To chase a million-dollar dream, you need a million-dollar piece of equipment – okay, not literally. Suppose you plan on starting your podcast, your home studio, or anything that will require you to record, mix and master properly. In that case, you need an excellent Audio interface.
The majority of our computers come with audio interfaces which may suffice for some minor recordings, but these interfaces are still not enough to give you quality sound.
When you go out shopping for audio interfaces, there are a few things that you must take into consideration such as the number of output and input, its sound quality, and much more which we discussed in detail below.
So, if you are looking for the best audio interfaces for Mac, this guide is for you.
Our Top 3 Picks (if you are in a hurry)
- Ardent ID4 – For Buyers on a Budget
- Focusrite Scarlett – Best Seller
- PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 – Compatible with Multiple Software
What is an audio interface for Mac?
Many Mac computers come with a somewhat similar feature to an audio interface called a Sound Card. Most users often call audio interfaces sound cards and vice versa; technically, they are right, but their similarities are quite apparent to a certain extent.
Yes, an audio interface plays the role of a sound card; it still, however, takes things higher, offering so many features your default sound card doesn’t. Just like the Sound Card, an audio interface provides recording and music-producing power; it does this by sending and receiving information to and from any available audio device connected to your computer like headphones, speakers, etc.
But what sets it over a sound card is its ability to make use of all the inputs available simultaneously. In contrast, with a sound card, you can only record one track at a time.
In a nutshell, an audio interface for Mac is an external device that boosts the sound capabilities of your Mac. It offers features like
The higher the audio interface, the higher the quality of the converter. Compared to many sound cards, an external audio interface for Mac pro or air converts digital files to analog more efficiently, giving you an excellent overall sound quality.
There’s this delay that people who record on their computers often encounter when they record with just a sound card; it may look like this, your playback your voice record, and you hear the sound a few milliseconds after you hit the play button when you didn’t add any pause. With a good audio interface, the chances of you experiencing these latencies are reduced.
With your default sound card, you can’t record more than one input at a time. That is, you can’t connect, let’s say your guitar to your Mac and your microphones then make good music.
You’ll have to record each input one at a time, but you can record simultaneously with an interface; this depends solely on the number of inputs the audio interface offers.
Just like the sound card allows you one input per session; you are also denied more than one output. An audio interface changes that, allowing you to output different sounds simultaneously from your Mac. You can find Monitor outputs, MIDI outputs, Line outputs, ADAT, and Headphone outputs.
Reduce the CPU workload
You might not notice this, but your system’s sound card often consumes a certain amount of your CPU resources; most audio interfaces take the workload off your computer.
You can also find features like sound meter, SPDIF, World clock outputs, and much more, which all come together to improve your sound quality, as you will see below.
How to choose an audio interface for Mac?
We’ve successfully established why you need an audio interface despite having a sound card. The next big question is, “how do I choose a good recording interface for my mac?”
There are quite a ton of things that goes in when choosing an audio interface. They are audio interfaces available for almost all price ranges; still, the uses differ. So, you can’t merely say that the more expensive the audio interface is, the better.
It all falls to what you need the audio interface for or the features you need the most, as most features may seem irrelevant to some users.
When you go shopping for an audio interface, you have to take into consideration the following.
1. Number of inputs and outputs
If you plan on recording just your speaker and your guitar, there’s almost no point going for an interface with many outputs and input features.
So, before you go shopping, you should make a list of all the instruments you plan on using. To be on the safe side, you should get an audio interface with a little more inputs and outputs than the I/O devices you need for futuristic purposes.
2. Find out your computer’s connectivity:
Since you’ll be working with your Mac, it is safe to say almost all audio interfaces are compatible with your device since so many of them feature a USB connection.
However, new interfaces allow you to record with devices like smartphones and tablets, so if you might use your mobile device to record, you should buy accordingly. Some other means of connection like FireWire, Thunderbolt, and PCle find out which your device is compatible with.
3. Sound Quality
I believe we all want the best quality when we record, but when getting an audio interface, you’ll get what you pay for. The sound quality you’ll need for a high-level recording and mixing work can’t be gotten in all audio interfaces.
When dealing with sound quality, you should look out for the bit depth, Converter quality, Sample rate.
For example, if you are recording audio to share with a friend or someone you work with, there’s no point in getting an audio interface that gives a sample rate of 24-bit/96kHz; with an interface that produces a 16-bit/44.1kHz sample rate, you are good to go.
It goes without saying, that your budget is one major thing to look out for. You will find audio interfaces of almost all price ranges. Yes, they do the same jobs; the output quality is often what makes some more expensive than the rest (we discussed more about this below).
5. Computer Platform/OS and Workstation:
Most workstations aren’t compatible with all audio interfaces out there.
Finally, you should also look out for features like Digital extras, MIDI, headphone options, Mic preamps, and other useful extras.
List Of The Best Audio Interfaces for Mac
In this section, we have the best professional audio interface for your sonic activities. Each product here is worth it; you can read further to be sure it has what you need, but be rest assured you will get quality in this section.
1. Ardent ID4 – For Buyers on a Budget
In the audio equipment game, Ardent stands tall. This company has been in the habit of producing excellent audio interfaces. The ID4 can attest to that. The Ardent ID4 audio interface features a class-A mic preamp plus a reasonable audio-to-digital conversion rate.
This equipment isn’t bulky at all. You can carry it around, don’t be deceived by its size as this two-input device offers a 24bit/96kHz sample rate, which is often enough for most users. With its oversized volume button, you can control so much, including your recording parameters.
With its phantom power, you can use this device to connect condenser mics. It also has an instrument DI for musical instruments like your bass or guitar. This piece uses both a USB connectivity and an Apple camera connection kit making it possible to work with your iDevice. It is very affordable but still gives excellent quality.
- Its preamp is high quality
- Awesome studio quality
- Quite affordable
- Compatible with Mac and some other Apple devices
- Just two inputs
- It has just one built-in preamp
2. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2(4i4) – Best Seller
Garnering over 10k positive reviews on Amazon, the Focusrite Scarlett is a decent number two. You can buy the 2i2 or 4i4 version on the Amazon page, both are perfect audio interfaces. This device focuses on giving you quality sound in a fast and portable manner.
The 2i2 features two mic preamps and gives a 24-bit/192kHz sample rate. We are currently at its 3rd-Generation, which has seen an upgrade to almost all its parts.
With its 48v phantom power, you can seamlessly connect your condenser microphones while its “air mode” in the preamps allows for natural analog warmth on your sound, all with the flick of a switch; therefore, you have options to switch.
Using the Focusrite “direct monitor” function, you can monitor your inputs as they happen; this is perfect for recording and mixing with zero latency. Another thing that sets Focusrite Scarlet above the rest is its package; you will find Pro Tools, Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Control, Softube Time and Tone Bungle, and so much more.
- Offers Pro tools
- Its controls are easy to use
- All inputs feature a 48v phantom power
- Tough aluminum housing
- It isn’t compatible with Thunderbolt
3. PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 – Compatible With Almost All Software
The PreSonus AudioBox is a perfect comparison for the Focusrite Scarlet (2nd generation). This is a small but mighty USB audio interface for Mac. It is durable, featuring a heavy-duty steel chassis.
The 2 line input is perfect for Bass guitars, guitars, and microphones. It offers a 24-bit resolution while allowing sample rates of 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96 kHz.
It would be best if you took note of its two combo instrument input, which gives a high-performance, low-noise, and high-headroom mic preamp.
Using its internal analog mixer, you can watch out for a little to no latency. Like the audio interfaces above, the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 features 48 phantom power, ideal for power mics.
It uses USB 2.0 bus-powered, and it’s MIDI compatible. Since it is compatible with a wide range of workstations, it goes down as one fantastic audio interface for GarageBand. This is one of the cheap audio interfaces for Mac on our list.
- Compatible with major audio workstations
- Works on Mac
- 24-bit resolution with 44.1 – 96 kHz sampling rates.
- Comes with Studio One DAW software.
- Just two inputs
4. Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII – Works Well Over Thunderbolt
One downside with audio interfaces out there is, that not all can connect over the unique Thunderbolt connection. Still, the Apollo Twin MKII is different, offering a Thunderbolt 3 connector suitable for many Mac computers.
The producers of this device, Universal Audio, are renowned for top-notch production tools like plugins and audio equipment. They applied the same energy they used on those tools in their Apollo Twin MKII.
Most audio interfaces can’t power plugins processes without needing a CPU, but the Apollo Twin again offers this unique feature. This device carries out Real-Time UAD processing, enabling it to track vintage compressors, EQs, mic preamps, guitar amp plugins, and tape machines, all with unnoticeable latency.
MKII provides a 24-bit/192 kHz sampling rate, a standard audio conversion in the industry. This device doesn’t compromise its analog design. It offers superior components and a premium design quality.
Although it features two high-quality inputs and six excellent outputs, the manufacturers of this beauty made room for an optical cable at its back, which allows you to expand your inputs.
- Can connect over Thunderbolt 3.
- It features the prominent 48V phantom power
- Popular and recommended by many sites
- Unique UAD plugin bundle.
- 2 input/6 outputs (with a feature to expand inputs)
- Doesn’t have a USB port
- It doesn’t offer MIDI capabilities
5. Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD – Well Rounded Tool
If you record very loud sounds, like drums, you should go for the U-Phoria UMC404HD. For its price, this audio interface is close to perfect. Its most notable feature will be it’s four to eight high-quality preamps perfect for XLR or ¼” cables (depends on the model).
It comes equipped with a USB 2.0 Audio and MIDI interface while giving about four outputs. This device is compatible with most audio workstations and offers a low latency rate.
With its 48v phantom power, Mac’s recording interface is compatible with almost all microphones available, including condenser microphones. With its 24-bit/192kHz sample rate, you are sure of getting a high sound quality. It is built like a tank making it impact-resistant.
Another thing to note is, if you plan on using outboard gear, then grab the UMC404HD. Using the U-Phoria inserts, you can send your analog signal out of the interface into an EQ, external compressor, etc.
- Perfect for recording loud sounds
- 4 to 8 awesome microphones preamps
- MIDI Interface
- Low latency
- May seem a bit difficult to understand as it is crowded.
- Doesn’t offer thunderbolt or USB C connectivity.
6. Native Instrument Komplete Audio 2 – Best Security Option
On the buying page, you can choose Audio 2, Audio 1, or Audio 6 MK 2. All variations of this mac interface are perfect, but we will be focusing on Audio 2 here. This is a two-input and output interface designed with two similar mic/instrument/line inputs.
It gives individual selector switches to go between the line and instrument interface. Its 48v phantom power is connected across all inputs with a single controller; with this feature, you can make use of almost all microphones available, including a condenser microphone.
This device also features a hardware monitoring knop on its frontal panel plus a headphone output with independent control.
You can control its main output level from a large knob at the top of the device. Behind the Komplete Audio 2 audio interface for Mac are USB B connectors, balanced output fixed on TRS ¼” plus a Kensington Security slot.
- It is stylishly designed
- It is a compact device
- Two inputs (or six depending on the model you settle for)
- Its features may seem basic
- It doesn’t offer the ability to scale the controls.
7. Steinberg UR22C – Unique DSP Processing
Last on our list is the Steinberg UR22C. Although it takes the number 7 spot, this is still one of Mac’s best audio interfaces. It features a USB 3.0-bus with each interface offering Type-C USB connectivity.
It gives out a 32-bit rate, which should be higher than every interface on this list. Also, it features a 192kHz sample rate, which brings about a 32-bit/192kHz audio resolution, which is more than perfect.
The fabulous DSP gives a zero-latency effect that can be noticed when monitoring with its dspMixFx mixer. This tool offers a MIDI input and output.
You wouldn’t have a hard time installing its drivers. It is built like a tank, which means more durability, so you can throw it inside your backpack and be sure it will still come out spanking new.
The sound is great, plus its balanced Neutrik combo inputs alongside a Yamaha D-PRE mic preamp.
- It is durable and will stand the test of time
- It features built-in DSP processing
- Quite affordable
- Most might not be impressed with its knob’s material
Why Are Some Audio Interfaces So Expensive?
I will say features and sometimes sound quality. As we established above, all audio interfaces have one job: to boost or improve your sonic activities, but not all interfaces fall in the same price range; that says a lot.
If you notice, from the products we reviewed up there, the bit rate is often within the range of 24 – 32. Most sound engineers and producers claim the 24-bit rate is okay, especially for a home studio, so it is possible to strike out the sound quality as the reason an audio interface is expensive.
Nevertheless, this could contribute to an interface’s price, but it isn’t the only thing. Most audio interfaces have unique features like better converters (offering a more realistic, natural, and detailed sound) and mic preamps; the above two are the most common and obvious reasons for an increase in an audio interface price.
You can also look at interfaces with better processing features, phantom power, ability to monitor the latency, better mixing, number of outputs and inputs, connection means, and much more.
When you have all these features, you will also have to consider the version they are using, just like you can’t compare the preamps on the Focusrite Scarlett 3rd-generation with its 2nd-generation, or an audio interface that offers a Thunderbolt connection plus a USB 3.1 Type-C bus with something lower, or check an audio interface like the Apollo Twin MKII, which has a UAD plugin platform.
In a nutshell, the features are what make an audio interface expensive. Sometimes, you can do without these features. Another subtle reason could be the brand name.
What Audio Interfaces Do Professional Studios Use?
The answer to this question is always subjective. Professionals make use of what is available or what they are convinced will give them what they want. Aside from this, you should note that most pro studios don’t use interfaces like a home studio, though if they do, it will sometimes amount to thousands of dollars.
They mostly settle for separate preamps, converters, monitor controllers, and much more. Due to this, the other features like preamp that comes in an audio interface are sometimes ignored in a Pro studio (Note, an audio interface is essential in a pro studio).
But if we must say, below are a few audio interfaces you can find in some professional studios, they are mostly selected based on the brand.
These four are the most common audio interface you can find in a professional studio.
What Is The Best Firewire Audio Interface For Mac?
They are many ways to connect an audio interface to a Mac computer; you can use a USB, the Thunderbolt option, or Firewire. The latter is quite fast, although not as fast as Thunderbolt or USB 3, but it is way faster than USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 (which are quite prominent). While USB only packet data, Firewire streams data, which offers improved performance, stability, and consistency.
Firewire again can send data in both directions, USB can send in only one direction. People go for Firewire audio interfaces because the Firewire connection on your Mac can be linked with a Firewire audio interface to create more inputs and outputs, which is very useful when recording several vocals or instruments simultaneously.
So, below are the best Firewire audio interfaces available out there.
- Focusrite Saffire Pro 40
- MOTU Audio Express
- PreSonus FireStation
- Digidesign Digi 002
- M-Audio ProFire 610
- RME Fireface UCX
What’s The Best Audio Interface For GarageBand?
The best audio interface for GarageBand is Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen). Apple is the developer behind GarageBand, and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has proven to be the best fit for this workstation.
It features a durable material, plus quick configurable front channels. Generally, I’ll say almost all audio interfaces in the Scarlett series are perfect for GarageBand, but the 2i2 is the most popular.
You can check out the Roland Go: Mixer, which is quite portable and easy to use. Those who aren’t looking for anything bulky to use on their Apple GarageBand often settle for the Roland Go: Mixer.
One of the downsides of this audio interface is, it lacks XLR input and 48v Phantom Power. Aside from this, other features like a dial for each input plus a master volume are fantastic. Its peaking LED is something you’ll appreciate while you record.
The Focusrite iTrack Solo Lightning is another compatible device for GarageBand. This item is renowned for producing quality sound over USB and Thunderbolt connection. When compared to other Focusrite audio interfaces, you might find the iTrack missing; nevertheless, you can compare it to many different external sound cards out there.
You should also consider the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo and Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2, which we discussed above.
I started with answering the question “What difference does an audio interface make” by detailing the reasons you should go for an audio interface over a sound card. I then listed things that set an audio interface above a soundcard, discussing what you should consider when shopping for an audio interface.
Next, I gave you the seven best audio interface for Mac while documenting each product review alongside their tech spec and pros and cons. Later on, we found out reasons some audio interfaces are expensive, the type of audio interfaces that can be found in professional studios and the best Firewire interface for Mac, and the best interface for GarageBand. Thank you for stopping by; share with us the interface you decided to purchase and the reason.