data from store ratings, forum discussions, user videos, expert reviews and similar feedback sources to process with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 that you see above that were the basis for our selection. During this process we collected data about 46 eligible interfaces from over 45,700 sources. 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
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 regularly use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My main mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic and MXL V67G.
Alexander Briones: Editing.
Alden Acosta: Product research.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.
Main/Top Image: Compiled using photographs of Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen, Focusrite iTrack Solo and Universal Audio Volt 2.
The video has been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.
The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers except for the UA Volt 2 Speaker and Headphone Controls which was photographed by the author.
Yes, I tend to agree. The
Submitted by John Siket (not verified) on
Yes, I tend to agree. The iPad just doesn't have enough "juice" for bus-powering a stereo interface. Personally, I'd be too worried to rely solely on bus power during a recording. I always feel better knowing that I'm plugged into the "wall." If I needed to record something in the field where there were no electrical outlets I would probably use something like a portable "Zoom" recorder or something like that.