Best Professional Audio Interfaces
Next level recording equipment with these Pro Audio Interfaces
Things have come a long way since the days of an audio engineer in a white lab coat. We are spoiled for choice with super affordable recording equipment that those guys could only ever have dreamed of. Now, we all know how lovely and warm those early recordings were and for many of us, we’re chasing that rich texture that only analogue really gives us.
But that’s not to say we can’t get close; digital algorithms are now very precise. Some of the best professional audio interfaces out there not only emulate warmth, they ooze with valve goodness.
We’re in an age where for an affordable price, you too can create hits even George Martin would be proud of. For that you need the best professional audio interface available, at the price that fits your budget. Here’s our pick of the bunch.
- Universal Audio Apollo Twin Quad MkII
- Roland UA-1610
- Presonus Quantum Thunderbolt
- Focusrite Clarett 8
- Elektron Analog Heat
We’re going to start with the beast that is the Universal Audio (UA) Apollo Twin Quad MKII. UA are stalwarts in the industry, and have a fine heritage of making equipment with beautiful tone. The Apollo Twin is no exception. Boasting exceptional clarity, the A/D converters are among the best on the market, used on many hit records including artists like Kendrick Lamar, Coldplay, Brad Paisley and many more.
For your money, you’ll get lightning quick response through Thunderbolt connectivity, tracking up to 24-bit/192 kHz of audio conversion across two channels. But that’s not all. Through the optical cable, you’ll get another 8 channels of digital inputs. If that’s not enough, you can chain up to four Apollos and six total UAD-2 devices (SOLO, DUO or QUAD) adding I/O and DSP power.
Now what we have failed to mention yet is the crowning glory of this device. The ‘quad’ reference relates to the DSP processing power, which you’ll need as you take advantage of the plug-in bundles which includes the classic pre-amp UA 610, UA 1176 and LA-2A compressors and Pultec EQs. This is the setup of the gods right here.
The Roland UA-1610 is the kind of tool that project studio musicians with a large setup have been dreaming of. It features a whopping 16 ins (12 of which have high quality mic preamps), along with 10 outputs. All those outputs mean you performers can have up to 8 mono headphone mixes.
With this many ins and outs, you’ll easily record a band with full drum kit coverage, no problem. And if you have outboard gear then you’ll have lots of room for I/O routing.
There are features, and then there are features. The Presonus Quantum Thunderbolt gives you it all. Ultra-low latency Thunderbolt connectivity at 24-bit/192 kHz audio conversion, featuring 8 class A mic preamps. It feels like a hardcore piece of studio kit, and that’s because it is one.
Through ADAT optical you’ll be able to run a total of 26 inputs and 32 outputs; that is fairly monstrous. As well, you’ll get a bundle of free plugins too. But the best bit, for us, you can control the preamps over an iPad, that’s a swish touch. Oh yeah, did we mention it has MIDI I/O too?
Focusrite has always been one of those companies that does things differently, and the Clarett 8 continues that trend. You see, the company is known for preamps that are ultra-transparent. That means when you’re recording instruments that have a very specific sound, like timpani, electric guitar or vocals, you’ll capture that sound perfectly. There’s no colouration involved, and a lot of people like that. It’s all thanks to the ISA transformer-based preamps which give you loads more headroom.
What’s great about this device too is not just the huge amount of connectivity options (18 inputs and 20 outputs) when used with ADAT optical. Not to mention 8 mic inputs and 10 outputs onboard, plus MIDI I/O.
The Focusrite Clarett 8 also uses ultra-fast Thunderbolt technology, meaning superb low latency. That means you can perform real-time monitoring of recordings via plug-ins in your DAW. Pretty astonishing really! Plus it comes with Red plug-ins that emulate Focusrite’s Red range of EQs and compressors, and then there’s the software control mixer.
This device packs a punch for those who want super clean audio, at an affordable price.
This is more of a wildcard audio interface. What we love about it is that while you get 2 in/out 48kHz, 24-bit D/A and A/D of professional audio converters, it does something more. It adds magic. Elektron Analog Heat allows you to process audio in ways that can add old school dirt to your sound, going from warm to downright grimy. Imagine making devastating sounds from virtually any source, and you can, because it supports MIDI too.
It’s a dream to take a low cost instrument and totally change the tone into something wonderfully dark and with ease. The controls are all well laid out and don’t use jargon or gimmicks, just awesome tone at your fingertips. And when you found that tone you’ve been seeking, you can save it, it allows you to store up to 128 custom sounds. Banging!
It’s clear that the best professional audio interface manufacturers are really tuned into the market, and it’s refreshing to see so many different options available. If you’re a DJ, solo artist, project studio owner or a band there’s something for everyone out there, all at prices not to be grumbled at. We are living in good times indeed.