Top 8 Professional Audio Interfaces: We’re Not In The Minor Leagues Anymore

This article isn’t for novice engineers. It’s not for beginner producers. It’s for those who don’t mess around when it comes to the quality and features of their recording equipment. This overview is for those who know their stuff and those with super high recording and engineering IQs.

Below, we’ll discuss the top three audio interfaces for professionals (or for those as skilled as the pros).

Top 8 Professional Audio Interfaces

PRODUCT

FEATURES

PRODUCT

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PRODUCT

FEATURES

  • Simple yet functional design that is easy to use.
  • Great set of mic preamps and analog/digital converters.
  • Functional and user friendly design that works.
  • Great selection of features paired with good hardware.

AR RATING 95/100

  • A performance oriented design which is easy to use.
  • One of the best mic preamps in the business.

AR RATING 94/100

  • Awesome model if you need multiple I/O ports.
  • Dual connectivity with both FireWire and USB 2.0.

AR RATING 93/100

  • Smooth and clean design which is user friendly.
  • Comes with a whole lot of digital channels.

AR RATING 92/100

  • Simple and functional design that is easy to use.
  • Comes packed with a whole lot of inputs and outputs.

AR RATING 91/100

  • One of the most capable models for recording vocals.
  • Great and functional design that's easy to use.

AR RATING 90/100

  • Simple design that brings a lot of functionality.
  • Comes packed with great features all around.

AR RATING 96/100

Professional tier audio interfaces are designed to bridge the gap between commercially viable gear and something a world class studio would use on a daily basis. Antelope Audio is one of those brands you probably haven't heard of, but one that knows how to meet these requirements. Antelope Audio Zen Studio is an awesome model and it's packed with features.

You are looking at a great set of mic preamps which deliver a warm, natural sound. Combined with a pretty impressive analog to digital converters, low latency and high resolution, this interface offers professional levels of audio quality. If you are building a studio from scratch and need something bulletproof, an interface such as this one is what you need.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    Simple yet functional design that is easy to use.
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    Great set of mic preamps and analog/digital converters.
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    Plenty of awesome features which are efficient.
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    Zero latency allows for real time mixing.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Definitely not on the affordable end of things.

AR RATING 96/100

If there is one brand you can trust when it comes to professional audio interfaces, it is Universal Audio. Their Apollo 8p is a rack mount compatible unit that can give anything out there a run for its money. It packs a whole lot of very awesome features, most of which are necessary for a professional studio to operate properly.

For starters, you are getting 16 inputs and 20 different outputs. These range from standard TRS/XLR to MIDI and others. The preamps which come with the interface are top notch, as are other hardware elements. Overall, you are looking at a unit that offers very low latency and great sound quality all around. At this price, it's a steal.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    Functional and user friendly design that works
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    Great selection of features paired with good hardware.
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    Comes with a large display on the front side.
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    Awesome sound quality and almost no latency.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Takes a bit to figure out all controls.

AR RATING 95/100

RME Fireface UC is one of those interfaces that really don't look like much, but hide a very specialized nature. This is a rack mount compatible setup that is all about function over form. One of the cool things about that approach is the fact that it is generally cheaper than most of its competition. All things considered, it rocks.

At the very core of this interface are two high quality mic preamps. That means that you have two dedicated XLR channels which can also be used as line inputs. The back side reveals a lot of balanced and unbalanced line outs as well as MIDI outs and more. This model is worth it for the I/O package alone.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    A performance oriented design which is easy to use.
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    One of the best mic preamps in the business.
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    Comes packed with cool and functional features.
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    Very low latency that ensures real time mixing.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Not really much to look at.

AR RATING 94/100

MOTU's models in this segment of the market are borderline legendary. The one we chose for this list is a hybrid package that offers both FireWire and USB 2.0 connectivity. As you can probably tell just by looking at it, MOTU 896Mk3 Hybrid is a rack mount friendly model. Unlike most similar designs, this one requires two rack slots.

When it comes to features and functionality, there is so much to talk about. For starters you have 28 inputs and 32 outputs. Aside from dedicated mic channels, you also have SPDIF, AES, EBU and a number of others inputs as well as outputs. The front panel is amazing, in a sense of organization and functionality. Overall, this interface rocks.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    Awesome model if you need multiple I/O ports.
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    Dual connectivity with both FireWire and USB 2.0.
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    Delivers zero latency signal and good resolution.
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    Easy top work with thanks to its large display.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Double slot chassis may be too large for some.

AR RATING 93/100

If you are more into a single rack interface that is more on a digital side when it comes to functionality, something like this MOTU 24Ao might be exactly what you are looking for. Unlike most other MOTU models in this range, 24Ao is all about the software. Controls are minimalist, simple and functional but ultimately out of the way.

All of the I/Os are located in the back. You have 72 audio channels at your disposal, 24 analog outputs and a whole lot more. Software support makes it a great tool for those who using both iOS and Windows systems. Generally speaking, this interface is pretty niche. However, it is still one of the best at the moment.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    Smooth and clean design which is user friendly.
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    Comes with a whole lot of digital channels.
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    Packs an abundance of analog outputs.
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    Great software support makes it functional.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Lack of XLR/TRS inputs and outputs.

AR RATING 92/100

PreSonus offers a lot of awesome interfaces, especially in the higher end. The one we're looking at today goes under the name of PreSonus Quantum 26x32 and it offers a lot of bang for the buck. On the surface it looks like just another rack mount interface. That isn't really the case. There's more to it than meets the eye

Before we go any further it is worth mentioning that aesthetics weren't really that important to PreSonus with this one. It is all about function over form and boy is there some functionality in here. You're looking at high resolution audio pushed through XMAX mic preamps, a 26 inputs and 32 outputs. On top of that, it comes with great software.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    Simple and functional design that is easy to use.
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    Comes packed with a whole lot of inputs and outputs.
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    Includes award wining XMAX mic preamps.
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    Great bang for the buck compared to most.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Not really much to look at.

AR RATING 91/100

Roland's interfaces are not as popular some other brands. However, that has nothing to do with their quality nor functionality. When you get into higher end Rolands, you will find them to be quite unique. Models such as Roland STUDIO CAPTURE offer a strange composition of inputs and outputs, but one that is perfect for vocals oriented recording studios and more.

We say that because Roland STUDIO-CAPTURE packs 16 inputs, 12 of which are XLR/TRS channels, each with its own mic preamp. That means you're getting 12 microphone preamps of great quality, in a package that is by most means affordable. On top of that, this thing is packed full of awesome features and great compatibility with both operating systems.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    One of the most capable models for recording vocals.
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    Great and functional design that's easy to use.
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    12 high quality microphone preamps which are great.
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    Overall low latency audio combined with great resolution.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Not really for those focused on recording instruments.

AR RATING 90/100

Zoom's TAC-8 is an incredible force multiplier for those who need a rack mounted unit with plenty of support for vocals. On top of that, it is one of the most affordable professional grade models you can find at the moment. If you are on a budget, that makes a lot of difference. Compared to most, it's performance oriented.

You're looking at 8 microphone pramps linked to hybrid XLR/TRS inputs. On the back side you will find a whole array of both TRS and other inputs and outputs. This model offers 192 kHz high definition audio with Thunderbolt bandwidth, which ensure zero latency operation. When you add 18 inputs, 20 outputs and a other awesome features, it's awesome.

WHAT WE LIKE

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    Simple design that brings a lot of functionality.
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    Comes packed with great features all around.
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    8 Microphone preamps of great quality.
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    Thunderbolt connectivity means near zero latency.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Not much to look at aesthetically.

So many options, they’re almost custom-made

These pro-level interfaces come in all shapes, sizes, and with a ton of features -- so many features it might feel like each device is custom-made for you (that’s not an exaggeration).

One thing that’s common across the board is the number of inputs -- they all have several. And the types of inputs vary from interface to interface. For example, the MOTU 24Ao has only digital inputs, which work great for MIDI instruments. Whereas the Zoom TAC-8 has XLR, quarter-inch, MIDI, S/PDIF, and ADAT inputs, which would be a very nice variety to have.

When you’re looking to grab one of these interfaces, you just have to pick the one that specifically fits your recording needs. After you’ve reviewed the different options, it’ll be more clear which device to choose.

Reasonable price for a reasonable professional

With high quality comes high demand and with high demand comes a higher price, naturally. This means if you’re on a typical DIY budget, these audio interfaces may be out of your price range. For the most part, these professionally ranked interfaces range from about $700 to $1,400. If that amount of money sounds crazy ridiculous to you, then you may want to look into more affordable audio interfaces, like those that use Firewire or USB.

However, if those figures look reasonable to you and can fit within your budget, then read on.

Expansion and software

These professional-grade audio interfaces, most of the time, can be expanded upon with other interfaces. For example, you can connect one of these interfaces to other interfaces to increase your inputs and outputs and easily route your signals elsewhere.

All of the devices in this category come with top-notch software, whether it’s a digital audio workstation or something that gives you some great effects or other plugins. Clearly, these audio interfaces were built with you, the professional, in mind.

Compatibility

As I’m sure you will, just make sure you note what type of operating system the interface is compatible with -- yes, some of these devices work with both Mac and Windows, but some only work with one or the other. It would truly suck for you to receive a brand new interface, get it hooked up with excitement, only to realize it’s not compatible with your computer.

But you know what you’re doing, so surely that wouldn’t happen.

Conclusion

If you’ve gotten this far in the article, that probably means you are not only a pro at what you do, but you also take your job very seriously. You want the best of the best. You’ve most likely researched the top audio interfaces for your recording setup, weighed the good with the not-so-good, and now you’re ready to buy. Pretty much any audio interface in this category will do you good (assuming it’s compatible with your current setup).

Any one of these devices is a safe bet because, well, they’re all great.

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