If you’re looking for an interconnective technology, you should look for Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt has been developed by Intel with the cooperation of Apple. Thunderbolt mixes DisplayPort and PCI Express into a single connection that allows for up to 6 peripherals to be daisy-chained in a linear series. Using Thunderbolt, you can also connect FireWire and USB peripherals if you have the proper adapter.
You may be wary of the fact that, with the introduction of Thunderbolt, your USB, FireWire, eSATA, and other interface-dependent devices would become irrelevant. Well, it is not the case for all these interface-dependent devices can work well with Thunderbolt.
You can easily buy Thunderbolt-to-PCIe card boxes, for example, that could readily accommodate whole PCIe cards. You can also purchase a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter at $30 each as well as a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter cable. Hence, even if Thunderbolt has its sight on the future, it still considers the present and past devices.
Buyer’s Guide: Essential Things to Consider When You Buy a Thunderbolt Audio Interface
If you intend to purchase a Thunderbolt audio interface, you need to consider these important points. First, ask yourself what types of output and input connections come with the interface. These connections could be a line, MIDI, or mic. You should also consider the digital I/O like those of S/PDIF, ADAT, DB25, and SMUX. This is to ensure that what you get match well with each other.
At present, Apple Mac computers are the only compatible computers with Thunderbolt. So, you need to bear this in mind before buying one. You should also consider the audio quality, which clearly indicates the playback and recording quality. Check the Bitrate and resolution likewise. Of course, you should remember that 24 bit/96 kHz is slower than 24 bit/192 kHz.
Advantages of Using Thunderbolt for Audio Interfaces
The use of Thunderbolt comes with remarkable benefits. Since today’s world requires quickness of transfer of data and hard drives are usually rated in Terabytes, pro audio recording is moving toward high resolutions. Even video recording is trending toward high-definition recording. Moreover, video and audio streams should flow smoothly and steadily, without any snag.
Thus, there is a need for easy transfer of any huge amount of data among peripherals and computers. Given this insatiable appetite for data, Intel has conceived of the Thunderbolt protocol. Here are some of the succinct benefits of using Thunderbolt:
Since the creation of the Thunderbolt connectivity, Apple and Intel have closely guarded the development of the protocol for the creation and implementation of these devices. Hence, incompatibility is no big issue, knowing that each Thunderbolt device will be readily compatible with your PC. As long as your computer accepts Thunderbolt connectivity, any thunderbolt-ready audio interface will surely be compatible with your PC that has Thunderbolt connectivity. You are also assured that you’ll get super speed signal transmission with the use of Thunderbolt.
2) Low Latency
Compared to other external connections, the Thunderbolt provides the fastest external connection, which means it carries the lowest latency. This implies that it has very low or no delay, especially during playback and recording. In general, you may be impressed with the speed by which signals travel via USB connection. It would take 4.5 milliseconds for a signal to move through a USB connection roundtrip. However, if you compare this speed with that of the Thunderbolt, it pales in comparison with Thunderbolt, it would only take one millisecond.
Recommended Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces
If you want to record professionally using your computer, you will be needing an Audio Interface. An Audio Interface can provide the required high bandwidth and multiple connectivity slots, allowing you to do away with latency. It also lets you plug in multiple instruments like mics, keyboards, and guitars.
But what is an audio interface? Well, it is a hardware that allows you to get audio to and from your computer. It is different from the built-in computer soundcard. This is because it enhances the quality of your recordings while allowing you to make use of different instruments at the same time. The most common audio interfaces include Thunderbolt, USB, and FireWire.
The audio interface is a standard connector that can transmit power, data, and video using a single cable. However, you can also reverse and flip the transmission of these data. There are, however, many audio interfaces in the market today and here are your top 3 options in the market today:
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1) Universal Audio Apollo X6 Thunderbolt 3 Audio Interface
The Universal Audio Apollo X6, as a Thunderbolt 3 audio interface, comes with a 6-core Hexa Core processor, which means it offers unbelievable low latency and offers 50 percent extra processing power than the previous rollout of the Universal Audio Apollo. Equipped with the Unison Preamp technology, it lets you reproduce the classic LA 610 preamp sounds without necessarily sounding like a copycat.
For this reason, this audio interface provides studios with a broad range of stylish options for achieving the right sound for whatever projects. One downside of this unit is its 2 XLR/TRS inputs found at its rear. Nevertheless, it comes with an ADAT optical output/input to enable you to expand its capacity if you want something more for your needs. You can also purchase a device equipped with more XLR inputs.
Based on my experience, there were years when I don’t often engage in an upgrade, but I guess I would definitely upgrade with the Apollo at hand. Universal Audio has done a great job in upgrading the technology behind this interface, and I think this one is perfect for those who want fantastic sounding music.
2) Focusrite Red 8Line Thunderbolt 3 Audio Interface with Dante
It features a 58-input and 64 output Interface with two Red Evolution mi pres, eight balanced line inputs and outputs, independent L/R monitor outs, 32 Dante® I/O channels, 16 channel ADAT output, and input at around 48kHz. It also features stereo S/PDIF input and output.
The Focusrite Red 8Line features a professional-grade 24-bit/192kHz A-D and D-A conversion for an uncompromising recording and audio playback. Its dynamic range is 119dB A-D and 121dB dynamic range D-A. Its converters have been selected meticulously and calibrated accordingly by Focusrite to provide the best sound quality balance, conversion latency, and dynamic range.
It also offers a lot of digital and analog I/O that includes dedicated monitoring outputs for your headphones and speakers. It features a reliable and rich suite of plug-ins that includes the coveted Focusrite’s Red-rage equalizer models and compressor hardware. Moreover, it lets you access the Focusrite Pro Plug-in Collective. The Focusrite Red 8Line also provides you with an excellent hub for incredible production space.
3) RME Fireface UFX+ USB 3.0
If you are looking for tons of I/O and want sterling sound, you should check out the RME Fireface UFX+ USB 3.0 & Thunderbolt Audio Interface. This interface offers sublime sound and a great workflow that you would surely appreciate. What sets the RME Fireface UFX+ USB 3.0 above the rest is its 188 channels of outputs and inputs. You can mic up to ten drumkits with these channels simultaneously with still enough room to spare.
A cursory look at the front panel lets you see four mic/line inputs with switchable phantom power. At the rear, you will find 8 line inputs and a Multichannel Audio Digital Interface (MADI), which can handle up to 64 channels (24-bit 48kHz, AES/EBU) that gives you up to 2 channels. It also comes with 2x ADAT Optical that gives you 16 channels at 24-bit up to 48kHz.
Output-wise, you get 2x stereo headphone connections on its front panel and 8x balanced line outputs that include two on the XLR 64 MADI, 16 on ADAT, and 2 on the AES.
The RME Fireface UFX+ USB 3.0 also connects to the computer through the Thunderbolt or the USB 3. It also works with any DAW using its drivers included in the TotalMix FX software.
When in USB 2 mode, you will notice that the channel count drops a bit, for you can only squeeze enough via the USB 2 to your computer. To further expand its physical channel count, the UFX+ lets you connect many third-party analog and digital I/O solutions, including those of the multiple MADI devices and ADAT converters.
The RME Fireface UFX+ USB 3.0 claims that you can totally replace with the TotalMIx FX the standard studio mixer. The TotalMix FX software mixer facilitates limitless routing of the inputs and outputs of the interface while equipping you with monitor mixes free of latency and with DSP-accelerated effects.
Moreover, it provides you with peak and RMS metering and remote control via the use of your iOS device. It also comes with a high-quality plug-in bundle for kickstarting your mixing creativity.
4) PreSonus Quantum 4848 48×48 24-bit 192 kHz Thunderbolt Audio Interface
The PreSonus Quantum 4848 offers a complete digital integration for your analog studio. It is designed to cater to the needs of recording professionals. It is equipped with 32 inputs and outputs of dB25 line-level connectivity along with pristine digital conversion.
With its Rear Panel DB25 line-level I/O, you can easily connect the Quantum 4848 to your analog patch bay with ease in order to expand its capability. Its 32 channels of outputs and inputs also let you route easily from your vintage analog recording console to your computer’s DAW and back while producing pristine quality sound. You can also increase the available channels by simply daisy-chaining 4 Quantum 4848 interfaces to produce a 192 x 192.
The Quantum 4848 is engineered with a goal of producing great speed. It offers high-speed Thunderbolt connectivity that offers no-frills and imperceptible latency. Moreover, it offers superior flexibility that lets you use its three-channel Profile modes for adapting input and output channel configuration, once you are using an application that limits you to around 32 outputs and inputs.
These audiophile-grade digital converters along with low-jitter clocking let you create a powerful recording. It lets you engage in a high definition recording and mixing as it operates at 192kHz. It is also designed with the view of modern analog studios. It also offers superior software integration with its Studio One Professional Pipeline XT plug-in.
5) Apogee ELEMENT 46 – Thunderbolt Audio Interface
The Apogee ELEMENT 46 belongs to the most recommended audio interfaces in the market today. This USB-C features a 12 x14 I/O box that comes with 4 analog inputs along with world-class mic preamps. It also comes with selectable 48V phantom power to connect instruments, microphones, or line-level devices.
It features single-port connectivity to your Mac computer. It offers an ultra-low latency performance along with a 1.41 round-trip (96kHz) and 32 buffering settings. It also features an element control software for use in Mac. This software provides you with all the control of your hardware parameters. Thus, you get perfect control of input gain and output level. Plus, it offers low latency monitoring.
The Apogee ELEMENT 46 allows you a perfect conversion from analog to digital signals. Its high-quality A/D converter lets you capture each detail and all the nuances of your recordings into your Mac computer. With its mic preamps, you can record powerful drums, delicate strings, and dynamic vocals.
It is also highly compatible with Logic PRO X. You can directly adjust hardware parameters from the Logic’s mixer view. Moreover, it also comes with the Apogee Control hardware remote. This control comes with 8 buttons, along with a control knob for configuring the settings from afar.
6) Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface
The Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface is produced by a popular brand known for producing great audio interfaces. It belongs to the best three brands in the market today. Others say that this popularity of the Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt comes from its lower-end models. But it is undeniable that its PreSonus Quantum 26×32 is great.
The definitive factor that makes this interface substantially is its many inputs and outputs. It is a perfect choice, especially for those who must connect many instruments and mics to their interface. It offers 24-bit/192 kHz, which is one of the best rack-mounted models in the market at present. It is also very intuitive and easy to use.
The Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt Audio Interface provides 2 combo mic/instrument/line inputs along with 6 mic/line inputs. It also features recallable XMAX preamps/ SPDIF, MIDI, Dual ADAT Optical, and BNC word clock I/O. It also comes with a studio One Artist DAW along with Studio Magic plug-in bundle.
7) Apogee ELEMENT 24
The Apogee ELEMENT 24 may seem simple externally, but it is genuinely an impressive package internally. As a brand, Apogee thrives in designing gear and interfaces that are optimized for use with Apple and Mac products. For this reason, Element 24 seems surprisingly different. But it does work well and does complement Macs.
The Apogee ELEMENT 24 features a 10″ x 12″ Out Thunderbolt Audio I/O box that is compatible with any MAC core audio application. It also features a single-port Thunderbolt connectivity to Mac that produces ultra-low latency performance with its 1.41-millisecond roundtrip at 96 kHz. Its element control software for Mac readily provides all control of its hardware parameters that include input gain, low-latency monitoring, and output level.
Furthermore, it offers a multi-unit Thunderbolt support that allows you to connect any 2-element audio I/O boxes to your computer’s Thunderbolt ports. The recommended apps for it include Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, main stage, GarageBand, Final Cut, Studio One, Digital Performer, Nuendo, and Cubase. Lastly, it features two analog inputs along with world-class mic preamps with its selectable 48V power for readily connecting to instruments, microphones, and line-level devices.
8) Focusrite Clarett 2Pre
The Focusrite Clarett 2Pre comes with a 24-bit/192kHz audio resolution that offers an ultra-high sound quality. This USB-connector sounds great with its dynamic range of 119dB, precision 24/192 conversion, along with two mic amps that come with an analog “Air” effect.
It can easily perform better than other audio interfaces. Moreover, its outstanding 1.38-ms round-trip latency makes your workflow simple and easy. It also lets you utilize your plug-ins simultaneously.
The Focusrite Clarett 2Pre lets you engage in a precise digital conversion with its Focusrite’s leading 24/192 conversion quantity that is capable of 119dB dynamic range. It lets you, therefore, get your audio music in and out of your computer.
Focusrite Control is a new software mixer that is designed for quickly configuring your routing and monitoring setups. It is intuitive and simple to set up. Its mixer workflow is a traditional mixer that lets you immediately access internal hardware functions.
The Focusrite Clarett also comes with a wide array of sweet-sounding collection of plug-ins that consist of Softube’s Time & Tone Bundle, along with TSAR-1R Reverb, Saturation knob, and Tube Delay. These features are complemented by AU and VST Plug-in Suite Red 2 and Red 3 AAX that models accurately Focusrite’s Classic compressor and Red Range equalizer hardware.
9) Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Solo (APLTWSII)
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Solo (APLTWSII) features a small design that is meant for use in small studio spaces and desktops. It has limited inputs with its smaller size. It only has one TRS jack at the front and 2 multifunction inputs at the back panel. This design is good enough for a not-so-elaborate setup using only one to two instruments.
It features a simulated analog tone that is designed to replicate the classic analog recording gadgets of the company. This simulated analog tone is possible using plug-ins. This provides you a real analog recording experience.
A lot of users are pleased with this feature, especially those fans of tube preamps, vintage recording gear, and vocal limiting gear. With the use of the Thunderbolt connection, there is no connection latency. You can also expand or cascade devices as your needs expand.
It also comes with Console 2.0 software that features channel strip presets, dynamically resizable windows, drag-and-drop functionality, Runs UAD, powered plug-ins through VST, AAX 64, and RTAS in most major DAWs.
10) Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt Audio Interface
The Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt Audio Interface offers something unique to consumers. It provides a 4-channel interface along with 4 dedicated mic inputs as well as analog preamps. The upside of buying Resident Audio T4 is that it is less expensive as compared to other brands. It may not be the most feature-packed interface out there, but it is affordable.
It features audio I/O plus MIDI I/O channels with near-zero latency for instantaneous playback and recording. It also features a dedicated headphone output as well as a secondary headphone output.
The system requirement for this interface is a Mac computer with a Thunderbolt-equipped system that runs OS x 10.9-10.11 and Windows Computers with a Thunderbolt-equipped system that runs Windows 8.0 USB port or internet connection. If you got the budget issue and you need something that works well, you should go for this brand.
FAQs about Audio Interface
If you intend to buy a professional and high-quality audio interface, you can benefit from reading the different FAQs about audio interfaces. Here are some of the most FAQs about audio interfaces:
Which is Better between USB-C, FireWire, and Thunderbolt 3 Connectors?
FireWire, when first introduced, was considered as the best before the USB 3.1 was introduced in the market. It comes with a maximum speed of up to 6 Gbps. When the USB 3.1 was then introduced with 10Gbps, it superseded the FireWire. This is because FireWire has a compatibility issue with the latest computers. After all, most new computers don’t come with FireWire ports. Thunderbolt 3, however, comes with higher bandwidth than that of USB-C. But it is more expensive than USB-C.
Can It Work with External Mixer?
Yes, it can work with an external mixer. Yet, there are various ways to wire your mixer to an audio interface depending on how you are going to use your mixer. You should not use the preamp on both. Instead, you should use line-level input after your preamp.
Can You Use It with Windows 7?
Yes, you can use it with Windows 7. Yet, right now, it is not supported officially. The beta driver of Focusrite’s site, for example, will have no issue with Windows 7. It may, however, require BIOS update, some tweakings of the settings of BIOS, and an add-in card.