The Top 8 Audio Interfaces of 2016 for Independent Musicians
on May 19, 2016 in
We know that Independent Musicians are not looking to spend a hefty amount on their audio interfaces right at the start. However we also understand that you do want a decent sound off your recordings and songs.
As I usually say, there is no best option for any audio interfaces or music production tools. Its always what you require against what you have (budget).
Today, we are not going to go through a Theory lesson of what is an audio interface and what it does as we assume that you already knew what an music audio interface is and what it does so lets jump straight in to the Top 10 Audio Interfaces of 2016 for Independent Musicians.
PreSonus Audiobox iTwo
Lets start with a basic model first. PreSonus’s audio interfaces range includes everything from portable devices to multi-input rack units, but the most recent additions to the line-up focus on the more affordable end of the scale. Available in two versions, the iSeries interfaces are designed to work equally as comfortably with Macs, PCs and iPads, courtesy of PreSonus’s own Capture Duo app (a free download from the App Store).
The iOS functionality might be of interest to a minority, but we’d bet that the iSeries will mainly appeal to Mac and PC users, simply because they offer great value for money. It’s worth splashing out the extra bucks for the iTwo over the iOne; the more expensive unit features two combo mic/line/instrument inputs (only one of the iOne’s two inputs has a mic preamp) and adds MIDI in and out sockets.
The iTwo is fairly basic, but at this price level it’s an acceptable package from a trusted manufacturer. You also get a free copy of PreSonus’s Studio One Artist DAW with the audio interface, which is a common but always welcome extra in this entry-level price audio interfaces range.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
As you move up the price range, you expect more from an audio interface. Stepping up a level from the basic beginner audio interfaces, you start to see options which make audio interfaces much more versatile as well as expecting sound quality to improve.
Despite being around for a few years now, Native Instruments’ Komplete Audio 6 offers an impressively complete set of features for the money. You get four analogue inputs (two with preamps) and four outputs, plus two channels of digital I/O thanks to a coaxial connector round the back. Add the fact that it also has MIDI in and out plus basic monitor control in the form of that big top-mounted volume knob, and Komplete Audio Interfaces is great value for money.
It’s compact, superbly well built and runs entirely on USB bus power, making it a great portable option. Traktor compatibility also means it does nice double duty as a digital DJ setup. The icing on the cake is the inclusion of an impressive suite of software as part of the package. The bundle includes Cubase LE, the Komplete Elements suite of instruments and effects, plus Traktor LE for digital DJing.
Undoubtedly one of the more unusual audio interfaces on our list, the EIE (‘Electromusic Interface Expander’) takes a slightly different approach to most others on the market. Each of the four input channels is identical, which means it can accept microphone level, line level or instrument (‘guitar’) signals. Each channel also has its own channel insert for processing signals through outboard before recording. There are four outputs, MIDI in and out, plus a built-in USB hub.
The tabletop format and retro looks won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubt you get quite a lot of features for your money (especially when you consider the fact that most retailers are now knocking up to 40% off the RRP).
Perhaps the nicest touch of all is the inclusion of a pair of VU meters, which can be set to display the levels of any of the inputs or outputs. All in all, it’s an affordable audio interface with a lot going for it.
Released in 2009, the original Duet was something of a game changer in the audio interfaces world. This was a case of a company best known for making expensive, high-end audio interfaces turning their hand to something much more simple. But whereas the typical two-in, four-out audio interface at the time was most likely to be a pretty basic affair, Apogee didn’t cut any corners with the Duet. So while you didn’t get a lot of inputs and outputs for your money, you did get sound quality on a par with Apogee’s more expensive audio interfaces.
The Duet proved popular with musicians who wanted to record in high quality while travelling, but it also fit the needs of a lot of electronic music producers, (EDM Producers) many of whom simply don’t need the number of inputs you might need if you’re recording a full band.
The updated Duet 2 has a slightly brighter, more detailed sound thanks to redesigned preamps and converters, but also introduces a handful of welcome smaller features such as an OLED screen for much-improved front panel feedback.
If you only ever record one or two audio tracks at a time, or if you’re willing to multi-track your parts rather than record everything simultaneously, the Duet gives you superior sound quality to most other two-input options.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Universal Audio’s desktop Apollo Twin audio interfaces stands out from the rest of the options on our list for an obvious reason: all the Apollo audio interfaces include built-in UAD-2 processors, allowing you to run the company’s DSP-powered plugins.
Available with Thunderbolt or USB connectivity (aimed at Mac and Windows respectively), the Twin is the smallest audio interface in the Apollo range. Eight-channel and 16-channel options also available, but we’ve picked the Twin here because it offers a great introduction to the UAD platform for those just dipping their toe into the water, and the two-input configuration is consistently popular among electronic music producers.
Of course, the basics are all in place before you even get to the DSP capabilities. The Apollo’s two mic preamps are clean and transparent by default (more of which later) and the conversion is equally impressive, but the DSP capabilities are where the Apollo really shines. UAD plugins, including the bundled Realtime Analog Classics collection, can be used during recording or monitoring, but the clever Unison feature also allows certain UAD preamp plugins (such as the bundled UA 610 emulation) to be used during tracking, simultaneously adjusting the input impedance and gain staging response of the digitally controlled analogue preamps. Overall, the DSP options add a huge amount of flexibility to the production process, from the very moment you start recording all the way through to the final mixdown.
The Twin isn’t cheap for a two-input audio interface (and the DUO version, with twice the DSP power, will set you back an additional £200), but the price premium is entirely justified when you consider how much you’d have to pay for a similarly high-quality audio interface plus, say, a UAD Satellite.
You won’t find many companies who make a bigger range of audio interfaces than German stalwarts RME, whose line-up incorporates everything from old-school expansion cards to the thoroughly politically incorrect pink Ladyface model.
The company’s Fireface 400 and 800 audio interfaces model were some of the most popular options in the Firewire interface market, but as Apple and other computer manufacturers phased out the Firewire protocol, the company responded with new USB models. The Fireface UCX is essentially an updated version of the UC, which was in turn a USB 2.0 audio interface based on the Fireface 400. To confuse matters slightly, the UCX reintroduces the Firewire option dropped in the UC, giving users the choice of either protocol.
There’s also a new remote control option, but otherwise the UCX follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, offering eight analogue inputs (with two preamps) and eight analogue outputs, plus a comprehensive array of digital I/O, all of which is delivered with rock solid drivers, low latency and comprehensive routing via the company’s Total Mix software. It can even run in class-compliant mode, allowing you to record up to eight tracks simultaneously on an iPad.
iPad or not, RME’s interfaces are some of the strongest options in the mid-range market. The UCX is a worthy successor to the much-loved Fireface 400.
Florida’s Metric Halo make a fairly small range of high-end audio interfaces. We’ll shine the light on the LIO-8 here for two reasons: it’s a lot more affordable than the flagship ULN-8, and it’s a bit different to the other selections on our list.
The basic LIO-8 unit is simply an eight-channel line-level audio interface with no preamps. The unit can also be upgraded with mic pres, but at its heart it’s a device which prioritises clear, transparent conversion above all else, allowing you to use it in whatever way suits your creative process.
That flexibility will undoubtedly appeal to a lot of electronic music producers. Whether you’d prefer to hook up your own outboard mic pres, use an analogue mixer, or even if you only record line level sources, the LIO-8 is an interesting option. After all, why pay for mic preamps if you don’t intend to use them?
At the more expensive end of the audio interfaces market, the main thing you get for your money is, well, more of everything. More inputs, more routing flexibility and more outputs, but – most importantly of all – more clarity in your productions.
Prism Sound’s Titan – successor to the hugely popular Orpheus – must surely win the prize for packing the most features into a single rack space, but the feature list alone only tells a small part of the story. Prism’s interface have a reputation for ultra-clean converters, and that’s exactly what you get here. Only four of the inputs feature mic preamps (the assumption at this price point is that you’ll probably be working with standalone outboard mic pres), but with 18 inputs and 20 outputs, this is a hugely powerful tool.
Needless to say, the Titan is overkill for most of us, both in the sense that most dance music producers don’t need to record that many channels at once and in the sense that few of us will ever be able to justify the expense. Nevertheless, it must rank as one of the best choices as far as money-no-object audio interfaces go. We’d certainly recommend that you audition it against rivals like the Apogee Symphony I/O, but if you’re looking for the ultimate in clarity, the Titan has to be on your list of options.
If you have any audio interfaces which is not on the list and wish to share it with Independent musicians, please feel free to drop in your comments.
And Independent Musicians who are looking to buy an audio interface which is not listed here, please do drop the name of the audio interface and model in your comments to us and we can share some tips based on what we know.
Meanwhile till our next post, this is Mamiboys signing off and don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list for more music tips and buying guide.
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Mamiboys are a multi-genre Tamil independent music group formed in 2007 and have released over 15 Tamil independent songs over the years. For more information on us please feel free to visit the links below :
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