When it comes to audio interfaces, Thunderbolt connectivity is currently the the fastest way on the market to transmits signals, lessening the possibility of latency issues. Although some engineers may not initially see how Thunderbolt is different from USB or Firewire, when you do your research, you’ll notice how Thunderbolt is unique.
3 Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces:
The Focusrite Clarett 2Pre Thunderbolt is a great buy for DIY singer-songwriters on a tight budget. It has a simple setup, it’s a piece of equipment that’s easy to use, and it will perform just fine for bedroom or basement recordings. Plus, it’s small enough that you can easily transport it for off-site recording.
Newbie company Resident Audio has put forth a solid try with the T4, but it still needs some improvements. Its simple design, easy-to-use interface controls, and four inputs are appealing, but issues with setup and not being allowed to use two headphones at once take away from what’s good about this device.
Although the Apogee ELEMENT 24 is simple, easy to use, and delivers top-notch audio quality, it lacks some basic features that you could find in a more affordable interface. If, however, you’re a Mac user recording audio that needs only two inputs and you have the budget for it (and the Thunderbolt cord), this interface is a great buy.
Why are Thunderbolt audio interfaces special?
There are essentially three big reasons Thunderbolt interfaces might be a better option than some other audio interfaces that use USB or Firewire. Those reasons are low latency, reliability, and affordability.
Let’s dive into the details.
As I’ve already mentioned, Thunderbolt is the fastest external connection out of those three options. This means it has the lowest latency — in other words, it has super low to no delay during recording and playback.
For example, it takes 4.5 milliseconds round-trip for a signal to travel through a USB connection. That seems pretty fast — until you contrast that with how fast a Thunderbolt signal travels. With Thunderbolt, it takes 1 millisecond — that’s faster than it takes sound to travel from the beat of a kick drum to the drummer’s ear.
Not surprisingly, Apple and Intel created Thunderbolt connectivity, and since then, they’ve closely guarded the protocol for the creating and implementing of these devices. Because of this, it makes compatibility less of a hassle because you know every single Thunderbolt device is just as compatible with your computer as the next one. You can be assured a Thunderbolt-ready audio interface will be compatible with a computer that accepts Thunderbolt connectivity — in fact, it’s guaranteed. (Also note: you’ll need to make sure the interface’s software is compatible with the computer’s operating system).
Dealing with two pieces of equipment that aren’t friendly with each other is like being the middleman in an argument between two enemies — stressful, frustrating, and pointless.
Plus, you’ll be able to rely on the aforementioned super speed of the signal transmission. Don’t underestimate the importance of an interface with low latency — it can make a world of difference. And you can rely on a Thunderbolt interface to change your world.
You’d think an audio interface with the fastest type of connection would be super expensive — the most expensive types of interfaces on the market. Well, that thought would be incorrect. Thunderbolt interfaces are actually pretty affordable — you can find a decent one in the $600 range or even less. For example, you can find the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre in the $500 range, and it’s difficult to go wrong with a name like Focusrite. Also, you can usually find the Resident Audio T4 audio interface at an even cheaper price.
So the stereotype that Thunderbolt audio interfaces are just for the richer or more experienced engineers. You can find a good fit for you, regardless of your budget or experience level.
Using a Thunderbolt audio interface is probably your best option, but of course it depends on your needs, preferences, and recording setup. But Thunderbolt connectivity will give you faster signaling and lower latencies, it will be reliable and have guaranteed compatibility with a Thunderbolt-ready computer, and you’ll get great quality for what you’ll pay.
Whether recording at home, on the go, or in a professional studio, it would be smart to consider grabbing a Thunderbolt interface. Trust me, you won’t regret it, especially when you hear the final product.