Last updated: September 6, 2020

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USB audio interfaces are very versatile devices, the universality of their connection making them extremely popular in different sectors. If you are looking to make high-quality recordings from your computer, you can use them to connect your microphones and musical instruments, such as electro-acoustic guitars or electric basses.

In addition, they are often cheaper than other options that are not based on a USB connection. In any case, choosing the right model can be particularly challenging, considering the wide range of manufacturers and models available on the market. This is why we have created the following guide to give you the tools you need to make the best possible purchase.

Key Facts

  • USB audio interfaces are electronic devices that connect to the computer – or other electronic equipment – through a USB port. While their functions are that of integrated sound cards, they offer better performance when it comes to recording.
  • These products are designed specifically for musicians and have become an essential element in their equipment, especially for composition or recording tasks. As their name indicates, they act as an interface between the musical instruments and your computer.
  • There are various vital shopping criteria that you should take into account when purchasing your own USB audio interface. First of all, you have to evaluate how you plan on using it. You should also check the number and types of ports, without forgetting your budget, of course!

Our Selection: The Best USB Audio Interfaces on the U.S. Market

In the following section, you will discover our selection of the best USB audio interfaces currently available out there. We have chosen a variety of models, each of which offers distinct features and functionalities. All have received praise from past customers and provide great value for money. We hope this list helps you identify the model you need.

Best-Selling USB Audio Interface

The Focusrite Scarlet Solo is the perfect audio interface for guitarists and singers. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac computers, and its small, rugged design makes it practical to travel with. This product features an XLR input and an instrument input, as well as headphone output. Backed by a 3-year manufacturer’s warranty, the Scarlet Solo is delivered with Pro Tools, so you have everything you need to start creating.

Best USB Audio Interface for Vocalists

This incredibly affordable product is as simple as it is useful. Its no-frills design features a USB Type-A on one end and a stereo output and microphone input jack on the other. That means that you can record vocals anywhere, anytime you like – in fact, this audio interface easily fits in your back pocket. Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems, it is plug-and-play. This product has a one-year warranty.

Best USB Audio Interface by Behringer

The German company is an industry leader in sound engineering products, and the U-Phoria UMC22 is a high-quality USB audio interface for musicians. The Audiophile 48kHz resolution delivers professional quality. The two inputs and outputs available allow you to use a variety of instruments and equipment with it. Integrating phantom power, it is compatible with a wide range of recording software, as well as Windows and Mac OS.

Best USB Audio Interface: Amazon’s Choice

The PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 hasn’t become Amazon’s Choice in the category for no reason. With dozens of high ratings from past customers, this audio interface offers 24-bit resolution and different sampling rates to work with. Connectivity-wise, it integrates two combo microphone/instrument inputs. In addition, this audio interface comes with a free license for Studio One Artist DAW. Compatible with Mac and Windows.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About USB Audio Interfaces

You will need to consider a series of key aspects when searching for your USB audio interfaces. As you’ve just seen, there are many models out there, and not all include the same features. In fact, many devices are tailored to specific user profiles. This is why we have answered the most frequently asked questions regarding USB audio interfaces in the section below.

Hand adjust volume of the audio interface

These devices are the interface between musical equipment and your computer, allowing you to connect both condenser microphones and musical instruments.
(Source: Prathan Nakdontree: 82121801/ 123rf.com)

What are USB audio interfaces exactly?

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.

What are the advantages 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. You can compare their pros and cons in the table below:

Advantages
  • Practically all devices integrate USB ports.
  • Their price is usually lower than other options.
  • They allow you to record sound and voice with better quality.
  • You can use a sequencer to record all kinds of instruments.
  • These devices are usually compact and easy to transport.
Disadvantages
  • Professional models can be fairly expensive.

How can I use my USB audio interface?

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.

audio cable in a studio closeup

There are various types of USB audio interfaces, with different digital and analog inputs and outputs.
(Source: Roman Gorielov: 33619525/ 123rf.com)

What are the most common inputs and outputs?

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:

  • Microphone input: It consists of an analog audio connection to which the microphone can be connected with an XLR connector.
  • Instrument input: You can directly connect your electric or electro-acoustic guitar or bass through a jack plug.
  • Line input: It allows you to attach any device with a line output – such as electric pianos, synthesizers, and mp3 players – through a jack cable.
  • S/PDIF input/output: S/PDIF digital audio connection via RCA cable.
  • MIDI input/output: You can connect equipment that uses the MIDI protocol, such as keyboards, controllers, and synthesizers. The connection is naturally established using a MIDI cable.
  • Headphone output: As the name indicates, it lets you connect headphones using a jack cable.
  • Monitor output: Once again via a jack cable, you can connect the audio interface to your monitor using this output.
  • USB: This is how you connect the device to your computer.

What is the sound resolution of USB audio interfaces?

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 accurately the sound will be reproduced. 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.

Eddie KramerRecording Producer & Engineer

“Mixing is way more art and soul than science. We don’t really know what we’re doing. We’ve all been faking it for 40 years. We do it because we love music. It’s what gets me going every day. It’s the love of music first.”

Buyer’s Guide

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.

Personal Use

As you can imagine, you won’t need the same type of audio interface to make professional recordings as you would for more leisure 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. If you play in a band, however, 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.

Close-up view of Professional portable red sound card.

As you can imagine, you won’t need the same type of audio interface to make professional recordings as you would for more leisure uses.
(Source: Dmitrimaruta: 95685279/ 123rf.com)

Number & 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.

You must have an XLR input for voice recording with a microphone.

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 & 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 – in particular if you’re recording live – or a MIDI output if you’re working with equipment that uses that protocol.

PrinceAmerican Singer-Songwriter

“When I first started out in this music industry, I was most concerned with freedom. Freedom to produce, freedom to play all the instruments on my records, freedom to say anything I wanted to.”

Compatibility

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 that your USB audio interface is compatible with.

Power Supply

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 phantom that is used for condenser microphones.

Summary

If you are an amateur musician and want to connect your condenser microphone or instruments to your computer, you should get your hands on an external audio interface. Nowadays, the best way to connect these devices is by using a USB port. Luckily for you, there is a wide variety of models on the market – and the right one for you is out there, too.

The audio interface you need, as well as the input and output options it offers, will ultimately depend on how you plan to use it. In addition, you should make sure that it is compatible with all the equipment you already own. Once you take into account the main criteria, you should have found one or several options to help you make high-quality recordings.

We hope that our shopping guide helped you pick the perfect USB audio interface. If that’s the case, feel free to leave us a comment in the section below. You can share this article on your social media so that your musician friends also make the most of this handy device!

(Source of featured image: Heiko Schneider: 92496450/ 123rf.com)

Why you can trust me?

Brett Holmes Technology Geek
Brett is a keen observer of the latest technology trends and knows his way around the industry because he runs an electronics store. He writes about it in his spare time and wants to help others learn more about the technology industry.