Best usb audio interface 2021 • 7 usb audio interfaces Reviews
USB audio interfaces are very versatile devices that are often cheaper than their non-USB counterparts. Considering the range available on the market, choosing the right model can be challenging. This is why we have created the following guide to help you make the best purchase.
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What is a USB audio interface and how does it work?
These electronic devices connect to the computer through a USB port to perform the functions usually done by integrated sound cards. However, they offer a superior performance overall, and more particularly when it comes to recording tasks.
The reality is that built-in sound cards aren’t optimized for recording music, which is why you need higher-quality equipment for this. These devices are the interface between musical equipment and your computer, allowing you to connect both condenser microphones and musical instruments.
The capacity to use it for professional tasks, as well as the number of features you have available, ultimately depends on the model you purchase. In any case, you can connect your musical instruments, condenser microphones, soundboards, MIDI keyboards, and amplifiers to your computer.
This means that you can use them to make high-quality voice-overs or recordings. These audio interfaces have become essential if you want to set up your own music studio at home. Besides, you can easily take them with you for live recordings. In addition, they allow you to connect headphones, speakers, and monitors.
What types of USB audio interfaces are there?
As you already know, there are various types of USB audio interfaces. Each one offers distinct inputs and outputs, both digital and analog. This is why knowing the most common ones and the devices that can be connected through them is fundamental. You will find a brief description of these inputs and outputs below.
It consists of an analog audio connection to which the microphone can be connected with an XLR connector.
You can directly connect your electric or electro-acoustic guitar or bass through a jack plug.
It allows you to attach any device with line output (such as electric pianos, synthesizers, and MP3 players) through a jack cable.
S/PDIF digital audio connection via RCA cable.
You can connect equipment that uses the MIDI protocol, such as keyboards, controllers, and synthesizers. The connection is naturally established using a MIDI cable.
As the name indicates, it lets you connect headphones using a jack cable.
Once again via a jack cable, you can connect the audio interface to your monitor using this output.
This is how you connect the device to your computer.
Advantages and Disadvantages of USB Audio Interfaces
Since USB ports are found on virtually every electronic device out there, choosing a USB audio interface guarantees compatibility with a multitude of equipment. In addition, they are generally quite compact and easy to carry around, while remaining more affordable than other alternatives.
- Practically all devices integrate USB ports
- Relatively cheap
- Allow for better sound quality
- Compatible with a sequencer
- Typically compact and portable
- Professional models can be fairly expensive
Shopping Criteria for USB Audio Interfaces
Have you firmly decided that you need a USB audio interface? If that’s the case, there is a series of key shopping criteria that you need to consider. To help you make the right decision, we have detailed the most important factors in the following section. If you read carefully and keep them in mind when browsing the market, we guarantee you will be a step closer to the audio interface that best suits your needs.
As you can imagine, you won’t need the same type of audio interface to make professional recordings as you would for more leisurely uses. Keep in mind that the investment will be relatively bigger for the first case. Besides, the most appropriate model for use in a studio won’t be the same as the one you would use if you are often traveling.
In the same vein, you can opt for a more basic USB audio interface if your goal is to play a few songs now and then with your electric guitar. However, if you play in a band, you will need a more advanced model to make recordings with all the instruments you play. In that regard, the audio interface you buy should offer a greater variety of inputs.
Number and Type of Inputs
The input(s) you need will depend on the type and number of instruments you want to record. You should also think about whether or not you want to play these instruments simultaneously or separately. To record a live band, you need an audio interface that has as many inputs as the band has instruments.
For a synthesizer, an amplifier, or an electronic drum kit, you will need a line input. If you want to capture the sound of an electric guitar or bass, an instrument-level jack input is essential. For your MIDI keyboard, you should naturally look for a MIDI input.
Number and Type of Outputs
If you are using the USB audio interface in a recording studio, a single speaker output may be enough. However, if you are using it at home, you may also want to use a headphone output. This will allow you to play at any time without disturbing your neighbors.
For live use, on the other hand, you may need an extra stereo output to connect your monitors. You might also want a monitor output—particularly if you’re recording live—or a MIDI output if you’re working with equipment that uses that protocol.
This is a vital aspect that you cannot overlook. Some USB audio interfaces are only compatible with Windows- or Mac OS-based computers, while other models will work fine with both operating systems. If you use a Linux-based device, you can also find products that operate on it. In addition, we recommend that you pay attention to the music-editing software with which your USB audio interface compatible.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but some audio interfaces don’t actually require an external power source to work. All you have to do is connect them to your computer. These models are particularly appealing if you travel frequently and need to take your audio interface with you. Other products integrate an additional power option known as a phantom that is used for condenser microphones.
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What is the sound resolution of a USB audio interface like?
Just like image resolution, sound resolution influences the quality of any audio recording. In that regard, we can define it as the number of values at which the sound can be encoded into numeric data. Expressed in bits, this sound resolution can range from 16 to 24 bits.
The higher this value is, the more accurate the sound reproduction will be. A resolution of 16 bits is considered to be acceptable. However, the resolution commonly used in high-resolution audio formats is generally 24 bits. The same applies to the sampling frequency, where a higher value will provide better sound quality.
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