Whether you are a sound technician or a musician, a quality audio interface will always be a priority. A top-notch audio interface can make a huge difference to recordings, whether of live music, speech, podcasting or a church service.
These interfaces take the raw audio from a microphone, instrument or sound mixer and output to a computer or laptop for recording.
It’s always best to go for quality when considering a XLR to USB audio interface because buying a low-quality interface can often be a nightmare, and cause more problems than they are worth, while a good one can give you the audio quality you want.
However, selecting one can be a challenge because there are so many interfaces available in the market today. For that reason, I have reviewed three of the best quality audio interfaces that you can find on the market. They include Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Presonus Audiobox and Behringer U-PHORIA UM2. Let’s have a look at them one by one.
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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Interface Review
The Scarlett 2i2 Studio is a second generation(2nd gen) model that has 2-inputs and 2-outputs. #ad It can record at 24 bit and at a sample rate of 192 kHz. Depending on the package you go for, some deals for the Focusrite comes with a mic-clip to connect to the microphone, a big diaphragm condenser mic as well as the audio interface. It also comes with closed-back headphones and USB cable. You have a single USB socket to connect to your Mac or PC, and two XLR sockets for your microphones or instruments. It is pretty easy to setup and install. Some packages also come with a mic stand.
However, let us discuss the “big meat” here. On the bottom, you will see pads to stop the unit from sliding about on a desk. On the front, it has 2 combo-jacks that will take each of the XLR microphones. Also, you have two ¼” jack inputs for line instrument or guitar. Of course, you can switch between instrument levels and line, for the two inputs.
Better still, you will see one knob that you will use to increase or reduce the volumes. You will notice also one LED indicator that will always warn you in case you exceed the record limit. If the limit goes up, the indicator will turn red; and green when it is below.
Now checking on the interface’s right side, you will come across its 48V phantom power, to include to your condenser mics, with one direct monitor switch – read more about what is the 48v button on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.. There is also a monitor level control on the front of the interface and a headphone jack socket with separate volume control.
Lastly, checking at the back of your interface, you will notice one USB input that you will connect to your computer. You will see also line outputs for speakers or going to a mixer. So that should give you a brief overview of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 studio, a really good unit which can be used either in the studio or for live work.
Quality of sound
When connecting up the USB 2.0 Focusrite interface, many users comment on its crystal clear recordings. Acoustic instruments such as guitars, flute, violin etc sound great, but also electric guitars too. Compared to Behringer and Presonus, the Focusrite 2i2 probably has the edge when it comes to capturing high frequencies produced by acoustic instruments.
The Focusrite 2i2 preamps do a great job processing the signal from most microphones. The device processes even the low frequencies with much ease. Its maximum sample rate is 192 kHz/24-bit which in theory should result in quality digital recordings, capturing even the smallest of details in a piece of music with ease.
The Focusrite also has super low latency, measured at 2.74ms using a Mac Pro with Logic Pro X at 96KHz and 32 samples.
Some users comment on its durable construction and value for money. It’s the perfect selection for a home/small studio that doesn’t require a lot of inputs.
Check out my other posts about the best portable audio recorder.
Design and build
Judging the audio interface by its cover, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has a great design. Its body features a rough texture combined with some switch panels, which make it look impressive. More so, the device has a compact and light design. Its anodized uni-body chassis (aluminium) is very durable. Important if you are transporting between home/studio/church etc.
The two inputs on the front of the Focusrite are compatible with ¼” instrument cables and XLR mic cables. Even though the device does not have SPDIF I/O or MIDI for connecting ¼ inch TRS cables, it has one ¼” headphone jack and one volume knob. The plug-in suite, for instance, is compatible with most DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It also gives numerous features for fine-tuning and editing your favourite mixes.
The audio interface comes with various software packages, such as Plug-in Suite (from Focusrite), Novation Bass Station, Ableton Live Lite and others.
In summary, the Focusrite Scarlett is a really great audio interface and can be used for many different types of applications. Its metal body is attractive and its sound is fantastic. Most importantly, the device is lightweight, hence you can carry it to wherever you like.
I actually own this audio interface, and my experience has been very positive. It is well made and the sound quality is excellent. I use mine with Ableton Live, but it works with all the main DAWs.
Click here to get the Focusrite 2i2, my top pick out of these 3 interfaces.
Presonus Audiobox Studio Recording Interface
The Presonus Audiobox can record up to 24bit, 96 kHz, which is lower than that of Focusrite. But, hey, who records sample rates of up to 192 kHz? Looking at the inside of the box, you will see a user manual to help set up the system.
The Studio deal from Presonus also includes a case to carry the huge diaphragm condenser mic. B There is also a clip for the mic is in there included. Although this microphone is quite smaller compared to the large diaphragm condenser microphones you will find in the market, it still seems a decent quality microphone.
The Presonus Audiobox is easy to set up and includes a USB cable, which will connect this device to your Mac or PC. The headphones are in a case, and are half open at the back and have 50mm drivers. And of course, the device comes with XLR cables to connect the mic to the audio interface. if you are interested in stand-alone recorders, check out my post about the Zoom H2n here.
Design and build
Now, let us talk about the interface itself. Looking at it, you will notice it’s appearance is a bit dated, but its capabilities are right up to date. It also comes with combo jacks, similar to the Focusrite. You connect ¼” instrument or microphone jacks or XLRs into these combos.
When comparing the Focusrite vs Presonus, the Audiobox has two gain knobs. Likewise, the device has indicator LEDs to tell you whether the input signal is clipping or not. The 48V phantom power for condenser microphones is also available from the interface.
Interestingly, the device has one mixer to change the playback and inputs. This feature is great because you can mix and switch the inputs coming directly from the audio interface itself, as opposed to playbacks from a computer. Actually, this feature will let you mix the audio that you would like to monitor. If you would like to monitor from the Presonus AudioBox playback, or from the computer, you can do that also.
The audio also has separate controls for the master volume and headphones.
Unlike the Focusrite, the Presonus Audiobox has a MIDI interface for connecting ¼ inch TRS cables. So this feature allows you to connect MIDI instruments directly to the Presonus USB interface
The quality of sound
This interface from Presonus comes with quality microphone preamps. This feature makes sure you have a lower signal to noise ratio. In addition, the interface will let you record 24 bits at 44.1 & 48 kHz sample rate. This is great for recording vocals or both acoustic and electronic music. The device’s USB preamps do surprise many users who comment on the clarity of the sound and high quality of recordings.
This Presonus USB audio interface is highly compatible with Windows computers and iOS for Mac. If you have a Mac computer, you can use a USB cable to connect to the audio interface. However, people using Windows should install a driver from the official Presonus website.
Studio One Artist is the software that you will need to install in Presonus AudioBox. The app is really great for music production and creation. The most interesting part is that the software will allow you to make uncontrolled track counts. Hence, you will be able to record as many tracks as you wish. You can keep on upgrading the app according to the current version and access more advanced features.
In summary, Presonus AudioBox is meant to serve professionals in the music industry. The interface ranks very high due to its high quality recording capability. It is a is a powerful audio interface and without a doubt one of the best audio interfaces available at the moment.
You can check the Presonus Audiobox’s price on Amazon here
Behringer Uphoria UM2 Interface
Of the three audio interfaces reviewed here, the Behringer U-Phoria UM2 is probably the cheapest, but still worth consideration if you are on a really tight budget. #ad
Quality of sound
Surprisingly, the UM2 produces clear sound, and you get quite a lot of bang for your buck with this device. The unit contains the XENYX microphone preamp which works quite well, although you should be careful when turning the gain knob. If you turn the knobs above 75 percent the device will produce noise. Instead, adjust the knob to at least 60 per cent when you are using the interface with your condenser mic. Using dynamic mics might be challenging. Most users find it easy to set up and appreciate the sound quality. There is no noticeable latency and plays real-time music through headphones. After registering the device, you can later download Tracktion-6 DAW software. Also, I have written a useful guide on recording from a mixer you may want to check out too.
This model comes with one USB cable, which is necessary for connecting your computer to the device. And just like Presonus and Focusrite, you will get a user manual (multi-lingual) for guidance.
When comparing the Behringer vs Focusrite design which is made of metal, the U-Phoria UM2 is plastic. #ad Although metal can last longer than plastic, the plastic design looks pretty decent. However, you should be a bit more cautious with the UM2 when carrying it because of its plastic body in case it cracks. The knobs also are plastic and they feel quite wobbly. For most applications, it should be fine as long as it’s handled carefully.
Other notable features
The combo jack used for the microphone or instrument input on the U-Phoria UM2 is compatible with both XLR and ¼” jack. Close to it, you will notice 2 LED indicators. One is a signal light to help you know when your microphone picks up audio. The other one, directly above the first, is the clip-light. It will indicate whether you have an excessively loud, distorting and clipping sound.
Next to the two lights, you will find a ¼” input for your guitar or other instrument. Close to the ¼ inch input you will see two more LEDs. One is the signal indicator on the bottom and the clipping indicator on top.
After that, you will see a direct monitor button for allowing selection of audio from the two inputs via the RCA output at the back and the headphones. The monitor will ensure that you get zero-latency to ensure that you are playing on time. This feature is important so that you will hear what you are playing without having to worry about any kind of a lag.
To the right of the front panel, you will see a power LED just to indicate when you switch on the device. And another below that is to indicate when the +48V phantom is on. At the far right hand side, you will see a ¼” headphone output.
On top of this great audio interface, there are three knobs. The first one controls the gain in the first input, which is where you plugged your XLR cable. When you turn the knob to your right, the sound will increase, and vice versa. and the second knob is for an instrument plugged into the ¼” jack input.
The last knob is for the overall volume, which controls the volume the RCA outputs or the headphones. The RCA outputs can be used to take the monitor output to a separate amplifier unit.
There is also a USB socket to allow connection to a PC or Apple computer.
Also note that the unit has +48V phantom power supply to enable the use of condenser microphones.
If you are using Windows with UM2 interface, then you should install the ASIO4ALL driver. Alternatively, users with Mac just need to plug the device and play. UM2 interface has Tracktion-4 software, but you can also download the latest version from the website. This DAW software has many powerful features and can be expanded with plugins etc.
To check the latest price on Amazon, click here
The bottom line – which is the best of these three interfaces?
If you are searching for the best audio interface and do not have the need for more than two inputs, then you will not get a better device than the Focusrite Scarlett in my honest opinion. Weighing up price and features it is probably hands down the best for the money. It also has a large user base and many musicians and audio engineers vouch for its quality.
Check the price of the Focusrite 2i2 here
Frank Edwards is the founder and owner of churchsoundtips.com and has over 10 years experience running sound in his local church.