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Best Desktop Audio Interface

Are you looking for a top audio interface card? Tired of those plug-and-play solutions that have latency problems? Don’t want to deal with USB and Firewire ports? On a budget? See below for several options when it comes to professional recording desktop interfaces for your podcast, music production, and overall recording needs!

Top Computer Audio Interface Cards For 2019

Name: Rating:Price on Amazon:
M-Audio M-Track 2X2M5.0 (Best Overall)
Focusrite Scarlett Solo4.8 (Best For Music Production)
BEHRINGER
Audio Interface
4.7 (BEST For Live Music )

M-Audio M-Track 2X2M

M-Audio seems to be constantly looking for what a consumer desires in low-cost consumer audio gear. As time and technology progresses, it seems that home audio interfaces are becoming faster, smaller, and more feature-packed than ever before. At first glance, the Fast Track Ultra seems to fit perfectly into this mold. The unit is an development on the previous Fast Track Pro, and finds a happy middle-ground between being a small and lightweight portable interface, and a studio tool with a wealth of I/O options and high-quality components.

As a longtime owner of the now-aging M-audio OmniStudio interface, I was curious how this new M-audio interface would stack up against what I considered my small home-studio workhorse. So is M-audio able to continue to improve upon their product line, or are their promises becoming too good to be true?

The Unit

The body of the Fast Track Ultra is clearly a tight squeeze for a unit containing four XLR mic pre-amp inputs on the front face. While my M-audio OmniStudio would support rack ears, the Fast Track is only just over a half rack space wide, clearly showing it is intended mainly as a desktop interface. The unit’s body is plastic, as opposed to the OmniStudio unit which is cased in an aluminum shell. Combined with some questionably loose 1/4” inputs, I am reluctant to say whether the unit would be able to endure heavy use as a portable audio interface. Nevertheless, it is a very attractive unit with easily accessible connections and knobs, giving it a very use-friendly image from the start.

The I/O

Many low-cost and portable audio interfaces seem to fit into two categories: The small 2-channel interface for simple projects or stereo remote recordings (Presonus Firebox, M-Audio Fast Track Pro), or the expanded units, often with eight built-in pres (Presonus Firestudio, Alesis MultiMix). With four built-in mic pre-amps, the Fast Track Ultra fits nicely in the middle.

The M-Audio Fast Track Ultra provides a complete recording solution, with six channels of analog inputs and outputs plus 2-channel digital S/PDIF I/O. Unlike most USB audio interfaces, it features two dedicated inserts on the first two channels, giving you the ability to insert outboard processing before A/D conversion. Easy connection via a single USB 2.0 cable delivers both audio and MIDI communication with your computer.

Getting Connected

The card is the first interface released by M-audio to have USB 2.0 connectivity, a change that seems a bit late. After booting up your computer, you may be surprised to find out that the Fast Track Ultra will power up as well, even without a power adapter. The unit can run with a minimal 2-in 2-out connectivity while being powered through the USB bus alone. A 5V power adapter, which looks oddly like a cell phone power supply, allows for full usage of the I/O options.

I noticed a weird problem after tracking some MIDI keyboards using the unit’s USB bus power. In order to hear playback, I put on my headphones and immediately noticed a hum. After unplugging the MIDI cable, the hum vanished. I decided to leave the MIDI cable inserted and plug in the power adapter. After restarting the unit, the hum again was gone.

The included drivers and software couldn’t have been easier to install on my Mac. The unit supports ASIO and WDM on PC, and core audio on Mac. The installation includes a Control Panel that exists both in the Applications folder and in System Preferences, bringing up the software mixer and monitor controls. Within less than ten minutes, you should be setup and ready to go.

The Control Panel

The m-audio allows monitoring all eight direct inputs (six analog channels and two of S/PDIF digital) as well as software returns, all of which can be separately adjusted in the Control Panel. The monitor windows are clean and simple, and allow fast and easy adjustments with flexible routing. The window looks like a basic mixer and includes a fader, pan, solo, mute, stereo channel link, and an effect send, as well as master out faders with effects return.

Adding up to monitor control, there is a tab for settings, meters, and a status screen labeled “about”. There is also a unusual tab named “flow” that initially seems to be a visual means of re-routing I/O. The screen is, in fact, a diagram for reference, perhaps to give a better on-screen understanding of the unit’s signal flow.

The settings tab has a sample rate selector, a toggle between internal and external clock sync, and settings for the hardware DSP processors, but before you get too excited, this is not intended to be a software plug-ins solution, but pretty a tool for routing monitor reverb or delay to a player without exhausting the cpu. This is a smart and useful, yet partial concept. Each channel is given an individual effect blend via the control panel, but the effects are restricted to several reverb, delay, and echo settings, all of which do not sound particularly great. Even so, this feature is not found on most units in this price range, and is a nice tool to have handy, regardless of its limitations.

The Sound

After completing a project, I am very pleased with the functionality of the unit. I connected it to an iMac with an external firewire hard drive, and we recorded up to six channels flawlessly, with very minimal latency and no clicks or other digital errors.

My only complaint is that the headphone outputs did not have enough gain to my liking, especially for drum tracking. A solution to this could be a better isolating pair of headphones.

Although the build quality of this audio interface seems decent enough, it is still a downgrade from my older OmniStudio, which has a heavier chassis and tighter knobs. Even so, I think the fast track would resist the test of time as long as it’s treated with care.

Whether you’re a musician, producer or DJ, the powerful combination of Apple and M-Audio  gives you everything you need to put together a high-powered personal studio.

Best Audio Interface for Electronic Music Production

Focusrite Scarlett Solo

I use the Focusrite Scarlett Solo for recording podcasts, acoustic songs, and even vocals for some of my club mixes. Even with that wide variety of uses, I have to say that this audio interface gets the job done. My system is an everyday HP desktop that I purchased online that’s a little bit on the more advanced end of the spectrum. For software, I use Adobe Audition as I’ve been using its previous version, Cool Edit Pro, since high school. The Delta 44 and Adobe Audition have been a winning combination for me on my desktop.

The problem I had in the past with recording solutions was the constant snap, crackle, and pop of the audio. Reviewers complained about this issue with the Focusrite Scarlett Solo as well, but the informed reviewers stated that with the proper tuning and by actually reading the instruction manuals, you can have a professional recording setup on your desktop without breaking the bank. Initially, I was skeptical due to the negativity, yet I decided to take the plunge and try things out myself. The worst that could happen is a refund or putting it for sale somewhere online for a little bit of a loss. To me, that’s no big deal so I went along with it.

When the audio card arrived in the mail, I knew I had to do as the positive reviews suggested. I read the instructional manual, took into consideration some tips of reviewers, and even checked some other information online. When I felt I was ready to get the show on the road, I popped open my desktop tower and inserted the card into one of the PCI slots on my motherboard. Yes, even as a top audio interface today, this audio card still relies on a PCI connection rather than a PCI Express connection, which is more common nowadays.

Even with the slightly dated technology, this audio card runs like a charm. My first test was to record one segment of my upcoming podcast for my buddy’s exercise and health website. I made sure my buffer settings were just right – not too high and not too low as suggested by a reviewer of the the Delta 44 online. My voice has never sounded so clear, and this was without any filters. So once I applied my usual filters and effects with some tiny tweaks to mesh better with the new audio card, I sounded like a professional radio personality. Considering how much I spent on this audio card compared to my previous audio interface, it was basically a steal. I guess that’s what happens when you switch from a USB solution to an audio card interface.

So if you have the capacity for a top audio interface in your recording rig, you need to get this Focusrite Scarlett Solo . A few years ago, I purchased a Lexicon Lambda USB interface for my Dell laptop at the time. For what I wanted to do, it got the job done, but took way too much time to configure to get subpar results. There was constant sound popping and recordings cutting out no matter what I did. Even after going through page upon page of support topics, I didn’t get the end results I needed. With the Delta 44 though, everything’s working with much better ease. My acoustic songs sound pretty close to professional quality even though I’m recording things from my bedroom and my recent dance songs have more punch to them.

On the side, I moonlight as a DJ at the local clubs in my area. Aside from spinning remixes of the latest hits on the radio, I like creating my own songs and mashups with my own vocals. A lot of people have been digging my originals, so I had to step things up with better sound quality. The solo delivers.

If you’re in the market for a top audio interface that delivers professional results while on a budget, then the Focusrite Scarlett Solo  is what you need in your recording rig. As long as you read the instruction manual and understand the basics of setting up this audio card with the rest of your recording equipment, you’ll be able to create sound recordings pleasant to the ears.

Best Audio Interface for Live Performance

BEHRINGER Audio Interface

Having experience with M Audio in the past, I knew I needed a more robust BEHRINGER Audio Interface controller compared to what I had before. I was making progress with my electronic music, so an upgrade was needed. My recording adventures began in high school when I would simply record acoustic tracks and vocals with my Dell desktop’s cheap computer microphone. With a couple of tweaks within Cool Edit Pro (now Adobe Premiere), I was able to get some decent sounding recordings.

When I got to college, that’s when I got heavy into acoustic recordings and gigs with my roommate at the time. However, I gradually saw myself transitioning into electronic dance and pop music. To me, there’s nothing like really getting into a beat and wanting to bust a move in a fun environment. So on my computer, I’d mess around with Fruity Loops, Reason, and Garageband once I got a Macbook Pro. For a while, I used an M Audio Radium 61 as my MIDI controller in Reason and Garageband. I really enjoyed its solid construction and its overall functionality. However, I needed an input device with a full keyboard. That’s when I knew I had to drop more than $100 or $200 on a MIDI controller to get what I wanted.

After some digging through M Audio reviews, as I knew I would be sticking with this solid brand, I found the BEHRINGER. Like my previous controller, it’s USB-powered, so I don’t have to worry about lugging around a clunky AC adapter or dealing with a bunch of wires. The wires involved with my Macbook Pro and other equipment are enough for me. However, some people might prefer using the optional AC adapter to relieve some stress off their computer’s calculations and whatnot.

The Oxygen 88 also comes with 4 velocity curves and 3 pedals – 2 sustain pedal inputs and 1 expression pedal.

What I absolutely love about the Oxygen 88 are the hammer-action keys. Rather than pressing onto something that feels cheap and overly plastic, it really feels like I’m pressing the keys to a legitimate upright piano. For how much I paid, that’s a pretty solid deal.

Of course, if I wanted to simply play piano, I could’ve gone with something more cost effective, but of course I bought this BEHRINGER Audio Interface controller to make awesome beats. For a few weeks, I messed around with Garageband and Reason utilizing the built-in functions of this MIDI device. Gradually, I got back to that level of comfort I had with the Radium 61, and I actually enjoy using this more due to those hammer-action keys. At first, I was reluctant to upgrade my MIDI controller because its keys just felt so right to me. Now I don’t see myself using a cheaper device again. Actually being able to feel the weight of the keys helps when I’m trying to add a certain effect or certain level of expression in my songs. This is something that is hard to create in mixing software without having to manipulate the settings and filters.

Now that I was feeling more comfortable with my new MIDI setup, I decided to test things out at a mug night for the upperclassmen at school. They apparently needed someone to replace this local band that was supposed to play for their event. One of my buddies was running this mug night and knew I liked DJing and throwing in a few of my own custom mixes, so he asked if I wanted to fill in that empty spot.

The night went on without any problems. Sure, it’s a different ballgame going from using this BEHRINGER Audio Interface controller to program notes to playing bits and pieces live, but I felt I knew what I was doing. Well I hope so. Most people wouldn’t have noticed anyway given the type of event I was playing for. Regardless, I was really feeling my songs – beat by beat, track by track. Having those extra keys on the Oxygen 88 really helped me out with my live playing. It was so much easier being able to assign instruments all across the board, especially since I was experimenting with more layers in my songs.

Everyone at that mug night event seemed happy and I was happy with how the Oxygen 88 helped me win the crowd over. I doubt I would’ve been able to pull this off if I was using a shorter keyboard. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Radium 61 is a bad MIDI controller, as it was my pride and joy for years. It’s just that with the layering and complexity of my songs now compared to in the past, the Oxygen 88 is the right BEHRINGER Audio Interface controller for my needs.

 

About Jameson Benning

As an apartment renter, having a limited amount of space affects my purchasing habits. I review the best portable items so you don't have to!

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