In the not-so-distant past, achieving professional-level sound required either a fully equipped analog studio or an expensive digital audio workstation. However, podcasters, songwriters, producers, musicians, audio engineers, gamers, and content creators everywhere can now rejoice, because that era has become a memory of the past. Thanks to the ingenuity of brands like Universal Audio, Antelope, Apogee, and others, we now have powerful audio interfaces with high-quality circuitry and flexible connectivity to microphones, computers, mobile devices; onboard DSP (digital signal processing); software bundles and user-friendly features; all packed into a small and portable desktop form factor. The perfect companions at home in the studio or on the go, these devices can certainly help you achieve polished and impactful audio without straining your computer's CPU.
Audient EVO 4
Deceptively small and astonishingly easy to use, the Audient EVO 4 audio interface takes audio seriously. Packing two award-winning EVO Mic preamps alongside the Audient’s advanced converter technology, this interface lets you capture your microphones and instruments, and record clean audio directly on your computer or an iPhone or iPad (Lightning cable available separately). The EVO 4 features two XLR-1/4" combo mic/line inputs with 48V phantom power and a 1/4" Hi-Z JFET instrument input to handle a variety of sources from dynamic and condenser mics to electric guitars and outboard preamps. The ultimate time saver, Smartgain automatically adjusts and sets your gain to the perfect levels, ensuring clip-free recordings every time.
The audio loopback function makes it possible to record computer audio at the same time as the inputs—a welcome feature for podcasters who need to capture remote guests via Skype or other VoIP apps. The EVO 4 comes bundled with a collection of professional software including Steinberg Cubase LE and Cubasis LE 2, turning your Mac/Windows computer and iOS device into an easy-to-use music studio with all the basic tools for recording, editing, and mixing.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (4th Gen)
It is fair to say that more people use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 more than any other interface in the world. The fourth-generation version improves on the previous models with two of Focusrite’s most detailed ultra-low-noise mic preamps and studio-grade converters that deliver clear sound straight out of the box. Air Mode adds high-end presence and rich harmonic drive to vocals and instruments, recreating the character of a big studio console. Intelligent features like Auto Gain and Clip Safe, plus a powerful 69 dB of analog gain make setting levels quick and easy, so every take is a keeper.
Compact and lightweight, the Scarlett 2i2 is rugged and ready to travel with you. Use the two XLR-1/4" combo mic/line/instrument inputs with 48V phantom power to capture your voice or instruments on your computer or a USB-C iPad. For podcasters, the Loopback function redirects any audio, in perfect fidelity, into another app for streaming or recording. And the Scarlett 2i2 (4th Gen) comes with some of the best-loved tools in the business, including Ableton Live Lite, Avid Pro Tools Artist, and Hitmaker Expansion―with plug-ins from legendary Auto-Tune® creators Antares®, Brainworx®, Softube®, Landr, XLN Audio®, Relab, and more.
The Zoom UAC-232 is a 32-bit float audio/MIDI interface that makes capturing and streaming high-quality audio extraordinarily easy. No need to set your microphone’s gain. The interface uses dual AD converters and 32-bit float technology to capture clip-free, low-noise recordings no matter how loud or quiet a performance gets. The UAC-232 combines this technology with two low-noise preamps, equivalent to the preamps found in the company's professional F-Series recorders and known for delivering crisp and clean recordings, no matter your mic or instrument. The two XLR/TRS combo inputs (with switchable 48V phantom) can accept microphone-, instrument-, and line-level signals.
After plugging the UAC-232 into your Windows/Mac computer or iOS device, select either Music or Streaming mode. Music Mode will route the inputs separately to your DAW for recording. Switch to Streaming Mode and both inputs will be combined into a single signal to route the audio seamlessly for streaming on Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook via software such as OBS. If you want to add audio from a web browser or music player to your stream or recording, you can activate Loopback to combine computer audio with your input signal. Additionally, you can record and stream in 24-bit with Lightning iOS devices using Apps such as Garage Band, YouTube, and Instagram. For musicians, the 5-pin MIDI in/out enables you to connect to external MIDI gear such as drum machines, synths, and keyboards.
Solid State Logic SSL 2+
The Solid State Logic SSL 2+ audio/MIDI interface is a great option for those who want the classic SSL sound on their desktop. It has two SSL-designed mic preamps―based on the same preamps found in Solid State Logic's world-famous mixing consoles―that provide a warm, punchy sound. Pristine conversion ensures that the interface accurately captures and reproduces every nuance in your audio. The SSL 2+ has a Legacy 4K mode that adds a high-frequency boost and smooth harmonic distortion, both inspired by the classic and heralded 4000-Series consoles used on countless hit records. This mode is great for imparting some character and pizzazz to your recordings.
The SSL 2+ offers an intuitive, console-style workflow with each input channel arranged vertically like a large-format mixing board. With built-in Loopback functionality and two headphone outputs, the interface is ideal for streaming and podcasting. The 5-pin MIDI I/O lets you connect to external MIDI devices. The SSL Production Pack provides you with professional-grade tools to raise your production game. The software bundle includes Pro Tools | First (plus an exclusive collection of 23 plug-ins), Ableton Live Lite, plus SSL Native Vocalstrip 2 and DrumStrip plug-ins, along with Native Instruments Hybrid Keys and Loopcloud samples.
Apogee Electronics Duet 3
Designed to be the audiophile-quality centerpiece of a mobile recording setup, the Apogee Electronics Duet 3 is a 2 x 4 USB Type-C audio interface bringing Apogee's legendary sonic performance and intuitive operability to an ultracompact, elegant, and durable form factor. While the low-profile exterior combines an aluminum base with a Gorilla Glass top to make it durable and attractive, the internals boast built-in hardware DSP to power the optional Symphony ECS Channel Strip plug-in for signal sculpting and polishing via a vintage-modeled 3-band EQ, a Bob-Clearmountain-tuned compressor, and analog saturation.
Duet 3 features two world-class microphone preamps with phantom power and plenty of gain to ensure robust amplification even for low-output ribbons and classic dynamics such as the Shure SM7B. It can also accept line-level signals or direct connections from instruments such as electric guitar and bass. With two balanced analog 1/4" TRS line/monitor outputs and a stereo 3.5mm headphone output, the Duet 3 can feed a set of monitors and your favorite headphones at the same time. It comes with a breakout cable, or it can be used with the Duet Dock (available separately) to keep the Duet 3 at an ergonomic angle while circumventing the need for the breakout cable.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Offered in four variants—the Twin USB with USB 3.0 connectivity for Windows computers, the Twin MKII DUO with Thunderbolt™ 2 connectivity for Mac/Windows, and the Twin X DUO and Twin X QUAD with Thunderbolt™ 3 connectivity for Mac/Windows—the Universal Audio Apollo Twin Heritage Edition desktop 10 x 6 audio interface combines the sound, feel, and flow of analog studio recording with robust DUO Core or QUAD Core real-time UAD processing and a hearty bundle of 25 stellar UAD plug-ins ranging from vintage compressor and EQ collections to virtual guitar/bass amps and time-based processors.
The interface features two XLR-1/4" mic/line combo inputs and a 1/4" Hi-Z input, all with Unison integration for precise UAD emulations of classic analog preamps—impart vintage character of your choosing on microphone and instrument recordings while bypassing the unpredictable nature of old equipment. Alongside the two analog input channels, you can record up to eight more channels by connecting external preamps with ADAT or S/PDIF optical outputs to the TOSLINK optical input port. In addition to the dedicated stereo monitor feed and front-panel headphone output, two 1/4" line outputs are available for connection to a second set of monitors. At any point, you can increase the power of the Apollo Twin through integration of qualified Universal Audio hardware.
With all this power at nearly every price point, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve the sonic performance previously only attainable by the upper echelon. With a little research, you'll be able to find the perfect small audio interface for your podcasting, streaming, or content creation needs. Just combine your creativity with the right tools, and you’re on your way.
For more information about these audio interfaces, including additional features, specs, and highlights, be sure to check out the detailed product pages. Or drop us a line below, and we’ll do our best to answer all your comments and questions.