Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Audio Interface
Antelope Orion Studio Synergy Core
FocusRite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface
Table of Contents
If you’ve ever wanted to record that smooth lick you just played, or mix and master an album from your bedroom, you’re not alone.
What you need to make your dream a reality is a great audio interface. This tool allows you to record your instruments directly into your Mac or PC, offering a streamlined, efficient recording at home.
We’ve picked the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Thunderbolt as the best audio interface for Mac, thanks to its crystal-clear preamps and sleek controls.
It’s certainly not your only choice, though. There are plenty of other great audio interfaces around, no matter your budget. And that’s why we’ve compiled nine of the best Mac-compatible audio interfaces in one simple list.
If you use a Windows PC, no need to worry — many of these interfaces will work for you too. So, whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro, this guide will have you recording and mixing your own music in no time.
The 9 Best Audio Interfaces for Mac:
Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Thunderbolt Audio Interface
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Thunderbolt offers top-notch audio quality in a streamlined, intuitive package. It’s got two onboard preamps with 48v phantom power, which can handle line level or instrument signals. And with a Thunderbolt 3 connector, it works with both Mac and Thunderbolt-compatible PCs.
On the other side of things, you get a pair of line and stereo outputs, so you can send your signals to a digital audio workstation (DAW). This lets you add effects as well as mix and master tracks on your computer.
They’re also enabled for Unison, a proprietary audio processing technology that emulates the impedance and gain stages of legendary consoles and preamps.
With 127 decibels (dB) of dynamic range, the Apollo Twin X offers unprecedented touch and presence. The interface preserves your natural dynamics, up to a 127dB difference between the softest and loudest passages.
The interface connects via Thunderbolt 3 to your desktop, with a headphone output for easy listening. The Thunderbolt connector also allows you to cascade multiple interfaces or preamps into each other, which helps you adapt as your home studio grows.
FocusRite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface
If you’re shopping for a new audio interface that’s compatible with Mac or PC, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. This USB audio interface is one of the most popular in the world, and for good reason.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 offers two mic preamps, which you can also use as instrument inputs or to connect sources already at line level.
It also includes 48v of phantom power to support condenser microphones which need an external power source, and “air mode” in the preamps. This mode adds natural analog warmth to your sound at the press of a switch for luscious, smooth vocal tracks.
Along with those preamps, you get high quality audio converters as the Focusrite Scarlett lets you record at up to 24 bit audio. You can also monitor your inputs in real time via the “direct monitor” function, for recording and mixing with zero latency.
As a final bonus, you also get a set of DAWs and plugins with the 2i2. A new purchase includes Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First and an extra set of special FocusRite Scarlett plugin suites and creative packs.
Antelope Orion Studio Synergy Core Thunderbolt Audio Interface
If you need an audio interface that can record a full band while delivering high quality audio, the Antelope Orion Studio Synergy Core is for you. This massive interface offers 12 separate mic preamp spaces, which can handle mics, instruments, or line level signals.
You also get 16 line outputs, with an additional two stereo monitors and headphone outputs. Twelve of these outputs include phantom power up to 48v, and the entire package connects to your Mac with USB 2.0 or Thunderbolt for zero latency recording and monitoring at up to 24 bit quality.
The real core of this package, however, is the amazing Orion Control Panel that lets you harness its digital signal processing (DSP) effects. The 32 effects strips (with eight effects slots per strip) let you add reverb, delay and more before your signal reaches your computer.
This software gives you an exceptional level of control over each preamp, plus the ability to blanket your sound in onboard effects. With this level of flexibility and the space to record a full band on any DAW for Mac or Windows, the Orion is one of the top premium choices on the market.
Arturia AudioFuse Audio Interface
Arturia’s AudioFuse condenses studio-quality mic preamps into a smaller, neater design. If you’re always on the go but want a sleek interface that doesn’t sacrifice quality sound, make sure to check out this high-end option.
The AudioFuse carries a pair of mic preamps with 48v of phantom power and split control banks on top to tweak each preamp’s gain individually. You also get two line inputs, with a headphone output and a bank of musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) and USB inputs and outputs so you can connect to external keyboards and controllers.
Zero latency monitoring allows you to listen in on your unaltered sound (which goes up to 24 bit audio) at the touch of a button. One other great feature is the built-in microphone, which lets you communicate with musicians in another room.
To connect to your Mac, PC, and external devices, the AudioFuse offers a bank of three micro USB 2.0 ports. The interface also includes eight digital preamp emulations, stretching from studio consoles to mic-specific preamps and classic effects like reverb and delay.
PreSonus Studio 24c 2x2 USB-C Audio Interface
PreSonus’ Studio 24c audio interface is one of the best audio interfaces for producers who want USB-C compatibility and smooth audio at an accessible price. With a pair of mic preamps for guitars, basses, vocals or line level instruments, it can handle anything you throw at it with ease.
For premium audio quality, the 24c offers 24-bit audio, monitoring and playback up to 192kHz, and up to 48v of phantom power. Together, these features offer you studio quality audio in a package that fits in your palm.
You also get low latency monitoring thanks to the mixer knob, which lets you blend the signal between your Mac and your speaker outputs. The input dial, meanwhile, is a quick and easy way to make sure your signal never gets too loud or soft.
Finally, the 24c comes with PreSonus’ Studio One Artist DAW, so you can instantly start recording, mixing and sampling with just the audio interface and your Mac or PC with USB-C. If you prefer another software, don’t worry — this interface works with any DAW on Mac or Windows.
Audient ID44 USB Audio Interface
Audient boasts decades of experience manufacturing pro audio equipment, and its ID44 USB audio interface showcases the results of those skills. This interface includes four mic preamps and two JFET DI inputs to run instruments straight into your computer, with high-end analog warmth and 24 bit sound.
The array of controls on top of the ID44 lets you tweak each input level individually, with a host of extra features for each mic preamp and the DI inputs.
The DI inputs include preamp circuitry modeled after a harmonic tube amp, so you can get a great sounding DI tone without needing to open up Pro Tools or your DAW of choice. There’s also a pair of headphone outputs so you can monitor your sound in the recording studio.
Unlike some other interfaces, the ID44 is almost completely noiseless, even at the highest gain levels. This is great for crowded recording studios and noisy environments, where you need a preamp that can deliver pristine sound in suboptimal conditions.
Behringer UMC404HD Audio Interface
If you need a budget interface that doesn’t skimp on the outputs, then the Behringer UMC404HD is for you.
This Mac and PC interface provides four line inputs, with one additional MIDI input and output — and it can save you hundreds compared to some of its competitors.
The four outputs include 48v of phantom power, which means they’re compatible with any microphone on the market. To connect to your Mac, you can use the USB 2.0 input for a smooth, ultra low latency connection.
The UMC404HD also works seamlessly with all DAWs including Ableton and Pro Tools, which makes it a breeze to start recording once you have your interface.
In terms of actual sound, the interface offers 24 bit audio and 192kHz of resolution. These specs are the same as some preamps costing hundreds more so, whether you’re a hobbyist or a serious professional, this interface delivers plenty of power and clarity to suit your needs.
Prism Sound Atlas Audio Interface
For a professional-grade interface with all the bells and whistles you could ever need, the Prism Sound Atlas is the best option on the market. It’s built with eight mic preamps featuring Prism Sound’s legendary tone and “future-proof” management data input/output (MDIO) expansion slot for ultimate compatibility.
The Atlas’ USB outputs can connect to any DAW on Mac or Windows PC, allowing you to manage the in-depth control panel of the interface. You get an unprecedented level of control over each input, with precise level dials and a -20db cut pad.
The MDIO expansion slot links the Atlas directly to hardware like Pro Tools HDX or a Dante network. It’s a semi-modular digital interface slot, which means you can swap in any MDIO module that Prism produces and connect straight to new external hardware interfaces.
Prism continues to produce new MDIO modules as newer systems come on the market, which means your Atlas will stay on the cutting edge for years after you purchase it. And, if you ever switch networks, you can just swap MDIO modules to preserve your Atlas’ direct compatibility.
TC-Helicon Guitar Pro Audio Interface
Many interfaces are aimed at producers and studio workers who need lots of inputs and pristine sound to record an entire band. However, for guitar players who just want to track their guitar without all the other bells and whistles, the TC-Helicon Guitar Pro is the perfect audio interface to check out.
The Guitar Pro still has a lot of the features of classic interfaces. It’s got a USB port for computer access and it can split your guitar outputs back to an amp as well as directly into a board.
However, unlike most other interfaces, the Guitar Pro is sleek enough to fit in your pocket or on your belt. You can control gain and volume via knobs on the side of the box, which gives you greater flexibility while keeping the form factor small.
To unlock the full potential of the Guitar Pro, it connects with TC-Helicon’s greater software ecosystem. Plug this into your DAW of choice and you’ll gain access to a wider range of preamps, emulations and music production software.
What Is An Audio Interface?
Audio interfaces might be easy to glance over, but they’re a crucial part of any home studio setup. At its core, an audio interface takes the signal from your instrument, runs it through a preamp and sends it to your Mac for you to mix and master.
Audio interfaces process both signals from instruments like guitars and basses and “line level” inputs from microphones, vocals and keyboards. This makes an interface the nexus of your home studio. The best audio interfaces must capture high quality sound (usually 24 bit) while also providing USB outputs and preventing any extra latency or distortion.
Many producers use audio interfaces to add some warmth and color to their sound with built-in preamps. These features “polish” your recordings to give them an authentic, natural tone before hitting your Mac. Some interfaces also include DSP effects like reverb, delay and more to help you quickly dial in one perfect tone and minimize the work you do on your computer.
How to Choose the Best Audio Interface
One of the downsides to cheaper audio interfaces is your recordings might suffer from distortion, latency, or poor audio quality overall. But because these devices are so complex, it can be difficult to separate out the best audio interfaces from the rest.
We’ve put together a quick guide on what features to look for as you choose the best audio interface for your needs. One of them is bound to be “the one” for you.
Bit depth measures the total resolution of your recordings. A larger bit depth means that your audio interface can record more detailed audio, with more dynamic touch and color. Bit depth works similarly to pixel resolution on a camera: the greater the bit depth, the clearer and more detailed your final audio signal will be.
Audio interfaces with higher bit depth tend to preserve more dynamics and articulation in your final sound, with more resonance and a more natural sound. On the other hand, interfaces with low bit depth measurements may compress your recordings, or sound shallow and tinny because of a lack of sufficient resolution.
Bit depth rates vary, but 24 bit depth is the standard across most audio interfaces today. It’s a good rule of thumb to look for an interface with at least 24 bit depth, so you get the best resolution possible. This gives you a wide dynamic range and ensures that accidental compression won’t compromise your final recordings.
Audio interfaces switch your instrument signal from analog to digital for processing, then back to analog to send it out to your speakers. The sample rate tells you how many times per second your interface takes your analog signal and “samples” it to digital.
It’s measured in kilohertz (kHz), which is a unit for waveform frequency. One kHz equals 1,000 Hz, so a sample rate of 1 kHz means that your interface samples your analog signal to digital 1,000 times every second.
Like bit depth, larger sample rates are better. You need an absolute minimum of 44.1 kHz to prevent obvious digital artifacts in your signal, because this is the sample rate of CDs. Any lower, and listeners on CDs may notice unwanted noise in your recordings.
However, many engineers prefer interfaces with sample rates of 96 kHz or more for better audio quality. A higher sample rate means that your audio won’t create digital artifacts until a higher frequency — and pushing the sample rate higher can move the target frequency out of the audible range for humans.
This refers to how your audio interface connects to your computer. Many PCs and most Mac laptops use USB connectors, but for Mac desktops and newer PCs you should also look for audio interfaces that can connect via Thunderbolt.
USB interfaces are a great choice if you want gear that won’t become obsolete quickly. USB 2.0 is standard on many Macs and PCs, but the newer USB 3.0 and 3.1 designs can transfer data up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0.
This comes in handy on larger interfaces, where you need to transfer lots of data to your Mac or PC with low latency. USB 3.0 and 3.1 often run on USB-C connectors as well, which are much smaller than USB 2.0 connectors. This saves you space on your interface and your computer.
On the other hand, Thunderbolt connectors offer even faster speeds than USB 3.1, and they’re quickly becoming common on both Macs and PCs. Thunderbolt connectors also run through USB-C ports — so the technology probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Thunderbolt, however, is still confined to Mac computers and some newer Windows PCs. If you’re recording on the road or don’t have consistent access to a Thunderbolt-equipped computer, then you’ll need an interface with USB connectivity as well.
Direct Zero Latency Monitoring
This technique lets you listen to the signal fed into your audio interface, by routing the input directly to the outputs of the interface. Many producers like to use direct monitoring with zero or low latency to get a feel for the base sound while recording in the studio, before adding any effects or processing.
An audio interface with DSP effects can add delay, EQ, reverb, and compression to your sound before it reaches your mixing station. Some producers love to use them, while others prefer effects on their computer instead.
That’s because adding effects in a DAW gives you many more flavors of the effect to work with, and allows you to retain both your clean and wet signals. With high quality plugins and vintage emulations on DAWs like Pro Tools, you can even mimic the exact sound of classic effects and pedals from music history.
If you want to record quickly and efficiently, however, DSP effects can save you a lot of time. They minimize the amount of processing that you need to do on your computer and make it easy for beginners to get the hang of adding effects to their tracks.
Instrument and Line Inputs
While these might look similar, it’s important to keep them separate. Line inputs have lower impedance than instrument inputs, to accommodate a line instrument’s stronger signal.
Passive instruments like guitars and basses go through the inputs for instruments, while digital instruments like keyboards and microphones must go through line inputs. You may also see line inputs abbreviated as “Hi Z” inputs, because the abbreviation “Hi Z” often stands for “high impedance.”
The best audio interfaces also include switchable inputs, allowing you to adjust the impedance to use them as either instrument or line outputs.These inputs are often called “combo inputs,” because they allow you to insert an XLR cable around the edge or a 1/4-inch jack through the center.
You should also pay attention to the number of line inputs with phantom power. Phantom power offers a power supply to mics that need external power to run. Most condenser mics fall into this category, because they contain active electronics which require an external power supply.
High quality audio interfaces might include phantom power that you can switch on for each of the outputs, but more affordable interfaces offer one switch that activates phantom power for all of the outputs at once.
This works well if you only use condenser mics and it won’t damage most dynamic mics that don’t need phantom power, either. However, you should be careful not to leave phantom power on when plugging in or unplugging your mics. It will create a loud popping noise that can damage the microphones and your ears over time.
A musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) is a software system that allows different software programs and hardware instruments to exchange information in real time with each other. MIDI inputs and outputs let you route external keyboards or other controllers into your DAW.
Many home studio gurus use it to play digital keyboard patches with an external MIDI keyboard controller, for example. Because your computer logs specific MIDI messages rather than recording sound from a keyboard, MIDI is also far more flexible than some traditional instruments.
For example, if you record a synth through a MIDI patch but don’t like the tone, you can switch it to a guitar or a traditional piano sound later in your DAW, without re-recording the passage. This makes MIDI particularly effective with DAWs like Pro Tools which offer a lot of emulation plugins. The plugins help you take advantage of MIDI’s flexibility to record more unique sounds.
If you only have one external controller, though, you might not need an audio interface with MIDI. Many controllers (particularly keyboards) include MIDI built-in and connect to your Mac or PC directly via USB. In these cases, you can run your other instruments through the outputs on your interface and track your MIDI devices straight into your computer separately.
Remember that you’ll need both an input and an output to use one MIDI controller, so pay attention to the overall number of MIDI inputs and outputs to ensure you have enough space for all your external MIDI devices.
Is An Audio Interface the Same As A Mixer Or Sound Card?
While you might be tempted to confuse them, there are some key differences between mixers, sound cards and audio interfaces.
USB interfaces only convert your signal from one format to another — for example, from your instrument to Pro Tools on your Mac. They do this via their mic inputs and USB outputs, so they can convey the exact same sound on one end as on the other.
The best audio interfaces are renowned for preserving the core qualities of a given sound and adding just a touch of warmth.
Mixers, on the other hand, receive multiple inputs and condense those into fewer outputs which travel via USB to your Mac. Mixers include a set of onboard EQ controls and preamp tools, so you can tweak the sounds of the different layers before you transfer them to your Mac.
If you just want to preserve your sound without mixing it, an interface like the Focusrite Scarlett will be the better choice for you.
A sound card is a type of stripped-back audio interface, but it has poorer audio quality and lower headroom. In many cases, using a sound card for recording will lead to mediocre results thanks to technical limitations.
The major limitation of a sound card is that you must install it onto your computer’s motherboard. If you’re working from a laptop (whether Mac or PC), you won’t be able to install a sound card onto your computer’s motherboard at all. There’s simply no space to install it or to conveniently place any input and output slots.
Even if you can install a sound card to your desktop, you’ll only be able to record from that one device. This might not be a big drawback if you work exclusively in your bedroom, but if you want to record on-the-go you won’t be able to remove a sound card and easily take it with you.
Whether you’re just starting to build a home studio or you want to record an entire album, a great audio interface is crucial to get the best quality sound.
For this roundup, we’ve picked the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X as the best audio interface for Mac. It offers pristine audio above every other model in its class, as well as a streamlined, intuitive user interface.
There are plenty of other great audio interfaces on the market as well. Check out our entire list to find the perfect tool for your studio size and budget.
Do you agree with our picks for best audio interfaces? Are there any other interfaces that you’d avoid when you record? Let us know in the comments below.