Best Portable USB Audio Interface: Which One To Pick?
Hey guys, what’s up? In this article, we are going to talk about how to find the best portable USB audio interface and what it is essentially.
Look, this device is very simple, yet complex. If you think about it, it’s basically an advanced sound card that you plug into your computer. There are several reasons why it’s a must-have for any recording studio.
Why do you need an audio interface?
Firstly, it accepts a wider range of input types. Most of the microphones use the XLR input, rather than USB. Guitar jacks are usually 1/4″, which usually won’t fit into your computer.
Moreover, it’s a lot more convenient to have an audio interface on your table. You plug all your cable into one device, and the device into your computer. Why?
Well, it’s common sense that it can be a fire hazard if you have too many wires in one place, in this case, behind your PC case. Plus there is a very high chance your computer/laptop doesn’t even have that many inputs, not mentioning the various input types.
Secondly, interfaces tend to have a better and higher sound quality audio cards, comparing to the built-in sound cards you get with your computer originally.
Lastly, there is a lot more flexibility. Interfaces come with a bunch of knobs and switches that let you control the output of the signal, increase/decrease the gain, switch between mics/instruments, and a lot more.
What’s the Power Supply button?
Oh yeah, for most condenser microphones, you need the power supply (so-called power phantom), which I talk about a lot more in-depth in my article about the best condenser microphones.
Basically, you need this electric power to charge the plate in the condenser microphone. And most interfaces, even the basic ones, have this button that you have to press to turn the power supply on.
So even if you managed to find an XLR to USB converter, your condenser microphone won’t work as it needs the power supply.
Okay, hopefully, this is clear. It’s a big deal to have an interface if you have the rest of the equipment ready to connect everything together.
Note: this is a list of the best audio interfaces when you are on a budget. They can go up in price to $5000+, but we don’t want to spend this much, do we? Who are you DJ Khaled or something?
Now when you are more clear on what the interface is, let’s start the list.
1) Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface
This audio interface is so big in the interface market, it’s ridiculous. These guys also make preamps, consoles, analog EQs and Channel Strips. However, if you were to google Focusrite and just go to images, the 95% of the results, if not more, are going to be their Scarlett interfaces.
I don’t know what their deal is, but they make good interfaces. Oh yeah, they are also geniuses when it comes to marketing. They are like Apple but in the world of interfaces.
Don’t get me wrong though, the quality is also amazing. The very first interface I’ve bought was the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. And it’s pretty much everything you would’ve asked for.
Okay, let’s finally talk about the product itself.
Focusrite Scarlett has 4 analog inputs: 2 mic preamps with gain knobs attached, and two instrument inputs designed for your guitar.
I can also note that the device has some amazing conversion and sample rates, up to 192 kHz / 24 bit. I wouldn’t say it’s something extraordinary, but it’s definitely something great considering the price, you feel me?
The latency can be an issue when recording, so interfaces are designed to decrease it as much as possible. With Scarlett 2i2, the latency is measured to be at around 2.74 ms, with a 32 samples buffer, and at 96 kHz.
Speaking simply, it’s a very small bugger length. It means there is a lot of pressure on the computer processors (really depends on your PC though). Most of you won’t be able to run it at 32 samples all the time.
Honestly, you only need to decrease the buffer length when recording, so it’s easier to monitor with a very low, almost unnoticeable latency.
Don’t lose me, guys!
In the back, you get the 1/4″ jack to plug your studio monitors in. Moreover, there is a headphones output with a knob to increase/decrease gain.
Once purchased, you will also receive the authentication key, which you use to authorize your interface on their website. In your profile, you will have cool plugins and sample packs showing up once in a while.
This alone actually amounts to a lot of money, if you buy all this stuff separately.
They also sell bundles with microphone and headphones included, but I wouldn’t suggest buying it.
*More about Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface.
Well, that should be it for the world’s highest selling interface, let’s move on.
2) PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2 Audio Interface
This bad boy is a little cheaper than Focusrite, but don’t let the price trick you. The Audiobox USB is a great interface with a lot of features.
The sampling goes up to 96kHz, compared to 192 kHz Scarlett sampling rate limit. The resolution stays at 24 bit, which is pretty much a standard these days.
You get 2 combo mic and instrument inputs, and the ability to control the gains and the mix control knob. It basically lets you control the input between the computer playback and the input signal. As a result, easier monitoring experience.
The feature the PreSonus AudioBox has that Scarlett didn’t is the MIDI in/out. It’s not a big deal when you have the USB MIDI, because you can simply connect it to your PC though. It also has a 48 V power supply included.
It’s claimed the AudioBox is zero latency, but it’s not true. Very good marketing strategy though. Basically, when your sample size is the lowest possible (usually 16), the latency ends up being just around 1 ms, which is pretty much unnoticeable.
Moreover, they don’t tell us how they tested, so it’s an empty claim. “Zero latency” is more of a trick, especially for the beginners.
I’ve actually watched the video of their Road Tough Test, where a truck just went over the interface. Then they went to the studio and recorded something on it and the quality was just as good, “minus some dusty tire tracks”.
I guess it just shows that it’s built of high quality and durable materials. Good advertisement too, have to admit that.
After you register the product, you also get a bunch of plugins and samples with it (6 GB+), so that’s something.
* More About PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2 Audio Interface.
3) M-Audio M-Track 2X2 C-Series USB Audio Interface
This interface has a rather unique design comparing to the previous two. Looking slick and professional, it’s also cheaper than the previous two. I can see why though.
The device’s design is a little cheaper and less durable. Therefore, the M-Track is less durable and less suitable for people who travel and perform live.
For a home studio, it’s a good bang for the buck. The sampling rate is at 192 kHz / 24 bit, which is the same as Scarlett.
This audio interface is also “zero latency”. As I mentioned before, it’s not quite true. Most interfaces make the latency unnoticeable, so a lot of them claim to have no latency whatsoever, without proof.
It’s not a crime, but I don’t like when companies do that.
1 XLR input for the microphone, one 1/4″ for your instruments recording, and 2 outputs for your studio monitors and headphones. Pretty standard.
Also has a bunch of plugins and samples included. The cool thing is Xpand!2 / Mini Grand / Strike plugins. They have literally thousands of sounds for your drums and synths. Pretty good add-on for no extra cost in my opinion.
* More About M-Audio M-Track 2X2.
Alrighty, next one!
4) Alesis MULTIMIX4USBFX 4-Channel Mixer with Effects & USB Audio Interface
This is clearly something different from what you’ve seen on the list so far. I’ve decided to include this as it’s a very cool interface/mixer.
It’s not as great of an audio interface as the rest, but it has so many more functions!
Let me tell you about one little drawback first. The signal stereo in/out is at 48 kHz and 16 bit, which is lower than the rest on the list.
The thing is, when it was released in the first half of the 2010’s, that was a good sampling rate. The technology has just been advancing very fast lately, so it got kicked out of the race.
I am telling you this so you think about what you look for in your interface.
Okay, so it has 2 XLR inputs. Pretty standard, right? However, besides the gain knobs, you also get the control over the high pass and low pass filters and pan and FX controls, just like a basic hardware EQ.
You also get the 48V, which 99% of the interfaces have. I just mention it again and again so you have less question by the time you finish reading the article.
Apparently recording on your IPad/iPhone was a lot more popular a few years back, so they have this function as well.
As I said in one of my articles about the best DAW software, I advise using your PC at all times when producing.
The built-in effect knob is something that also caught my eye. Alesis included it’s own DSP effects such as reverbs, delays, and phasers.
As I said, it acts as both mixer and interface, for a relatively low price. Coming with both advantages and drawbacks, it’s a great device with a lot of potentials.
* More About Alesis MULTIMIX4USBFX 4-USB Audio Interface.
Conclusion: Best Portable USB Audio Interface
Do your research and just make sure it is compatible with your DAW. Even though more than 90% of interfaces support all of them, just spend 2-3 minutes to double-check, it wouldn’t hurt.
Also, I tried to keep this list short. I would’ve written a list of 20-50 best interfaces, but the more choice you have, the more frustrating it is to pick one.
The most reliable one would be Scarlett 2i2, but others come with their unique features that the Focusrite interface doesn’t have. Therefore, I suggest getting the one that looks the most appealing to you.
If you want to have a little mixer on your device to look more professional and have more flexibility, go for the Alesis music interface.
Or you plan on traveling a lot, or you have kids who can drop it by accident, go for the more durable PreSonus AudioBox.
Maybe want it to look a little more futuristic, rather than boxy, look into getting the M-Audio M-Track.
It’s literally up to what you are looking for, my dudes!
Hopefully, you found this article helpful! If you are looking into building your music recording studio from the scratch, take a look at my overview guide of the process here.
The Video of PreSonus AudioBox Getting Run Over By a Truck
P.S. I found the video I mentioned when talking about PreSonus, so have a look, guys!